The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the risks of global supply chains and shown the benefits of U.S.-based natural resources, according to a pair of industry executives.
"In the pandemic, we learned how much stuff isn't made here — real important stuff like masks and gowns and hand sanitizer," Greg Kozera said April 14 during a webinar hosted by Plastics News.
"We rely on other countries to make these things for us," he added. "Americans want to see manufacturing and jobs come back to the U.S. — and we're already starting to see that happen with different products."
Kozera is marketing director for Shale Crescent USA, a nonprofit group that promotes business development in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That region has been the site of natural gas development via fracking and horizontal drilling in the last decade.
Natural gas availability in the region has led Shell Polymers to build a massive petrochemicals site in Monaca, Pa., that's opening next year. That plant will include 3 billion pounds of annual production of polyethylene resin. PTT Global Chemical of Thailand has plans for a similar complex in Dilles Bottom, Ohio, but has not made a final investment decision.
Kozera was joined on the webinar by Joe Eddy, former president and CEO of plastics processor Eagle Manufacturing Co. of Wellsburg, W.Va. Eddy previously has said that lower energy and resin costs provided by low-priced shale gas allowed Eagle to stay in the region.
"The shale revolution changed everything," he said April 14. "It's one of the biggest changes in my lifetime. It's changed the business since 2010."
But Eddy, who now runs his own consulting firm, Enhanced Technologies LLC of Wheeling, W. Va., added that more reshoring can be done. He said that China currently sends $500 billion of goods to the U.S. every year, including $45 billion in plastics trade.
"The prize is bringing business back from Asia," Eddy said. "Natural gas has closed the gap on manufacturing costs, and Chinese labor rates are increasing.
"As plastics processors, proximity is the most important thing. And we're on top of the feedstock and in the middle of the largest market for these products in the world."
Kozera added that he recently was contacted by a company that planned to start making gloves in West Virginia because of supply chain issues.
"[The company] wanted to make their products where they were selling them," he said. "This is a generational opportunity."