Steady growth the benchmark in interesting times

29 May 2017

Iwas in Chicago last month, for the ProMat exhibition. It was my first time in the city, and certainly for the first half of the week its soubriquet of The Windy City proved accurate, with the path around the edge of Lake Michigan being temporarily closed due to large waves charging in—one person I spoke to claimed there would be 22ft waves, although from what I saw this may have been width rather than height.

Tempestuous weather aside, the show appeared to have been very successful. There was plenty of traffic in the aisles, and the various industry members with whom I spoke seemed positive. The overall impression I got from companies exhibiting at the show was that the North American market is growing steadily, rather than skyrocketing. Much has been made of Donald Trump’s planned investment in infrastructure—not least his potentially Quixotic wall that has been mooted for erection between the States and Mexico—but this may have provided more of a boost for manufacturers of construction cranes rather than our sector.

However, hopefully we will see this general upturn in industry investment leading to a more notable increase in business for the overhead crane sector too—but either way, the sector in the US seems to be reassuringly busy, without manufacturers being run off their feet.

Over here on the other side of the Atlantic, British politics has continued in the sleepy, peaceful fashion we’ve come to rely on, with the announcement that a third national vote in the space of just over two years will take place in June. After the general election of May 2015 and the ‘Brexit’ referendum last summer, Britain now faces more upheaval with a snap general election, bypassing the ‘fixed term’ rule designed to provide stability.

Whatever the outcome of the election, it looks like industry in Britain will have to sit tight for a little while longer before the dust settles. The EU has said that it will not continue negotiating the terms of Brexit with Prime Minister Theresa May in the run-up to the general election, further delaying the prospect of a conclusion that would provide a foundation for British companies to plan for the next few years.

The Conservatives are traditionally seen as a friend of industry but, just to further complicate matters, the Labour Party has its own investment plan with a promise to build hundreds of thousands of houses—which would give the construction industry a boost—and a pledge to offer small businesses tax breaks to enable them to pay their employees a much-improved minimum wage—which should, in theory, stimulate a stagnating economy.

In the face of regular political activity and surprises, the steady growth in our sector seen in the US would be a good target for the UK. Over our next two issues we’ll be looking at the North American market in more depth, followed by conversations with a group of overhead crane manufacturers in the north of the UK. It seems that at the moment, the landscape is changing so quickly that it’s hard to keep up—but these articles should provide some insight into the current state of the markets, even if, at the moment, nobody can predict what lies ahead. May we live in interesting times, as the old saying goes.