Northeast Ohio is ground zero for the plastics industry. Building from a decades-long base in rubber technology, the region is now the main center of polymer research and production in the nation. Northeast Ohio houses 45 percent of Ohio's polymer production sites, as well as two of the nation's best known polymer research centers -- the University of Akron and Case Western Reserve University.

The heart of Polymer Valley is the populous counties of Summit (Akron), Mahoning (Youngstown), Stark (Canton), Portage (Kent) and Trumbull (Warren), plus Columbiana, which provides the Ohio River transportation link for the region's resin manufacturers through the ports of East Liverpool and Wellsville. The new NEOTEC alliance -- Northeast Ohio Trade and Economic Consortium -- promotes global intermodal shipping opportunities and regional industrial development.

The NEOTEC region is home to what has been called the largest plastics warehouse, distribution and processing service in the nation. The facilities were developed and are operated by ASW, an assets-based logistics company. ASW provides buildings for lease or acquisition.

On the logistics side of the business, ASW has a full range of warehousing, contract distribution and public storage. In one instance, it staffs and operates a million sq. ft. factory and warehouse for a Fortune 500 company.

ASW started as a public storage firm for the Akron tire companies. It parlayed its ability to be fast and flexible and its lower-than-market lease rates into a mammoth plastics storage and production operation. Among capabilities are a pulverizing operation which reduces polyethylene into a powder for use by rotational molders.

Profile of
Northeast Ohio's
Polymer Valley
Location: Six Northeast Ohio counties, including Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage, Stark, Summit and Trumbull
Population: 1.6 million in the five counties. Metro areas include Akron, Canton and Youngstown.
Road: I-80, I-76, I-77, I-271, State Route 11 (four-lane from Columbiana County to Lake Erie), U.S. 26
Rail: Conrail, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Wheeling & Lake Erie
Air: Cleveland Hopkins International, Akron-Canton, Youngstown-Warren; Pittsburgh International
Water: Ohio River ports at Columbiana County and Lake Erie ports.
Major Employers: General Motors; Hoover Co.; Goodyear Rire & Rubber; Timken Co.; Babcock & Wilcox; Worthington Plastics.

ASW's 300,000-sq. ft. Gilchrist Polymer Center "is filled with plastics inputs and finished products for a variety of end users, brokers moving raw materials to end users and producers," says Chris Burnham, business development manager. "Products from everybody who's anybody in the polymer industry come through here."

Every month some 52 million pounds of product moves into and out of the center, and inventory turns over 12 times a year.

"This is a definite advantage for plastics producers in the Akron area," says Burnham. "Just on the basis of volume alone we can knock off fractions of a cent per pound, and that translates into cost savings."

In back of the Center are the tracks of the Wheeling & Lake Erie, a regional carrier connecting to three Class I lines. There is track available for 50-60 cars at a time.

ASW's next development will be at the Akron-Canton Airport's foreign trade zone.

ASW Services developed the Gilchrist Polymer Center and other distribution facilities to serve Northeast Ohio's substantial plastics industry.
The plastics industry permeates Northeast Ohio's schooling system -- literally from preschool to Ph.D. The University of Akron, for example, has graduated more people in polymer engineering than any other university in the country -- some 1,700 at the master's and PhD level. Northeast Ohio firms like Gencorp, Goodyear and Advanced Elastomers staff their R&D labs with UA graduates.

There are several plastics technology courses in four high schools that work with the University of Akron and the Akron Polymer Training Center. Closely related to the Society of Plastics Engineers, these programs are being copied in several other states.

The University of Akron is online via the Internet or local lines to the high schools, where students and teachers can tap the powerful capabilities of the University.

A superior resource is the University of Akron's Polymer Training Center. Says Dr. Frank Kelley, dean of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering: "The hands-on training feeds the plastic industry at the worker level. Many of the center's programs are customized for industry, and there is a smorgasbord of opportunity, from night classes and intensive short courses, for one company or many."

The Akron Machining Institute, a nonprofit unit of the National Tooling Machine Assn., has three programs that turn out machinists and maintenance and design personnel. It operates the only apprenticeship training program in the field in Ohio.

Besides education, the region has other unique resources for the plastics industry. Because of its very long love affair with polymers, the area around Akron and Youngstown is a hub of such support services as mold and machinery makers.

Perry County