AKRON, OHIO — Veterans of three materials companies — Ferro Corp., Multibase Inc. and Advanced Elastomer Systems LP — were recognized as "unsung heroes" during an awards dinner May 22. The Society of Plastics Engineers' Akron Section honored new members of its Hall of Honor. Pictures of hall members are on display in the Goodyear Polymer Center at the University of Akron.
The SPE section also handed out scholarships totaling $19,000 to 16 local high school and college students.
In a keynote speech, university President Luis Proenza criticized the erosion of support in Ohio for higher education. On a more positive note, he announced a $760,000 state grant to develop an incubator for high-technology companies and lure investment to Northeast Ohio.
The Hall of Honor is intended for industry "foot soldiers" whose work has not been recognized through a national award. New members are:
Andre Fritz, president of Multibase, a compounder in Copley, Ohio. Since becoming president in 1990, Fritz has transformed Multibase from a small toll compounder into a custom compounder.
Fritz credited hard work, dedication to new products and luck. For example, after learning that Multibase would lose a huge account, the company uncovered a niche market in materials for air-bag covers for cars, which then was a new market. Today, Multibase has a 35 percent share of that market, he said.
"In today's society, the American dream is still true if you put in your passion," Fritz said.
Paul DeFranco, senior research engineer at Ferro's technical center in Independence, Ohio. DeFranco said he knew nothing about polymers when he started at Ferro 27 years ago.
"I wouldn't have known a bag of polymers if somebody would've hit me in the head with it," he said.
To students in attendance, he said: "You can not only earn a living, but have a lot of fun at it."
John Richwine, described as a "walking encyclopedia of thermoplastic elastomer knowledge," is senior specialist in marketing and technical service for TPEs at Akron-based AES.
"We keep developing new things all the time. That's what makes it exciting," said Richwine, a veteran of more than 20 years at AES and one its predecessor companies, Monsanto Co.
Also, David R. Schultz was named winner of the William C. Zekan Memorial Service Award for his service to the Akron SPE Section. Schultz is senior technical service representative at Harwick Standard Distribution Corp. in Akron.
In his speech, Proenza touted his college's program, one of the top-rated in the nation. He called higher education "today's new infrastructure" that leads to greater productivity and higher incomes.
But he noted that Ohio "has long been near the bottom of states in funding higher education." As a result, income levels in Ohio have fallen below the national average.
Proenza said the fragmented plastics industry can slip through the cracks. By contrast, the coal industry, although much smaller than plastics, gets generous state support.
"Everybody understands coal, but nobody understands polymers," he said.
The situation may be improving, however.
Proenza announced new state money to create an incubator in Akron to foster high-tech polymer start-up companies. The new Technology Action Fund will kick in $460,000.
Another $300,000 is coming from the Ohio Department of Development. The program will link the University of Akron, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
The incubator will try to connect fledgling businesses with investors, according to Frank N. Kelley, dean of polymer science and polymer engineering at the University of Akron. Northeast Ohio has strong polymer research, he said, but needs a better way to foster companies that use new technologies.