Ohio Gov. Bob Taft wants advice from plastics leaders on how to spend the industry's share of his proposed Third Frontier Project, which would allocate $1.6 billion over 10 years for research leading to high-tech jobs.
The plastics industry employs 123,900 Ohioans, placing the state second only to California, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. of Washington.
``You need to tell us how we can stay on top, so that you will invest in Ohio and create high-paying jobs,'' Taft said during a speech at the Ohio Plastics Summit, held March 5 in Columbus.
Taft said Ohio has some of the nation's top polymer research programs at the University of Akron; Case Western Reserve University and NASA Glenn Research Center, both in Cleveland; and Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. However, more efforts are needed to ``move ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace,'' he said.
The speech came one month after the Republican governor unveiled the Third Frontier Project. The $1.6 billion would come from a combination of tobacco settlement funds, state and federal dollars and a $500 million bond issue that would go to voters in 2003.
Industry officials at the summit supported the proposal, but wanted more details.
``I still don't know what the Third Frontier is,'' said Sharell Mikesell, executive director of the Ohio Polymer Strategy Council.
The council expects to issue a report in May outlining what Ohio should do to promote research and emerging technologies. The state has given grants to the council and another group, PolymerOhio Inc., but Mikesell said Ohio needs to do more to support plastics.
``We know that the state gives $60 million to the steel industry. They give $100 million to agriculture,'' he said.
The plastics industry gets ``less than one-tenth of 1 percent'' of the state's total business.
``I think they ought to be giving $50 million to $60 million to polymers. It is the largest industry. ... Polymers is the biggest thing this state has, and to be only giving a few million to nourish your lifeblood - what's wrong with this equation?''
Mikesell said the Polymer Strategy Council was working on its recommendations before Taft began talking about the Third Frontier Project.
Joseph Jacomet of Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus said Ohio has strong universities and technical schools, but has lacked the funding to bring ideas to manufacturers.
``I think this is a program that could really lead to that. ... And I'm thinking it's a great idea, because other states are doing it,'' said Jacomet, Batelle manager of advanced materials applications.
Taft asked the plastics industry to lobby for Third Frontier.
Joe Bergen, chairman of PolymerOhio, said the trade association will promote the proposal. He said the plastics industry must ``clarify the vision'' for what it wants from the state, and needs more grass-roots involvement.
``We cannot blame the state when the industry has not done more to lead the way,'' said Bergen, president and chief executive officer of Sajar Plastics Inc. in Middlefield, Ohio.