Confidence is contagious

By Lauren Duensing

January 2013 - Sara Blakely is the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. She’s the founder of the Spanx brand of shapewear, which today consists of more than 200 products but began as a start-up with just Blakely’s confidence and the $5,000 in her savings account backing the company. 

Blakely appeared on the “Today” show Jan. 2 to discuss the U.S. economy as part of a roundtable that included  Julian Castro, Warren Buffett and Tony Robbins. When asked about the paralyzing effect of uncertainty on the market, Blakely noted, “As an entrepreneur, I’m not uncertain about myself and my team, and I spend so little time focused on is the economy up or is the economy down? When I started Spanx right after 9/11, a lot of people would have said that it was a horrible time. I didn’t know it was a horrible time. I never had a business class. The way I approach the economy—sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down. You tread your course and for me, I made a product that was good and the public wanted it.”

I thought parts of Blakely’s statement encapsulated many of the responses from the Modern Metals’ 11th Annual Reader Survey. They have good strategies, good employees and good products. However, survey results showed persistent uncertainty permeating the industry, which affects business confidence. Seventy-nine percent of service center respondents, 77 percent of fabricator respondents and 71 percent of OEM/end user respondents said overall economic uncertainty would be a challenge facing businesses in 2013.

One service center respondent commented, “We can’t afford four more years of uncertainty,” in regard to the election and gridlock in Congress. (Surveys were sent out and respondents returned comments prior to the November election.) He noted, “The people with capital to fund these large construction projects have been sitting it out and waiting to see what happens in the election.”

Despite myriad concerns including pricing, taxes, health care, rising costs, a still-weak construction market, troubles in Europe and a slowdown in China, survey respondents, as well as other companies who participate in the industry, are building facilities and developing new technologies. On page 34, “Reinvest for success,” highlights Ratner Steel’s new facility at the Ports of Indiana, and “Keeping track” on page 42 and “Channeling the online market,” page 50, discuss the effects of technology to streamline business transactions, creating efficient companies.

Although being a part of the manufacturing industry means having the stomach to weather its volatile cycles, at the end of the day, most of those in manufacturing are happy with their chosen career, according to ThomasNet.com’s Industry Market Barometer survey. More than 1,600 respondents to that survey say if they had to do it all over again, they would pursue a career in their current industry. 

According to ThomasNet, the respondents feel U.S. manufacturing has never lost its glory and they want to transmit that enthusiasm to younger generations, a feeling I hear echoed throughout the industry. Happy New Year to MM’s readers, and I wish all of you a healthy and prosperous 2013. MM

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