Plastics is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Mississippi. The state carries a lot of baggage in terms of stereotypes, much of it undeserved. But on a recent visit to Jackson, Miss., to speak to the South Central Chapter of the Society of Plastics Engineers on its education night, I learned that state's plastics industry has set a good example that others should emulate.
We all like to talk about industry/education alliances in promoting career opportunities in the industry, but few know how to go about implementing such partnerships.
Mississippi has done it.
Of the 46 people in attendance, there were three representatives from the Mississippi Department of Education, eight professors or directors from the state's various community colleges and universities and five students enrolled in the plastics programs. There also was a representative from the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development.
The alliance that this group has formed during the past two years is unlike any I've seen or heard about - with the exception of a similar partnership between the plastics industry and El Paso (Texas) Community College.
The importance of the plastics industry to the state of Mississippi as a source of job growth and career development is clear when you look at this alliance.
How does it happen?
In Mississippi, it happened primarily because of the efforts of one man, James A. Hemphill Sr., who is a pioneer in the plastics industry in Mississippi, and now retired.
Hemphill, who claims to have brought the first injection molding machines into the state in 1951, began trekking around Mississippi about two years ago making the employment and educational needs of the plastics industry known to every legislator and every educator he could pin down for a five-minute conversation.
He has made personal visits to nearly every one of Mississippi's 116 plastics processing companies. It was a tireless effort to promote the Mississippi Polymer Institute, of which he is the interim director.
His efforts have resulted in wide participation in MPI's four-day polymer short courses.
In the first year for the courses, 185 employees from 36 companies participated. Hemphill limits attendance to 60 for each session, and has to turn people away as the popularity of the courses increases.
Every state needs a James Hemphill Sr. Unfortunately he's only one man.
However, it just goes to show what one individual's dedication to the industry can do.
Goldsberry is a Plastics News correspondent based in Phoenix.