If not merger, then what? Talks to combine the American Plastics Council and Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. are dead, according to SPI President Larry Thomas and other officials. The goal was worthy, but in the end discussions broke down because the two sides could not agree on key aspects of a merger.
Plastics processors identify with APC's work — many SPI members erroneously believe that their dues pay for APC's high-profile, pro-plastics advertising campaign. But the truth is, APC's member companies are resin companies. They pay the bills, so they run the show.
Many plastics processors and machinery company representatives of SPI never were comfortable with the idea of merging SPI into APC without a promise that SPI would be the dominant surviving organization.
Nevertheless, processors and machinery firms do have an intense interest in APC's work.
First, APC can be more effective in its efforts only by including plastics processors — the industry's rank and file.
Second, certainly to the public at large, APC has a higher profile than SPI. Processors need to have an energetic voice within a group that, to many, represents the U.S. plastics industry.
Here's a blueprint for leaders of SPI and APC to use to help build for the future:
APC and SPI have taken important steps in recent months toward improved cooperation — for example, combining their state government affairs operations in January. Such efforts should continue.
APC needs to continue to solicit processor involvement, both in the organization's governance and in its grassroots lobbying campaigns.
Both groups must avoid unnecessary duplication. Communication between APC and SPI will be extremely important, and should be practiced at all levels.
Inevitably, conflict will surface. Within SPI, processors, machinery suppliers, material suppliers and others usually have been able to put aside their parochial interests and look out for the greater good of the industry.
But resin suppliers at times have different interests than the broader membership of SPI, and as long as APC exists as a separate entity, there is potential for tension between the groups.
If SPI and APC are to remain separate, then future leaders of both groups will be responsible for keeping harmony between the associations and nurturing the health of the plastics industry.
We can hope the merger idea will surface again when both sides are more comfortable with the concept. Short of that, cooperation will make it easier for APC and SPI to accomplish their goals.
Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News.