Senator Ron Johnson (right) with SPI President Bill Carteaux
Referring to SPI President Bill Carteaux — but in reality speaking of the entire U.S. plastics industry – Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) told a crowd of nearly 150 plastics industry professionals at the SPI Spring 2011 National Board Conference, “Bill’s got one of his own on the inside now.” Indeed, Senator Johnson is a plastics manufacturer himself, having founded Pacur, a PET sheet extrusion company, in 1979. Speaking at SPI’s plenary breakfast session yesterday in Scottsdale, Arizona, Johnson discussed his transition from the factory floor to the Senate floor and repeatedly urged his audience to “get involved and stay involved” in matters of public policy and the political process.
In the summer of 1979, Senator Johnson and his brother-in-law started Pacur in Oshkosh, Wis. The company specializes in the extrusion of light and heavy gauge polyester, copolyester and polypropylene resins for a variety of applications, including packaging, printing, medical and electrical. From operating the equipment, to keeping the company books and selling its products, Johnson has been involved in every function of the business.
As a trade association, SPI devotes a considerable amount of time educating elected officials about the business of plastics — the benefits of plastic products, the industry’s significant contributions to the economy, and the challenges that can hinder manufacturing in this country. How unique and wonderful in this case to have a U.S. Senator who already understands the plastics industry because he is part of it!
“I try to relate everything I do in Congress to my business career,” said Johnson, who serves on the Appropriations, Budget, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Aging Committees. ”As a manufacturer you want to find the root cause of things. If there’s a machine leaking oil or a problem somewhere else in the manufacturing process, you don’t just fix the symptoms, you find the root cause… A business perspective is needed in Washington and that’s the one I bring.”
In his first run for any sort of elected office, Senator Johnson defeated Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold in the November 2010 election. He believes there is a real need for more “citizen-legislators” like himself. “At some point in time, good people need to get involved and stay involved…We need more citizen-legislators in Washington — people who have had a real working life and have raised a family.”
Senator Johnson was asked by an audience member, “What does ’get involved, stay involved’ mean for SPI and the plastics industry?” He responded, “You are vital to providing information to the young staffers of House and Senate members to educate them. That’s what is important about trade groups: providing information.”
After discussing issues that ranged from “the wonder and power of the free market system” to global competition, jobs (“You can’t say you love jobs and then also hate the job creators”), and the national debt crisis, Senator Johnson concluded by telling his plastics industry peers, “This country is something incredibly precious. Will it last? Yes, if good people get involved and stay involved.”