Washington — Plastics industry CEO Matt Barr had a specific message to deliver during a White House meeting with President Donald Trump — roll back excessive regulations on small- and medium-sized companies.
Barr, the chairman and CEO of Carolina Color Corp., was one of 12 executives from smaller manufacturers, including three from plastics companies, invited to a March 31 “listening session” with Trump.
Also attending from the plastics industry were Patricia Miller, president and CEO of injection molder Matrix 4 Inc. in Woodstock, Ill., and Joseph Eddy, president of Eagle Manufacturing Co. in Wellsburg, W.Va.
The executives made points about infrastructure investment, workforce development, regulation and tax reform.
For Barr, the key was the “mind-blowing” number of regulations on small firms.
“It's the totality of regulations that have been imposed upon us over the last 10 years or more,” Barr said. “We're not against regulations by any stretch of the imagination.
“We just feel there are smart,
targeted, predictable regulations that will achieve the end goal that is clear air, clean water, safe employees and happy customers,” he said.
Barr cited statistics from the National Association of Manufacturers, which organized the meeting, that federal regulations cost a typical small manufacturer with less than 50 employees about $35,000 per year, per employee.
Barr's company, based in Salisbury, N.C., employs 125 and makes color concentrates at two factories.
The group spent about an hour in the White House, including their discussion in the Roosevelt Room. Barr said Vice President Mike Pence and aides including chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser Stephen Miller were in and out of that meeting.
“We left the Roosevelt Room and then [Trump] invited us into the Oval Office,” Barr said. “It was pretty awe-inspiring.
“I came away struck by his genuine interest in the challenges that manufacturers have faced over the last decade or more,” Barr said. “He listened and he asked great questions. He had a real command of the issues we faced.”
All the executives are officers at Washington-based NAM, and the group used the meeting to tout its recent survey that said optimism over the economic outlook among manufacturers was at a 20-year high, at over 93 percent.
NAM President Jay Timmons told attendees there is sizable growth in the percentage of manufacturers believing the economy is on the right track — from 26 percent in December to more than 60 percent now — “because of the focus on taxes, regulations, infrastructure investment.”
But other parts of the Trump administration's agenda, in trade and the federal budget, have raised concerns in the manufacturing community.
The head of the Plastics Industry Association, for example, has said it would fight a “rear guard” action against Trump's initial plans to roll back trade agreements.
It has said the plastics industry's large trade surplus with Mexico is “directly attributable” to NAFTA, a trade deal that Trump has called “one of the worst things to happen to American manufacturing.”
And the Washington-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has taken a critical stance on the Trump budget proposal, saying it was flawed to cut programs for R&D and that help small manufacturers export or innovate, like the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
“The reality is that if the United States is going to successfully manage its growing financial problems and improve living standards for all Americans, it needs to increase its investment in the primary drivers of innovation, productivity, and competitiveness,” ITIF said.
It argued that the U.S. lead in science and technology was built on heavy U.S. government investment in R&D in the 1960s, and the Trump budget proposal “throws this great legacy away.”
Barr, who sits on NAM's 32-person executive committee, said the meeting did not discuss trade policy or the administration's budget.
He said NAM is still formulating responses to the budget proposal, which seeks to cut domestic spending to pay for increases in the military, without increasing the federal budget deficit.
Miller, from Matrix 4, said she valued the smaller manufacturers “having seats at the table” and said the optimism in the NAM survey reflected “some [changes] linked from the administration.”
In a statement, Eddy, from Eagle Manufacturing, said he emphasized the importance of workforce development for manufacturers, as well as easing “excessive, unbalanced” regulations. Eagle makes plastic and metal industrial containers.
“There are a number of restrictions on our operations that remain obstacles to our success,” he said. “However, I commend the president for listening to our concerns and considering smarter solutions that empower us to continue to grow our workforce and business.”
The White House meeting was not all seriousness and ceremony.
As the Oval Office portion was ending, Barr thanked Trump for nominating Barr's Columbia University fraternity brother, Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court.
Barr joked that Gorsuch started two years after him in college, but graduated only one year behind Barr.
“And it wasn't because I took five years to graduate,” Barr jokingly told Trump, noting that Trump said he understood the meaning — Gorsuch finished the Ivy League school in three years.
“It was fun to have that little interaction,” Barr said.
Plastics News correspondent Roger Renstrom contributed to this article.