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Industry Watch

Article-Industry Watch

Plastics petition delivered to D.C.

WHEN THE SOCIETY OF the Plastics Industry (SPI) began to gather signatures for its Plastics Manufacturing Matters petition in June, the gutting of America’s manufacturing sector barely registered on policymakers’ radar as an issue of concern. But in September, when SPI’s board of directors delivered the 11,000 signatures it gathered for the petition, manufacturing’s troubles topped the agendas and were on the lips of the highest levels of government.

For instance, two recent events signaled that the government is now hearing the clamor of industry, whose chorus has grown louder with each wave of newly unemployed workers (see graph). First, President Bush announced on Labor Day the creation of a manufacturing czar and the need for “a fair playing field when it comes to trade,” and, second, Treasury Secretary John Snow journeyed to China to pressure that government to unpeg its currency, the yuan, from the dollar.

“It took a lot of screaming and yelling to get the administration to even acknowledge that this was an issue,” explains Lori Anderson, SPI’s officer for strategic planning and industry relations. “Their heads were buried in the sand for a long time, and the manufacturing community just raised so much noise and built up such momentum for a fight on this that they’re finally paying attention.”

To keep the policymakers on task, SPI’s board of directors met with several members of Congress in the Capitol and delivered the 11,000 names it gathered with the help of its membership. SPI also used the meeting to advocate an agenda it feels will help stabilize America’s plastic manufacturing environment, and Anderson says SPI will individually follow up with every member of Congress, key regulatory agencies, and the White House.

“The real big-picture goal is awareness of the importance of plastics and the importance of manufacturing to the economy, and then to follow through on that,” Anderson explains. “We want to make sure that policy decisions are made that are appropriate.”

The SPI’s petition spelled out six areas of concern that, if addressed, it said would “ensure a healthy and vibrant plastics manufacturing sector.” The topics included making trading partners abide by World Trade Organization rules, energy initiatives for more reasonable costs on commodities like natural gas, tax policies that promote capital investments, tort reform to end lawsuits that “impede job-creating investments,” insurance reform to ease the cost burden of medical coverage for employees, and environmental policy that uses “sound science” to create regulations.

The president’s call for a new assistant secretary for a Manufacturing & Services post (within the Dept. of Commerce) was open ended with no formal deadline to fill it or details on powers and responsibilities, and Snow returned from China largely empty-handed. The Chinese are as yet unwilling to subject the yuan to market forces.

Even so, with campaign season here and an energized plastics industry demanding attention, the effort’s gaining momentum. “Obviously, [the petition] touched a button,” Anderson says. “The whole issue of competitiveness and what’s going on with manufacturing right now is real to these folks, and they wanted to do something.”

Of the 11,000 signatures, Anderson estimates that 3000 were collected on SPI’s website, and the rest were hand-signed by processors, vendors, and clients. “I’ve been here 13 years, and we’ve never had such an outpouring for anything.”

Old deals die hard

THREE YEARS AGO WHEN MADISON CAPITAL Partners purchased Dynisco’s measurement and control divisions from Berwind Industries LLC, the company was also interested in Berwind’s hot runner group, but it wasn’t for sale. The interest remained, and when the hot runner company, now known as Synventive Molding Solutions, was put on the block again, Madison moved quickly, finalizing a deal in three weeks for an undisclosed amount. In the often convoluted world of mergers and acquisitions from which Synventive was born, it will now rejoin its former Berwind brethren, but that’s as far as the relationship will go, according to Synventive’s VP of marketing and engineering Mark Moss. “The companies [within Madison] aren’t really closely associated,” Moss explains. “[They are] similar companies and similar industries, but there’s nothing really synergistic with our company from a market standpoint.” Synventive Molding Solutions was initially formed when Dynisco’s hot runner division joined with Kona, a U.S. firm, and Eurotool, a Dutch company, after Madison’s initial unsuccessful bid for the business.

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