Put two metal fabricators in the same room, and you might find a scene reminiscent of the Hatfields and McCoys. Those two individuals don't want anything to do with each other because one only wants to steal the other one's customers.
Thankfully, all metal fabricators don't feel that way. It's one of the reasons that The FABRICATOR's Leadership Summit has evolved into such a great learning experience for company leaders and managers in this industry. The metal fabricators in attendance aren't afraid to share winning strategies and difficult challenges with their counterparts from all over the U.S. because, more than likely, they aren't competing for the same customers and they actually can learn from the interchange. It's one of the reasons that some of these fabricators have formed formal groups—the Precision Sheet Metal User Groups (PSMUG), as the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) has officially labeled these small groups. They know that they can learn the best lessons from others that may have been in similar situations. The FABRICATOR's Tim Heston covered the PSMUGs in December, and when reading it, you realize why those groups are so important.
But even those not ready to join a formal group had an opportunity to put aside any reservations they may have had about mixing with other metal fabricators to come together for the most recent leadership summit, Feb. 29-March 2, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Arguably the most well-attended event in the seven years it has been held, with more than 200 people when combined with the folks from the co-located Toll Processing Conference, this year's Leadership Summit provided an educational opportunity for everyone.
What were some of the interesting tidbits learned in general sessions?
- Chris Kuehl, FMA's economic analyst, said gas prices should level out by the end of April after Iranian elections are complete. "The talk of $5 or $6 per gallon is very premature and a little bombastic," he said.
- He added that momentum in the manufacturing sector shouldn't slow any time soon as indicated by you look at the Credit Managers' Index, which Kuehl coordinates for the National Association of Credit Management. The number of credit applications is up, which means that people are confident about upcoming business prospects, and the banks are loosening up access to credit.
- Kuehl also said that, with the looming threat of inflation, the Federal Reserve probably will raise rates sooner rather than later.
- Tom Faranda, a global strategist and frequent public speaker, predicted that U.S. troops will be fighting drug cartels in Mexico by the end of 2013.
- He also suggested that China could be heading for a "meltdown" by 2018.
- Mark Rittmanic, CEO, FortéONE, talked about preparing a company to be evaluated prior to a sale and suggested that at least one-third of the people in the room would be experiencing a business ownership change in the near future.
- Don McNeeley, president and CEO, Chicago Tube & Iron, said the U.S. could be headed for bleak times if it doesn't adjust its tax structure and reduce its deficit. "You know you are headed for an implosion when a generation isn't going to live as well as the generation previous," he said.
- Jim Hawkins, director, Caterpillar's Machine Design Center, provided a glimpse into his company's operations and offered suggestions on how to work with it as a supplier. He added that with countries all over the world becoming more modern, the demand for fabricators' heavy weldments wouldn't be ending any time soon: "This would be infrastructure growth like we have never seen before. And it will sustain this industry for many years."
Outside of those larger sessions, metal fabricators had the opportunity to delve more deeply into issues such as developing new business, recruiting high-caliber employees, training workers, and nuturing leadership skills in employees. These roundtable sessions, often led by other metal fabricators, featured open and frank discussion of these nontechnical topics that can have a real effect on a company's ability to scale up as new work comes through the doors.
By the conference's end, hopefully metal fabricators were left with ideas to make their businesses better. At the very least, they realize that metal fabricating is a noble effort that others in the U.S. would be wise to learn more about.
"You are the ones creating the high-paying manufacturing jobs," McNeeley reminded them. "What better legacy to leave than employment?"
In today's economy, that's the bottom line that most people are concerned with. Metal fabricators are doing their share to resolve the unemployment situation.