For those who question whether all the fussing and fighting between the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the American Plastics Council matters outside Washington, take note of the resignation letter from a former SPI vice president.
Lewis Freeman, a 21-year SPI veteran and its former top lobbyist, left the trade association May 1. On his way out, he wrote a letter to SPI's top officers arguing that the group has lost so many members and so much effectiveness that its public policy work has drifted back into the “ranks of the also-rans.”
He doesn't mention the APC-SPI fight by name. But it's clearly the elephant behind the curtain. Much of the resin industry left SPI, preferring to work within Arlington, Va.-based APC for its lobbying and trade association needs. Along with those resin firms went a lot of money and public policy expertise that SPI no longer can access as much as before. Some major business units left SPI, taking with them a number of processors.
“Not only are there fewer financial resources, but there are fewer people resources to provide input and guidance for public policy issues,” Freeman wrote. It's difficult for SPI to claim to be the “principal trade association” for the industry, he wrote.
In fairness, SPI had significant challenges beyond just poor relations with APC. It's difficult to bring together the frequently different interests of processors, materials suppliers, and machinery and components companies. And it's important to note that Freeman lost out in a restructuring orchestrated by SPI's new president, Don Duncan. Freeman notes as much in his letter, saying that his more limited responsibilities were not satisfying.
But the fight between APC and SPI clearly was divisive for the industry. Each side had its reasons. APC members wanted to trim trade association costs, including time and travel for staffers to attend meetings. SPI officials argued that it was important to maintain an umbrella group that would represent all parts of the industry.
But there was also a distinct lack of statesmanship. Each side essentially wanted to be the one in control of any new group, and both were unwilling to compromise. So merger talks broke down and then turned very acrimonious.
We're not trying to dredge up the past, though. Our point in mentioning all this is that it seems to us that Freeman's letter is confirmation that even now, the fight between the groups has hurt the industry. Plastics companies do not face the kind of political challenges they faced a decade ago, but the industry needs a strong voice, particularly as it confronts such challenges as playing an effective role in the energy policy debate in Washington.
We hope future plastics industry trade association leaders, when faced with similarly divisive situations, will remember to keep that big picture in mind.