The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is launching a petition drive to emphasize to government policymakers the severe economic difficulties faced by the industry. The move is part of a broader effort among manufacturers to highlight the challenges they face.
Manufacturers have struggled with the slumping economy and international trade pressures. For U.S. plastics processors, SPI said, that has meant a dramatic swing in trade fortunes, from a $900 million surplus in 2000 to a $1.4 billion deficit last year.
In part, the activities are driven by a sense that the public and Washington do not fully understand plastics, or manufacturing.
``We're the fourth-largest industry in this country,'' said Lori Anderson, strategic planning and industry relations officer for SPI. ``I don't think anybody on Capitol Hill really understands that at all.''
SPI's effort comes as the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington released a study June 10 that predicts the U.S. standard of living and economic strength will suffer permanently if manufacturing continues to weaken. The report blamed intense international competition and rising costs in the United States, including from health care and regulatory costs.
The NAM study noted that 2.3 million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the United States since July 2000, and manufacturing's economic recovery has been ``anemic.'' NAM President Jerry Jasinowski said that as cash flow in manufacturing is being squeezed, it is becoming tougher to spend money on research and development.
The report, titled ``Securing America's Future: The Case For a Strong Manufacturing Base,'' argues that manufacturing is the key driver of economic growth and innovation, and without a strong manufacturing sector, U.S. growth would be much lower. [The full report is available online at www.nam.org/future.]
Jasinowski said Washington needs to level the playing field internationally by getting China to lower its ``overvalued'' currency, and he said the U.S. government must put more money into research and development and help to contain rising business costs. The Department of Commerce is in the midst of a study analyzing government policies and manufacturing.
He said NAM plans to promote the study to raise awareness of manufacturing, and the group plans to conduct grass-roots efforts in key industrial states.
``We've not told our story,'' Jasinowski said. ``We're at a point in time where we're trying to do that more robustly because of the increased international threat and [because] we are losing as many jobs as we are.''
``One of our big challenges in manufacturing is to create an enhanced awareness of why manufacturing matters,'' said Thomas Dammrich, chairman of the NAM group that put together the study and president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
SPI helped pay for the NAM study, and Anderson was on the panel that helped write it.
SPI's petition echoes many of the points in the NAM study, including asking the U.S. government to press China to honor its World Trade Organization commitments and to make changes in U.S. policy to help industry in the areas of energy, tax policy, tort reform and health insurance.
Anderson said SPI hopes to get thousands of signatures for the petition, dubbed ``Plastics Manufacturing Matters.''
The group also is holding a breakfast briefing on China issues June 25 at the NPE show in Chicago. The event, co-sponsored by Injection Molding Magazine, already has more than 200 registrants, she said.
The processing industry's rising trade deficit indicates that it's being hurt by import penetration, Anderson said. But SPI will release a study soon that will attempt to document how the industry also is being hurt by end-use product manufacturers moving offshore, she said.
``It's not just because of import penetration and the trade imbalance that we are suffering,'' Anderson said. ``We're suffering because manufacturing is being dislocated.''