WASHINGTON - Plastics industry employment grew 17 percent between 1991 and 1994, to more than 1.2 million, and sales and shipments grew 27 percent, to $225 billion, according to the latest version of a popular report on the U.S. plastics industry. But the substantial trade surplus enjoyed by domestic plastics exports to foreign countries has dwindled some 27 percent to $3.9 billion a year, while the world's consumption of the five major thermoplastic resins rose 16 percent from 1991 to 1994, according to the study.
Probe Economics Inc. unveiled the majority of its update of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s oft-quoted ``Contribution of Plastics to the U.S. Economy'' at the annual SPI year-end press briefing Dec. 6.
The Probe study is a major part of SPI's latest plan to show the relevancy and impact of the plastics industry on states and communities around the country. The study was last completed for SPI in 1992.
Shortly after President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration, SPI President Larry Thomas recited statistics from the first Probe study to the new chief executive at a Florida gathering.
Fred Peterson, president of Millwood, N.Y.-based Probe, presented the latest statistics.
The largest percentage of industry jobs - 89 percent - are in plastics processing and fabricating, an industry segment showing 20 percent growth since 1991. Employment increased only slightly in machinery and wholesale trade sectors, and the number of mold makers actually decreased 7 percent in the three-year period.
Thomas noted that employment in the resin sector has stayed relatively stable at 62,200 in the past three years, despite major personnel cutbacks in large corporations.
Peterson said that number remained constant because of corresponding large increases in the size of the resin sector.
Other noteworthy items:
Up to one-third of plastics processing is done by captive producers - firms that mold containers and other items to hold their own products.
Including captive operations, the value of industrial shipments in the plastics industry reached nearly $189.5 billion in 1994.
There are 13,420 businesses engaged in compounding, molding, forming, foaming, or extruding plastics or formulating plastics resins.
Some 1,576 domestic compa-nies make molds for plastics, employing 26,000 people.
About 380 companies are involved in the production of plastics machinery.