ORLANDO, FLA. — When Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) traded plastics for politics in 2010, he didn't leave his business sense behind. He carried the lessons of 30 years in the plastics industry with him to Washington.
“When I started my political career, I started it with a business background,” he said in a March 22 speech at the induction ceremony for nine new members of the Plastics Hall of Fame and the kickoff of NPE 2015 in Orlando.
Johnson still remembers his first NPE experience, having married into a plastics family business and eventually becoming the CEO of Pacur LLC, an Oshkosh, Wis.-based sheet extruder. It was June 1979 in Chicago, “and I was absolutely blown away by it. The innovation, the excitement, the potential of the industry was really quite awesome.”
Making the leap into politics came about because he was growing “concerned” about what was going on in the United States, Johnson said, saying the threat the free market economy, “when business is viewed as evil, where success isn't celebrated, it's demonized,” is bad for everyone, not just the plastics industry.
“Defend yourself,” Johnson advised plastics executives. Keep pushing the industry forward and the plastics businesses thriving by dealing workers in on the success of the industry, he said, up and down the supply chain. “Make sure the people working with you understand that working together as a business, you have to succeed. It's not going to come from a law written in Washington, D.C. — the only way to better job security and better job opportunities is to actually succeed. And in business, success is measured by something. It's called profit.”
He also advised plastics execs to get more deeply involved in education. A comprehensive counseling model for high schoolers can help students and their parents understand all of the educations options — four-year college, technical school, military service, on-the-job training — with input from industry that will help build the next generation of American workers, he said.
Johnson looks at U.S. economic challenges “as a business guy,” he said, with a SWOT analysis — considering strengths, weaknesses, options and threats. Access to cheap power and a huge customer base are advantages for U.S. businesses in general, particularly the plastics industry, Johnson said, but the industry has to overcome challenges, including the country's “onerous regulatory environment” and the “uncompetitive tax system” to thrive.
Even in the face of such arduous-sounding challenges, Johnson is hopeful for the future of the U.S. economy and the manufacturing industry. It's a big part of why he is running again, seeking a second term as a Wisconsin senator in 2016, he said.
“I'm not going to throw in the towel,” he said. “I'll never give up on America. And neither should you.”