The fact that the economy is taking a toll on the duct-fabrication market is not news. Many of the contractors I've talked to say business has been down for a while. Many owners have been forced to layoff workers.

I guess that means the results of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors' National Association's "2002 Duct Fabrication Market Survey," featured in this month's issue, won't be a surprise to many people in the industry. Construction is down. The market for spiral duct is down. The booming economic growth of the 1990s, which led to the proliferation of non-installing, fabrication-only businesses, has given way to a marketplace where many of these fab-only shops are finding it harder to survive.

Jay Bowman, a researcher with FMI Corp., which authored the SMACNA study, suggests maybe shop owners feel guilty about contracting out work when their own employees aren't working.

When I contacted Bowman for an update, he said very little has changed since FMI did the study last year. The market remains sluggish.

But if there is a bright side, he said, all indications point to a robust duct market when the U.S. economy recovers. As for when that will be, Bowman, like many analysts, expressed hope that the end of hostilities in Iraq would be the impetus the economy needs to start growing again.

We'll see.

We like them all

On another subject, I had a conversation with a Detroit-area contractor the other day that got me thinking. He was talking about all the big jobs and multimillion-dollar sheet metal companies we cover. He wasn't really complaining about the coverage, but as the owner of a small shop with less than 10 employees, he said it's sometimes hard to relate to some of the stories.

I understand. It's a little like watching "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" when you're just working hard to help your family clothed and fed.

With that in mind, I'm asking readers who work for or run a small sheet metal shop to give us a call. Some of the challenges faced by the owners of a small shop are unique. And with the economy in the shape it's in, I'll bet those of you who are doing OK have interesting stories to tell, so tell us about it. You can call me at (248) 244-6416, or send an e-mail to mcconnellm@bnp.com.

Small-scale jobs can be just as challenging and interesting as the big ones, believe me.

Just to be clear: I have nothing against the big shops and jobs; we always love to hear about those, too.

Readers sometimes contact us asking how projects and shops get picked for a profile in SNIPS. There's nothing too mysterious about it. If we hear about a project, we'll contact the sheet metal contractor. Or we may receive a press release.

But many of the best profiles and story ideas have come from readers. Oftentimes, they'll call wanting to boast about a recent project or their shop. I have no problem with that. In fact, I welcome it. There's nothing wrong with a little bragging. I know many sheet metal contractors take a great deal of pride in their work, and we don't mind helping you get a little publicity.

I can't promise every story idea will turn into a feature, but you can greatly improve your chances if you have high-quality photos taken while you were working on the building. Combine those with a write-up on what made the job interesting or challenging, along with a contact number, and you may just receive a call.