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If you see a gold rush, start molding shovels

February 1, 2006

3 Min Read
If you see a gold rush, start molding shovels

Predicting where the next rush of opportunity will turn up is difficult, but wherever it is, processors can probably get access to it somehow.

Not long ago I finished a fascinating book, "Klondike Fever: The life and death of the last great gold rush," by Pierre Barton. The book was written in 1958 and reissued a few times. It''s a true page-turner detailing the history of a wild, dangerous, and brief time in North American history.

The Klondike gold rush started in 1897 and was over by 1899. Some 100,000 or so men-with a few very individualistic women-trekked over frigid mountain passes and canoed up rivers engorged by snowmelt, in an attempt to strike it rich in the Klondike Valley gold fields of Canada.

Because of the extremely harsh environment and dearth of food and supplies, gold seekers were encouraged to bring hundreds of pounds of supplies and food. This simple and common-sense rule helped create one of the first wealthy groups to emerge from the gold rush, as strong-shouldered Chilkoot Indians who cared little about gold charged weaker `gold fever'' newcomers by the pound to lug heavy packs through the Chilkoot Pass into the Yukon Valley.

Before word of the strike spread around the world, a few early adventurers actually got rich mining gold. But gold isn''t where most of the money was made. For example, as word of the riches reached Circle City, a small settlement only 220 miles downstream from the main gold strike, the price of sled dogs jumped in rapid succession from $25 to $250, and then $1500. At the same time property prices in Circle City rapidly went to zero.

Gold is what propelled so many to the Yukon Valley, of course, but throughout this book the clearest examples of success are those people offering the services, goods, and logistical help that the miners needed or yearned for. Selling prime real estate paid well, too.

Predicting where the next rush of opportunity will appear is not easy. It has become difficult the past years to read about China without mention of the untapped opportunity there, just as there was a rush of entrepreneurs into the former Soviet Union after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. In both places there will be winners and some very big losers, and plastics processors will count in both ranks.

But geography is not nearly the hindrance today that it was to the Klondike adventurers; technology more often is today''s barrier. While sitting in a conference room in Frankfurt a few month''s ago, listening to presentations on flexible printed electronics, the excited forecasts made me think of what it must have been like in Silicon Valley just before the Internet craze started. The printed electronics market seems to offer potential for some processors, maybe even huge opportunities, though I must admit I''m still uncertain how more processors can share in the rewards of this potential market.

While I''m busily mulling printed electronics, you already know your business better than anyone else, and are best able to determine what strengths you can offer to profit from the next wave of opportunity. Once you know that, the job is to find an opportunity that needs those strengths. We''ll keep looking into nanotechnology, printed electronics, radio frequency identification technology, and others that seem to offer processors huge possibilities. We welcome your suggestions on where to dig.

Matt Defosse, Editor-in-Chief

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