CLEVELAND—EDGE (Education, Development, Growth, Empowerment) is the acronym that spells the key to success in the elastomer and other industries.
This was the message of Paul Boulier, vice president, industry and innovation with TeamNEO, in his keynote speech at the International Elastomer Conference in Cleveland Oct. 10.
"Some people would say elastomers are a mature market in a changing world, but I would debate that it's a mature market," Boulier said. "It's a great industry to be in right now."
TeamNEO—NEO standing for Northeast Ohio—is a private, non-profit organization which collaborates with business, state agencies and other entities to devise strategies to help economic growth in the region, according to Boulier.
"There are such great opportunities in this space," he said.
TeamNEO's goal is to create an economic development ecosystem in which all the organizations in the region can collaborate to create opportunities and growth for each other, according to Boulier.
"I own and operate my own business, so I appreciate the challenges," he said.
One of the major challenges in growing a business, according to Boulier, is the constant clash between the left brain and the right brain.
"The left brain is how you run a business—sales, tactics, meeting a payroll," he said. "When I coach companies, I see they have lost sight of how to grow the business, which is a different skill set."
What executives need to do, according to Boulier, is to keep a little of their brains open for new ideas. TeamNEO, he said, is designed to help them do just that.
The elastomers market is enjoying solid growth around the globe, according to Boulier. The medical elastomers market especially is seeing explosive growth, thanks to new opportunities for silicones, acrylics and TPEs, he said.
Sixty percent of global growth in elastomers is in Asia-Pacific, followed by the U.S. with 20 percent and Europe with 16 percent, according to Boulier.
"Those figures help set us up on how to develop trade domestically and internationally," he said.
New product development represents nearly half of the growth activity in elastomers, and research and development is exploding in that sector, Boulier said.
Hewlett-Packard's developments in 3D printing and Goodyear's in the airless wheel are among the highlights in elastomer R&D, according to Boulier. So is the research between Michigan State University, the University of Tokyo and Queen's University, Belfast to bond different materials together to create hybrid materials.
In derivative chemicals and plastics alone, some $185 billion has been invested in R&D since 2010, according to Boulier.
"This explosive change is one of the fundamental changes in how our business grows and how innovation develops," he said. "It's in an ideal place at an ideal time."
Talent is a big issue for the industry, according to Boulier. "How do you leverage incumbent talent and develop it going forward?" he said.
"Big data"—the enormous and complex amount of data and information that every company must manage now—is another major issue, especially in light of counterterrorism and counterfeiting, according to Boulier.
"How do you get your arms around it?" he said. "If someone hacks you, it's not so great."
Managing massive amounts of information can even have a potential negative impact on innovation, according to Boulier. If you spend all your time doing that, he said, you may not be able to access your right brain as much as you need to.
TeamNEO promotes the idea of "Economic Development Ecosystems," an idea which has a lot of potential, according to Boulier.
Within an Economic Development Ecosystem, different entities—companies, trade associations, universities, state agencies and job development organizations—work together to contribute toward the optimum environment to attract, create and grow businesses, he said.
Market entry, talent and demographics, site searches and taxes and incentives are among the issues that the different entities in an Economic Development Ecosystem work on, according to Boulier. Each group contributes its particular area of expertise to the "ecosystem," he said.
"Some people, all they want to hear about are the incentives and tax breaks," Boulier said. "But it's really only a small part of things, which is why we spend time helping people in the other areas."
In 2016 alone, TeamNEO worked on 498 projects involving $6 billion in investments and 27,000 jobs, according to Boulier.
"Half of these projects were in manufacturing, and one-third of those represented foreign direct investment," he said. "There's a reason foreign companies are looking to expand here."
TeamNEO also made a tri-state agreement with Pennsylvania and West Virginia for business development, especially in the area of shale oil and gas development, Boulier said.
One of the big things TeamNEO does is help companies understand the talent pool and how to attract, hold and sustain that pool, according to Boulier. He praised the ACS Rubber Division for its efforts in attracting talented chemists, scientists and technical people to the rubber industry, he said.
Boulier ended with a quote from Bruce Lee: "To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities."