First Word: Behind the headlines

The business section of a newspaper recently offered two stories about construction-related manufacturers in direct contrast to each other. One headline read, “Profits jump 57 percent at Astec,” and the other said, “$5.8 billion loss slaps Ford.” There is much these two articles did not say – facts perhaps not deemed newsworthy. But there’s no doubt that international business is affecting all of us and that one of these firms (Astec) is growing as a result of their international business and the other (Ford) is restructuring their business model as a result of both foreign competition and massive costs associated with retirement and health care plans.

All this reaffirms each of us must continue to adapt to a rapid-changing market place in order to remain solvent. Innovation is the key. The manufacturers’ ability develop new products – or make significant changes to existing ones – helps contractors become more efficient and productive … which also translates into more profitable.

If you think these productivity changes only work for big contractors, then you owe it to yourself to take a second look at today’s construction equipment. Innovations designed to promote ease of operation, fuel efficiency, durability and less frequent service intervals create additional value for any equipment owner, big or small.

The two large companies mentioned in this newspaper are adapting in order to survive and thrive. Astec is offering alternative fuel (coal burning) asphalt plants, and continues to promote the use of recycled asphalt to resurface the infrastructure. Ford, on the other hand, is dropping unsuccessful product lines, closing the plants where these vehicles were produced, and focusing their collective attention on the products which have the greatest market share – like their Super Duty Trucks.

While they appear to be moving in opposite directions right now, the very thing that made both the Astec and Ford brands as strong will continue to serve them both as they react to the changing marketplace and psyche of their customers worldwide. Even if their profit or loss numbers have a few more digits than your business, the example they provide for us is clear and poignant: Do not promise more than you can provide. Do not overlook your competition, foreign or domestic, big or small; remember anyone could be a potential customer; and profit or loss is only temporary. Rarely do things stay the same. Count on the sun to shine, but prepare for rainy days.