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Focus - Terre Haute's future: plastics - a billion-dollar industry is just the beginning.

Fiberglass tubs and showers? We got'em. Agricultural pipe fittings? You bet. Polypropylene and polyethylene film? Of course. And vacuum-formed parts? Look no further.

Plastics - a large part of Terre Haute's economy, but not a very well-known one outside small circles. Ask your average Terre Hautean on the street what product Tredegar Industries manufactures, and you're likely to get a response along the lines of "I don't know" or Who?' instead of polyethylene film."

Ask that same question of some of the approximately 2,700 people who work at Vigo County's 10 plastics companies, and they're liable to chuckle and maybe blush, because they're a little bit shy about spreading the word about their respective employers.

Why? Plastics managers aren't sure, but they're more than ready to make up for lost time where hometown public relations are concerned. Company officials, such as Bob McLaughlin, production manager at Ampacet Corp., say they've earned the bragging rights, and there's no time like the present to start talking.

And talking they are - about sales, productivity, stability and expansion, all of which bringing Terre Haute back rom the economically depressed 1980s. Combined sales among the 10 plastics companies total nearly $1 billion a year, while productivity is up, stability is certain and expansion is virtually guaranteed, if not already under way.

Company officials also are talking about their newest cooperative venture - a plastics productivity center that taps resources from the public and private sectors--aimed at increasing the speed of the production process by decreasing downtime between machine setups. The center will utilize money, manpower, equipment and know-how from the Alliance for Growth and Progress a local economic development agency), plastics manufacturers, Indiana Vocational Technical College and the state's Strategic Development Fund, which recently kicked in $250,000.

Still in the formative stages, the $1 million center is expected to help west-central indiana's plastics industries remain competitive in a worldwide marketplace. Dale Mowbray, director of industrial training at Ivy Tech, says the center will train workers to make their jobs easier while helping them to do better work--without forgetting safety and quality. The center is expected to be operating, although not at full capacity, by November.

Reducing idle time on machines is possible when you evaluate how you've been changing over (machinery to accommodate another product) by videotaping the process, for example,' Mowbray says. You look at that tape and see how the job might be done in fewer, safer steps, or look for changes that can be made in the way machinery is placed so that the job can be done more efficiently.' increased efficiency spells profit for the company, Mowbray says.

As the productivity center develops, so will a two-year Ivy Tech degree program that's designed specifically to enhance the plastics industry. Approval from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education is pending, and by fall 1991 the program could be serving industries such as Accurate Glass Inc., which specializes in injection molding; Green Leaf Co., a producer of agricultural pipe fittings; Hoosier Fiberglass Industries Inc., which produces plastic parts of all shapes and sizes by vacuum forming and thermoforming; and Jadcore, a custom processor and compounder of industrial film scraps.

Ampacet's McLaughlin says the program will be somewhat of a pre-employment training tool that Terre Haute plastics manufacturers can use to their benefit. McLaughlin says he expects companies to recruit employees directly from the program so those workers 'can h it the production floors running instead of having to go through extensive on-the-job training.'

Alliance Executive Director Pat O'Leary says he expects the program to attract high-school graduates who might otherwise leave the area to find good-paying jobs. Says O'Leary: 'Plastics are where the jobs of the future are going to be, you can count on that. Young people are going to realize that and want to get in on a good thing.'

When those young people do get involved, they can expect to find jobs created by companies such as Ampacet, Bemis Co. Inc., B.F. Goodrich Co., Digital Audio Disc Corp. and Hercules inc., all of which have invested millions of dollars and created hundreds of jobs in the past couple of years, evidence that the Wabash Valley is a good place to be in the plastics business.

Ampacet, a Terre Haute company since 1972, tripled the size of its plant two years ago, adding 70 employees to its 90-person workforce. Just this year, the company completed construction on its corporate research and development center on North Fruitridge Avenue, adding 22 more jobs to its payroll. Total investment by the maker of polyolefin color concentrate: about $27 million, McLaughlin estimates.

Bemis, a producer of extruded and printed packaging, officially broke ground in August on a $40 million expansion that will add 200 jobs to its work force at the company's Film Division headquarters.

B.F. Goodrich also broke ground earlier this year on a $19 million project, which will add 40 employees to the Geon Vinyl Division's 59 workers. Work is expected to be complete by summer 1991, doubling capacity for Geon vinyl, flexible, rigid, semirigid, custom injection molding and bottle compounds.

And Sony U.S.A. subsidiary Digital Audio Disc Corp., the nation's first manufacturer of compact discs, has completed construction of a $1 0 million, 56,000-square-foot facility where it produces 12-inch laser videodiscs. The company this fall is installing a disc-mastering operation as it gears up to meet the growing need for its video product. DADC - with a work force numbering near 800--began pressing laser videodiscs in March and now manufactures about 1 00,000 a month, a figure that could triple by mid-1 991.

Ampacet's McLaughlin says the growth Wabash Valley residents are seeing now from plastics is only the beginning. There's room for more, and we're planning for it."

Planning for more plastics undoubtedly will be a welcome activity for Terre Haute officials, after a major non-plastics industrial prospect made plans of its own to hit the road. BASF Corp. had been considering an area site for a $100 million automotive coatings plant that would have employed 300, but announced a month ago that Terre Haute had been scratched off the list of potential sites.

Company officials declined to comment about the reasons, but some speculate local opposition is to blame. The Environmental Rights Coalition filed suit in April alleging that federal environmental guidelines were not met when the General Services Administration sold to Vigo County land that the county in turn had planned to sell to BASF. Whatever the reason BASF abandoned its Terre Haute plans, other Wabash Valley communities are hoping Terre Haute's loss will be their gain. Among sites being promoted is a piece of land in Vermillion County near the Eli Lilly & Co. Clinton plant.
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Title Annotation:Regional Report
Author:Porter, Kelly S.
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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