Clean tech fueling plastics comeback in Massachusetts

A historical perspective on one of our portfolio companies, from the Boston Business Journal: Massachusetts is known as the birthplace of the plastics industry. Companies here made everything from flatware to flamingos before falling victim in the mid-1980s to the proliferation of cheap oil in the Middle East and cheap labor in east Asia. But a few companies are looking to give the industry a green light for growth…

“Its not very likely that Dow will move its plant to Lowell, but there are a lot of startups that are developing technologies with us,” said Stephen McCarthy, director of the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Biodegradable Polymer Research Center. The plastics renaissance could be a boon to north central Massachusetts, where the industry supplies about 40 percent of manufacturing jobs.

“While the number of jobs has decreased, the relative importance (of plastics) to the region stays the same,” said Nancy Jackson, director of economic development for the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve had to adapt, but the industry has been behind every one of the state’s boom times.” Jackson said the area’s plastic cluster hosts about 140 companies, 70 of which are direct manufacturers, the largest concentration in the Northeast.

… Green plastics has spurred a handful of startups so far, some of which have garnered attention from venture investors. Lowell’s Konarka Technologies, a developer of photovoltaic plastic used for portable solar systems, brought in $45 million in its latest round of funding from Toronto-based Mackenzie Financial Corp. and New York-based Good Energies. The company is looking to capitalize on interest in solar cells. Konarka’s 60-person company is expanding, hiring UMass graduates to new positions…

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