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CORONADO, CALIF. — Two Washington-based industry leaders underscored state governments' growing role in plastics-related public policy issues in talks at the SPI Western Section Conference.

``I see a tremendous opportunity for this industry at the state level, and I see an entree there through our regions,'' Larry Thomas, president of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., said May 15 in the keynote address at the conference in Coronado.

``You get outside of Washington and into the states and listen to people like Gov. George Voinovich of Ohio, or [John] Engler up in Michigan or Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania or [George] Pataki in New York or even, for that matter, a young Democrat, [former governor] Evan Bayh in Indiana,'' Thomas said.

``These people are ahead of us in Washington.''

Thomas said the governors understand ``there is an open window for a much more constructive, cooperative relationship with industry such as ours. ... This is an important window of opportunity to get away from this adversarial relationship'' of the past and ``move to a very positive, constructive working relationship with these smart, forward-looking governors.''

Thomas said the bottom line involves ``building a reservoir of goodwill for this industry that will carry us forward.''

Red Cavaney, president of the American Plastics Council, said results are exceeding expectations for an SPI-APC state government affairs operation that went into effect Jan. 1.

The Washington-based groups agreed to merge programs and joint efforts under common management that falls short of a merger.

The two groups ``put together something with tremendous potential for the plastics industry throughout the country,'' Cavaney

said. ``This organization acknowledges the need to help processors do a better job where they work and live dealing with increasingly complex legislative and regulatory issues.''

``The arrangement is truly a win-win for all concerned,'' Cavaney said. ``It represents a very significant increase in plastics industry resources devoted to a full array of plastics issues at state and local communities. It strengthens the ability of SPI regional offices to serve their local members, and it helps meet local responses and concerns felt by APC members.''

He identified work on air quality issues in California and legislative efforts to expand plastic pipe use in California, Arizona and Texas as things that, just one year ago, might not have transpired.

Cavaney suggested that Washington is paralyzed, with competing forces canceling each other out.

``Public policy matters are moving increasingly out of Washington and finding a home at the local and state levels and, increasingly in the international arena,'' he said.

Resin suppliers constitute the bulk of APC membership, while SPI's broader reach includes processors, resin suppliers, machinery manufacturers, mold makers and other related firms.