According to economic experts, America has been in a recession since December 2007. Since most recessions seem to last about 12 to 18 months, we should be seeing a rebound soon, right?

Well…this isn’t a typical recession. It’s the first global recession that some people are describing as “epic.” Just about everyone believes the first quarter or even first half of 2009 will be challenging for companies.

So, how do you become that “go-to” guy when business gets tight? One way is to keep moving ahead instead of hunkering down. That’s easy to say, but not so easy to do. Just continue to provide a distinct point of difference versus your competitors. Here are three areas where you can do that:

1. Material Development: You’ve heard the saying, “Less is more.” That’s even more true today because of the emphasis on sustainable packaging and processes. But it’s not enough just to lightweight anymore. You’ve also got to “do more with that less.” Brand owners want improved functionality, too, such as better barrier and higher productivity on their packaging line.

2. Speed-to-market Development: If you have short run capabilities, promote them! If you don’t, this is a great area to invest in. This isn’t about prototyping. It’s about short-run production for major brand owners who need small volumes (thousands to tens of thousands) of final pack designs for consumer market tests.

Yes, it’s difficult to make a profit here because you don’t want to interrupt your high-volume process. But what if you created a separate division that specialized in this? That group might not make money, but its capabilities might bring in more jobs that could transition into high-volume business that you wouldn’t get any other way.

3. Graphic Design Development: Boost the shelf impact of your customer’s products. Use the latest manufacturing technologies to create visually compelling designs, such as a combination of gloss/matte effects on the same package. As a judge for the 2009 Flexible Packaging Association’s Achievement Awards, I just saw several examples of this and can attest that the urge to pick up such a package is hard to resist.