Florida's brutal 2004 hurricane season is generating extra business for at least one sector of the plastics industry: sign manufacturers.
The U.S. sign industry is looking up this year, in part because of the recovering economy, and at least partially because of businesses rebuilding from the Florida hurricanes.
The Alexandria, Va.-based International Sign Association held its annual Sign Expo trade show from March 30 to April 2 in Las Vegas. The association's message: Signs create value that benefit business, customers and society as a whole.
The Sign Expo attracted 1,647 exhibitors and 21,777 attendees - the latter figure up nearly 30 percent over the last Sign Expo in 2004.
``There's a lot of optimism in this industry now where there wasn't over the last few years,'' said Lori Anderson, president of the International Sign Association and a former Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. executive. ``People are feeling pretty optimistic, because most sign companies are very, very busy and that's a good thing.''
The economy is coming back, officials said, backing that with recent job growth statistics. In March, the economy produced 110,000 new jobs, which means it created 3 million new jobs since May 2003. Most sign companies are small businesses, and small businesses are the engine of the economy, said Hector Barreto, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. In the United States, 25 million small businesses contribute 52 percent of the economy's gross output.
Barreto also marveled at what it was like to visit areas of Florida devastated by the string of hurricanes in 2004, to see all the signs missing. In that state, getting the signs up as soon as possible was a priority to show that businesses were still there.
``There was something eerie,'' Barreto said in his April 1 keynote address. ``We marveled at the fact that we take those signs for granted. When they're not there anymore, it's shocking. You're the industry that helps us communicate what business is all about. You have a ground-floor responsibility to the United States.''
Many plastics firms showcasing their wares at the show are banking on growth.
Engravable sheet materials firm Rowmark Inc. grew almost 20 percent in 2004, said President Duane Jebbett. The company is just completing an addition on its building in Findlay, Ohio, where officials have installed two new silos, and are preparing to install a $1.5 million extruder.
``We don't want to miss the boat,'' said Seth Ebarra, senior marketing coordinator of sheet and film extruder Transilwrap Co. Inc. in Franklin Park, Ill. The company has had steady orders since April.
``We were just finding interest in rigid plastics, but we also offer cling materials and banner films,'' Ebarra said.
Gavrieli Plastics & Sign Supplies Corp. of North Hollywood, Calif., introduced laminated foam board. The firm recently added one line to produce foam board with anodized aluminum face, officials said. With three warehouses in North Hollywood, the firm is working on opening another branch in San Diego.