ORLANDO, Fla. – At 8:30 a.m. on Monday, February 9, 2009, for a brief moment, it was easy to forget about the global economic challenges facing the manufacturing industry. The location was the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla., where 4,300-plus engineers gathered for the SolidWorks World 2009 International User Conference and Exposition.
"What gives? Isn’t there a recession?" joked Jeff Ray, CEO of
SolidWorks, when he looked out at the sea of engineers from across the
globe at the conference’s opening general session. Ray said that he
expected just 3,000 attendees because of the current economic
situation, and was shocked when he heard the final number. This is an
indication that companies recognize the importance of innovation during
difficult times, and the role that computer-aided design can play in
But still, the attendees were looking for advice on navigating through these volatile waters.
"Times are tough, but adversity brings out the best in people," said
Ray. "Tough times spawn invention, and they spawn incredible stories of
ingenuity. It gives us the chance to see things differently. But this
isn’t the first time we’ve gone through difficult times," he explained.
"A worse scenario was in the Depression. But some of the great
inventions of our time that we take for granted today really were
sparked during the adversity that happened during the Depression," he
said, giving nylon as an example.
Ray then invited keynote speaker, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the
Virgin Group – including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile and Virgin
Radio – on stage for a Q&A. An entrepreneur since the age of 17,
Branson has built a variety of companies into global successes, and he
is just the person to offer the crowd insight on how to succeed during
an economic downturn.
"It’s certainly the toughest economy that I’ve known in my lifetime,"
Branson said. The key to success, he added, is expanding out of it
rather than contracting. "Companies like us that have resources need to
continue to expand, continue to innovate, continue to hire people." And
those who don’t have the resources to expand should explore other
options like a four-day workweek or job sharing, he suggested, before
resorting to laying employees off.
Branson said that the engineers in attendance have a role to play in
helping companies survive the recession; they need to come up with ways
to do things cheaper. For example, metal-free airplanes or space
shuttles would use less energy, resulting in lower operating costs for
companies, and cheaper fares for consumers. Engineers need to think,
"How can we make companies more efficient?" he explained. And that’s
where innovation comes in. An investment in innovation goes a long way,
he said. Those companies that survive economic downturns are the
Ray agreed. Companies that invest in innovation and skills during an
economic downturn will emerge, he said. But there are still a lot of
engineers out of work. And to combat this problem, SolidWorks is
launching the Engineering Stimulus Package, a program that will allow
out-of-work engineers to receive free training on SolidWorks solutions.
The program hasn’t launched yet, said Ray, because the company is still
ironing out the details. But he did say that it will be rolled out in
different stages throughout the world. The goal is to get these
engineers to the Certified SolidWorks Professional level, so that they
will be hotter commodities when they re-enter the workforce.
SolidWorks doesn’t take its social responsibility lightly. The company
is doing its part to help its customers emerge successful during this
economic downturn. This could explain why there was such a solid
showing this year, when so many other conferences are experiencing
drops in attendance.
SolidWorks World 2010 will take place in Anaheim, Calif.