(March 24, 2008) — Opportunity awaits. Sometimes, if you're lucky, it even comes knocking. The key is to be paying attention when it does and to respond appropriately.
Opportunity came to Tampa, Fla., this month, in the form of a hefty delegation of Indian plastics executives. The Plastics News Executive Forum has featured international speakers in the past, but our March 10-12 event kicked it up a notch when one speaker brought a delegation of more than two dozen high-ranking officials from India to raise awareness about their home market and spark discussion about future ventures and investment.
There's no doubt the Indian mission — organized and sponsored by India's largest resin producer, Reliance Industries Ltd. of Mumbai — opened some eyes. Attendees expressed amazement at the size and growth projections for India's plastics industry, using terms such as “incredible,” “eye opening,” “fascinating” and “illuminating.”
Some of the numbers are truly staggering. During the next five years, the country of 1.1 billion inhabitants projects a doubling of plastics packaging demand, a soaring automotive industry and some $515 billion in new infrastructure investment.
Kamal Nanavaty, president of Reliance's crackers and polymers sector, delivered a presentation that highlighted opportunities in injection molding, multilayer blown film, pipe and sheet extrusion, blow molding, rotomolding and more, to the tune of 26 billion pounds of additional plastics processing capacity needed from 2006-11. India offers a trained labor force that is six times larger than the United States´, at one-tenth of the U.S. cost for graduates and post-graduates.
One attendee, who asked not to be identified, suggested that the presentation showed “how so many companies are behind in … taking advantage of opportunities in India.” Another cited the potential that India offers “for entrepreneurs with vision and creativity.” Yet another stated: “I see a migration of a manufacturing footprint in India far preferable to one in China.”
Even with a young, highly educated, English-speaking workforce, India is hardly challenge-free, of course. It is more than a decade behind China, developmentwise, in many respects. Its infrastructure is awful across parts of the country, and the government, while democratic, can be mind-numbingly bureaucratic.
But there is another message in the Indian mission to Tampa. Proactive industry leaders don't sit around and wait for customers to find them. They go in search of business, even if it's halfway around the world.
One of my favorite stories on this topic — told to me by Jim Meinert, the veteran, internationally minded mold-making consultant — goes as follows: At a 2003 U.S. mold-makers meeting in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Sergio Sosa, former president Mexico's national plastics industry association, suggested that Mexico had a huge need for quality injection molds, and little domestic capacity. A U.S. mold maker in the audience asked: “Why don't you come to Minnesota to buy your molds?” Sosa shot back: “Why don't you come to Mexico to sell them to us?”
Therein lies the lesson. Two dozen Indians came to Florida in search of partners and business — and I know that within days some of them already were acting on the contacts they made to further their business.
While there are plenty of aggressive, forward-thinking, successful North American plastics companies, there are plenty of the other kind, as well. Through no fault of its own, the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. can't get enough U.S. plastics executives interested to justify a trade mission to emerging markets such as China and Eastern Europe. Opportunity, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder.
Grace is Plastics News editor and associate publisher.