There are concerns, caution and divided opinions but also optimism in the business community over how President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office Jan. 20, will address the economic and financial troubles that have rippled through the country, manufacturing and the plastics industry.
``I am reasonably impressed at how his transition team'' has tackled the issues, said Peter Jones, president of Wexco Corp., in Lynchburg, Va., who did not support the Obama candidacy.
``Some of the actions/recommendations are a bit more even-handed than I expected.''
``I am also pretty impressed with the people they brought on for the economic team and the team,'' Jones said in a phone interview. ``I think he picked people with their heads on their shoulders who have been around for awhile, instead of wide-eyed liberals or radicals.''
Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also is impressed with what he has seen from Obama.
``He is a very bright young man,'' said Donohue at a news briefing Jan. 7. ``We think highly of the president-elect's economic team and applaud many of his appointments. We see many opportunities to work constructively with the new administration and Congress, beginning with economic recovery. I believe in President-elect Obama. We will work very hard to support him. He must succeed.''
However, Mike Lynch, government affairs director at Illinois Tool Works Inc. in Glenview, Ill., isn't ready to embrace the new president yet.
``I am not getting any warm and fuzzy feelings by his cabinet choices and what he's been saying over the last two weeks,'' Lynch said.
How Obama handles financial troubles that have thrown the automotive industry into disarray, a bailout for that industry and what he does to stimulate the economy and the housing sector will be crucial. It also will have a direct effect on the plastics industry.
``Our industry has been most affected historically by the auto industry and the housing industry,'' Jones said. ``How the administration will utilize funds to get a restructuring in the auto industry in an organized way will be critical.
``If we lose one or more of those companies, it could have a significant effect. We need to see the guts of his economic stimulus plan to see what kind of effect it can have.''
But from what Donohue has seen of the plan, he is encouraged.
``Based on the reports we have seen and the conversations we have had, the chamber is very encouraged by the direction the president-elect is taking with his recovery package'' particularly the strong emphasis on infrastructure, said Donohue. ``We can put Americans back to work and add real long-term value with smart investments.''
So far, Obama has kept details of his proposed $775 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan closely guarded, and he maintained that approach in a speech Jan. 8 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where he focused on the urgency of action and the need for a collaborative approach to solve the nation's problems.
``If we don't take dramatic action as soon possible,'' economic troubles could worsen, Obama said.
He called on leaders in both parties to ``put the urgent needs of our nation above our own narrow interests,'' and said Americans must ``put good ideas ahead of the old ideological battles, [put] a sense of common purpose above the same narrow partisanship'' that has dominated the past.
``It is time to trade old habits for a new spirit of responsibility. It is time to finally change the ways of Washington . We arrived at this point due to an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington,'' Obama said.
The chamber's Donohue agrees.
``The fundamental change we need in this country is to start pointing fingers at ourselves and to ask ourselves what we have not done and what we can do instead of blaming others,'' he said.
``This is about the economy, our society and our country, and we need the collective leadership of this country to work together.''
``The chamber stands ready to work with President-elect Obama and his new administration to get the job done,'' said Donohue.
``We expect to find much common ground on issues such as rebuilding America's infrastructure, expanding our energy supply, improving our schools and reforming the regulations governing our capital markets.''
Donohue also agrees with Obama's assessment that the test of any program put in place is whether it will create jobs and grow the economy.
``The first issue is to get this economy growing and people back to work,'' said Donohue. ``Economic recovery and jobs must come first. If a proposal doesn't create jobs, then we shouldn't be doing it. Each proposal should be examined through a jobs and recovery prism.
``If a proposal would pile on costs, regulations or lawsuits [on employers], then it should be delayed, changed, or rejected.''
The challenge of Obama, he said, will be dealing with people's expectation and the different agendas of others.''
``He has a huge problem of expectations,'' said Donohue. ``Everyone thinks he's going to wave his magic wand and everything gets better.'' In addition, Obama will have to deal with ``a Congress with its own ideas,'' said Donohue.
``We intend to push far beyond traditional parameters to help him succeed because an economic stimulus plan is a cheap investment to get this economy going in the right direction,'' said Donohue. ``The nation should unite behind our new president and enact a significant economic stimulus package that stops the economic bleeding and helps create the conditions for economic growth and job creation.''