Weekly Editorial

The State of the Industry: Things Are Looking Pretty Good for 2023

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Write Office • January 30, 2023

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Last week in this space, I wrote about the most important industry events. And after attending one of the best — the BIFMA 360 leadership conference — I wanted to give you a quick state of the industry report.

This is in no way scientific or complete, but when you are in a room with 180 industry leaders all at once, you can gather a bit of perspective about where things stand. And I’m happy to report that despite our hand-wringing over the looming threat of a recession, the industry is in solid shape heading into 2023.

I’m not here to sugar coat the economy. It is plain to see that it is slowing a bit as the Fed tries to pump the brakes on it to rein in inflation. But barring some unforeseen disaster — and we all have first-hand experience there in recent years — 2023 should be a good year for the industry.

To a person, the executives I spoke with at the BIFMA conference said they are projecting for a slower 2023. But it is important to put that into context. Business is slowing slightly from one of the strongest years on record for many of these manufacturers. It is impossible to keep up that kind of pace and the leaders understand this.

Unfortunately, the financial headlines grabbing the most attention these days have to do with waves of job cuts at many of the tech giants. If you sell a lot to the tech world, it might be a tough year, but if you have a balanced group of customers, 2023 is looking good.

Another factor to consider is geography. If you are sitting in Mississippi, Alaska or Louisiana, which rank last in CNBC’s list of Top States for Business in 2022, you might think I’m overly optimistic. Then again, if your company is lucky enough to be based in North Carolina, Washington or Virginia, the top three states on the same list, you might be too busy filling orders to read this column.

Don’t take it from me though. One of the speakers at the BIFMA conference, economist Michael Ryan, director of Industry Insights at S&P Global Market Intelligence, predicted a “short, shallow recession” in the first and second quarters of this year followed by modest growth. Reports that came out last Thursday showed the overall economy held up better through the last three months of 2022 than economists expected.

It’s not the kind of news that will get you shopping for a new yacht, but it isn’t news that will leave you crying in your beer either.

We focused our must-reads this week on the three legs of the stool that hold up our industry — commercial real estate, the job market and corporate earnings. Again, two of the three remain relatively strong with commercial real estate the only leg that’s a bit wobbly right now.

Economic times like these — when the the business world is stagnant — can be dangerous, especially for our industry. During other times when we’ve found ourselves in the doldrums, when the economy slows even a little, our industry has been caught flat footed. We tend to be an industry that stands there and takes its economic lumps with a whimper during downturns. Instead, it is time to be bold; to double down on our innovation and use this time to reengage with customers.

My family and I enjoy kayaking and this economy reminds me a lot of the changing conditions that can be found when paddling rivers. Sometimes the rivers are filled with rapids that leave you with little to do except guide your way safely through. At other points along the river, when the water is flat and lifeless, it is time to paddle. Start paddling friends.

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