Pennsylvania officials understandably have plenty of passion for plastics. It is one of the state's fastest growing industries, according to the state's commerce department, with nearly 1,000 companies employing 65,000. Each year, the industry ships about $10 billion worth of goods.
To leverage that resource, the state has molded a program to encourage investment and respond to competition from other states that also have targeted the industry for recruitment. To help promote its economic development efforts, the state has hired New York-based Ketchum Public Relations.
The keystone of Pennsylvania's program is tax cuts. The commonwealth has embraced a $2 billion business tax cut, revised its worker compensation laws to save employers money, and in April co-sponsored its first plastics summit in Harrisburg.
The summit was put together in partnership with the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and American Plastics Council, said Paula McKinney, a Harrisburg-based development specialist with the Governor's Action Team, a state economic development office that reports to Gov. Tom Ridge.
``The diversity of the plastics industry in the state is striking,'' McKinney said in a Nov. 25 telephone interview. ``We have lots of home-grown companies.''
The state, she noted, is well-represented by an array of processors, major chemical corporations, equipment manufacturers, tool and die makers and other auxiliary businesses.
Brent Vernon, a development specialist with the GAT office assigned full time to the plastics industry, said the state is working closely with companies and educational institutions to train workers for what it sees as a vibrant sector of Pennsylvania's economy.
``The industry is skyrocketing,'' he said. ``To sustain the growth, it needs a suitable work force'' and a commitment to education and research.
In July, Ridge signed into law a $15 million research and development tax credit to encourage companies to do more R&D in the state. The law provides a 10 percent tax credit to firms that qualify their projects with the state. About 20 percent of the $15 million program is earmarked for small businesses.
Pennsylvania also has:
Reorganized its Department of Environmental Protection to speed up the permit application process and foster a better relationship between the agency and business.
ÃDeregulated its electric industry.
Doubled funding for its Customized Job Training program.
Developed an export strategy to boost international exports 40 percent in four years.
Abolished a 6 percent computer services sales tax.
Launched a ``Technology 21'' initiative to attract and expand high-tech industry.
Erie, Pa., is home to Penn State— Erie and its nationally recognized Plastics Technology Deployment Center, which provides a range of educational and technical services to plastics firms.
In addition to the Erie resource, Penn State in University Park operates the Polymer Research Center, and the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport maintains a plastics manufacturing center.
The plastics programs at those and other Pennsylvania colleges and universities have made the state one of the top providers of plastics engineering graduates, graduating about 1,700 annually.
The plastics industry works closely with the schools, said GAT's Vernon. Firms also work together on technology transfer and they share information to an unusual degree, he said.
``It's a strong industry,'' he said.
SPI data supports his assertion, ranking Pennsylvania sixth among the top 15 states for plastics industry employment.