Plastic railroad tie maker Polywood Inc. is out of business after a combination of pulled funding and costly decisions derailed the Edison, N.J.-based company.
Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey eliminated a $14 million budget for the state's Commission on Science and Technology in 2003. That first shot took the wind out of the 10-year-old firm's sales.
``The funding cut might have had something to do with it,'' said Thomas Nosker, a Rutgers University professor and the principal researcher with the university's Center for Advanced Materials Via Immiscible Polymer Processing. Polywood's products were based on technology originally developed at Rutgers, where researchers have been extruding plastic lumber since 1987.
Some New York investors with no manufacturing experience bought Polywood about a year ago, Nosker said.
The second shot sank the ship.
``They stopped selling everything that wasn't a railroad tie,'' he said. ``That was a pretty big mistake.''
Polywood officials did not return several phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
In 2003, the world's first all-plastic bridge opened in New Jersey's Wharton State Forest, courtesy of Polywood's innovative technology developed by Piscataway, N.J.-based Rutgers.
The structural plastic products are made from a patented mix of high density polyethylene and polystyrene. AMIPP researchers are working to commercialize the technology for bone-replacement materials.
The railroad ties accounted for about one-third of Polywood's business, Nosker said.
``All the other business just got thrown out the window,'' he said.
Gloria Dittman, president of the Edison Chamber of Commerce, described a bare-bones operation that had been showing signs of financial uncertainty for some time.
``They'd hire people and wouldn't even offer benefits,'' Dittman said. ``Five years ago, that was quite different. I really just think they had major cash-flow problems.''
Nosker said Polywood might have missed out on as much as $500,000 in business last year by not making parts for bridges. He said the company probably could have sold at least five more bridges in the past year.
``Management at the company refused to produce the bridge elements,'' he said.
The funding cuts did not help either. Polywood and AMIPP had been working off a five-year grant worth $2.4 million. The groups never saw much of it.
``We were probably a million short,'' Nosker said. ``Some of our students had to get laid off part way through their Ph.D. thesis.''
The structural plastic products are good, innovative products worth further development, he said, but added that Polywood will only re-emerge with an ownership change.
Dittman said she, for one, is a believer.
``I believe in the product,'' she said. ``The situation really does stink.
``I think the people at Polywood had their hearts in the right place. Maybe they're just not very good business people.''