Erie, Pa., is one of those "towns built around plastics," like Evansville, Ind., and Leominster, Mass. Right now, the local plastics industry in Erie is suffering, and the Erie Times-News has a well researched story on the topic today. OK, I don't like "The Graduate" introduction. Please, let's stop using that cliché! But after that, the story does a good job folding in statistics and and expert opinions on what's been going on in plastics in northwestern Pennsylvania. The news angle for the story is the bankruptcy and pending sale of Erie Plastics Corp. The company has lost nearly 400 workers, and is down to about 200. On Sept. 22, the union there voted to take wage concessions. But, as the story notes, the job losses at Erie Plastics are "just the tip of the iceberg."
At the beginning of 2001, about 5,428 Erie County residents worked in the plastics industry. By the first quarter of this year, that number had plunged nearly 43 percent to 3,083. And those numbers don't take into account a layoff of 192 people that Erie Plastics announced in March.What's going on? The story quotes several experts. Kurt Duska, owner and president of Engineered Plastics in Lake City, Pa., blamed global competition.
“There is no question about it,” he said. “I talked about this in 2001 when I came back from China. I stood up in a room (of shop and plastics company owners) and said, ‘Probably 40 percent of you won't be here in seven to 10 years,' and it's come true,” Duska said.He said that although his company is growing, "I would never recommend to someone today to get into injection molding," adding, “It would be almost impossible to do a startup and make it.” Jeff Mengel of Plante & Moran PLLC and Hoop Roche of Erie Plastics both blamed overcapacity. Mengel estimated that U.S. injection molders are running at about 50 percent capacity. The story's not all gloom-and-doom. It notes that some local companies are doing well and even expanding, and that rising wages in China and high transportation costs could bring work back to Erie. Overall, though, this isn't a story that's going to encourage young people to consider careers in plastics. Unfortunately, that's the current state of the industry, and not just in Erie. We really need a bit of improvement in the economic outlook to make things better.