In a time when most economic prognosticators are declaring "gloom and doom," the U.S. stone industry seems to be a long-term exception. While other trades - in the construction sector and elsewhere - are recording significant decreases in business, the stone industry keeps rolling along. And while there are always exceptions to any trend, the overall reports are positive, according to a market research survey conducted by Business News Publishing (Stone World's parent company).

Each year, Stone World presents the results of this survey in its January issue (page 98). And while the surveys of several years ago were little more than confirmation that the American stone industry was booming, the polls of the last two years have taken on a bit more meaning. With an economic recession and the continuing threat of war and terrorism, every industry has reason for concern. But according to the surveys of the last two years, the per capita stone consumption in the U.S. marketplace has been so strong that it has more than compensated for outside factors.

Of those who responded to the Stone World survey, which was sent primarily to stone fabricators, nearly two-thirds (66.0%) expected the stone market to increase in 2003. Almost all of the remaining respondents (30.7%) predicted that business would hold steady this year, with a small fraction (3.3%) predicting a decline.

And the feedback was even more positive when looking to the next five to 10 years, as respondents astutely pointed out that while stone use in the U.S. is certainly on the rise, the overall market share of the stone industry is relatively small when compared to other materials used in homebuilding. This fact leaves room for countless growth for stone fabricators.

This optimism is not only fueled by speculation and general confidence, but by the success that has been experienced by fabricators in the very recent past. Even in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the ensuing war overseas, 73.4% of fabricators reported increased business over the course of 2002, with 18.9% seeing business hold steady, and only 7.7% recording a decline.

And fabricators are not only expressing their optimism in words, but they are also responding by investing back in their operations. Capital outlay among fabricators is on the rise, as companies are planning investments in equipment, personnel and stock. And they are also reaching out to the general public with investments in marketing and showrooms - thus increasing the awareness of stone by the general public.

However, even while the relative success of the U.S. stone industry is a blessing, it can also be a concern. More and more start-up companies are entering the business, and they have varied levels of experience in stone fabrication and sales. Each of these new firms has a responsibility to learn and execute the trade to the highest degree of professionalism possible.

But there is another responsibility that may fall upon the existing fabricators. Over the years, stone fabricators have been outstanding in their willingness to share their knowledge and experience with the industry as a whole, and they should be commended for doing so. This needs to continue if the American stone industry is to maintain its reputation for excellence.