(Dec. 15, 2008) — New “green” markets could help old-line industries — including two Ohio manufacturers of injection molding machines, HPM and Milacron Inc. Proof of that came last week in Cleveland, where a manufacturing conference drew 850 enthusiastic people, including Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, to the posh InterContinental Hotel.
Let's recap: Manufacturing people. Enthusiastic. Cleveland. December.
What industry is getting people excited in these days of gloom? (Hint: It's not automotive.) Overflow crowds gathered at a wind-power supply-chain conference, sponsored Dec. 8-9 by the American Wind Energy Association. So many people flocked to the event that AWEA had to set up a side room with a video screen.
Alternative energy is hot. Yes, oil and natural gas prices have plunged recently, after their meteoric midyear rise. But nearly everybody thinks higher energy prices are the long-term trend. Throw in fears about global warming. Toss in President-elect Barack Obama's pledge of “green” energy, and the future looked bright, even on a dreary winter day in Cleveland.
Strickland said 50 Ohio manufacturers now serve the wind industry — and three times that many want to get into it. Ohio has aggressive plans that will require at least 25 percent of the state's electric power to come from alternate sources — half of that from renewable energy like wind and solar.
At the conference, Strickland said wind industry can create 30,000 “energy jobs” in Ohio.
Widespread adoption of wind energy can't come soon enough for HPM, a struggling machinery maker in Mount Gilead, Ohio, that is using its expertise and large metalworking equipment to make big metal components for wind turbines. Wind is helping HPM to diversify beyond its core of injection molding machines, sheet extrusion lines and die-casting machines.
Two HPM officials attended the AWEA conference: Christopher Filos, president and chief executive officer, and Gerry Sposato, vice president of sales and marketing.
HPM's story is dramatic right now. Plastics News has chronicled HPM's financial woes, including a hefty bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes owed to Morrow County. The company has made a sizable down payment, and officials are looking to the future. At the same time, the state of Ohio has offered HPM $4 million in low-interest loans to buy new equipment to machine wind-turbine parts.
HPM continues to build a name for itself in alternative energy, advertising in wind-power magazines and meeting with state officials.
In Cincinnati, Milacron also faces harsh times — 2000 was the last profitable year for the plastics equipment company. So far, Milacron has been more low-key in the wind-power supply chain. Its machining factory in Mount Orab, Ohio, has expanded contract manufacturing, including big parts for wind turbines. Milacron also has two large machine tools at the main assembly factory in Batavia, Ohio.
Wind power shows why America needs to retain its industrial base. Ohio used to have three major injection press makers, but the old Van Dorn assembly operation stopped manufacturing in 2007.
If it continues, America's deindustrialization means our country may not be able to supply industries of the future. We've got a new president who thinks long-term. But many manufacturers will struggle to survive 2009.
Yet optimism seemed to outweigh any sense of desperation at the jam-packed Cleveland wind conference.
“There is a sense that this is one industry that has a bright future — and is full speed ahead,” Strickland said.
Bill Bregar is a Plastics News senior reporter in Akron, Ohio.