FITCHBURG, MASS. - Biotechno-logy may have more sex appeal, but industries like plastics bring home the bacon, according to a top economic development official for Massachusetts. ``We tend to spend an awful lot of time talking about `sexy' industry clusters,'' said John Regan, executive director of the Massa-chusetts Office of Business Development in Boston.
From biotech to Boston's Route 128, dubbed the High-Tech Corridor of computer and electronics firms, Massachusetts political leaders have courted the industries of tomorrow with special incentives such as tax breaks and services.
But commonwealth leaders need to pay attention to industries like plastics that already are strong in the state, Regan said during the March 27 Massa-chusetts Plastics Summit in Fitch-burg.
To illustrate his point, Regan said that 92 biotech firms employed 15,000 Massachusetts residents in 1992. Then he quoted from the newest report of 1994 data by Probe Economics Inc. for the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.: 37,400 plastics jobs at 589 facilities in Massachusetts, with annual wages of $1.2 billion.
``Let's grab some headlines and let's push the message that plastics is alive and well in Massachusetts,'' he said.
That focusing of attention on plastics was the purpose of the first-ever Massachusetts Plastics Summit. About 100 industry executives met with top state officials at the summit, held in conjunction with the MassPlastics trade show.
Summit attendees learned about government training and export programs, the pending deregulation of the commonwealth's electric service, and other services.
Brian Jones, president of Nypro-Clinton, the largest operating division of Nypro Inc., said local companies need to find common ground to create a ``powerhouse of regional competition here, on a worldwide scale.''
``We have to unite and create a visible force,'' Jones said.
Nypro employs about 1,000 people in Clinton.
David Tibbetts, secretary of economic affairs for Massachu-setts, was the keynote speaker. He said Massachusetts' reputation as a high-tax state has changed, thanks to 11 tax reductions in the past five years enacted by Republican Gov. William Weld and a state legislature controlled by Democrats. Six of those cuts were targeted at business.
The Weld administration also has overhauled workers' compensation, reducing rates by 10.2 percent in 1994 and 16.5 percent in 1995, he said.
Massachusetts still has a long way to go in unemployment compensation, where it is the second-most-expensive state, he said.
Weld also is pushing a change in law aimed at developing old industrial sites, known as ``brown fields,'' Tibbetts said. Once environmental cleanup is completed, the commonwealth would agree not to file suit against new owners for past contamination, he said.
The Fitchburg event was the second ``plastics summit'' in the country. The first was held in Ohio in 1994. A second Ohio summit is scheduled for April 30 in Columbus. Also, industry officials in Florida plan to hold a summit in Orlando, tentatively set for Sept. 30-Oct. 1, said Lewis Freeman, SPI vice president for government affairs.
Sponsors of the Massachusetts Plastics Summit were the Mass-chusetts Office of Business Development, SPI, American Plas-tics Council, North-Central Mas-sachusetts Chamber of Com-merce, Berkshire Plastics Net-work and Merrimack Valley Plas-tics Network.