WASHINGTON — Bill Carteaux said this is a great time to be working for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and representing the third-largest U.S. manufacturing sector.
The shale gas boom is lowering costs for energy and some major plastic resins. Processors are beefing up automation.
“We can compete with anyone in the world today, because we've increased so much in productivity. That's why it's even more enticing for people to reshore now, because the cost-structure's changed,” he said. “It's changed from the abilities on the other side of the ocean — now when you've got those shipping costs and everything else, and now we can do it more inexpensively here.”
As president and CEO of SPI since 2005, Carteaux has seen the changing face of manufacturing in Washington.
“When I came D.C., the president at the time was talking about becoming a service society. Trying to get a meeting with members of Congress to talk about manufacturing, it just wasn't on their radar screen. And that's all changed,” he said. “The manufacturing sector overall, as part of the economy, has done well. Manufacturing helped lead the country out of recession. And people realize that to have a middle class in this country, we need manufacturing.”
SPI faced a huge challenge during the Great Recession. NPE 2009 was in doubt as major exhibitors began pulling out as their sales plunged. Leaders of SPI, the trade show organizer, worried about a ripple effect as other companies looked to withdraw.
Carteaux and the other leaders worked quickly — and used his industry contacts forged during a career in plastics machinery — to come up with an “economic stimulus package” of discounts. The show was saved. But the stimulus plan caused SPI economic pain, and the association restructured and laid off employees.
NPE's commitment to Orlando
Then came a blockbuster announcement: SPI was moving NPE from McCormick Place in Chicago, the exposition's longtime home in the heart of the industrial Midwest, to lower-cost Orlando, Fla., for the shows in 2012 and 2015.
At NPE 2015, Carteaux said, SPI is announcing that the trade association has contracted with Orlando for NPEs through 2018 and 2021, and has dates reserved there for the NPE 2024 show. The show runs every three years.
Carteaux revealed that earlier talks fell apart with Chicago government and union leaders that could have alternated NPEs between the two cities.
“In the fall of 2013, we went back to Chicago and said, ‘We'd like to talk to you about starting a rotation of NPE between Chicago and Orlando, in 2021. Because we were already locked in to Orlando for 2018. We had in-depth discussions,” Carteaux said.
They couldn't come to an agreement, he said.
And this week at NPE 2015 — in Florida — Carteaux enters the Plastics Hall of Fame.
Building upon past experiences
Carteaux, 55, discussed his machinery background, working in Washington D.C. and what should be the biggest NPE ever this week in Florida, during an interview at SPI's new offices on K Street.
The SPI leader was nominated for the Plastics Hall of Fame by Jay Gardiner, president of Gardiner Plastics Inc. in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y. Gardiner also is president of the Plastics Academy, which administers the hall.
Carteaux's machinery career began in his hometown of Avilla, Ind., at Autojectors Inc., the vertical-clamp insert molding press maker owned by Group Dekko. Later, he was a top official of Demag Plastics Group, a multinational machinery maker, where he saw the integration of Van Dorn Demag.
But at his high school in Indiana's farm belt, he wanted to be an auto mechanic.
“My dad was an electrician at International Harvester so I grew up in a blue collar family. He and my grandfather also owned a tavern for 30 years,” Carteaux said.
He was a mechanic for about a year at an Oldsmobile dealership. Then he joined the Air Force for training in aircraft maintenance, and a way to pay for college. But after 30 days, he was honorably discharged, thanks to a detached retina suffered when he got hit in the eye by a football in high school.
Carteaux was able to save some money working at a gas station through high school. He enrolled at Purdue University, the first one in his family to attend college. He got a degree in agricultural systems management. His senior year was all paid for, as he won a coveted job as a resident adviser — using experience as a squad leader in his month in the Air Force.
At Purdue, Carteaux and other ag students organized a trade show at the local armory, complete with a parade of tractors through town. The AG Expo was his first trade show. And making connections is a big part of any show (including NPE of course), and that's how he got a job after college: at the Indiana Farm Co-Op.
“It seems like everything I've done, it's been built off of something else,” he said.
That was the case when he got a job at Group Dekko, a diversified industrial group of companies founded by Chet Dekko, who Carteaux considers a mentor. There was also a lot of luck. Like countless other plastics veterans, he backed into the industry.