The profile in this week's issue about Penn State Erie's Plastic Technology Center is a good example of how hard-pressed communities around the United States are using education to spur economic development, provide area residents with a better quality of life and advance the plastics industry both locally and nationally. Erie's showcase academic program, like those in states as diverse as Mississippi and Oregon, has the support of processors keenly interested in seeing a solid educational program devoted to training people for their industry.
There is little new about that concept. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century ensured a need for educated workers, which in turn helped spark education for the masses.
Communities that invest in educating people historically have prospered because of the intellectual capital education produces. The plastics industry, not unlike other industries, has been a primary beneficiary of that process.
The Erie program is noteworthy in part because it has developed quickly into an excellent plastics industry training center. It began offering a four-year degree in plastics engineering technology in 1987. In less than a decade, with significant support from processors in the region, a 55,000-square-foot Plastics Technology Center was built to house the university's School of Engineering and Technology. This spring, 48 students will graduate the program.
The more important distinction is that local plastics industry people provided the necessary leadership in working with community and education officials to make it happen.