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Small business takes center stage during address

By: Gayle S. Putrich

February 7, 2014

President Obama's Jan. 28 State of the Union address featured numerous shout outs to small business — including among the First Lady's guests, the plastics industry's own Andra Rush, founder and CEO of Detroit Manufacturing Systems Ltd., which molds and assembles injection molded trim pieces for automotive interiors.

But was there anything else in the one-hour-and-five-minute speech with a plastics angle? Maybe not directly. But there was quite a bit for business, particularly small business owners.

"[Rush] knew that Ford needed parts for the best-selling truck in America, and she knew how to make them. She just needed the workforce. So she dialed up what we call an American Job Center — places where folks can walk in to get the help or training they need to find a new job, or better job. She was flooded with new workers. And today, Detroit Manufacturing Systems has more than 700 employees."

The president also said his administration is on a mission to revamp training programs and community colleges to "make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now." That's a potential boon for plastics processors who have long lamented a lack of skilled labor, particularly in the automotive sector.

"[W]hen 98 percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped 'Made in the USA'."

The Asia-Pacific markets are already a hot topic for the Society of the Plastics Industry, with three trade missions planned to the region for 2014: a trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam March 4-6, a visit to Seoul, South Korea in May and a return trip to Ho Chi Minh City in September.

Even if a smaller company is wary of making its first international leap, "I encourage people to go just for exploratory purposes," said Michael Taylor, senior director of international affairs and trade at SPI. "You can get to know the culture and begin building relationships, which are the keys to your business success outside the U.S."

"Let's do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don't have a pension. A Social Security check often isn't enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn't help folks who don't have 401ks."

The new MyRA retirement savings plan could take some of the saving stress off small employers' plates. MyRAs will initially be offered via a pilot program through employers who choose to participate by the end of this year. The accounts cost employers little to nothing to start since they will neither administer nor contribute to them, unlike the existing SIMPLE IRA program for small businesses. And since MyRA is being created with an Executive Order, it doesn't require an act of Congress to get rolling.

Controlled by individual participants, MyRAs will work much like Roth IRAs: the money can be withdrawn tax-free at any time without penalty, contributions as small as $5 can be made pre-tax through payroll deductions and investment in the Treasury-created security fund can't be lost. At either the $15,000 or 30-year mark, the MyRA is rolled into a private sector retirement account.

Putrich is a Plastics News staff reporter based in Washington.