This past February, I made my annual trip to Vitória, Brazil, for the Vitória Stone Fair, which takes place in the stone-rich state of Espírito Santo, where much of Brazil’s stone is quarried, processed and ultimately shipped to the U.S. And in the days leading up to the event, I took the opportunity to schedule visits with major stoneworking factories in the Vitória area, near the city and its shipping port, as well as the Cachoeiro region, which is closer to the quarries.
Considering the economy these days - and Brazil’s prominence among granite exporters to the U.S. - I was eager to see what I would find in these stoneworking plants. In my time here at Stone World, I have walked through large-scale factories in a time of economic crisis before, and it can be pretty ugly - large warehouses with dusty slabs that haven’t been moved in months; idle gangsaws and polishers; and a skeleton crew of personnel - at best - walking the grounds. Is this what I would see in Brazil?
Well, now that my trip is over, I am pleased to report that this was not the case at all - at least for the companies that I saw first-hand. The factories that I visited were quite active, and it was clear that all of them were being geared up for the future. All of them had made machinery investments in recent months, with an eye on increasing efficiency and production rates.
And while none of the factories I visited were working at their peak capacity - or even particularly close to capacity - all of them were busy and operating, and I watched slabs being loaded into containers. (Really, I did.)
Beyond the processing activities at the factories, it was interesting to note that the companies I visited reported that they were continually expanding their material collections. This was true of the factories I visited in Espírito Santo as well as the many producers I met with on the show floor of the Vitória Stone Fair. They are continuing to explore new sites for traditional, established materials, and they are also tirelessly examining sites for exotic stones that have never been seen before.
A look at the stoneworking factories I have referred to above - along with a review of the products on display at the Vitória Stone Fair - can be found in our “Report from Brazil,” which runs on pages 86 to 119 of this issue.
I spoke with the managing directors of several companies, and I asked them about their strategies for investing in a down economy. The answers I received were fairly consistent. Most company principals feel that demand for stone will pick up by the beginning of next year, and while it will likely not reach the explosive levels of 2005 and 2006, they want to be prepared for the future. And they don’t think that simply folding their arms and hoping for the economy to rebound is the best way to accomplish this.
Obviously, all is not rosy in Brazil right now (or any stone-producing nation, for that matter.) But overall, it was quite refreshing to study their resilience and willingness to proactively look to the future. It would be great if more sectors of the stone industry followed this example.
Optimism in Brazil
April 1, 2009