Editorial Comment

Perhaps I'm jumping the gun, but it won't be long before the holidays are upon us and with them the annual airing of the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life." Certain aspects of the movie's plot and characters resonate with me in light of the U.S. economy's recent fits and starts. Sure, the film is a work of fiction but, nonetheless, maybe there's a lesson to be learned here.

Remember how a banking panic nearly sank the Bailey Bros. Building & Loan, and radically altered George and Mary Bailey's honeymoon plans? Remember, too, how Mr. Potter offered to buy out fearful Building & Loan shareholders "for 50 cents on the dollar"?

Despite their divergent motives in that situation, Potter and George understood the same truth: those who maintain a long-term outlook, and view the paralyzing uncertainty of volatile economic times as an opportunity to seize the spoils of free enterprise, are those who come out as winners when the dust of hard times settles.

Potter, "a warped, frustrated old man" though he was, had the foresight to keep some of his powder dry as economic storm clouds approached. He was prepared, as the saying goes, to "buy when there's blood in the streets." George Bailey, for all the right reasons, expanded aggressively in good times but found himself strapped, at least for the short term, when economic travails took hold. But the truth is George and Potter shared the same history-proven view of the U.S. economy -- most of the time, it's prosperous.

Let's step back and take a sober view of the current business climate. Despite dire media reports, fears of a double dip recession seem a bit overblown. After all, what sectors of the economy are so bloated as to be ripe for further contraction? American business today is on a lean-and-mean footing -- there are no inventory overhangs to be unwound. And unlike the companies that went down when the Internet bubble burst, our industry is not driven by fanciful business models and irrational exuberance about the dawning of a brave new digital world. We make real, tangible products for people who want them today.

With the fall selling season upon us, and Surfaces 2003 just around the corner, it's high time to gear up for the prosperity that will inevitably reestablish itself. In such an environment, increased market share is won by those who have the gumption to invest while their competitors bite their nails on the sidelines. The decision to be pro-active in the face of uncertainty involves risk which, as we all know, is a key element of entrepreneurship. But without assuming some risk, the potential rewards are likely to be paltry.

One day soon, we're going to snap out of our funk and discover, like George Bailey, that Zuzu's rose petals are still in our pants pocket -- right where they've always been. And those of us who never doubted that fact -- and, indeed, banked on it -- are going to be the winners going forward.

Mike Broadhurst broadhurstm@bnp.com