The Mississippi Polymer Cluster Organization is trying to generate support around the state, hoping to help the industry grow by addressing challenges like workforce development and global competition.
In a recent interview at Plastics USA in Chicago, group President Greg McNeely said Mississippi is focusing on polymer-related businesses for obvious reasons: They make up about 10 percent of the state's manufacturing workforce and they pay, on average, 25 percent more than other industry in the state.
The industry has identified a number of challenges, including a workforce that has a higher percentage of unskilled workers than the national average; export activity below the national average; and what the group said is unfair foreign competition. The state also suffers from a poor image that makes it harder to recruit workers, said McNeely, president of polyethylene film and bag maker Mega Plastics Inc. of Clinton, Miss.
Still, MPCO - which formed in April - sees opportunities. The state offers a low cost of doing business, from low power costs and tax rates to a business-friendly, right-to-work climate. The state also is home to the Mississippi Polymer Institute and the University of Southern Mississippi, which has been ranked among the top 10 polymer programs in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
``In a time when we all know manufacturing is on the decline in Mississippi and other places, this is a real opportunity,'' McNeely said at the show, held Sept. 28-30.
The state's governor, Haley Barbour, has focused on improving workforce-development programs and has boosted money available to companies, McNeely said. No money has been set aside for the polymer cluster, but MCPO includes state economic development officials on its board.
The state has 350 polymer-related businesses that employ about 18,600, state officials said.