It’s Darwin’s principle of natural selection in action. In a poor economy, only the strong survive. A recession “always hits manufacturing first and hardest,” Hank Cox of the National Association of Manufacturers recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. According to the Associated Press, in December, “manufacturing activity sank to its lowest point in 28 years,” with indexes falling farther than expected. Some index components, including new orders, fell to historic lows not seen since the 1948-49 recession. Overall, the manufacturing index, which has been steadily declining over the past six months, reached its lowest reading since June 1980, the tail-end of the last major recession.

Major players from Dow Chemical to Ford Motor Co. to Anheuser Busch are chopping jobs and shutting down factories in an attempt to stop the financial hemorrhaging, but it may not be enough. With the global economy in a tailspin, manufacturers can’t rely on exports to save them from disaster. And when the big guys are flailing, you can bet small businesses are being hammered. From manufacturing to retail and everywhere in between, the economy is taking a toll on American businesses. No sector of the economy is proving to be recession proof. No one reported growth in December and most sectors of the economy reported declines in everything from new orders to production, employment and prices. Weak companies are going to fail. It’s survival of the fittest, but those companies that do survive the recession are predicted to emerge far stronger than before and in an arena with less competition. To make the cut, you’ll need to roll with the punches and be proactive about the changes that are coming.

The floundering economy and growing jobs crisis has given the incoming Obama administration a popular mandate to change America (see our previous two posts). Industry experts tell us to expect increased government oversight and regulation. Public backlash from the highhanded attitude of financial institutions that refused to disclose how they spent bailout money has assured that future government help will come with lots of strings attached. Add to that President-elect Obama’s campaign pledge to American workers to improve workplace safety and his pledge to the public to increase environmental protection, and American businesses should be girding for a new era of more invasive government regulation.

There are always two ways to handle change. You can rail and fight against it, or you can embrace it and use it to position yourself ahead of the competition. Time and again, history proves that those who look to the future and embrace change survive. As competition increases, the companies that are proactive about incorporating new technology, new equipment and new processes into their operations are the ones that will rise above their competition and live to see a better tomorrow.

Next time: How DJ Products can help you be a survivor.