By: Robert Grace
March 26, 2014
Bill Wood and Plastics News have been running on parallel tracks for the past quarter-century. We just didn’t fully realize it until recently.
Wood, a Harvard-educated economist based in Greenfield, Mass., began his career as a commodities trader but in 1987 joined Cahners Publishing and for seven years served as senior economist and director of strategic planning. Cahners back then had an economics office and research department and churned out reams of data for 70-plus magazines and a number of diverse industries.
In 1994, Wood became economics editor of Plastics World magazine. At the same time he also launched his own firm, Mountaintop Economics & Research Inc., to conduct original industry research, while also creating plastics-focused industry and end-market forecasting models.
In a recent conversation, Wood explained that what drove his initial work in this area was the lack of useful or comprehensive data about the big and fast-growing U.S. plastics manufacturing sector. “Markets trade on information; it’s needed for them to function properly,” he said.
How much pipe and film was being produced, he wondered. What were the trends for plastics in automotive, electronics or appliances? No one was capturing that data. That, he said, was largely because plastics grew up as a substitute for older, more established materials, such as glass, wood, paper and textiles. It was the little-understood, underappreciated, new kid on the block. So he recognized a need and immersed himself in trying to measure and analyze relevant industry data and past trends, based on previous behaviors.
To that end, Wood grabbed all available production and shipment data — about plastic raw materials, machinery (such as screws and barrels, molds and auxiliary equipment) and various end-market products — and developed econometric models to help predict usage trends.
His goal was to help companies identify opportunities as well as potential new customers.
“The thing that’s consistent,” he suggests, “is people’s propensity to fall into a herd mentality, or group think. The cycle tends to punish you for being complacent or for falling into that. Everybody is both a supplier and a consumer — people tend to forget that.”
Unbeknownst to him was that Plastics News was born of largely the same realization — that this huge, dynamic plastics manufacturing industry had no self-identity. PN published its first weekly issue just over 25 years ago — on March 6, 1989. No analyst on Wall Street tracked plastics as an industry then; it was just part of nearly every other industry. We began our sales-based rankings of North American injection molders, extruders, blow molders and other processors for precisely the same reason that Wood began tracking the industry — this sector needed an honest broker of reliable, independent market information.
Meantime, Wood changed employers, serving as economics editor with both Modern Plastics and Modern Mold & Tooling magazines from 1998-2003, and then with Plastics Technology magazine from 2003-2013, and also with PT’s sister publication Moldmaking Technology from 2008.
We’re delighted that Bill Wood now is part of Plastics News’ stable. With this issue, he begins contributing a twice monthly column called “Numbers that Matter” to the newspaper (see "Severe winter doesn't impede plastic product manufacturing"). He will provide market analysis and forecasting for our growing line of market data reports (available for download via the Data Store on PlasticsNews.com), and he will speak on our behalf at PN and other industry events, as he did at our recent Executive Forum in Wesley Chapel, Fla.
It seems only natural that, after all these years, his mission and ours — to help define, inform and assist the plastics industry — are finally converging. Wood preaches the need to learn from history, but to guard against complacency and to drive growth by being creative and innovative. To help with that, he says “I want to make useful information more palatable, more available.”
Now, after 25 years, he finally has the perfect partner to help make that happen.
Grace is associate publisher and business development director of Plastics News.