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Last week's assessment by manufacturers and analysts that sales of injection molding equipment may slow in 1997 after several years of strong growth was not a pessimistic projection.

Not only does the industry have a lot of new, more productive presses to absorb, but the rate of machine sales the past few years — 6,500-7,000 — couldn't be sustained. That said, this month's Outlook '97 issues of Plastics News tells you about the state of the industry's health. The vital signs mostly appear good. For example:

Courtesy Corp. will invest $26 million in an expansion at its Buffalo Grove, Ill., headquarters, where it plans to install 60 Krauss-Maffei injection presses.

Plasticraft Manufacturing Co. of Albertville, Ala., is building a 70,000-square-foot facility in Durant, Iowa, where the company initially will operate 12 injection presses.

Esco Electronics Corp. of St. Louis has bought Schawk Inc.'s plastics group for about $92 million.

Minneapolis-based Donaldson Co. Inc. announced plans for a joint venture with Centro Inc. of North Liberty, Iowa. The companies will construct a manufacturing plant in the Midwest to rotomold parts this year.

The foundation for a reassuring new year is in place. Neither inflation nor recession is seen by experts as a pending problem. Interest rates are stable, and the country has at least a two-year window of relative political calm before the conflict of another presidential election starts to roil people and institutions.

All this makes for a general level of improving public confidence in the economy, as opposed to the ``irrational exuberance'' exhibited by Wall Street risk-takers that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned about late last year. In fact, few industries are as well-positioned overall as plastics to enjoy favorable political and business conditions through the end of this decade.

That is a decidedly comfortable outlook given the turmoil issues such as deregulation caused other industries in the '90s.

Next week: Our annual Processors Outlook Poll