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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Senate Democrats have taken the climate bill off the table. At least, they have abandoned the climate bill that would have instituted emissions caps on greenhouse gasses and promoted renewable energy production. In its place will be what Bradford Plumer of the New Republic calls a “very pared-back bill” focused on oil spill response, with a bit of money for home energy-efficiency retrofits (maybe some benefits for our residential window folks?).

Should industry (including the glass industry) be issuing a sigh of relief that emissions cap legislation has been delayed for the foreseeable future? (See Closer look: Climate bill, cap and trade could hurt industry). According to Lisa Reisman from MetalMiner in a July 26 column, yes. The discarded bill would have capped emissions domestically without including any provisions to move the country away from energy imports. “We can’t see how climate legislation focused on limiting emissions will reduce our dependence on foreign sources. In fact, we could assume the cost of energy would increase, thereby further opening up alternative sources of supply to fill the gap (e.g. imports),” Reisman said. And the original bill, if passed, could have put metals producers (and glass producers, as well as all of industry, I presume) in an “international competitive disadvantage,” Reisman said.

However, I worry the big picture news is not all good for our industry—or the U.S. economy in general.

On the emissions cap front, I want to re-state a warning I heard from a National Association of Manufacturers official during Glass Week that emissions regulations are coming (eventually) and can come from many sources, including the Environmental Protection Agency. Manufacturers should be prepared, even if this particular bill has fallen to the wayside.

Additionally, what about the segments of the glass industry that are investing in renewable initiatives, particularly the solar power industry? (See Max Perilstein’s blog from a couple weeks ago, Solar is here to stay)? How much longer will the solar industry be able to thrive without a major governmental push for renewables? And will solar no longer be a place of opportunity in our industry? (On the other hand, perhaps the emissions caps would have hurt glass companies more than a major boost in solar would have helped?)

What about the overall U.S. economy? We’ve been hearing that green jobs could be the key to reviving the economy. Are these jobs lost? And what does that mean for economic recovery? In a June 24 column lamenting the tabled bill, Thomas Friedman shared one anecdote about green jobs. “A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the C.E.O. of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewal energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. ‘If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that’s roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years,’ said Hay. (Say goodbye to that.),” Friedman said.

And finally, what about the United States’ future ability to compete in a green world economy? While the U.S. is postponing climate legislation, China is moving forward on its own domestic carbon trading program, Friedman said. Even if the United States is able to pass emissions reduction legislation in the next five years, the country and its industry will be noticeably behind China.

While I do issue a sigh of relief for our manufacturers, I issue a greater sigh of disappointment and trepidation. Climate change legislation that pushes our country away from carbon power and toward renewable is inevitable. I just hope it doesn’t come too late for the industry, the United States, and, yes, this world of ours. (Take a peek at this report from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to see one worst-case scenario that results in large fractions of the planet, including most of the eastern United States, becoming uninhabitable).

What are your thoughts? Join the discussion.

--By Katy Devlin, associate editor

Monday, July 19, 2010

How many of you were forced to lay off employees in the last 18 months? More importantly, how many of you are looking to rehire those employees when the market rebounds? If your hand is raised, I have three words for you: Proceed with caution.

According to Jill Easley, owner of GlassRecruiters.com, the decision to rehire previously laid off staff can be a tricky one. Among the benefits: Former employees are a known quantity. You know what to expect in terms of job performance and how they will fit into your company culture. Training previous employees is easier, and rehired employees tend to be very loyal, Easley says.

But times have changed, for your company and your former employees. Productivity improvements might mean that former employees are no longer the best fit for the job. “For many companies, productively gains and the nature of the work have changed fundamentally since [the layoffs], Easley says. “Sometimes, former employees have to relearn their jobs, or they may no longer have the required skills.”

Former employees could also—understandably—have baggage. It’s important to know the individual’s circumstances, Easley says: Were they unhappy with salary, drive time, etc.? Are they still in the same location? Have they done anything to continue to stay updated on their skills? Have their goals changed?

Regardless of your take on rehiring former staff, it's always a good idea to audit your hiring practices and policies. Easley recommends referring to the "HR Guide to Employment Law" to help navigate the hiring process. And if you have experience rehiring former employees, please feel free to share your stories so we can continue to learn from one another. Thanks!

Jenni Chase is editor of Glass Magazine. Write her at jchase@glass.org.

Sunday, July 18, 2010
Does anyone really know what is happening with the economic state of commercial construction? I think for most people out and about, they will tell you the state is miserable to weak, but seemingly once every few weeks a report comes out that sings the praises of health and growth. (And yes I know there are various reports that say things are terrible too, but the “good” reports are what are baffling.) So what is it? Personally I think it’s both… yes both… I believe that the economy on our side is very weak. I also do see signs of life, but those signs are minimized by the overcapacity in our world. And overcapacity has led to pricing erosion that has never been seen before. So any bright spots are getting minimized, at least until the herd gets thinned out there, and quite frankly you wonder if that will happen. So until then, everyone keeps plugging along, and all of those positive reports get to be taken with a gigantic grain of salt.
 
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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors. Write Perilstein at maxbcat@aol.com.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In a recent McGraw-Hill Construction survey, 13 percent of those surveyed said project financing was getting easier to obtain, up from 7.2 percent in the first quarter. However, 39 percent of those surveyed said project financing is harder to obtain, versus 50.7 percent in the first quarter. The survey polled about 2,000 U.S.-based contractors and engineers.

The industry is worried about inflationary pressures once the market turns around, according to the survey, but half of respondents said they have seen little or no upward pressure on prices.

When assessing the construction market, 53 percent of respondents said the current construction market is still in decline, 36 percent said it had stabilized, and 11 percent said it was improving. However, survey respondents expect the picture to be different in 12 to 18 months, with 50 percent believing the construction market will improve and another 39 percent believing it will stabilize in 2011.

In his presentation, "2010 Outlook for U.S. Construction Activity – Midyear Update," on June 16 in Arlington, Va., Robert Murray, vice president, Economic Affairs, McGraw-Hill Construction, said, “As far as cost of financing, now and until the end of this year is a great time to go ahead with construction projects.” Tighter lending standards are still a major constraint for 2010, he said. A survey of bank lending officers shows a loosening of lending standards in the commercial and industrial sectors, but it is not visible yet in the commercial real estate sector. The short-term rates are still low and will remain low until the end of this year, he said.

What are you experiencing in the lending market?

—By Sahely Mukerji, senior editor, Glass Magazine

Monday, July 12, 2010

As many of you know, beginning this month, the National Fenestration Rating Council will require insulating glass certification for all products that are licensed as certified in accordance with the NFRC Product Certification Program.

This new requirement has been in the works for a number of years, with its roots in NFRC’s history. The Fenestration Durability Subcommittee -- later changed to the Long Term Energy Performance Subcommittee --had sought ways to communicate how products would perform over time. This subcommittee found this goal difficult to achieve, however, and the group’s work faltered.

An insulating glass research project funded by the Department of Energy, directed by the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance and supported by NFRC, provided the spark that led to the idea that one way to help assure long-term performance is to require fenestration manufacturers to test and certify insulating glass performance.

NFRC, being a consensus-driven organization, worked with its members and affiliated allies to consider how best to require IG unit certification; after all, there are a number of current bodies that test and/or certify insulating glass units. After numerous meetings, discussions and ballots, the requirement for certified IGs became an integral part of the PCP. In order to allow licensees the time needed to meet these new requirements, NFRC provided almost two years for them to prepare.

Now the time has come. We believe IG certification will provide value-added benefits to the NFRC label and associated certification programs. For those manufacturers still struggling with this new requirement, please know that NFRC does provide for hardship cases where program participants may not be able to meet these requirements due to unforeseen circumstances. Program participants who feel that they meet these circumstances should contact their independent certification program and inspection agency, and inquire about a request for extension.

If there are any questions regarding this information, please feel free to contact the NFRC office: 301/589-1776.

Where do we go from here?

So, what’s next for NFRC? An NFRC-sponsored program for Energy Star windows verification? Air leakage requirements? Should NFRC begin certifying products for air/water/structural? Stay tuned for more on these issues …

--Jim Benney is the National Fenestration Rating Council’s chief executive officer. He has been involved in developing product and performance standards for the window and glass industry for more than 20 years. He can be reached at jbenney@nfrc.org.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

Friday, July 9, 2010

So as of this past Friday, I am no longer in the employment of Arch Aluminum. And as a buddy reminded me today, it’s been like the line from the Grateful Dead: "What a long strange trip it’s been." There is no doubt the past 7+ years had goods, bads, uglies and really uglies, and I wish some things turned out different/better, but it didn’t happen that way. Anyway, it really is what it is, and I am looking forward to my next stop in life.

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Write Perilstein at maxbcat@aol.com.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Last week, I had an item about solar and the fact that Guardian and PPG had success with their various approaches. Then this weekend, the President announced $2 billion of funding for a couple of solar operations. While it still is a far way off, I really believe solar will be a big part of the advancement of our industry. And while I agree with a lot of the arguments of the costs versus efficiency crowd, I just believe the need for this country to really get serious about renewable energy is going to win out. The delay of the overall success will obviously be tied to the ability for the economy to start rebounding, and sadly that looks like it won’t happen until sometime next year. But still, it's coming and news like the stuff from last week along with the GANA symposium and the continuation of a solar dialogue at GlassBuild America and the Glass Executive Forum will only help keep the progression moving.

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Max Perilstein is vice president of marketing for Arch Aluminum & Glass Co., Tamarac, Fla.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I am a lifelong resident of Nashville. During the first weekend of May this year, Nashville suffered what some have classified as a 500-year flood when 17 inches of rain fell in two days. Our previous two-day rainfall record was less than half of 17 inches. Every stream, creek, tributary, and river in the area rose above flood levels. There was not a person in Nashville that was not impacted in some way. Some lost their lives. Many lost their homes. Some lost their businesses. Others were stranded because they were surrounded by water and couldn’t leave. Many cars were stranded on the interstate because the roads were covered with water. Buildings floated down roads. If we were not affected directly, we were indirectly. I had two employees suffer significant damage. A relative of a competitor’s employee died when swept away by flood waters. The impact was beyond belief.

But Nashville survived. Our community united and, for the most part, unselfishly attacked the challenge of recovering. There was very little looting. Tennessee is the Volunteer State and we demonstrated why. Initially, volunteers helped with the demolition of flooded houses and caring for those individuals who became displaced. Subsequently, the community began looking beyond daily concerns and toward the future restoration of our community. We also had the help and support of many people from around the country. Many non-Nashvillians came to help us. Thank you!

This has been a less than splendid year for many of us. Nashville is no exception. Now, because of the flood, many of our businesses’ suffering increased. The CMA Music Festival is our largest tourism event of the year. It brings huge amounts of money to our community and many small businesses. For some, the CMA Music Festival is a make-or-break annual event. This event took place six weeks after the flood. Much of the area where the festival is held was flooded. A monumental amount of work had to be done in a very short timeframe. You can imagine how concerned all of us were. We wondered whether people would show up.

We did it. I am writing this one week after the CMA Music Festival ended. It set a record for attendance and revenue. Our hotels had a 95 percent occupancy rate for the week. Thank you to all who came. Thank you for all that support and help. We have not fully recovered but we are well on the way.

Often in business we face obstacles beyond our control. The attitude we have toward overcoming those challenges will determine how well we succeed. Character is not made in a crisis; it is just exhibited.

By the way, if you want to see how I am doing toward my goal of running 56 miles to celebrate my 56th birthday, click here.

—Bill Evans, president, Evans Glass Co., Nashville   

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Just when you thought we were in a quiet news cycle, Alcoa goes out and buys Traco. Well that spices things up! This is a very interesting deal on many levels. Alcoa, which owns the Kawneer powerhouse, now has added a very prominent piece to their puzzle. This without question makes an already very good company, better, and raises the stakes on the rest of the industry to see who does what next. Plus, it also shows that even though the economy is tight, negotiations are going on and deals are being worked on. The other angle is now Kawneer gets to inherit the home of one of the main people who helped push the NFRC debacle on us. I wonder how that position will be going forward, though the damage from the NFRC side is pretty much done. End of the day though this is a huge deal and maybe the start of many others to follow …

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Max Perilstein is vice president of marketing for Arch Aluminum & Glass Co., Tamarac, Fla.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A panel of experts talked about Keys to Enhancing productivity at the 4th Annual ENR-CURT Construction Business Forum, June 15-16, at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, Va. Paul Goodrum, associate professor, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Kentucky, College of Engineering, Lexington, Ky.; Albert Schwarzkopf, senior project engineer, Merck & Co. Whitehouse Station, N.J.; Jim Shoriak, director, Major Projects – Refining Group, Marathon Oil Co., Houston; Steve Toon, CE&T; productivity engineer, Bechtel Group Inc., San Francisco; and Dave Umstot, vice chancellor of facilities management, San Diego Community College District, took part in the panel.

The experts agreed that using technology and best practices were key to improving productivity. “The construction industry is one of the largest manufacturing industries in the U.S., worth about $1 trillion, little lower now, maybe $800k-900k,” Goodrum said. “Construction lags behind other industries [in terms of productivity]. We need a productivity index. The data is there, but how you can begin to accumulate it is the question. We see a lot of variability in project performance. From project to project we’re not necessarily doing what we need to do. We need to ensure what needs to be done is being done. Technology can get you there.” Integrated design processes, such as BIM, allow designers, builders and trade contractors to work in a collaborative 3D environment during design and construction, he said.

There’s a need for workplace productivity analysis, Toon said. “Figure out how much time is spent doing direct work at the work place. All those pieces come together when you do the analysis. We want labor productivity at the back end. We need to embrace technology and need to implement it earlier on. Health and safety issues, HR policies, all need to be in place, and not shot from the hip.”

Doing the right thing in the wrong time is not necessarily productive, the experts agreed. “If not coordinated, productivity’s compromised,” Umstot said. “Timing the project is important. The owners need to put that in place. All of the contractors need to have input in the plan. Measure productivity on key activities, do a selection of the key activities, and roll those up in sector indexes. Theoretically, it can be done, but it’s expensive.”

Contractors who have the motivation, adopt best practices and succeed, the experts said.

“If we all improve productivity best practices, it will benefit the industry as a whole,” Schwarzkopf said. “We need to get better at that as an industry. If we do it, the rest of the world will follow, so we’ll need to keep improving.”

What’s missing now is a metric of best practices, Goodrum said. “We need to measure the practice. That’s the next step.”

Do you agree? What do you do to increase productivity in your company?

—By Sahely Mukerji, senior editor, Glass Magazine

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