OK, so it's not November (October to our Canadian friends), and I may be rushing things a bit to talk in terms of Thanksgiving - but, contrary to all the negative press about the economy these days, we in the window industry still have a lot to be thankful for.
Why on earth should we talk about being thankful when some sectors of our manufacturing industries are hiding under their beds and dot-com whiz kids are jumping out of windows? Quite simply, to paraphrase Mark Twain, I believe that reports of the economy's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
True, the stock market has been, well, "interesting" — reflecting the fact that certain sectors are experiencing a shakeout (which should come as no surprise to some blessed with 20-20 hindsight and an eye for "irrational exuberance."). Some manufacturing areas — particularly automotive and high-tech — are down, unemployment is up a tic, and consumer spending is iffy.
But statistics more near and dear to our industry's heart are not nearly so bleak.
For example, USA Today reports that, while construction activity is not as strong as a year ago, it continues to exceed expectations. Even though multifamily starts declined slightly in April after advancing for the last three months, overall housing starts increased 1% on strength of single-family construction to 1.61 million in April from March, a stronger pace than anticipated.
Strong demand for homes, as indicated by April's record high number of new home sales (up 7% from March), is driving the sturdy building activity in the single-family market. Housing affordability remains high enough to offset the negative influences of a weakening labor market, a plunge in consumer confidence and a faltering stock market.
Moreover, continues their analysis, there is reason to believe that the pace of building may pick up. Homebuilders are becoming more optimistic, with the NAHB's index of builder expectations for home sales in the next six months rising, as are mortgage applications for purchases.
Non-residential construction continues to be healthy as well.
Another reason for optimism is the fact that our industry has unique characteristics - and timely opportunities — that help insulate us from the worst of the worst.
As a result, unlike the auto industry, dot-coms, and high tech industries, there have been no headline-grabbing layoffs in the window industry.
For one thing, our markets are quite diverse. Our products are not as sensitive to the problems of a single sector. They are finding ready buyers in single-family homes or multi-family, multi-story apartment buildings; in schools, hospitals, and commercial developments from the most mundane suburban office buildings to the newest architectural high rises.
For another, even when new construction starts begin to sag, renovation tends to pick up the pace, helping add value to people's biggest investment - their homes and buildings.
In addition to being part of a truly resilient industry, we can all be proud of the numerous and diverse contributions toward improved quality of life afforded by our products — standards to insure affordability and safety for manufactured housing, and life-saving devices, just to name a couple.
Even the current energy crisis, often seen by pundits as the "wild card" in whether the nation sinks into a recession, offers opportunities for us. Our products are in fact one of the answers to the energy problem, offering opportunities to save money as well as maintain comfort. Windows keep out water and cold air while admitting spring breezes. Daylighting brings the sun in without the cold, and brightens both the room and spirits. Skylights offer unique daylighting exposure from above, admitting natural lighting to inside spaces inaccessible by perimeter fenestration.
Our longer-term future remains bright, driven by new technologies as well as by reasonably healthy markets. On the horizon are exciting new products, such as electrochromic glazings that allow privacy and "super windows" - triple glazing with heat mirror - that are more efficient than the wall, actually resulting in a net gain of energy. These developments are the tangible result of risk taking and investment by manufacturers to improve product performance and overall quality at minimal cost to the customer.
We are beginning to reap the benefits of being part of an industry that cares enough about product performance and quality to invest in product development, testing by accredited laboratories and certification.
So, get out from under that bed! You might want to temper your next reading of the news media's reports on the state of the economy and business climate with a healthy dose of facts.
For our industry, at least, it's better than you think...and it's going to get better."