We first received reader outlooks for 2004 with some disappointment, because their cautionary view of business wasn't more optimistic. No doubt the year will be good, according to the results from our 2004 Annual Report & Forecast, but the industry seems to be waiting before putting its heart into believing. Yet since October, when those responses came in, the economic news has provided some heart for the outlook.
Here's just a sample of what we're hearing as 2003 winds down:
- Our company economist calls for 2004 gross domestic product growth of 4.5 percent.
- The Conference Board projects GDP to grow at an astounding 5.7-percent rate, the best growth rate since the early 1980s, but a projection that depends entirely on everything going right.
- October manufacturers' shipments of construction equipment totaled $1.927 billion, the highest since December 2000.
- Tax receipts are soaring, with those on capital gains and corporate profits up as much as one-third higher than some states budgeted.
- Construction employment gained 10,000 jobs in November, including 5,000 in the heavy sector.
The heavy sector, primarily highways and transportation, lags other construction markets in optimism for 2004, though. This market, so driven by Federal commitments to funding, is hamstrung by the delays in Washington over reauthorization of a surface transportation bill.
We've been patient as the Feds have wrestled with performing its responsibility to protect the nation from enemies within and without. But with the way Congress—with the President's collaboration—spent our tax dollars at the tail end of the year, patience is thin. It's hard to swallow some of the monster spending packages we're seeing when funding for the transportation system—falling under the government's responsibility of regulating trade between the states—continues to stagger. Seems we need to send a reminder.
Congress reconvenes on Tuesday, Jan. 20. What a signal it would send if members were greeted on their first day back with messages from the transportation industry. Who wants to help make it happen?
|Rod Sutton, Editor in Chief, 630-288-8130, firstname.lastname@example.org|