Just when you thought it was okay to become normal again in the finishing and coating industry with a pandemic, lack of workers, and increased regulations on everyone's mind, the markets delivered an uppercut and a gut punch when the price of raw nickel more than doubled in just one day this past month.

London Metal Exchange (LME) halted trading on March 8 for raw nickel, while aluminum retreated from record highs. LME's three-month nickel was up 66% at $80,000 a ton when trading was stopped, having earlier been driven to a record $101,365/ton.

That led U.S. electroplaters and finishers to scramble to keep up with the price increases they will soon be facing.

I spoke with maybe a dozen finishers who are now facing this new crisis, which is one of the latest that is hitting the industry. The pandemic was harsh on everyone, and the outcome of that over the past two and half years has been even harder as workers are hard to come by, and finishers and coaters struggle to complete jobs because they don't have enough workers.

Matt Lindstedt, president of Advanced Plating Technologies in Milwaukee, says with all that has happened in the world in the last two years — from the pandemic to worker shortages and now to wars that raise prices even higher — it is even harder to run a business these days.

"The cup of coffee that I used to buy for under $2 each morning last year is now over $3, and it makes you wonder what caused something like that to go up 50% in so quick a time," he says. "Being a business owner today makes me feel like I'm in a heavyweight fight, and I'm in the 17th round, and yet I'm still taking body blows. Some of it makes no sense."

This is why we have the finishers and coaters in the U.S. that we have now: they have survived some extremely brutal economic and business environments over the past 10+ years, all of which were through no fault of their own.

Recessions and inflationary conditions seemed to have wiped out all those fringe shops that were hanging on buying a thread before; what we have now is the strongest ones have survived, for better or for worse.

I have no idea why anyone would want to be an owner or president of a manufacturing operation today, such as those in the finishing and coating industry. Margins are small, headaches are huge, and they always seem to be a locomotive train coming straight down the tracks at you, and you are hogtied right there between the rails and waiting for the impact to happen.

Our government and regulators are no friends to those of you in manufacturing. Washington, D.C. sees you as a culprit in all of this, a polluter, a tax cheat, and an abuser of workers.

Those who have survived COVID, the inflation, the lack of workers, and the new regs coming at you will be even stronger on the other side of this when it all subsides. And after that, well, let's just say there will probably be something else coming down the tracks gunning for business owners.

I wouldn't want t to be in your position, but so glad that you are. That's what makes the U.S. as great as it is.

Tim Pennington, Editor-in-chief

TPennington 3Tim Pennington is Editor-in-Chief of Finishing and Coating, and has covered the industry since 2010. He has traveled extensively throughout North America visiting shops and production facilities, and meeting those who work in the industry. Tim began his career in the newspaper industry, then wound itself between the sports field with the PGA Tour and marketing and communications firms, and finally back into the publishing world in the finishing and coating sector. If you want to reach Tim, just go here.

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