Living in Interesting Times

How is the COVID-19 outbreak affecting your business? Stepping into the role of editor of Products Finishing in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak has been odd, to say the least. Here’s my story — tell us yours.
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COVID 19 and manufacturing, COVID 19 and industry, coating and finishing industry, industrial coating

A month ago at the time of this writing, I was setting up appointments and packing my bags for a trip abroad as a senior editor for Product Finishing’s sister publication CompositesWorld. I was finishing up two articles that were on deadline, running down leads on my upcoming articles and my head was swimming with new ideas for stories further down the pipeline.

The coronavirus was still, for the most part, confined to Asia.

And then everything changed. I found myself with the opportunity to step into the role of editor-in-chief of Products Finishing. Reports of coronavirus in Italy were just starting to hit the news. I accepted the job and then hopped on a plane to Bristol, U.K. The plan was to visit a couple of composites manufacturing facilities and then fly to Paris to report on JEC World, the largest international composites trade show. All the while, I was making plans for upcoming trips I would be making in my newly appointed role.

When I got to Bristol, I learned JEC was postponed. As I met with manufacturers working in composites and aerospace, the implications of the coronavirus outbreak were becoming increasingly more apparent. By the time I changed my travel plans and headed home, rumors of trade show cancellations were spreading like the virus itself. The first trip I planned as editor of Products Finishing was to visit PaintExpo in Karlsruhe, Germany. That show has now been postponed.

So, I step into the role at Products Finishing in a time of uncertainty and you’re likely asking yourself “who is this new guy?” Rightly so. I come to the magazine from a background in publishing and media in a wildly varying range of subjects. During the course of my career, I’ve written for publications that covered woodworking, writing instruction and graphic design.

During my time writing for CompositesWorld, I reported on an industry focused on a wide range of markets, from civil infrastructure to aerospace. I once finished a story about the Hyperloop and then turned around to write about a running shoe. Composite manufacturers use a variety of fiber reinforcements made from everything from glass to carbon to basalt to hemp. Fibers are combined in myriad ways within a matrix of any number of polymers. Often, the composite materials used for any given product are often created at same the time as the product’s fabrication. Everything about composites is varied and a sum of parts. It actually works as a pretty good metaphor for how my own career has come together.

The common thread that I’ve noticed through my meandering career in writing and editing is the need for clear, efficient and effective communication, regardless of what industry you’re working in. I truly believe that communication is the most important skill in business and in life. My job is to tell stories. Every industry is filled with experts who’ve spent their lives honing skills and learning and developing ways of making things. None of them need a writer (or even an editor-in-chief) to tell them how to do what they do. But, perhaps what might be useful is someone who can listen to the stories and maybe help spread the word, clarify the message or explain a complicated concept.

I’m looking forward to navigating the world of coating and finishing. I’m eager to hear the stories that this industry has to tell. I’m excited to partner with shops and suppliers who want to spread the word about the things they’re doing.

There’s an old expression, “may you live in interesting times,” meant to have a sort of double meaning as a blessing and a curse. The saying implies uncertainty and danger, but also opportunity. No one can deny that it is an interesting time in the world of manufacturing. The economy seems to be on an upswing, but there’s also the challenge of bringing new talent into the workforce. Many shops seem like they’re getting plenty of work, but they desperately need skilled labor. As we look to the future of industry, the problem of workforce development looms large in almost every sector. And then there’s the thrown wrench of a pandemic in the mix.

But, times of uncertainty can be times of opportunity if you harness your creativity and put in some hard work. Like many of you, just a couple of weeks ago I was looking ahead to a year of exciting industry events and opportunities to make connections. Hopefully some of that can still happen. While the coronavirus outbreak has certainly made me reevaluate some of my plans, I’m excited to dig in and see what I can make of whatever comes our way. I’m looking forward to getting to know this industry and meet the folks who make it happen — hopefully in person. In the meantime, wash your hands.


How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your shop or business? We want to help you tell your story and keep the coating and finishing industry informed in this constantly evolving situation. Reach out to me at sfrancis@pfonline.com