The Berkshire Plastics Network, a trade association and training organization for the industry in western Massachusetts, is in financial trouble after its state and federal support dried up.
The group, based in Pittsfield, Mass., is looking at cutbacks and asking its city government to chip in transition money to help maintain some programs while it ``hibernates'' others, said Chairman Carl Olson.
``The worst-case scenario is that the network goes out of business,'' said Olson, who is also the sales and marketing manager for Plastics Technology Laboratories Inc. in Pittsfield. ``We feel that's not the probable outcome.''
Instead, the group probably will have to scale back office hours, reduce its full-time office manager to part-time, schedule fewer networking functions for its members and cut back on lobbying, which helped it secure passage of mold-lien legislation in Massachusetts recently, he said.
But the group considers its training, including its state-certified mold-maker apprenticeship program and its training programs for processors, as key activities. ``It is highly likely that the educational efforts will continue,'' Olson said.
BPN has lost half of its $140,000 annual budget because government support has been cut. The other half of its budget comes from member dues and fund raising.
The group actually got its last check from the government in mid-2001, and had been making small financial adjustments since then. But it became apparent at the end of 2002 that it would run out of money in June unless more drastic changes were made, said Lorraine Heidemann, the office manager for BPN.
The group in January asked the Pittsfield city government for a $33,000 grant from economic development funds.
BPN's mold-maker apprenticeship program is self-sustaining from tuition, and has put 110 people through the classroom portion. Almost 50 participants have finished 8,000 hours of on-the-job training to become full apprentices.
The processor training consists of two computer terminals with software from Paulson Training Programs Inc. that members can use for free. In addition, BPN is trying to find grant funding to start a process technician training course, but the loss of state and federal funding makes that harder, Olson said.
BPN officials said government cutbacks hurt the industry's ability to maintain a trained work force, and have hurt the region's ability to have a viable cluster of plastics companies, which some economic development specialists consider important for building strong local economies.
``Every molder out there cannot depend on getting process technicians ready-to-go from a public education program,'' Olson said. ``Every plastics processor who hires a person has to invest a significant amount of time in training. That is a huge hidden cost.''