By Liz Stevens, contributing writer
The American Mold Builder
Editor’s Note: The American Mold Builders Association (AMBA) once again has partnered with the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) for the 2019 Plastics Industry Fly-In. The event, to be held March 26 and 27 at the St. Regis Washington, DC, smooths the way for mold builders to meet with their state’s senators and representatives in the nation’s capital. The late Bill Carteaux, former president and CEO of PLASTICS, was a driving force behind the Plastics Industry Fly-In. His presence will be greatly missed.
Legislation aimed at the mold building industry has been heavily covered in the news media. The most prominent legislation centers on the federal tariff placed on Chinese steel injection molds – now suspended at least for 2019 – and the currently pending congressional legislation to modify how tariffs are implemented.
Those legislative actions, while significant, are not the only items being discussed in Washington, DC, that concern the mold building industry. Mold builder business owners and leaders also could see significant impact from decisions on healthcare, employment training and even the US Postal Service.
Mold builders have opportunities to be proactive on these and other issues by creating relationships with their local, state and national political representatives. These relationships give manufacturers the chance to drive the narrative on mold building by presenting the industry’s entire story, heralding its value and correcting misperceptions. Meeting with representatives also gives manufacturers the stage to describe how proposed legislation will impact their businesses, employees and customers.
Leaning in on legislation
Justin McPhee of Willernie, Minnesota-based Mold Craft, Inc., and Ben Harp of Orchard Park, New York-based Polymer Conversions, have participated in previous plastics industry legislative events.
In separate interviews, they shared their thoughts on issues of great concern to manufacturing companies and about their experiences in Washington, DC. Harp, chief operating offi cer at Polymer Conversions, has attended the last two Fly-Ins. “The morning starts out with a speech from an elected offi cial or someone in the Cabinet,” he said. “The speeches kick off the tempo of the day because they tell us what is important to the current administration.” The day then moves on to personal visits, where attendees meet with their state’s legislators. “We get to sit with them and their staff and talk through the things that are important to us and the challenges to our businesses,” Harp continued.
Mold Craft’s Vice President of Engineering Justin McPhee participated in the Fly-In to do his part to help change the view of manufacturing in the eyes of legislators. “They need to hear our personal stories to better understand our struggles,” he said. “I connected with members of Congress representing the districts in which I vote and where our shop is located.”
McPhee found the event to be well organized, with an informative webinar prior to the Fly-In and a central point of contact to help each attendee schedule visits with senators, representatives and congressional aides. “A seasoned veteran from PLASTICS accompanied us to help ‘speak the language’ and get the meetings started,” he added.
Meeting face-to-face with Rep. Tom Emmer and with staffer for his senators and other representative, McPhee had visits that opened the door to future communication. “What we learned is that – even though it may not feel like you made an impact and changed America for the better on that afternoon of meetings – you did,” he said. “The representatives appreciate having industry members visit them and tell them what really matters.”
McPhee’s meetings included discussions about tax reform to lower corporate and income tax rates and to equalize tax treatment for pass-through entities; open competition in federally funded projects for material such as plastic pipe; free trade policies to open international markets for US exports; and regulatory reform to restore rulemaking authorities to Congress.
McPhee feels that moldmakers should advocate for educating young people and their parents about the career potential for two-year degreed students. “We need to get the message out there that moldmaking is a viable career and that you don’t need a four-year degree to be successful,” he said.
An issue of particular concern to McPhee – and the industry as a whole – is finding solutions to close the skills gap. “The goal here is to train qualified workers at all skill levels for manufacturing, with federal funding to support state and local career and technical education (CTE) programs,” McPhee explained.
Harp agreed, mentioning the value of apprenticeship programs and the opportunities a visit with legislators can bring to advocate for agendas that include skilled labor shortages. Polymer Conversions has an established apprenticeship program, and he talks it up with federal lawmakers. “Getting in front of our legislators creates an opportunity to tell them about the importance of programs like that,” he explained, “and the importance of those legislators possibly getting behind programs that incentivize smaller molding and tooling companies so that those companies can spread that investment power across even more training opportunities.”
Harp also described interactions with legislative representatives on issues that are not mold building industry-specific. “We also talked about healthcare and the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “The restrictions in that healthcare legislation have been significantly burdensome to our business.”
Summing up the value of personal interaction with political representatives, Harp said, “Since offi cials pull their information from various entities and agencies, it’s an opportunity to communicate with them, unfi ltered, on the topics that are important to us. Then, we can help infl uence things on Capitol Hill in a way that’s favorable to our businesses and industry.”
While federal outreach through events like the Plastics Industry Fly-In are especially valuable, McPhee occasionally connects with the staff of his state and local legislators. He sees an opportunity at the state level for improvements in industry training. “There could be changes in state-required testing parameters,” he said. “The existing ones seem to limit the curriculum of the schools trying to off er industrial tech electives. Many aspects of these classes could count for some of the required credits.”
Those contacts provide yet another way for mold builders to share concerns and insights with local, state and federal lawmakers.
Lawmakers can only support and advocate for who (and what) they know – one of the most persuasive arguments that can be made for speaking up and developing relationships with those setting the political agenda.
The annual Plastics Industry Fly-In is a key event that offers mold builders access to federal lawmakers and decision makers in Washington, DC. Fly-In activities will take place on Wednesday, March 27, with a morning of briefings at the hotel and afternoon meetings and an evening reception on Capitol Hill. Information about the Fly-In, including registration, agenda and accommodations, can be found at https://www.plasticsindustry.org/event/plastics-industry-fly. For more information, contact the AMBA offices at 317.436.3102.
Mold builders who would like to identify and reach out to a US representative in the House can start by visiting www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative. To locate US senators, visit www.senate.gov/ and click on the “Find your Senators” link at the top of the page.