This is an exciting time to be in the plastics industry. So much of the world is shut down, but the plastics supply chain is still running. It has to run; it's critically important.
Sure, plastics workers are among the millions of people unemployed during the pandemic, especially in the automotive sector. But even as employers file dozens of layoff notices daily, relatively few have been in plastics.
Many plastics companies have jumped at the opportunity to use their spare capacity and their engineering expertise to make much-needed medical gear. It's been uplifting for Plastics News to publish stories about the efforts. And we're just scratching the surface.
In the Society of Plastics Engineers' virtual Antec, which started March 30, Dow Inc. CEO Jim Fitterling said he couldn't remember a more important time to be in plastics.
"I've never in my career seen a time when our industry was more necessary and indispensable in the fight that we have on display today," Fitterling said.
"The companies that we represent in the industry and that we do business with are collectively, and without exception, the one strong critical pillar of the economy, and for once, at least in the recent history, being in the chemicals or plastics business is not a bad name."
Unfortunately, that positive image comes at a great price. The economy is in rough shape. Many people are out of work. Health care workers, truckers, grocers and, yes, plastics workers may finally feel more valued. But they also may fear going to work and being exposed to the coronavirus while their neighbors are sheltering in place and streaming Netflix.
I've visited a few molders during this weird time. I was on a trip to eastern Pennsylvania right when COVID-19 started to generate headlines, and then I visited a molder in the Detroit area on March 19.
Early on, companies were just starting to take precautions. By the second visit, the rules were much stricter, with lots of hand sanitizer and social distancing.
The plastics industry has learned a lot about how to avoid spreading the virus while remaining open as an essential industry.
The rest of the country has learned something about the plastics industry, too, about its willingness to work hard and use all of its tools to save lives and help society in times of crisis. Our work isn't finished, but we are heading in the right direction.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.