Here on the cusp of FABTECH 2011—billed by organizers as “North America’s largest metalforming, fabricating, finishing, and welding conference and exhibition—job shops and manufacturers are showing glimpses of optimism. Not only are the event’s targeted participants gearing up for a show that promises to be much bigger and better in terms of both scale and substance, but anecdotal research and surveys also reflect a mood decidedly more upbeat than what we have seen in previous months.

First, the research: according to the new released September 2011 Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) Business Conditions Report, 145 North American metalforming companies queried anticipate steady business conditions during the next three months. Among the highlights: 24% predict that activity will improve, while 54% of those surveyed expect economic activity to remain unchanged during the next three months. A much lower percentage—22%, to be precise—report that activity will decline.

More telling is the general sentiment regarding new business. Roughly one-third of metalforming companies polled anticipate a 33% increase in orders, with 47% anticipating no change. Again, only a minority—20%, in this case—predict a decrease in orders (down from 27% in August). In fact, average daily shipping levels increased slightly in September, with 33% of participants reporting that shipping levels are above the activity seen three months ago.

Further encouraging news on the employment front, as the percentage of metalforming companies with a portion of their workforce on short time or layoff remained at 12% in September—an improvement over the same period one year ago, when 19% of companies reported having a portion of their workforce on short time or layoff.

“Metalforming companies anticipate steady business conditions for September through November, prior to the slowdown that generally is experienced during the holiday season,” said William E. Gaskin, PMA president. “The metalforming industry continues to perform better than a number of other segments of the economy, reflecting the positive impact that manufacturing, generally, has had in keeping the economic picture somewhat brighter than the news media would have us believe.”

As for the FABTECH 2011 event itself, which kicks off Nov. 14–17 at the famed McCormick Place in Chicago (see Metal Finishing's October FABTECH/Finishing Pavilion Preview Issue), the outlook is no less optimistic. “Registration is up and we are on track to fill nearly a half million net square feet of exhibit space with more than 1,200 exhibitors,” said John Catalano, FABTECH show manager. “The interest in this year’s event is a positive sign that our industry is alive and thriving.”

With more than 32,000 people expected to attend, I’d say he has good cause to be optimistic.