There are dark clouds on the economic horizon: skyrocketing fuel costs, rising interest rates, political uncertainty and a falling dollar, to name just a few. However, in spite of all these potential risks, growth in the ceramic tile market continues its steady gain, and most in the industry remain optimistic about the outlook for the future. This sense of optimism in the face of adversity was pervasive at the tile industry's largest American show, Coverings, which drew a record crowd this year. In addition to seeing the latest and greatest tile products, the biggest draw for me personally is to spend time with the tile manufacturers, learning what challenges and opportunities those in the industry face.

During the four event-filled days of Coverings, I had the chance to talk with tile industry professionals from all types of companies, from artisans who make each piece of tile by hand to the largest multi-national manufacturers who mass produce millions of square feet annually. One thing this diverse group seemed to have in common was a strong sense of optimism about the future of the ceramic tile industry. Though the aforementioned concerns do weigh on their minds, these concerns are balanced out by positive factors such as the continued strength of the U.S. housing market, continuing consumer interest in ceramic tile and stone products and positive economic indicators.

Also serving to allay the potential concerns of those in the tile industry are the innovative solutions tile manufacturers have developed to address their problems. Faced with rapidly growing energy costs for manufacturing and transporting tile, European producers are creating production facilities in the United States, which significantly reduces manufacturing and production costs and allows these companies to be more competitive in terms of pricing. Assopiastrelle, the Association of Italian tile producers, recently announced a new initiative that will make it easier for U.S. distributors to import tile from Italy by simplifying the transportation chain. With the new system, distributors in the United States can order tile for a price that includes shipping and insurance, let the manufacturer take care of the delivery process, and receive a single invoice for the transaction. This initiative is just one example of the many creative solutions the tile industry has created to address the problems it faces. By applying their creativity to all aspects of ceramic tile, from design to marketing and distribution, those in the ceramic tile industry are ensuring a bright future for it, no matter what problems may arise.