The U.S. plastics industry enjoyed a solid year in 2017, with employment totals and value of shipments both up from 2016.
U.S. plastics firms employed 989,000 people in 2017, up 2.4 percent from the prior year. Shipment value reached $432.3 billion, an increase of almost 7 percent.
Perc Pineda, chief economist with the Plastics Industry Association in Washington, covered these and other topics in a Jan. 9 webinar focused on the group's 2018 Size & Impact study of the U.S. industry.
U.S. plastics processors “can congratulate yourselves on running your businesses well,” Pineda said.
Jobs growth in the U.S. plastics market also outpaced that of total U.S. manufacturing from 2012 to 2017. Plastics job growth was 1.6 percent in that stretch, while the number of all U.S. manufacturing jobs grew only 0.9 percent.
In the broader 1997-2017 period, U.S. manufacturing jobs declined by 1.7 percent, while plastics jobs decreased only 1.3 percent.
California remained the state with the most plastics jobs in 2017, checking in with 78,500 workers. The rest of the top five in that category were Ohio, Texas, Michigan and Indiana.
For plastics jobs concentration, Indiana again led the way with 16.9 of every 1,000 non-farm jobs coming from plastics. Next in line on that list was Michigan, followed by Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin.
As far as the value of plastic shipments in 2017, Texas topped the list, followed by Ohio, California, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Wage growth in U.S. plastics also grew almost 4 percent in 2017. Pineda said that increase was a sign of a strong labor market.
The number of establishments operated by the U.S. plastics industry declined slightly in 2017 to 12,950, a drop of less than 1 percent from the prior year. From 2012-17, the number of establishments in the “all other plastics” category — which includes injection molding — declined by more than 1 percent, while the number of establishments devoted to plastics bags increased by almost 1 percent.
Plastics pipe and pipe fittings had the highest jobs growth rate from 2012-17, increasing by almost 3 percent. The number of jobs in plastics bottles fell by almost 3 percent in that same time period.
Looking ahead, Pineda said that in 2018 the U.S. plastics market benefited from high consumer confidence, strong labor markets and healthy corporate profits. But at the same time, he added, the market was challenged by the uncertainty of the global trading environment, as well as rising costs of doing business, labor shortages and sustainability issues.
And although overall economic growth could slow in 2019, Pineda said that this year “should still be a positive year for the plastics industry.”
“We're not at an inflection point where things would start to slow down,” he added.
Pineda also said that a new North American trade agreement “has good features that will benefit plastics.” The agreement still needs to be approved by the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Mexico and Canada were the two largest export markets for U.S. plastics in 2017, accounting for almost 30 percent of total export demand.
He added that he was optimistic that the U.S. “will reach a trade agreement with China sooner than later.” Tariffs between the two countries have affected trade in plastics and other sectors.