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Maintaining Community In A Widespread Industry

February/January - 2008
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Human nature has always compelled us to build community infrastructures. We value being part of a community, whether it's as small as a family or as large as a city. Community's enable us to take on more than we could alone as individuals. The old aphorism, "two heads are better than one" is further confirmation on the benefits of working with others - just imagine how much better it would be to have 10, 50 or 300 heads working towards a common goal?


The metal finishing industry has historically encompassed a number of ‘communities'. Organizations such as the American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers Society (AESF), Metal Finishing Suppliers' Association (MFSA), National Association of Metal Finishers (NAMF), the Surface Finishing Industry Council (SFIC), and the National Paints and Coatings Association (NPCA) have individually and collectively brought scores of metal finishing professionals together in support of the industry. Due to the variety of operations that are grouped under the metal finishing sector and their fairly small sizes (nearly 90% of U.S. metal finishing establishments had fewer than 50 employees in 2003 - EPA) it has been necessary for these establishments and individual finishers to pool their resources.

Economic recession in 2001, causing a decline in U.S. manufacturing activity, significantly bruised metal finishing in this country. It has been difficult for many in our industry to bounce back due to simultaneous globalization trends. As a result, many finishing firms have simply exited the industry. It is estimated that "between 2000 and 2003, there was a 25-30% reduction in industry employment, with a corresponding reduction in sales of approximately 40%" (EPA). Globalization is not only affecting the finishing industry, however. Overall, the American economy is suffering from the decline of its manufacturing base, the rapid increase of global competition, an accumulating trade deficit, and a lack of commitment to scientific research.

Despite this ominous outlook, the metal finishing industry has made it clear that they are here to stay. Beginning in 2007, the AESF, NAMF, and MFSA joined forces to officially become the NASF - National Association for Surface Finishing. Prior to the merger, advocates asserted that "the reorganization is expected to create a stronger, more viable vehicle for advancing the interests of the North American surface finishing industry globally. The name, NASF, reflects the integration of association cultures while preserving the individual identities and traditions of the former organizations." (Finishing Today Magazine, Oct. 2006). As a collective, this newly expanded community of metal finishers has amplified their voice, widened their industrial network, and significantly enhanced the benefits of membership.

The benefits of immersing oneself in a like-minded community, however, do not stop here. Organizations, such as the NASF, provide opportunities for members to engage socially, network, learn from one another, vote on industry issues, and collaborate on projects. It has now become easier than ever to join a community. The internet is riddled with social networks covering everything from the professional sort (law.com for lawyers) to the ridiculous sort (Hamsterster.com - yes, a network site for hamsters; a parody of ‘freindster.com'). It is here, in the wake of this ‘networking revolution', that FinishingTalk.com aims to play a key role. Since the website was created specifically for networking purposes, we have been able to watch as members benefit from the shared content of industry news, events, and interactivity with other metal finishers at the tips of their fingers. At no other time in human history has this level of communication been so widely available, and at such an affordable cost.

Metal Finishers may still have to battle and adapt to the threat of globalization, the demands of increasingly rigid environmental controls and regulations, price-competition from developing countries, and product and material regulations - but not alone. If the level of industry collaboration increases, the less intimidating these threats will become. As metal finishers combine their resources, share their knowledge, and work together to find solutions to these looming obstacles, they will understand the power that lies in such a simple and fundamental concept as community.

Written by Anna Levitsky, Editor