West of New York and north of Philadelphia is an area of Pennsylvania known as Lehigh Valley. Economic development officials in the 720-square-mile region want plastics companies to know where it is.
Anchored by the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, the area is banking on industries such as plastics to aid in its commercial recovery from the loss of thousands of steel mill jobs during the past 15 years.
Today, the iron triangle is home to more than 80 plastics-related companies involved in nearly every facet of the industry. Lehigh Valley Economic Corp.— in partnership with Pennsylvania Power and Light Co. of Allentown, state agencies, local universities and a variety of private organizations—has designated plastics a target industry because it is one officials think they can attract. To do so, a variety of incentives are provided to qualifying firms, including an incremental discount for electrical power usage above the previous year's consumption.
``We're actively recruiting,'' said Thomas Kucharski, president and chief operating officer of the Allentown-based corporation.
The agency, which serves as the regional umbrella organization for economic development, was formed in 1995 to market the area to industry. The plastics industry is valued by development officials because of its solid growth potential and use of technology, Kucharski said in a Nov. 25 telephone interview.
``We seem to be attracting and retaining quite a few plastics companies in Lehigh Valley,'' he said. ``We have 10 colleges and universities and 20 private, commercial, trade and art schools.''
Among the Valley's educational assets of particular interest to plastics are Pennsylvania State University's Allentown Campus and Lehigh University in Allentown, according to Kucharski. The latter is home to the Iacocca Institute and promotes global competitiveness through several programs, including the Northeast Tier Ben Franklin Technology Center and Manufacturers Resource Center. Northhampton Community College offers a specialized diploma in plastics technology — one of three such programs in the state.
Plastics is ``extremely competitive,'' Kucharski said. He added that the Lehigh group will attend Plastics USA 98, to be held next fall in Chicago.