Issue Date: March 30, 2009
Planning in Difficult Times
PREPARING FOR the future is difficult in the best of times. In the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, it is even more complicated. At the most recent ACS Careers in Industry Forum, society Past-President William F. Carroll Jr. offered his views on the current economic situation for chemistry's stakeholders.
Industry, he said, is in an overcapacity situation. For example, the automobile industry has more production capacity for automobiles than people will buy. The chemical industry, particularly commodity chemicals, finds itself in a similar situation, and the response is to shed the "oldest, least competitive capacity" and allow the lower cost capacity to come forward, he said.
"A lot of that capacity was built in anticipation of the growth and demand in emerging markets and that's changing as well," Carroll said. "How those markets come back over time will make a huge difference in how the industry responds." He added that 95% of the ultimate market for chemicals is outside the U.S. because that's where 95% of the world's population is.
Intellectual and physical infrastructures are challenges for government, Carroll said, and he expressed concern about the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus package. "The government needs to limit its reach and recognize that it's very capable of crowding out the private sector if it chose to do so, and that's not in its best interest," he said. He added that the marketplace does a better job than the government of picking technological winners and losers because it lets them compete for investment dollars. However, an important government function is to provide the appropriate regulatory backdrop for the economy.
As for challenges facing individuals, "you are not a commodity business, you are a specialty business," Carroll reminded the audience. "You must differentiate. You must brand. You must be recognizable. You have to find a way of working your way to the front of the group. Excel and be seen." One way to do that is to network, he added.
Carroll's last piece of advice: "Stay positive. The situation is not totally about you, but there are things you can do" to be prepared for opportunity when it comes your way.
Careers Industry Forums are held monthly. The next forum is on April 16 and will feature Robert Peoples, director of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute, speaking on "Green Chemists and Engineers—There's Never Been a Better Time." ACS members can participate in the calls free of charge, but advance registration is required at www.acs.org/careers (click on "ACS Careers Industry Forum"). Transcripts of previous calls can be found at acscareers.wordpress.com/industry-forum.
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