WASHINGTON - The American Plastics Council and the American Chemistry Council are in preliminary discussions that could lead to a merger of the two trade associations.
However, officials with both groups cautioned that the talks are in very early stages and may or may not result in combining the organizations. Rather, they are starting with improving service, keeping control of costs and looking at how the ACC can tap into APC's expertise at crafting a favorable public image for its products, said Jeff Lipton, president of Nova Chemicals Corp. and immediate past chairman of APC.
``The biggest issue is if we are going to expand ACC's communications, or should I say public outreach efforts, is there a way to use the talents and experiences in APC for the ACC effort?'' Lipton said. ``The chemical industry is not valued by thought leaders and the general public in anywhere near the way it ought to be valued. As a consequence, we are often defending ourselves in a hostile environment.''
The other big driver is, ``How can we in the industry support both organizations and get the highest quality and the lowest cost?'' said Lipton, who also sits on ACC's executive committee.
He said the chemical firms that make up both groups have not ruled out putting the two together; but, he said, ``We are a long way from talking about merger.''
ACC spokesman Jeff Van said the groups are looking at all options in assessing how they will work together. ``That full range of options will include whether a merger should take place,'' he said.
As a result of the discussions, APC has put on hold its search for a new president. Ron Yocum announced in January he would step down as president and chief executive officer, and he has been working only a few days a month in APC's Arlington, Va., office since early June.
``Because I'm leaving and the CEO's job is vacant, it just makes sense to ask the question - is there any sense in putting the two groups together?'' Yocum said.
There is no deadline for finishing the talks. However, Lipton said, ``We are getting to the point where the pace is picking up.''
The subject of an APC-ACC merger, which has been floated before, has been controversial among plastics industry officials who are very involved with trade associations. Some have expressed fears that a combination would dilute APC's focus on plastics, or that tying plastics more closely to chemicals could hurt the plastics industry's hard-fought gains in public opinion polls. They say plastics generally have a good public image, while chemicals do not.
Lipton said that fear of plastics being hurt by a closer association with chemicals is ``a legitimate fear. From a communications perspective, that is an issue. It has to be managed.''
Yocum said bringing the two trade associations together would not hurt plastics because many of the large chemical companies also have significant plastics businesses and would want to protect both.
On the other hand, Yocum downplayed potential cost savings. ``I'm not sure there is a whole lot of duplication there so I'm not sure how much cost there is to get out,'' he said.
One reason for exploring closer cooperation is because of the rise of issues dealing with human health and chemicals, such as endocrine disrupters or phthalates in vinyl products, Yocum said. APC and ACC increasingly work together closely on topics, he said.
APC and ACC share many of the same members, and the recent merger discussions began among member companies at ACC and APC meetings in June at Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Van said. Several officials characterized the talks as discussions between member companies but not between the staffs of the two groups.
APC has an annual budget of just over $40 million, with about half of that going to its advertising effort. ACC has a budget of just over $44 million, Van said.