WASHINGTON - Sooner or later, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and American Plastics Council will be one organization, according to leaders of both groups. Officials complain that neither association is now the clear leader of a unified plastics lobby that can comfortably speak for the entire industry while serving the legislative agenda and technical information-sharing needs of its members.
SPI's goal now is to ``phase APC back under the SPI umbrella,'' said Harry Ussery, SPI vice chairman, president of Beacon Plastics Inc. and a member of the APC board of directors and its executive committee, as well. ``Eventually, SPI and APC should be one group.''
Red Cavaney, president and chief executive officer of the 27 resin-maker-member APC, said: ``I do know that SPI officers are talking with the APC officers. The thing I know of the APC officers is that they are interested in pursuing the conversation.'' The APC board members ``are open-minded,'' he said.
At some point Cavaney be-lieves the plastics industry associations will unite. ``My experience is that many of these things are member-driven, not staff-driven.''
The SPI/APC relationship is under review by a special SPI task force that is considering ways to beef up membership. The task force wants to attract a wider base of processors, direct dues to SPI's operating divisions and give those units more autonomy.
Cavaney said APC board members have found a need for the industry ``to speak with one voice'' on issues. Also, ``There's always sort of a re-engineering mind-set - to the best way to provide more services at less cost.''
Instead of phasing out at the conclusion of its work, as it was originally intended to do, the APC, an offshoot of the Washington-based Chemical Man-ufacturers Association and SPI, has assumed a permanent role in Washington. The group has a $54 million annual budget, of which $20 million is dedicated to producing pro-plastics national ad-vertising in print and on TV.
The dues structures of both organizations are vastly different. APC members direct up to $2 million each through the CMA to APC initiatives. Some processors pay SPI membership dues of as little as $300 per year, and SPI President Larry Thomas has proposed a discount of up to 75 percent to broaden the processor membership base.
Four-year SPI board veteran Angelo Firenze, president of Firenze Group in Belmont, Mass., said the question of how to best represent the plastics industry, ``is a problem the SPI board is wrestling with now,'' though he said, ``It will be a long and negotiated process.''
``I agree with Harry [Ussery]. Something needs to be done,'' said Firenze, who formed his own company this year after a 27-year career with Dynisco Cos. of Sharon, Mass.
``One of the things to be sorted out is who is going to represent the plastics industry,'' he said. Now, ``Some people are stepping on some other peoples' toes.''
APC originally was formed to battle what plastics and chemical interests perceived as a tarnished industry image. APC's progenitor, the Council for Solid Waste Solutions, was intended as a temporary measure, to go out of business in 1995.
But as Firenze pointed out, ``People thought [APC's advertising] would be short-term. But what they learned was once that [advertising] stops, all the gains start to dwindle.''
SPI, 60 years old this year, has defined itself as the voice of the plastics industry.
But as Firenze noted, ``How do you define the plastics industry?
``The basic issue is that there are different agendas and different interests at the national down to the local level,'' Firenze said.
John Kretzschmar, an SPI board member from film extruder Blako Industries Inc. in Dun-bridge, Ohio, is ``reasonably confident that reasonable minds will prevail.'' He said APC's big-money ads have been good for the industry. ``But SPI feels strongly that in Washington and lobbying efforts, we need to have one voice and focus on what we want to do.''
Any discussion concerning the two groups will focus on overlap in both SPI and APC in their legislative and regulatory agendas and national and regional office functions. Kretzschmar said the two groups have had some communication problems.
``In certain areas of maybe lobbying and education, where SPI has traditionally done it, I think there has been some overlap and lack of coordination over there,'' he said.
As required by the 1995 federal lobbyist registration act, both groups have filed documents showing specific areas of lobbying interest before Congress.
Two of the three listed by APC also are listed by the SPI, though industry officials are quick to note that processor, machinery manufacturer and resin-maker interests in these issues may be quite different, requiring different lobbying emphasis.
SPI listed 14 specific bills or interests. It listed its lobbying expenses in the first six months of 1996 as $300,000. Common to both SPI and APC in the last session of Congress were S.1316, the Safe Drinking Water Act and ``regulatory reform issues.''
Both APC and SPI have four regional U.S. field offices.SPI spokesman Jack LaCovey said the issue of the APC and SPI joining, under any circumstances, re-mains conjecture. More pressing is the question of SPI efforts to attract processor members.
Chuck Bentley, president of Colt's Plastics Co. Inc. in Dayville, Conn., and chairman of SPI's newly formed communications committee, said SPI and APC, whether separate or together, should have the ``health and well-being of the industry'' at heart ``whether they're in the same building or not.''
On the SPI membership issue, he added: ``If we go for volume instead of quality, we're going to lose members.''
Another SPI board member, Andrae Lehner, attended the Sept. 25-27 board meeting when events started to unfold.
``What I got from the meeting was a general consensus that there was going to be some communication at the executive level'' between the two groups, said Lehner, president of Omega Tool Inc. in Menomonee Falls, Wis.
The membership issue has not affected SPI's Machinery Division, according to officials.
Martin Stark, chairman of the Machinery Division, said the dues and restructuring issues mainly involve processors, not machinery manufacturers.
Stark is president of Bekum America Corp. in Williamston, Mich., a blow molding machinery manufacturer.
Senior reporter Bill Bregar contributed to this story.