The first Illinois Plastics Summit pegged high electric rates and an ill-equipped work force as obstacles facing plastics companies that do business in the state. More than 60 people from 41 plastics firms showed up to discuss major issues affecting their Illinois operations at the six-hour summit, held Nov. 19 in Oak Brook, Ill.
``It gave us some good starting points,'' said Susan Faurot, Midwest regional manager for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., which co-sponsored the event with Illinois First, a public/private group dedicated to retaining industry in the state.
That 5-month-old program of Illinois' Department of Commerce and Community Affairs serves as a conduit between business and government.
In organizing the summit, Faurot said, SPI and Illinois First targeted plastics manufacturers that create jobs in the state, such as Borse Industries Inc., an industrial blow molder in Willowbrook with $16.5 million in sales.
Gary Borse, vice president and general manager, said he came to the summit determined to address Illinois' high electricity rates.
``Right now my electric rates are 221/2 percent of my manufacturing costs. It's about 6 percent of my sales,'' he said last week by telephone.
Ironically, the summit was held in Commonwealth Edison's customer service center in Oak Brook, near Chicago, because the utility is a member of Illinois First.
``It was no surprise that [electric rates] would be an issue,'' said Peter Ramirez, team leader for Illinois First. ``But if I've got part of the problem as part of the resource, that enhances our ability to do things.''
Commonwealth Edison also is involved in the Illinois Coalition for Responsible Electricity Choice, which has drafted a bill to deregulate electricity in the state.
``It's not going to happen soon enough,'' Borse said of deregulation. ``There's people dragging their feet. I don't know if anything will happen if people don't get together and write letters to our government.''
Despite high electric rates, leaving the state is not an option for Borse, because of the costs of moving equipment and retraining workers, he said.
For Jim Lewis, who six months ago took over the Plastics Division of Fellowes Manufacturing Co., the hot topic was the lack of qualified technical people in the labor pool.
The group's discussion focused on how plastics companies can introduce high school students to the industry and invest in them early on, bringing them into plants to see both job opportunities and the potential for growth. He said the group also touched on social challenges affecting the workplace such as drugs and a declining work ethic.
Lewis said some companies complained of high turnover with new hires. Fellowes, which injection molds office products and parts for corrugated boxes and shredders in Itasca, Ill., also has seen ``quite a bit of turnover,'' he said. The summit was his first SPI experience.
Illinois First plans to follow the summit with assistance to attendees, Ramirez said. Its aid often comes in the form of linking companies with available resources, such as training dollars, technical assistance and tax breaks. The organization also has a fax-on-demand service to answer questions.
Transcripts of the plastics summit will be available Jan. 15 through SPI Midwest or Illinois First, both in Chicago.