The Long View: Looking Forward at Year’s End

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As we approach the end of 2017 and contemplate the contours of the past 12 months, it’s impossible for me not to come to the conclusion that things are not as bad as they could be-in fact, from a business perspective, they’re pretty darned good. Sign and commercial graphics companies are on fairly steady ground, as the industry this year has seen some pretty appreciable growth.

That’s partly because, according to some key economic indicators, the overall U.S. economy is in decent shape. For example, the growth rate for our gross domestic product-a measure of the nation’s production output-is expected to remain between the 2 percent to 3 percent ideal range; and unemployment is forecast to continue at a modest rate (4.4 percent) in 2018. All this without too much inflation or deflation. That’s a Goldilocks economy.

Yet there are cracks in the Goldilocks perspective as economists also tell us that a lot of part-time workers would prefer full-time work, and that most of the job growth we’re seeing right now is still in low-paying retail, food other service industries. In addition, too many of the long-term unemployed have been out of work for so long now that they’ll never be able to return to the high-paying jobs they used to have.

Still, as the economy has continued its steady recovery, businesses that are doing better are gaining confidence, and are not so gun-shy about expansions and new equipment purchases. Good news for equipment manufacturers.  And the major buyouts and big mergers and acquisitions seem to have slowed somewhat from the previous year, indicating that more businesses are settling in for steady production and a prosperous future.

SDG published several Industry Intelligence Reports this year that bear out some of the economic optimism within our industry. From our LED & EMC Report we learned that the electric signage sector looks very encouraging, with 80 percent of respondents indicating a positive market outlook and are expecting continued growth in LED illuminated signage. And from our Grand Format Report we learned that a whopping 85 percent of respondents say they have a positive outlook for the wide/grand-format signage and graphics sector.

On the technology front we’ve seen some interesting innovations this year-high-quality LED components designed for increasingly specific applications, super high-speed UV-LED printers, much more sophisticated and versatile table cutters, new developments in UV-cure ink technology, a growing array of textile printing options. On and on.

As I write this column Congress is working very hard to re-write the U.S. tax code with the laudable goal of lowering the tax burden for businesses. By all accounts 2018 should shape up to be a prosperous year as we continue to say goodbye to any residual effects of the Great Recession (good riddance), but be on the lookout for continued irrational exuberance in the stock market.

Okay, back to work.

Ken Mergentime

Ken Mergentime is the former executive editor of Sign & Digital Graphics and WRAPS magazines.

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