(Sept. 27, 2004) — Do you remember how you felt the first time you got on an airplane after Sept. 11, 2001? For many of us, Plastics USA or K 2001 was that first trip.
Now it's time to do it again.
With the industry again attending Plastics USA, this week in Chicago, and preparing for K 2004, Oct. 20-27 in Dusseldorf, Germany, this seems like a fitting time to reflect on the recent past.
Three years ago at this time, many of us were still in a state of shock. But Plastics USA organizers were busy — and faced with a tough decision. Should they cancel the show, or go ahead knowing that attendance would be poor?
The show went on. Although attendance was down about 8 percent from the 1998 show, we didn't hear any complaints from the approximately 15,000 people who registered to attend. That set the tone: In the plastics industry, it was “business as usual.”
But not quite. Remember how, at the time, people were saying: “This changes everything.” In some industries, that was true. Airlines, for example, will never be the same. Blue-ribbon carriers have declared bankruptcy, hubs have closed or downsized and tighter security has become a way of life.
For plastics, the most immediate impact was that the nascent economic recovery we thought we saw coming in the summer of 2001 was pretty much dashed. In fact, it ended up being delayed for at least two more years.
Machinery companies were, arguably, hit the hardest. Many processors simply stopped spending money on new equipment. But the amazing thing is that no major names in plastics machinery disappeared. They all lived to fight another day. The experience speaks well of their ability to cut costs to a minimum, but then to gear back up once business returns.
On the resin side, the global unrest and unpredictability that followed the attacks has had a huge impact on pricing. Natural gas and oil prices shot up, and resin prices followed, even while demand, at first, stayed fairly flat.
Plenty of processors and mold makers have gone out of business in the past three years, and few new firms have started from scratch. But it's tough to really point to any case where a business failure was specifically the result of Sept. 11. Still, many may have survived if the economy had recovered faster.
Many of us were touched personally by events that day, and now, in retrospect, it's clear that the industry was, too. Let's call it a knockdown, but not a knockout. So this fall, as you prepare to travel, whether it's to Chicago or Dusseldorf or New York or elsewhere, pause for a moment and remember how you felt before that first post-Sept. 11 trip three years ago, and reflect on how much has changed, and how you've managed to survive.