A string of epiphanies recently hit our American plastics industry:
* The prosperity of the past is not guaranteed for the future.
* The downturn might not be cyclical.
* You can build it but maybe no one will come.
* The customers within your area code are being courted by legitimate competitors outside your country code.
The realization that “shift happens” has partitioned many in our industry into one of two camps: Fight for U.S. government intervention to save American manufacturing, or follow your customers and work throughout the world.
One writer recently described the mind-sets of the Save American Manufacturing crowd and the Work the World crowd as “bipolar,” because we've seen harsh words exchanged in trade publication mailbags. The Save American Manufacturing camp casts a dubious eye towards our government's current global expansion policies and states America will be at a security disadvantage if manufacturing is lost. The Work the World camp acknowledges that concern, yet states that it's not patriotic to go out of business — better to expand reach abroad than to watch foreign-owned companies take over a market segment at home.
Who's right? Both!
A concerned U.S. manufacturer has to support initiatives that will result in U.S. government leaders getting it: i.e., understanding the profound security and economic ramifications that their inattention may trigger.
And, a concerned U.S. manufacturer must know exactly what competition he's being stacked against and, either from positioning, technological advancement, or overseas expansion, find some way to continue to serve a viable customer base either here or abroad.
If American manufacturing is going to make it — and we believe it will — it will only be through a double-barreled strategy composed of educating our politicians to shape policy, and diverse and creative capitalism on a global scale.
A genuinely global U.S.-owned corporation lives by the credo that the best defense is having a strong offense, and seeks sales coverage worldwide, knowing it can't survive in a gutted U.S. manufacturing scenario. At the polar opposite philosophy are pseudo-global organizations that outsource the majority of their items to China and import to their home market. Time has shown that this importer is not balanced globally when Sept. 11, the longshoreman's strike, or SARS can break a supply chain. A genuinely global corporation utilizes diverse market coverage and leading-edge technology to be viable and more secure.
For those attending NPE who are looking to make their voice heard in Washington, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. has assembled a petition drive in the SPI membership pavilion to convey that “Plastics Manufacturing Matters.” Also, the SAM initiative will be adding to its more than 4,000 members and 16 state chapters in Booth N7107 (Moldmaking Technology magazine) and other locations throughout McCormick Place.
For those attending NPE with their sights set on growing their companies no matter what is going on in the world, conferences will be held on the topic. In addition, those seeking a technology advantage should scour the exhibitor offerings that might be used as leading-edge advantages now.
If NPE attendees aggressively pursue both of those priorities, then at the end of the day we should be able to say that we did everything we could to develop a strong defense and a strong offense. We played to win.
Starkey is president of Progressive Components Inc. in Wauconda, Ill., and chairman of the SPI Global Business Council. Petrucci is spokeswoman for Progressive and national coordinator for Save American Manufacturing.