COLUMBUS, OHIO — Two earlier summits enjoyed higher attendance, but the Jan. 25 Ohio Plastics Summit grabbed more attention from political leaders, organizers said. After a day of speeches and issue briefings, industry officials mingled at a reception with 50 state legislators — far more than attended prior summits.
Gov. Robert Taft quickly established his plastics credentials in an appearance at the summit, and noted that 60-70 new plastics industry sites open each year in the state.
Though Ohio's foundation for growth in plastics continues to build, the state's 1,700 processors historically have not worked together to promote the industry, said David D'Antoni, president of Columbus-based Ashland Chemical Co.
"We need to begin thinking and acting as an industry. That is sadly lacking among plastics molders," he added.
Ohio has some good programs in place to promote its plastics base, but the molders often forget they are there or don't take the time to use them, D'Antoni said.
"We get so caught up in the dailiness of our work we sometimes fail to look at the big picture," he said.
But Taft and Ohio's government plan to take a more active role in promoting plastics.
"We're just beginning to fully explore the amazing potential of plastics," Taft said.
He rattled off Ohio's statistics:
The plastics industry represents 25 percent of all manufacturing in Ohio.
Ohio plastics operations export $1 billion worth of goods each year.
Taft outlined government actions to boost worker training. He said the state has tripled the amount of money going to community colleges, and wants to quadruple the number of high school students enrolled in manufacturing-related courses.
Companies also can use credits from the Ohio franchise tax to help pay for job training, he said.
On July 1, the Ohio Department of Human Services, which handles welfare, and the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services, will merge into a single organization called the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
"This will be an employer-driven system, both at the state level and at the regional level," Taft said.
Taft promised to tout Ohio's plastics industry during his trade mission to Japan. He was scheduled to leave Jan. 28.
C. Lee Johnson, director of the state's Department of Development, also gave a brief speech at the meeting.
Several states now have plastics events at their state capitals, but the 1994 Ohio Plastics summit is considered the first. That year's summit drew 300 people. The 1996 summit, which included a trade show, drew 375. Attendance dipped in 1998, to 150. Organizers said 235 people attended the 2000 summit.
The summit included sessions on clean-air laws, worker safety, electricity deregulation and electronic commerce.
Ohio consistently draws more people to its plastics summit than other states, according to Deborah Neal, a plastics lobbyist who was chairwoman of the Summit 2000 steering committee. She represents Geon Co., the Plastics Processors Association of Ohio and BFGoodrich Co.'s performance materials division — all based in Ohio.
Sid Rains, a member of the steering committee, said the Columbus forums are important to keep Ohio leaders from taking the industry for granted.
"We had tremendous cooperation, starting with the governor and extending down through the Department of Development," said Rains, a former Van Dorn Demag Corp. executive who now runs IMM Performance Products in Medina, Ohio.
Rains said Taft has a genuine interest in plastics. Taft attended the 1996 summit while he was Ohio's secretary of state.