December 2012? Don't sweat it, but expect the business world to be different

We are living through an inflection point for both history and economics. Within two years we will know if the Mayan calendar accurately predicted the end of the world (forecast to be Dec. 21, 2012) or if the sun will continue to rise at the start of a new 25,695-year Mayan cycle. By Dec. 21, 2012, we also will know if the recent up-tick in economic activity will have been a precursor to more predictable, stable markets or if it is a simple head fake and the new demand curve is way below the level suggested by a Dow index of 9,800.

Personally, I am betting on both.

With my Mayan hat on, I believe the world as we knew it here in the U.S. will not return to the robust, conspicuous-consumption levels seen over the past 15 years. I believe capacity will be harshly rationalized in many categories, with the most inefficient suppliers at each step in the supply chain being forced out.

These dislocations will be painful, particularly as communities that rely on single, large employers watch those employers fade. I believe our country and consumers need to “de-lever,” or reduce debt, as fast as possible. I am more optimistic about the consumer’s ability to reduce personal debt than I am about our country’s ability to deal with growing federal and state deficits. This problem is real.

Planning under way

However, with my optimistic capitalist’s hat on, I believe the sun will rise on Dec. 22, 2012, and with Christmas Eve only two days away, consumers will begin joyously celebrating. I am hoping I get a few presents, but with the then-known survival of mankind, I intend to give many! I expect the 2012 Christmas season will be the best the retail world has ever seen. Time to get ready for the demand! Be thoughtful, be conservative, and bet that the future is real and good, waiting for those competitors that play the game best.

Amid all the economic uncertainty, the Contract Packaging Association’s Board of Directors is developing a strategic plan designed to see us through, regardless of which direction the economy goes. We are setting the bar high. We want to continue to provide our members with undisputed value. For many members, the personal time they willingly spend on the association’s activities represents more “cost” to them than the membership dues. Fortunately, our membership has embraced what we offer, as confirmed by our growth, increasing fourfold from 35 members in 2004 to 162 today.

I can report that our association is financially healthy. Over the past five years we have de-levered and are carrying cash balances. Our 2009 annual meeting was both a business and financial success, as broadly reported by members, associate members, tabletop exhibitors, and spouses.

The association will be active over the next several months. We have our regularly scheduled monthly board of directors meetings, which are open to membership participation. During the association’s current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2010, we will be hosting our first two webinars, targeting technical information that can be useful to both corporate and plant management. The association also operated a booth at the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s show in mid-November in Rosemont, IL.

Please consider joining us at our annual meeting, which will be at the Naples Grande Beach Resort, Naples, FL, Feb. 18-21, 2010. Those who attended the 2009 meeting are hoping we can continue setting attendance records for spouses, who seem to consistently enjoy the camaraderie and social activities. We have been able to negotiate great rates at a superior venue. A complete program agenda and registration information appear elsewhere in this issue.

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