The nation's largest voice/data trade association launches major training and certification program for residential cabling… NEMRA reps plan meetings with national and regional distributors on point-of-sale reporting issues with regional distribution centers… IDEA announces renewed commitment to providing the electrical wholesaling industry with electronic communication systems and other e-business tools… Material Express offers alternative to Trade Service pricing… Edwards plans to move into fire-alarm market…Rexel commits to nationwide effort in voice/data… ElectricSmarts.com builds its business on “the other side” of e-business with intriguing new services… Graybar plans to be a national distributor of industrial automation products… Ideal Industries continues to expand its product offering far from its historical roots in wire connectors and electricians' tools and rolls out high-end LAN tester…NAED updates its regional meeting format with 21st century twist…Dozens of manufacturers enter new products in CEE News/EC&M Product of the Year competition … Electrical entrepreneurs scrape together their life savings to invent new products…

Flying back from a recent three-week tour of “electrical land,” I jotted down what I had learned about these and other new ventures in the electrical wholesaling industry. While searching my briefcase for notes I had made in my indecipherable chicken-scratch on business cards, note pads, new product releases, sticky notes, the backs of airline tickets and other scraps of paper, I realized many new things were happening in the electrical industry.

To me, these new ventures are proof-positive of forward momentum in this business. Sure, budgets may not be there to do all the things that we would like to do and had gotten used to being able to afford, but during my recent travels I saw a dogged commitment among the electrical professionals that I met to move forward. We have come a long way from the days and weeks following 9-11, when many of us were almost paralyzed by inertia. That feeling, compounded by the budget cuts and layoffs that too many of us have had to experience made it hard to invest in new ideas. It doesn't seem to be the case right now, despite the fact that the overall economy has not yet picked up enough to make us feel that the worst is far behind.

The list of new ventures surprised me because of all that we as an industry and a nation have been through in the past 12 months. In my little corner of the world, advertising quickly deteriorated from one of the strongest runs I had ever seen to the worst downturn in my 20-year career in trade magazine publishing.

Things didn't plummet as drastically in the electrical construction industry, but today's business conditions are still a sobering reminder of the cyclical nature of this business. Many companies are still gasping for air after a horrendous 2001 and a 2002 that hasn't started out much better. Even though many economists now say the recession has already bottomed out and that a recovery has already started, they aren't working at the electrical contracting firms now seeing jobs being cancelled and bidding wars won by competitors willing to take work at any price. The impact of that competition resonates throughout the distribution chain.

Yet, reassuring indicators do exist. For one, electrical manufacturers are still investing in new-product development. Although this is the most horrendous business climate that most electrical manufacturers have seen in over a decade, new-product rollouts have not stopped. In fact, from the amount of new product introductions at some of the trade shows that Electrical Wholesaling's editors have attended in recent weeks and the volume of press releases sent to us promoting new electrical and voice/data products, new research and development seems alive and well in the electrical industry. The dozens of innovative entries in the Product of the Year competition sponsored by CEE News/EC&M magazines also speak to the healthy state of new product development in the electrical industry.

While the go-go years of the 1990s may already seem like a long time ago, there's enough good things going on in the electrical market to get us through these tough times.