FITCHBURG, MASS. — Massachusetts' local plastics organizations are emphasizing work force training and development, efforts they hope will get a boost from a state government decision to help pay for an economic development specialist to focus on plastics.
The state's three regional groups — the Berkshire Plastics Network, the Merrimack Valley Plastics Network and the North Central Massachusetts Plastics Council — unveiled a training-focused, statewide agenda at the MassPlastics '97 trade show in Fitchburg, Oct. 29-30.
They say that includes hiring an economic development specialist to target plastics. State officials announced at the show that they would pay half the salary of that person. The industry will cover the other half, said Anthony Cetrone, chairman of the task force that developed the agenda.
If industry can fund its share quickly, the position could be filled by Jan. 1, said David Tibbetts, director of the state's Department of Economic Development.
But Massachusetts continues to be viewed as the most anti-business state in the Northeast, a major barrier to attracting new companies, according to an analysis prepared by the American Plastics Council and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., both of Washington.
``The environmental agencies [in state government], however, still have bureaucrats who follow [Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group's] credo and would love nothing more than to ban plastics,'' the report said. ``It takes only a change in the governorship to replace some of our friends with those who would not be constrained in targeting the plastics industry.''
Some progress has been made in the state, but states like Connecticut and Michigan are making greater strides, the report said.
The Aug. 22 report said deregulating electrical utilities, revamping unemployment compensation and getting more coordination between the federal and state environmental regulators would be strong steps the state could take. Tibbett said at MassPlastics that a bill giving a 15 percent cut in the power portion of electrical rates could pass this month, and steps are being taken to reduce unemployment insurance by 20 percent.
``That's where I think it will be helpful for the industry to speak with one voice — on environmental and business regulations,'' Tibbetts said.
Some local governments also are taking steps, including the city of Leominster, Mass., which is trying to form an electricity buying pool for local manufacturers, said Dennis Rosa, chairman of the city's Industrial Development Commission.
But most of the local groups' agendas focus on coordinating worker training and keeping labor shortages from becoming a serious problem, said Cetrone, who is also president of Micron Medical Products in Fitchburg.
The Massachusetts Plastics Alliance, an umbrella for the three local plastics groups, is trying to form a fourth regional group for the area south of Boston, he said.
But its main agenda includes creating a tax credit for worker training, getting stronger incentives for donating equipment to schools and forming partnerships with other industries to get more money for worker training.
Several local companies, including Boston Digital Corp. and Netstal Machinery Inc., have donated refurbished equipment to the Center for Technical Education in Leominster, which now is training move than 50 students in mold making and injection molding, said board member Richard White, who is purchasing manager at mold maker Mark Tech Inc. of Leominster.
The new donations will allow the center to train students on up-to-date equipment, he said. Most of the center's $700,000 in equipment has been donated, allowing it to expand from just three students in 1994.
Most of the firms interviewed at the show said the business climate is good in the state. MassPlastics '97 drew 6,500 people, up 30 percent from 5,000 in 1996.
Injection molder Accutech Plastics Inc. in Marlborough is growing 15 percent a year and thinking seriously of opening a plant in the Southeast in two years, said Linda Braunhardt, sales manager.
But Richard Wheeler, national sales manager for injection molder Wachusett Molding Corp. in West Boylston, said business started to slow down in the summer.
``The business does not seem to be where it was in the past couple years,'' he said.