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US plastics job numbers up, with overall industry growth expected



The Plastics Industry Association once again has crunched the numbers and found a positive outlook for the U.S. plastics market.

The Washington-based trade group released its 2017 Size & Impact Report in mid-December. The group also hosted a webinar on the report, moderated by President and CEO Bill Carteaux and Chief Economist Perc Pineda.

"Plastics remains one of the U.S. economy's largest segments and still is growing at historic heights," Carteaux said on the webinar. "There are some macro issues affecting the market ...but we're still able to grow and innovate in new and lasting ways."

Based on 2016 data, the U.S. plastics industry employed 965,000 workers, up 1 percent from 2015. The industry's shipments were worth $404.4 billion in 2016, down 3 percent from 2015. Pineda cited lower raw material costs and low oil and natural gas prices as the reasons for that decline.

Pineda added he expects the real value on U.S. plastics shipments to increase 2.2 percent in 2018 and 2.5 percent in 2019.

Both Carteaux and Pineda expect proposed changes to U.S. tax policy to have a positive impact on the plastics market, in particular by allowing processors to invest in machinery. But they expressed concern about possible changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement -- since Mexico and Canada are the industry's two largest trading partners -- as well as about the impacts of a skills gap in plastics workers and the impacts of the opioid crisis on its ability to find and retain workers.

At the state level, California led the way with 77,000 plastics jobs. That state took over the top spot from Texas, which had been home to the most U.S. plastics jobs in 2014 and 2015. Ohio took over the No. 2 spot on that list with 75,200 jobs, while Texas dropped to third with 74,800.

Based on employment concentration, Indiana ranked first with 16.5 plastics jobs per 1,000 non-farm employees. Michigan was a very close second at 16.3 plastics jobs.

In related economic news for the U.S. plastics market, PIA's Committee on Equipment Statistics reported in mid-December that North American shipments of plastics machinery jumped 20 percent in the third quarter of 2017 compared with the third quarter a year ago.

The data marks the second consecutive year-over-year increase for 2017.

Companies reported shipments of plastics machinery, including injection molding and extrusion equipment, totaling $350.8 million in the third quarter compared with over last year's third quarter total of $291.3 million. The shipments value of blow molding machinery was not reported in the third quarter, the association said.

The third quarter total also marks a modest increase of 4 percent from 2017 second quarter figures, which were $337.2 million.

"After hitting a plateau in the second half of 2016, the upward trend in the shipments data for plastics equipment re-emerged in the third quarter of 2017," said Bill Wood, founder of Mountaintop Economics & Research Inc, in a news release. Wood is also Plastics News' economics editor.

Wood said quarterly gains of 20 percent are not sustainable, but he expects the plastics industry to go into 2018 with more momentum than last year.

"I still expected the underlying economic fundamentals in the U.S. to push higher and global demand will also improve in 2018," he said.


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