State Is Major US Plastics Player

April 23, 2004
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WASHINGTON — According to the most recently compiled national data, Michigan ranks third among the states in plastics industry employment and trails only Indiana in having the greatest concentration of plastics industry personnel.

Moreover, Michigan last year ranked fifth in plastics shipments.

But whereas the U.S. plastics industry seemed relatively unaffected by globalization and grew sharply in the late ’90s, many sectors of the industry saw a drop in shipments between 2000 and 2002.

And Michigan — which certainly had substantial growth in plastics during the 1990s — also has had the unpleasant distinction of leading the 21st century downturn.

Despite its Top 5 overall ranking in 2001, Michigan’s plastics shipments dropped 10 percent between 2000 and 2001. At the same time, the Michigan component of the industry sustained a 4.4 percent decrease in plastics employment.

By contrast, the industry sustained a 7 percent drop nationally in shipments and a 1.2 percent loss in jobs.

The data appeared last summer in a report published by The Society of the Plastics Industry.

The report showed Michigan’s plastics industry growing by about 15 percent from 1996 through 2001, and then the abrupt turnaround.

The industry trend seems counterintuitive. Overall, plastics employment, shipments and added value grew faster than manufacturing as a whole during the past quarter century.

Moreover, plastics grew strongly through much of the recent recession, but then turned down in spite of the economy’s recovery that started fitfully last year.

The report did not assess whether the abrupt change resulted primarily from outsourcing. The possibility is there, however, because the report indicated that the plastics industry mirrored what was happening in the rest of U.S. manufacturing. Too, it hints that the downturn in Michigan was more drastic because of the dense concentration of plastics in the state.

Among the 14 plastics sectors that the report highlighted, Michigan ranks third in the nation in polystyrene foam product manufacturing and urethane and associated foam manufacturing.

In terms of employment, the report elaborates, Michigan ranks third in both employment and shipments of urethane and allied products, and is second in polystyrene manufacturing employment.

During the period 2000-2002, shipments of product in the urethane sector dropped nearly 14 percent while the polystyrene sector jumped by slightly more than 16 percent.

On a national scale, the plastics industry employs more people in California — 137,800 — than any other state.

On the other hand, the industry has its greatest employment concentration of employees — 421,000 of them — in the Great Lakes States. Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Wisconsin all are in the Top 10.

Plastics companies in the Top 10 states — also including Texas, New York and North Carolina — accounted for nearly 60 percent of the industry’s employment.

The study indicated that the industry employed 1.5 million Americans and shipped $321 billion worth of product during 2001.

The report also showed that another 850,000 people were employed by suppliers to plastics manufacturers.           

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