Everyone has experienced an occurrence they just wish people would forget. At a recent family gathering, I cringed as my son told his girlfriend's family about a camping trip we had taken while he was in Scouts.

On the way to the campgrounds, we stopped at a local road stand and purchased pumpkins. I thought my Scouts would enjoy a pumpkin carving contest while sitting around the fire on a crisp fall evening.

All went well until my son decided to practically chop off his finger tip. It wasn't too bad. Raising two adventurous boys, we judged any wound minor, if it was non-facial and the stitch count was less than 20. Even so, he still bears the mark of the pumpkin.

By all the comments I hear, 2007 may become the business year most contractors would just as soon forget. The plummet of residential work and slow-up of small commercial jobs have affected almost every contractor's profit margin. But more importantly, there also seems to be a slowdown in the number of plans to bid. Few contractors report a large backlog of jobs for next year. Just for good measure, I'm not planning to sponsor any carving contests at next month's World of Masonry.

Despite this scenario, I think there's some light at the end of the tunnel. Most economists predict that the commercial segment may remain strong enough to help pull the country through its dire economic straits. And with an election year coming up, there always seems to be the prospect of work.

Others agree. Chris Nelson, director of the Metropolitan Institute and professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech, offered some reasons for a strong commercial market at a recent conference. For example, Nelson said that commercial construction has a good future since projects are built for “investment horizons while homes are built for legacies. Commercial buildings are torn down and rebuilt much more frequently than homes,” he explained.

Nelson also offered two other encouraging insights on lifestyle changes that had been predicted, but may not happen. Some economists anticipated that when Internet retailing grew 90% in 2000, stores would prove to be unnecessary. But online sales grew only 10% in 2006. People still like to visit shopping malls.

Also, not as many people are telecommuting as these same experts predicted. “The nation will still need new office buildings,” said Nelson.

I have my own reasons for optimism. Our industry is comprised of artisans and successful business folks who can build the dreams of this and the next generation. Their work is in demand for both its architectural and sustainable appeal.

In this issue we are focusing on two elements that illustrate what is going on right in our industry. Our Project of the Year contest and report on the Top Mason Contractors are stories that you should read.

And there's another reason why the masonry industry will survive and thrive. It's the spirit of the apprentices. After all, if they can build a brick Christmas tree – like Todd Larsen's masonry students at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, Rice Lake – our industry will be able to meet the challenges of green building.

Rick Yelton
Editor in Chief