Those lingering doubts

March 12, 2010
Can we have a thriving economy without broad-based confidence and mutual trust, when the random instances of progress are overshadowed by so much doubt and resentment?

In my previous column I pointed to the recent consolidation of the Citation Corp. and Grede Foundries assets as a hopeful sign of stability in the metalcasting market, but that was too much for several readers. Maintaining a positive outlook is hard to do. Over the past decade the phrase “new normal” has become a clever way to describe the stresses of modern living, but I think all of us want (to some degree) to recover a bit of the old “normal,” the security that comes with predictability.

About a year ago nothing seemed predictable, and it would have been frivolous to speculate on the long-term outlook for domestic metalcasting. For foundries and diecasters, and most manufacturers, the immediate concern then was to stay viable for the coming weeks or months. Now, we have indications of some economic stability and even growth, and its feasible to look ahead five or ten years. Are the prospects good for domestic metalcasting?

A number of readers seem to think they are not good, at least not based on the example I offered.

It’s simple to point to companies reorganizing and operations restarting, and to see in that the evidence of a turnaround. At the minimum, the new Grede Holdings LLC organization, for example, or the General Motors expansion at Defiance, OH, and similar developments show that metalcasting is a market sector that has people with plans to move forward. Just as important, they have investors willing to back those plans.

Such plans also should be encouraging to equipment builders and product suppliers, who can cite them as examples of progress that other metalcasters might follow.

Still, they are examples — perhaps counter-examples; other examples would include plants that have been idled or closed, projects that have been suspended, and orders that have been canceled as a result of the recent recession. It’s those setbacks that occupy most people’s attention, for no reason more complex than that such examples are more available.

How much emphasis you give to one set of examples or the other depends on personal experience. That more people are affected by, or at least mindful of, negative circumstances than positive ones explains why so many people are unenthusiastic about metalcasting’s longterm outlook.

However, I think many of the cynics are arguing from an additional perspective that perhaps they don’t recognize: they object to the fact that new organizations have left so much of the past behind. In some cases, this may even be described as resentment toward the surviving organizations.

This is why the strain of living in the “new normal” is so disturbing. We believe we have enough career and life experience to know that recent declines or failures aren’t a full accounting of what we’ve accomplished. And yet, we’re still battling to overcome all these changes we didn’t predict.

The recession may have ended, according to economic standards, but the impact of it has been so wide and deep that it lingers in our minds, and shades our outlooks. Many of us cannot grasp the “unfairness” of it all.

Does “fairness” have anything to do with all this? In rational terms, where economics is grounded, it does not. But, this recession has been a series of human errors, and even misdeeds, and it’s from that perspective that many of us find it hard to look forward. As we strive to rebuild our own circumstances, we are offended by the actions of individuals and corporations. Then, we’re outraged by the unprecedented (and seemingly arbitrary) bailouts of failed businesses and favored constituencies. We’re made to live with decisions or choices that we did not make for ourselves. Looking ahead, are we wrong to be doubtful of business prospects in this atmosphere?

More generally, can we have a thriving economy without broad-based confidence and mutual trust when the random instances of progress are overshadowed by so much doubt and resentment? It’s possible to cite reasons to be positive about the future of metalcasting, but it will require more examples and sustained evidence of progress to take our minds off the past.

We may be destined to live in a “new normal,” in which every assumption is challenged and no risk is as predictable as we’d like it to be. But, we’re right to expect a higher degree of trust from each other, from public officials, and from our business associates, in the work we do and the lives we lead. It will give all of us more confidence.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)