Plastic industry leaders in the Buckeye State sent government officials a clear message at the annual Ohio Polymer Industry Legislative Luncheon: Pay attention to polymers or risk losing out to competitors abroad.
Mark Di Lillo, president of injection molder Endura Plastics Inc. in Kirtland, Ohio, told a crowd of about 200 at the March 25 gathering that if Ohio does not invest in polymers now, the state won't have a leadership position in 10 years. Attendees included 113 of the state's 132 legislators.
``We have a window of opportunity here in the state of Ohio,'' Di Lillo urged. ``That window may be closing'' as competition increases from China and Mexico. Even though those two countries don't have the infrastructure that the United States has, they are building it.
``In reality, we can't abandon polymers,'' Di Lillo said. ``We need to do more.''
The discussion comes at a crucial time for Ohio, which is among other states facing a daunting fiscal crisis, the worst since World War II. Ohio faces a deficit of $720 million for the current year. In November, its voters will be asked to approve a $500 million bond issue to help fund Gov. Bob Taft's Third Frontier Project, under which polymer research will fall. That $1.6 billion initiative also will be funded by a combination of tobacco settlement funds and state and federal dollars.
Taft, who spoke at the meeting, urged support for the bond issue.
``We can't afford to sit around hoping for the best,'' Taft said in his address. ``We must make this investment today to ensure Ohio's future.''
Government officials say they are confident they are doing everything possible for plastics industry growth, including supporting the newly created National Polymer Processing Center as part of the Wright Centers of Innovation. The Wright Centers will fall under the Third Frontier Project, which serves to encourage technology initiatives to grow Ohio's economy.
The Ohio Legislature already has appropriated $100 million of the $500 million for the 10-year project's capital portion during the next two years, said Frank Samuel, Taft's science and technology adviser. Ohio operates on a two-year budget.
``We are in the process of conducting first competition for those dollars,'' he said. ``Proposals are being reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.''
Luis Proenza, president of the University of Akron, said NPPC will act as the glue to pull together all the resources in the state, from universities including Case Western Reserve, Kent State and Ohio State, and different polymer-based businesses. Thomas Waltermire, chairman and chief executive officer of Cleveland-based compounder and distributor PolyOne Corp., and Proenza made the proposal for NPPC to Ohio legislators in Washington in September.
``Our goal has been from the start that the NPPC can begin to be the rallying point for all the major initiatives for the polymer industry throughout the state,'' Proenza said.
Still, there's a sore spot among some of Ohio's plastic industry leaders: What does that mean for funding for the Ohio Polymer Enterprise Development Inc.? That commercialization initiative's funding will run out at year's end.
Government officials say it is up to the polymer industry in the state to make a case.
``It's not for the state to make this decision for the polymer industry,'' Samuel said. ``It's up to the leaders in the industry to make a proposal, sort through alternatives and let us know what they need.''
Ron Clark, OPED executive director, said there will be an attempt to continue it as an initiative from industry. Officials may form a public-private relationship and receive funds from NPPC and ask for public support from universities.
Clark said details will be worked out in the next three months.