OK, I realize that it seems that maybe half of my columns these days are addressing the eventual recovery of our economy, and more specifically, the stone industry. That’s probably because that is the single most frequent subject that comes up as I go about my job. It is discussed in fabrication shops, in slab warehouses, on airplanes and, of course, at trade shows.

As someone who gets paid to report on this industry, I am often the guy who starts these discussions, and I had the chance to conduct plenty of them in January at StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas in Las Vegas. To begin with, let me say that this latest edition was by far the best I have seen in quite some time. There was good energy at the show floor, with people doing business and exhibitors showcasing a range of new innovations in materials and technology (see page 56 for a full review of the show).

The overall vibe at StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas was summed up nicely by Gary Distelhorst, Executive Vice President and CEO of the Marble Institute of America, who commented: “This year’s StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas was fortified with a positive spirit about the near future of our industry — a feeling of excitement that has, quite frankly, been missing the last couple years.”

Over the course of three days at StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas, I spoke with representatives from all sectors of our industry — fabricators, installers, machinery suppliers, tooling suppliers, maintenance product professionals, etc. And to a man (or woman), each of them had positive things to say. One equipment manufacturer said that they are several months out on orders (when is the last time you heard that?), many fabricators said that they are seeing more consistency in their business, and suppliers in general seemed to be gearing up for a positive 2012.

While in Las Vegas, I also attended one of the “Fabricator Forums” that are a staple of the event, and there were two positive trends to note as well. First, the room was much more crowded than it has been in the last few years. I’ve seen crowds of 15 people or less at some of these forums across the country, but this particular session had a sizable audience of fabricators, representing all levels of shops.

Second, and perhaps more important, the fabricators sitting in on the forum were talking about the practicalities of the trade — transporting large center islands, using nesting software, doing sink cut-outs, that sort of thing. The session was less about, “How can I stop my shop from going under?” and more about “How do I improve my craft and my business?” (See page 68 for a full recap of the topics discussed at the forum.)

I should note, however, that there were plenty of questions about business at this forum as well as a second forum that took place during StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas. This underscores the fact that in today’s business climate, stone fabricators are being forced to hone their skills as a businessman as much as a craftsman.

Just a week after I returned from Las Vegas, I once again boarded a plane — this time to the Vitória Stone Fair in Brazil — and the mood was equally optimistic. January, in particular was noted as a successful month for stone suppliers — especially for exports to the U.S. One major slab supplier told me that he shipped twice as many containers to the U.S. in January 2012 as compared to January 2011, and others reported similar success. Look for a full “Report from Brazil” — reviewing the trade fair and the industry as a whole — in the May 2012 edition of Stone World.

So while we as an industry have a long way to go, it appears that on many fronts, we are headed in the right direction.