The demand for a skilled work force in the plastics industry means that companies considering a plant in the Southeast take a long, hard look at a particular state's workers and the availability of training programs. An educated, skilled work force is of prime importance to many processors. North Carolina had no specific training program in place, something that worried Kelch Corp. when it chose Lenoir, N.C. The area is heavy in furniture manufacturing, and the company had concerns about finding suitably trained workers.
Sandy Scaccia, vice president of operations, said the state responded to Kelch's concerns by partially funding worker training.
Pete Thompson, Plastics Products Co.'s director of marketing and sales, said plastics firms with a view to the future should be concerned about training. The Lindstrom, Minn.-based molder chose Greenville, Tenn., a small town.
Still, ``It's big enough that we're convinced we won't have problems finding employees,'' he said.
And local entities have committed to helping with employee training programs.
Training was a big consideration for Complex Plastics Cos. Inc. of Boulder,Colo. Company officials worried about finding enough people in the area who knew plastics, since the industry is not big there. However, Shelby County worked with the company and now underwrites the training program for Complex's Memphis plant.
Southern states such as Mississippi want more plastics processing companies and, thanks to the more than 120 plastics firms already entrenched in that state, programs specifically geared toward plastics processing have been implemented recently.
Short courses sponsored by the Mississippi Polymer Institute at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, in cooperation with its Polymer Science department, give employees a four-day intensive program in injection molding and extrusion processing.
Additionally, Holmes Community College's Ridgeland Campus near Jackson offers complete courses in injection molding, extrusion and mold making. Plastics machinery companies recently donated new equipment to the college.
James A. Hemphill Sr., a pioneer in the plastics industry in Mississippi, is associate director of the Polymer Institute and spends his retirement days recruiting companies to participate in the training programs.
``The need for trained employees in the plastics industry is so great,'' Hemphill said, ``that we fill up our short courses and have a waiting list.''
But all is not good news on the employment front. Although Southern states like to brag about their numbers of available workers, many plastics processing companies have found that low unemployment rates hamper their ability to find enough employees to train.
Tom Bramlett, vice president of strategic planning for Fawn Industries in Middlesex, N.C., said the 2.4 percent unemployment rate in that state creates somestiff competition among companies for skilled labor.
Bramlett said the employment picture is a little better in Tennessee, where last year the Detroit-based company built a plant in Maryville to serve the automotive industry there.
``We settled on the Knoxville area because the schools there have good apprenticeship programs and the people a higher level of education,'' he said.
Although some processors did not want to say so publicly, privately they have been somewhat disappointed with some of the training programs offered. Many tend to be more general in nature rather than plastics industry-specific.
``Some things are good and some not so good,'' said Complex's Ed Christensen. ``Some things could be better, but [development officials] are working hard to help us.''