With all due respect, I don't believe it's appropriate or in any way informative to continually “restate and update” the Plastics News agenda, first published in 2001 and essentially repeated every year since. The North American plastics industry is emerging truly shaken from the most tumultuous decade of its history.
Some of the issues deemed worthy of support at the start of this decade (e.g., consumer safety, workforce diversity, the need for fairness and honesty, the wonders of the free market) today border on the banal. Others (e.g., the need for cooperation among trade groups) ignore recent path-breaking efforts of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the Society of Plastics Engineers to collocate conferences and work together in other ways to enhance the value of membership.
In 2001 it made sense to exhort processors to encourage good workers to stay in the industry. To repeat this mantra in 2010, after hundreds of thousands of plastics industry workers have lost their jobs and it has become increasingly difficult to attract young people into our industry, is bizarre. One of the few additions to this agenda in recent years, sustainability, may be politically correct, but it is hardly a priority among processors, toolmakers, compounders and other regional plastics industry firms struggling to survive the implosion of demand from their customers, most of whom won't pay a penny more for a material or a product just because it's “green.”
As we embark upon a new decade, Plastics News, as the leading publication in the regional plastics industry, should demonstrate that leadership by speaking cogently and candidly to the current concerns of companies in this business. The regional plastics industry has undergone a roller-coaster ride over the course of the decade, a classic boom-and-bust cycle. The volume of production of plastic goods was actually lower at the end of the decade than at the start.
The mantra of the moment is we must innovate to recover our former growth dynamic. However, it is difficult to allocate the resources required to innovate when profitability has evaporated. I for one believe the path to recovery in the immediate future lies in raising productivity in every minute aspect of our diverse operations.
Companies have already cut costs to the bone. Now they need to focus on productivity. Productivity improvements can be either internal to operations (e.g., encouraging every member of the workforce to improve the way things are done) or external (e.g., incremental improvements in machinery and material emanating from the supply base).
It also behooves Plastics News to speak out about the destructive, anti-business policies emanating from Washington. At face value these elected officials appear economically clueless. At the macro level it is sheer economic madness to promote a major transformation of the U.S. economy (e.g., health-care reform, cap-and-trade, union card check, et al.) in the face of the worst financial crisis in decades. At the micro level these daft directives, if passed into law, will impose an enormous burden on plastics companies of every size and description. Trade associations and publications should speak with one voice to decry this assault on the industry's economic sustainability.
I respectfully propose, therefore, that you prepare and publish a revised agenda for the upcoming decade — one that speaks to contemporary challenges and opportunities in this rapidly globalizing economy. It should be one that allows companies in every branch of the regional plastic industry to see a light at the end of the tunnel, to reconsider investing and expanding, and ultimately to soldier on. It should also encourage our industry representatives to take the defense off the field and put on the offense, aggressively promoting the cost/performance benefits that plastics provide to every sector of our society.
Peter J. Mooney
Plastics Custom Research Services