This week we reflect on the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors, as that group celebrates its 20th anniversary. The timing is appropriate, coming just days before the group's major event, its annual benchmarking and best practices conference.
It's a nice testament to MAPP that every member company that we contacted about a story for this special issue enthusiastically agreed to cooperate.
I've followed MAPP since the beginning. I've attended many of its events, editorialized on its efforts and even spoke at one of the early meetings back in the 1990s.
I remember that in those early days, MAPP was an anomaly. Other trade associations were losing members left and right. MAPP was growing.
In a 1999 story about another plastics trade group, we noted that MAPP, which was then known as the Mid-America Plastics Partners, had expanded to 120 members in just three years. At the time, almost all came from Indiana and neighboring states.
"We are kind of perplexed," one executive said at the time. "We are asking the same questions you are asking — how did they get so many members out of such a small area?"
The answer wasn't a secret. MAPP Executive Director Troy Nix and the group's ultradevoted board members were completely up front about what they were trying to accomplish. The amazing thing is that it worked.
Why amazing? Let's take a trip back to the mid-1990s and consider the state of the plastics industry. Business was good. The economy was humming. In our annual poll of plastics processors, 55 percent expected 1996 to be more profitable than 1995 … and 1995 was a great year, for most.
Behind the headlines, globalization was happening, and a few companies that we contacted were concerned about customers moving business offshore and the impact of foreign competition. But processors were still buying new equipment, adding workers and staying busy. They were optimistic because they were confident that their customers would continue to send them plenty of profitable work.
But in many ways, a processor from 2017 transported back in time would be lost. Consider this: In Plastics News issues from 1996, not a single advertisement includes an email address, let alone a website. The plastics industry was on the cusp of some huge changes.
Other regional groups felt that there was a need for plastics processors to have a voice. But who remembers Minnesota's Council of Plastics Leaders or Ohio's Polymer Processors Association?
Although the plastics industry has changed dramatically since 1996, MAPP's mission hasn't. The comments we got from Nix and the board in our earliest stories echo what they're saying today.
Lindsey Hahn of Metro Plastics Technologies Inc. and Dan Smith of American Plastic Molding Corp. wrote a letter to us in 1998 emphasizing that MAPP's philosophy was good for plastics processors.
"MAPP was created by a group of industry professionals who have been involved with plastics for many years. Our intent was to build an organization that would work solely on helping processors improve and better compete, and this we have done successfully," they said.
"MAPP is an organization for processors and run by processors. Our operating philosophy is simple: If there is a need or challenge identified by our processors that is not being addressed by another group and fits in the confines of MAPP's mission — to help processors expand their business and reduce their costs — then we will allocate resources to efficiently and effectively meet the needs and challenges our processors face.
"This trend is one that is mutually beneficial to both the individual processor as well as the industry as a whole," they said.
People like Hahn, Smith and Nix succeeded in creating a community for plastics processors where members feel they get tangible benefits from being active, attending events and networking with other members. It survived through the Great Recession because members realized it was helping their companies survive.
MAPP is still a niche organization in many ways; you don't find people talking about it in Europe or Asia. But that's for the best. MAPP may be the secret weapon that's helping many U.S. processors compete in the scary world of global competition.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of The Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.
Listen to more on how one molder used lessons learned from MAPP to implement lean manufacturing.