For most of us in the packaging business today, the Great Depression is thankfully something we did not have to live through, at least during our professional lives, but the way the D-word is being bandied around these days in the mass media is as deeply unsettling as it is fundamentally misleading. History does tend to repeat itself, granted, but never with 100-percent accuracy and repeatability of a packaging line.
That said, it is clear that we are headed into uncharted territory with the unfolding economic downturn that appears to be sparing no economic sector from scorched-earth devastation that seemed unfathomable only a few short months ago.
With banks, insurance companies and automotive manufacturers tripping over each other in the queue for multi-gazillion-dollar government bailouts, even the most wide-eyed optimists among us will find it testing not to lose heart in the relentless downpour of gloomy economic news and frightening forecasts. If the economic gurus are correct, the cyclical downturns of the early 1990s and 1980s will feel like mild market corrections compared to the apocalyptic carnage coming our way now.
Naturally, this is terrible news for the North American packaging machinery and materials suppliers, but arguably far less terrible than for companies across a multitude of other goods-producing industries already finding it hard to stay afloat in the deepening sea of consumer and business pessimism.
It may well be clutching at straws, but there is some encouragement to be found in the fact that last month’s PACK EXPO International 2008 packaging exhibition in Chicago still drew the sort of crowds of visitors and show-floor exhibitors that most industrial trade-show organizers out there would sell their first-born for.
According to the show’s owners PMMI (Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute), the four-and-a-half-day event drew a total of 44,115 visitors—a three-percent drop from the show’s record-breaking 2006 edition—and 23,849 exhibiting personnel, a decline of just under 2,000 from two years ago.
Not the sort of trends to set hearts racing with joy, granted, but hardly the fatalistic scenario of a sunset industry being laid onto its deathbed to wither away. Arguably the most encouraging set of numbers from PMMI is the 250,000 sales leads generated throughout the course of the exhibition—a clear sign that there is still money out there to be spent by forward-looking companies, credit crunch be damned, if you have the right value-added product or service to sell.