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U.S. Plastics Industry Well-Positioned for Continued Growth

Interesting highlights of PLASTICS’ 2017 Size & Impact Report, including employment and shipments data. 


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A webinar held last week by the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) addressed key findings of its 2017 Size & Impact Report, and the overall takeway is optimism regarding continued growth for the American plastics industry. The top two highlights:

  • Employment in the U.S. plastics industry grew by one percent in 2016, from 954,000 workers to 965,000
  • The U.S. plastics industry accounted for $404.4 billion worth of shipments in 2016—representing a three-percent decline from 2015. This was driven primarily by lower material costs and low oil and natural gas prices.

Regardless of the decline in shipments, the report states the domestic plastics industry remains historically strong, and well-positioned for continued growth.

As noted by PLASTICS President and CEO William Carteaux,

More people are working in the plastics industry and that’s a testament to plastics’ economic vitality and innovation…Plastics play an important role in communities across the country and our industry’s growth continues to outpace manufacturing as a whole.

Other highlights include:

  • California reclaimed its position as the state with the most plastics workers with 77,000. For the past two years, Texas has held the top spot but fell to third in 2016.
  • Indiana remains the state with the most plastics industry employees per capita. For every 1000 non-farm jobs in the state, 16.5 or them are in plastics.
  • When counting suppliers in the plastics industry, the estimated value of total shipments balloons to $552.4 billion, and the number of employees expands to 1.76 million.

The workforce outlook and the future of manufacturing employment is addressed in the last section of the report. It is noted that employment figures in U.S. plastics should continue to grow, but that the rate of growth will decline over the next few years. The decline is attributed to the skills gap and an ever-deepening shortage of qualified workers.

While the skills gap and the decline of qualified manufacturing workforce have been discussed for many years now, the nation has reached the point where their impacts will start to be felt more acutely. And plastics is by no means the only sector that will be impacted; the entirety of U.S. manufacturing has watched this wave approach for some time, and it now appears to be on the verge of cresting.

Many companies and organization—PLASTICS, its members and its many industry partners included—have taken action to stem these impacts and address the root causes. Now that the evidence is on the verge of going from anecdotal to empirical, the U.S. has an opportunity to make this the starting point for a new generation of manufacturing employment—a true manufacturing renaissance—though a concerted, collaborative response across all levels of government and all manufacturing sectors.

“To make the most of the opportunity presented by the nation’s skills gap, our response must address all sides of a multi-faceted issue,” notes the PLASTICS report, which further delves into this crucial issue. (The full report is available on the association’s website).