US jobs won’t recover if system’s still ailing

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Bringing It All Back Home is the name of a classic album released by Bob Dylan in 1965. I’m guessing that’s a title Alan Tonelson can relate to as he battles on behalf of U.S. manufacturers.

industry’s jobs count had fallen 24 percent vs. 2005 to a level of about 876,000. And as tempting as it may be to think that most of that loss occurred in the dark recessionary days of 2008-09, just three companies — Solo Cup Co., Berry Plastics Corp. and Fortis Plastics LLC — have added about 1,500 to the job loss number in the last 18 months alone. Niche businesses seem to be growing and the auto market is bouncing back, but it’s tough to counter those 1,500 vanished jobs.

So why is this still happening? In a recent phone conversation, Tonelson said that “the only way to foster sustained recovery without piling up debt is by reducing the trade deficit.” Surprise!

He added that he’s even skeptical of the U.S. economy’s slow growth, since trillions of dollars of stimulus money “have distorted all the facts.”

“The big question hanging over manufacturing is: Does this recovery, even this sluggish economy, have any legs at all?” he asked.

The SPI report also confirmed that the U.S. plastics industry still has a trade surplus, but all of that amount came from the resin sector, which has continued to benefit from low-priced natural gas being used as a feedstock for commodity plastics. The other sectors tracked by government agencies show that plastic products, molds and machinery have posted trade deficits every year since 2002. SPI President William Carteaux offered a ray of hope by pointing out that deficits in plastics machinery and molds have leveled off.

Plastics News has reported on numerous reshoring efforts in the last year or so. Our “Plastics Blog” even spotlighted efforts by custom injection molder and toolmaker Crescent Industries Inc. to promote reshoring on its website and in news releases. (And I just love the fact that a company making such an effort is based in New Freedom, Pa. You can’t make this stuff up.)

But it’s going to take a lot more companies like Crescent Industries to stem the tide of plastics jobs lost to overseas markets.

Esposito is a Plastics News senior reporter based in Akron, Ohio.