Community support is making a difference for southern Arizona plastics processors and others aiming to improve business and the region's economic prospects.
A technology group put together an industry-specific program for plastics, said Wayne Lundeberg, president of the plastics and advanced composite materials cluster for southern Arizona and president and chief executive officer of Catalina Tool & Mold Inc. in Tucson.
``We try to bring recognition [that] we have a plastics base here'' and seek to market the capability internationally, Lee Smith, manufacturing development program specialist with the Tucson office of economic development, said in a recent telephone interview.
An evening training program for employed, entry-level injection molding machine operators is the first tangible evidence of the economic thrust.
Nineteen operators from five local processors are enrolled in a nine-hour-per-week instructional program lasting from December through June at the Southern Arizona Institute of Advanced Technology in Tucson.
The operators will learn mathematics, computerization and A. Routsis Associates Inc. software-molding-simulation skills needed to upgrade to process technician, said Glenn Perry, SAIAT executive director.
Next, organizers are assembling a class of displaced operators and unemployed 18-to-21-year-olds for six weeks of an intense basic and technical skills program at SAIAT.
The aim is to get each person into a job quickly.
Industry volunteers were heavily involved in developing the curricula, Perry said.
Catalina controller Kirsten Cloutier has provided administrative support, coordinated the volunteer effort and served as a point of contact for the cluster.
Federal funds cover all costs.
``Companies do not have to pay, and there is no charge for clients,'' said Eddie Saavedra, program manager with the employment and training portion of Pima County's community services department.
On June 27, the Department of Labor awarded a $150,000 sector grant to the Pima County Workforce Investment Board for the demonstration plastics industry training program.
Technically, the grant covers 15 incumbent workers, 15 displaced workers and five 18-to-21-year-olds, but the county has flexibility with the dollars to cover additional students.
SAIAT leases a 17,000-square-foot facility and has other programs for electronics and optical assembly and technical work, and is creating a program for the telecommunications industry, Perry said.
The group that Lundeberg heads is one of six interacting clusters in the nonprofit Southern Arizona Tech Council.
Other clusters cover bioindustry, environmental technology, industry/aerospace, information technology and optics.
The council also includes 17 government, education and business groups.
Work-force development was a key issue last year and prompted the federal application to train certain people quickly in needed skills, Smith said.
The economic downturn has affected Tucson in plastics processing, Smith said.
Injection molder AMA Plastics Inc. recently closed a Tucson plant and consolidated operations at its Corona, Calif., headquarters. Meanwhile, Cincinnati-based injection molder Plastic Moldings Co. LLC is canceling advanced plans to begin production at a new Tucson plant that it constructed.
In October, the federal Small Business Administration awarded Tucson a five-year BusinessLinc grant that annually conveys $500,000 for programs to link businesses, develop supply chains and actively help identify markets.
The joint initiative between SBA and the Treasury Department began in mid-1998.
``Tucson was the first city to receive a BusinessLinc grant,'' Smith said.
Public-private partnerships received other grants.
Now, the city and other groups work with all six clusters to identify potential markets and industry-specific strategies for economic development, according to Smith.
``We need to put together tactical teams'' to pursue business opportunities for plastics processors and others in southern Arizona.