The Nation's Seventh Largest Plastics Cluster

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plastics photoPLASTICS ARE ONE OF THE MOST common substances in our daily lives. They are found in almost every product we use from automobiles to computers to medicine bottles. The plastics processing industry is the fifth largest U.S. manufacturing industry in terms of shipments. In the production of resins, synthetic materials and lumber the U.S. is ranked thirteenth.

The South has gained in plastics employment since 1996 and the North Carolina Department of Commerce reports that North Carolina is the seventh largest plastics manufacturing state in the nation. There are plastics companies in all areas of the state with the largest cluster of companies along the Piedmont Crescent from Burlington, west to Hickory, and south to Charlotte.

The Charlotte region accounts for thirty percent of the state’s plastic employment in manufacturing and distribution, as well as more than 37 percent of plastics companies in the state. This is a considerably larger proportion of companies and employees in the plastics industry than in any other economic development region in the state.

Diverse Manufacturing Processes
Goods produced by the largest plastics companies in Charlotte range from high-tech battery separator membranes to nonhazardous absorbent polymers. Charlotte Pipe and Foundry, headquartered in Charlotte, is the largest manufacturer of DWV pipe and fittings in the U.S. and operates one of the largest fittings molding facilities in the world. Charlotte Pipe started manufacturing in Charlotte in 1901 with the production of cast iron soil pipe and fittings and opened its Plastics Division in 1967.

Celgard, with 350 employees, produces polypropylene and polyethylene electrolytic membranes for battery separators. Celgard is a subsidiary of Polypore, which is also headquartered in Charlotte and has more than 100 manufacturing employees here. Polypore develops, manufactures and markets highly specialized polymer-based membranes used in separation and filtration processes.

Schaefer photoSchaefer Systems International is a global company with its U.S. Headquarters in Charlotte. According to Ella Clark, Director of Marketing, Schaefer Systems is a major producer of waste containers, shelving systems and shipping containers. Schaefer is expanding its manufacturing capacity due to the increased demand for waste containers. The central location of Charlotte and the availability of skilled workers make Charlotte an ideal environment for the expansion of manufacturing facilities.

Comprehensive Research and Education
There are many resources for the plastics industry in Charlotte. UNC Charlotte is a research intensive university and the fourth largest of the 16 institutions within the University of North Carolina system. As the largest institution of higher education in the Charlotte region, UNC Charlotte comprises seven professional colleges and offers 18 doctoral programs, 62 master’s degree programs and 90 leading to bachelor’s degrees. UNC Charlotte has more than 900 full-time faculty and 22,300 students.

There are several faculty members in the chemistry and engineering programs at UNC Charlotte who have expertise in polymers. UNC Charlotte also has a Regional Analytical Chemistry Laboratory (RACHEL) that provides state-of-the-art analytical chemistry services to the Charlotte area such as identifying the polymers used in manufactured articles.

Plastics Manufacturing in North Carolina Metros
Area Name
No. of Units
%
Avg. Empl.
for Quarter
%
Total Wages
%
Charlotte
157
37%
9,811
30%
$101,146,064
29%
Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem
101
24%
7,086
21%
$69,040,288
20%
Asheville
56
13%
4,744
14%
$45,890,000
13%
Raleigh/Durham
40
9%
2,537
8%
$26,610,434
8%
Fayetteville/Wilmington
24
6%
4,422
13%
$5,845,640
16%
Kinston
37
9%
3,845
12%
$40,367,923
12%
Northeast Regional Partnership
9
2%
613
2%
$5,058,488
1%
State of North Carolina*
424
100%
33,058
100%
$343,958,837
100%
* Percentages may not round to 100 due to data suppression. Source: NCESC, Third quarter 2008.

Central Piedmont Community College is the largest community college in the Carolinas. CPCC’s Manufacturing Technology curriculum introduces students to the principles and practices of manufacturing technology. Students are trained in high-tech concepts applicable to a variety of industries including plastics. CPCC also has a Non-Destructive Examination Technology Program that provides a mechanism for examining a material or part without damaging the intended usefulness of the component. One application of this technology is a volumetric examination of fiberglass reinforced plastics.

plastics chartPolymers Center of Excellence (PCE) is a not-for-profit organization that began as a joint venture between NC State University and UNC Charlotte and was originally located on the UNC Charlotte campus when it was established in 1994 by the State Legislature as the Polymers Extension Program.  It currently operates out of its own facility in University Research Park and works globally to provide a full array of services to the plastics industry including: training, product development, materials sciences, testing and injection molding.

PCE’s extrusion and compounding laboratory has single screw extruders to produce plastic film and plastic sheet, as well as twin screw extruders for compounding plastics and making pellets. The polymer testing laboratory has the capacity to analyze and identify material composition and provide quality assurance testing.

PCE provides training for plastics professionals through courses at its facility and off-site. PCE technical staff members teach courses at UNC Charlotte. Currently under development is a conference facility on the PCE site that will accommodate large groups for training and conferences.

 Largest Plastics Manufacturers in the Charlotte Region

 Company Empl.  Product 
 Charlotte Pipe & Foundry  535  Plastic pipe and fittings
 Celegard Inc.  350  Battery separators for disposable lithium batteries
 Wincup Inc.  350  Disposable plastic food service items
 Schaefer Systems International Inc.  350  Plastic injection and molding
 Morton Custom Plastics LLC  300

 Plastic injection and molding

 AEP Industries Inc.  280  Polyethylene and stretch film
 Plastic Packaging Inc.  275  Unsupported plastic bags
 Carpenter Co.  250  Polyurethane foam
 Insulating Services Inc.  250  Commercial and industrial insulation

Favorable Infrastructure
Charlotte is a dynamic and growing city with an increase of more than 176,000 residents since 2000. Charlotte Douglas International (CLT) Airport is the 14th busiest passenger terminal in the nation and handled more that 132,000 tons of cargo in 2008. Charlotte is served by Norfolk Southern and CSX for railway transportation and there are more than 300 trains through Charlotte weekly.

With its location on Interstates 77 and 85 and its excellent transportation system, Charlotte ranks fifth in the nation for new and expanded distribution operations. In 2008, new and expanded businesses in Charlotte-Mecklenburg resulted in more than 1,300 firms and more than 12,000 new employees.

plastics mapDynamic Polymers Cluster
There are more than 200 plastics manufacturing companies in the Charlotte Region. The map shows the distribution of these companies in counties around the region.

The business and resource environment in Charlotte, combined with the cluster of companies in the plastics industry, makes Charlotte a prime location for new and expanded industries in plastics manufacturing and distribution. The result is an increasing presence in plastics and polymers for the Charlotte Region.