Published on November 18, 2013

Column: So how has the manufacturing comeback affected rubber industry?

One of the large, ongoing debates is whether or not there is a manufacturing comeback of sorts in the U.S. and the the rest of North America. And, if so, is the rubber industry benefiting from the renaissance.

There are various ways to determine whether this is the case. One is to study statistics detailing employment, investments, market growth—the kind of details that economists drool over.

Then there is anecdotal evidence. That's where you visit plants, talk to company owners and executives, and see what they're up to. As a journalist, I've always preferred the latter approach.

So in that vein I recently set out on a Midwest "mini road trip," visiting Flexan Corp. in Chicago, Trostel Ltd. in Lake Geneva, Wis., and the Qure Medical operation of Q Holding Co. in Sturtevant, Wis.

Stories stemming from the trip will appear in this and the next two issues of Rubber & Plastics News. But I wanted to share just a few observations from these companies and, at the same time, ask for your help in a project RPN has planned for early next year.

The most prominent impression I took from officials at these companies is that rubber manufacturing definitely can thrive in the U.S. and North America.

While two of the three companies also have growing production footprints in China and the third does most of its molding in Mexico, that doesn't mean their U.S. operations are suffering. All three continue to invest heavily in their U.S. bases, boosting capacity, upgrading equipment and continuing to provide good job opportunities for both blue- and white-collar work forces.

The firms seemed to have several things in common. They offer top-notch technology; they don't try to be all things to all people; and they don't rest on their laurels, knowing that taking success for granted is a sure recipe for failure.

And this is where I am asking you for help. Back in 2007, RPN published a six-month series titled the "Future of Rubber Manufacturing in America." While the trend at the time was to look elsewhere to produce rubber goods, the reports clearly showed there were ways to succeed in the rubber industry in the U.S.

Seven years later, we are revisiting the topic in a special report that we plan to publish in our April 7, 2014, issue. With that in mind, we want to hear your thoughts. Is your company investing in its North American operations or putting its money elsewhere? Is reshoring a real phenomenon or just a "buzz word" for politicians and the media? How is the decision made on where to place production? Are there certain market segments or geographical regions where success is more or less likely? What hurdles may restrain growth? How helpful are state and local governments in aiding investment?

These are just a few of the topics we will examine in the report. Please contact me at bmeyer@crain.com if you'd like to participate in the project.

Meyer is the managing editor of Rubber & Plastics News.

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