Facing fierce global competition, Ohio's polymer industry - including plastics, rubber and coatings makers - needs to invest $232 million during the next 10 years to retain its U.S.-leading position of 140,000 polymer-related jobs and to generate new jobs, according to a new report.
``The time to act is now,'' said Tom Waltermire, president and chief executive officer of PolyOne Corp., a compounder in Avon Lake, Ohio. He is co-chairman of the steering committee for the report, which was released Oct. 5.
Northeast Ohio is particularly at risk to competition from both lower-cost foreign competitors and aggressive neighboring states. It has more to lose. The report said that with 43,562 polymer-related jobs, the 13-county region has the greatest concentration of polymer companies and jobs in the United States.
Ohio industry officials used urgent tones when they stressed that, without investments in new ``knowledge-based'' technology such as nanotechnology, biocompatible polymers and other exotic areas, the state could fall behind, even as polymers enjoy healthy growth around the world.
``It will no longer be enough to be adept at manufacturing,'' Waltermire said.
By following recommendations of the Polymer Strategic Opportunity Roadmap, northeast Ohio could generate about 3,450 jobs over the next decade, and preserve existing jobs, officials said.
Industry leaders stressed the key will be fostering cooperation among companies, the government and some top polymer universities in northeast Ohio, such as the University of Akron, Kent State University and Case Western University.
Most of the $232 million - or about $23 million a year - is money that already is available, said Sharell Mikesell, executive director of the Ohio Polymer Strategy Council. He said of the total recommended investment, 80 percent would come from the government and universities, and 20 percent from industry.
One of the goals is to double the annual level of polymer-related federal research money to northeast Ohio universities from the current level of about $15 million, to $30 million a year by 2009.
Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, conducted the study. It identifies six key industries that have significant growth potential and an existing stable of companies with expertise in northeast Ohio: automotive, biomedical, consumer goods, packing; instruments, controls and electronics; and building, construction and utilities.
The report also outlines 17 specific actions, including:
* To expand the development of commercial products in electronic, conductive and photonic polymers, which are used in biomedicine, data communications and storage, fiber optics, imaging, sensing and telecommunications.
* Create a team to plan a federally funded center for nano-enhanced polymers.
* Help develop next-generation processing technologies.
* Begin work to establish a Polymer Applications Fellows initiative that would link polymers to other industrial clusters.
* Launch technical networks around polymer technologies.
* Boost business and technical assistance delivered to small and midsized processors.
* Create new products in biopolymers.
Industry leaders released the report to a packed room of business officials and the media at RPM International Inc. in Medina, Ohio. RPM makes coatings and adhesives - reinforcing how broad the term ``polymers'' reaches.
The polymer roadmap counts Ohio as No. 1 in polymer employment, but the state is second behind California in plastics-specific jobs, according to 2002 data from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington.