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The way things were


#editorial #windblades

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Jeff Sloan CompositesWorld head shot
Photo Credit: CW

Technically, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 ended in June 2009 in the United States. However, mention this in any social setting and you’re likely to be met with a roll of the eyes and some vitriol about the ineptitude of the government, economists, politicians, banks or some combination of the four. The fact is that most of us continue to feel the pains of the Great Recession, thus the contention that it’s a relic of history is largely a joke.

The problem is that the notion that the recession is over — however true by common economic statistical measures — carries with it a great deal of baggage and meaning beyond the dry, data-based statement that we’ve come to know and dislike. When most of us hear, “the recession is over,” our brains want to translate this into, “things are back to the way they were.” Which they aren’t.

It would be great if our economic ups and downs were just disruptions in an ever-flowing status quo. It’s clear, however, that the recession we’re trying to leave behind has fundamentally altered the much-loved “the-way-things-were” landscape, which means that our post-Great Recession will offer much in the way of unpredictability and uncertainty.

We’re seeing this play out already in the composites community. It’s easy to wistfully yearn for the mid-2000s again and await a return to a composites world in which the economy seemed unable to consume enough wind blades, cars, yachts and airplanes. But even a cursory evaluation of the market reveals basic changes at work, to which we’re all adjusting.

The post-Great Recession poster child is the marine manufacturing community. In October 2010 we reported in CT about how hard boatbuilders were hit by the recession, and offered data from the National Marine Manufacturer’s Assn. (NMMA, Chicago, Ill.) as proof. Since then, 2010 data have been issued, and not surprisingly this important composites market is still seeking an upturn.

If your glass is half full, 2010 was at least not as bad as 2008 or 2009, but those two years are among the worst ever, resulting in the halving of the new-powerboat market in the U.S. between 2006 and 2010. For its part, the NMMA expects 2011 to be flat compared with 2010 — a sign that, perhaps, the bottom has been found.

This is not to single out or pick on marine manufacturers. My point is that the marine market is one of the most important consumers of composites materials; thus, its health goes a long way toward determining the health of the overall composites community. Whatever the “new normal” is for composites manufacturers, marine has been and will continue to be a major player. Even if marine’s “bubble”-based glory days are gone, here’s hoping that at least some of the old magic can come back to stay.