When it comes to projecting what the economy might hold, we've heard from the crystal ball gurus of the Fed, watched intently as Wall Street reads the tea leaves (I think those are tea leaves), and heard the wisdom brought down from Mt. CUlympus by the CU association economists.
But I've always found another leading indicator of economic trends to be pretty reliable: the Exhibit Hall Temperature Taker, or the EHTT, as it shall be known. And the forecast from CUNA's GAC two weeks ago in Washington? Pretty good. Turns out it wasn't just the skies outside that were sunny.
I'm reasonably sure I've already exceeded the National Institutes of Health's recommendations for maximum exposure to exhibit halls and trade shows, and have spent a fair amount of time talking to vendors from all types of companies-that is until they realize I'm with the press and am not a prospect for their wares. And it doesn't take long at most trade shows to get a good sense of the state of the CU economy.
In 2010 and even 2011, trade shows doubled as gatherings for the National Association of Pessimists, which never actually holds its meetings because the membership just assumes something will go wrong. When asked how they were doing, vendors offered read-between-the-lines replies, such as "well, we're still here," and "we're treading water," and the always popular, "Hey, we're still looking down at the daisies."
New sales? Ha! That was like talking unicorns and rainbows. Instead, they pointed to "contract renewals" and "we've had some inquiries" as the bright spots.
That wasn't the case at the 2012 GAC. Not only were there more vendors in the blender than ever, they were far more upbeat. I turned to the best canaries in the coal mine, the design/build firms that just two years ago were scrambling like the PR department at BofA, and all of them indicated they had projects in the pipeline, including new branches. One company said they have five interior redesigns/rebrandings underway.
None of that means credit unions are out of the woods, of course. And for many firms the tough times of the past few years have meant any new business likely nets an overreaction. Still, at this point, the EHTT seems to indicate 2012 should be a good one for the credit union community.
In a recent column I noted the jig is up for the "Crashers," the group of young CU folks who see themselves as outsiders crashing the CU establishment. When you have a sponsor and a "brand," you're no longer on the outside looking in. In fact, as the photo above proves, the Crashers are now on the inside trying to keep others out.
During CUNA's GAC the annual Herb Wegner Memorial Awards dinner was held, with Michigan's Invest in America, Suncoast Schools' Tom Dorety and AlaskaUSA's Bill Eckhardt all honored. Highlights of their acceptance remarks were all featured in the March 26 issue. But here are a few other highlights of the evening:
First, there was a famous face on stage when Dave Adams of the Michigan league was accepting the Wegner Award: Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint. You likely recognize Hesse from the Sprint commercials in which he talks about what "truly unlimited" should mean (and he managed to sneak in a plug from the podium). Sprint is one of the partners in Invest in America's program.
This year's Herb Wegner dinner went smoothly, with the only glitch being the air conditioning had apparently been sabotaged by the bankers who were in town. The warm temperatures did not go unnoticed. Don Johnson, VP with General Motors (another big Invest in America partner), observed, "You can tell GM is not responsible for the air conditioning in this room. The air conditioning works in GM cars."
When it was his turn at the podium, AlaskaUSA's Eckhardt said, "I came out of the arctic just two days ago. Now I feel like I'm at home sitting next to my fireplace."
Before he thanked everyone who helped him to be recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award, Eckhardt also paused to clarify some misconceptions about the 49th state. "Many of you know a lot about Alaska, or think you do," said Eckhardt. "But we do not live in igloos. We do not drive dog sleds to work, except on casual dog sled Friday. And despite what you may have heard over the last five years or so, you cannot see Russia from our homes. And you can take that to the credit union."
A person once as familiar to credit unions as any before retiring and not being seen for quite some time, resurfaced at the Wegners: Roger Jepsen. The former chairman of NCUA from 1985-1993 was on hand as a guest of Eckhardt's, who thanked him for "believing" in AlaskaUSA when it was struggling to survive during one of Alaska's economic downturns.
Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at email@example.com.