Bill Carteaux is president of The Society of the Plastics Industry.
My life changed this year. I am what people in the plastics industry call a ?machinery man?and proud of it. Making and supplying machinery to the global industry was my job and I loved it. Then one day last year I was asked to come to Washington to head up SPI. Much as I loved my job with Demag Plastics Group Corp., I was intrigued by the idea of doing something quite different. I knew that representing the whole industry in the nation?s capital would be not just a change, but a huge challenge. Did I really want to do it? After consulting with my wife Sherri, we agreed to this big switch in our location and our lives. What has it been like?
First off, it has given me a greater appreciation of our terrific industry and its importance to the nation. We play a pivotal role in the U.S. economy, and our importance is growing. Secondly, but equally important, I?ve become even more aware of the many challenges our industry faces?not only from increasing foreign competition, but often here at home. Government policies and regulations and attacks on our products from a wide range of individuals and groups make it more difficult than ever for us to compete or even stay in business.
These challenges cover the gamut?from the government?s energy, trade, and economic policies, to public health and the environment. They involve dealing with government scientists and lawyers in the federal agencies, Members of Congress, even the White House. You quickly learn how a few words in a piece of legislation can make a difference of millions of dollars to our industry.
The staff of SPI understands all this and does an amazing job fighting for our industry?s interests. I have been impressed time and again both by their expertise and by the breadth of their experience.
In my own dealings with Congress and the White House this year, I have also learned two important lessons. The first is that our elected representatives, from the President on down, are not only accessible, but want to hear about our concerns. As one of them said to me, ?We can?t do our jobs without you doing yours; we depend on you to let us know what?s going on in the real world.? They want to know what they can do to help, and it?s our job to tell them.
The second lesson is that each individual company can truly have an impact on government policy. Several times during the past year, we have implored companies to write or call their Congressmen to urge them to vote on issues that could significantly impact our industry?such as the out-of-control cost of natural gas. Other big issues have been China and free trade with Central America (an important market for us). In all these cases we got results, and members of Congress told us that a big part of our success was because they heard directly from their constituents in the plastics industry.
Some even said they had not been aware that they had plastics companies in their districts! They had just never heard from them before. So this grassroots activity works. We must keep it up. I could go on, but the bottom line is this: We are all part of a very dynamic and diverse industry that plays a vital role in this country?s economy, our national defense, and in many other areas, from aerospace and telecommunications to education and home construction. It?s good to remind ourselves of this key role we play. But now, more than ever, we absolutely must work together as an industry to remind our officials and politicians. I urge you to get involved. Together, we can make a difference.