The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is facing a crisis. The therapy needed is clear — to demonstrate effective leadership and to continue efforts to boost the strength of the association.
SPI got a double dose of bad news this month, when members of its Composites Institute unit voted to leave SPI, and two large resin suppliers — Solvay Polymers Inc. and Amoco Polymers Inc. — also threatened to pull out.
If SPI comprised a larger number of firms that actually considered themselves plastics companies, the potential loss of some Composites Institute members wouldn't look like a crisis.
But the composites industry has grown to a point where, both financially and technologically, some members of the industry don't feel a close kinship to their conventional plastics processing brethren.
But the problem is that with only a smidgen more than 2,000 total SPI members, losing as many as 400 CI constituents would mean huge problems for SPI, the Washington-based association that bills itself as the voice of the U.S. plastics industry.
SPI has taken steps in the past year to mend that weakness. The key has been an effort to slash annual dues to attract more processor members. That's a worthy goal, and the effort must continue. In fact, CI members were among the instigators of the dues cut. They were right to ask, and it would be counterproductive for SPI to change course now.
The second part of SPI's turnaround prescription — to demonstrate effective leadership — is a little trickier.
Leadership issues were at the forefront of CI's complaints about SPI. Members griped that SPI was of ``questionable value,'' and that it did not attach appropriate weight to issues important to the composites industry.
Unspecified leadership issues also came up with Solvay's decision to leave SPI.
These complaints about leadership don't appear to be focused on the governing officials of SPI themselves. Instead, they are targeted more at which issues SPI chooses to tackle, and which ones it does not.
The group certainly has taken a high-profile stand on recent rail traffic problems caused by Union Pacific Railroad Co. in the Houston area — an issue that should have generated some goodwill from resin companies like Solvay and Amoco.
SPI and CI also have spent political capital on federal regulations of styrene emissions, an issue close to the composites industry.
Despite the efforts, these member companies, and the thousands that didn't bother to join in the first place, don't feel that SPI membership is a high priority. Perhaps SPI needs to reassess its own priorities.
Nevertheless, the problems SPI faces now are not insurmountable.
The group must redouble efforts to attract new members, as it already is doing with at least two groups: the California Film Extruders and Converters Association and the Plastic Bag Association.
And SPI must continue to work for an eventual merger with the American Plastics Council, which will help avoid further fracturing of the industry in the future.