A good editor looks for trends in the markets they report on. Searching for some clues as to shifts in the industrial laser markets, I have been reviewing the geographic breakdown of Industrial Laser Solutions' international readers, which comprise almost half the total readership. And I found a gem: among the African readers of ILS (we have subscribers in 32 of the continent's 52 countries), 31% are located in Nigeria, making this nation the heaviest reader of ILS. I would have thought this distinction belonged to South Africa which has an acknowledged manufacturing economy, but it is home to only 18% of ILS' African readership -- and it isn't even second, with that honor going to Egypt at 21%.
So I looked back at data from five years ago, and found the African splits were in the same order, but back then Africa only accounted for 0.7% of ILS's readers versus today's 2.7%. Is there something going on in the industrial laser community in that continent that caused a greater than 300% increase in those interested in industrial lasers?
Nigeria is one-third larger than Texas and it is the most populous country in Africa. Industrially it generates revenues from crude oil, coal, tin, palm oil, cotton, footwear, chemicals, fertilizer, ceramics, steel, and small commercial ship construction and repair. Petroleum and petroleum products, cocoa, and rubber are its major exports.
Among our Nigerian readers, 65% identify themselves as CEOs, directors, engineering and production managers, and engineers in companies that seem to be heavily slanted to the petroleum industry and its service companies. That sector is a potential choice market for laser applications such as welding, laser additive manufacturing, and drilling. Without Googling all the readers' companies (which might be fun but time-consuming), it's hard to find an obvious reason why ILS and industrial laser technology seem to be of such interest in Africa's largest nation.
Last year in a My View column on the manufacturing economy, I made a prediction about Africa's place as a factor in the industrial market and when it could happen. It was written as tongue-in-cheek and meant to be a think piece, yet it drew a surprising amount of supportive comments. Others, it seems, are also of the opinion that Africa will be a "hot industrial laser market." Maybe my 25-year horizon was a bit off, as evidenced by this publication's readership growth.
Update 7/17/2012: And apparently I'm not the only one who is turning my attention to Africa as a high-growth region -- the latest issue of Fortune has hit my desk with a special advertising section, "Africa's Moment" [PDF download here], discussing Africa's emergence "as a strong global player" for private sector and economic development activities.