For some plastics industry types who follow what happens inside the Beltway, the merger of one of the industry's biggest trade groups, the American Plastics Council, with its cousin at the American Chemistry Council, is worrisome.
To illustrate their fear, they point to comments from a top South Carolina economic development official, who seemed to draw a distinction between the desirability of plastics and chemical companies.
Jim Morris, installed as chief of staff of the South Carolina Department of Commerce in October, was asked by The State newspaper in Columbia in a Nov. 4 article what types of businesses he wants to attract.
``We should be looking at plastics manufacturers,'' he replied. ``And we should look at the chemical industry, but we have to be careful about the kinds of chemical industry we want - and don't want - here.''
What raises fears is the idea that the public and policy makers like plastics and the products made from them, but distrust chemicals. Of course plastics are made from chemicals, but some officials worry that the plastics industry will be tarred by a closer association with the chemical industry.
``Here is a person who is a decision maker in the state who has a negative association with chemicals,'' said one plastics industry official.
``To start to too closely connect plastics with chemicals is risky. ... People are really concerned about that.''
But how realistic is that fear?
Not very, according to the American Plastics Council and other observers. APC and ACC, both based in Arlington, Va., officially merged Jan. 1 in a bid to save money in a tight economy and work together more closely, particularly on health and environmental issues. Both groups already were in the same office building and shared many common members.
The head of the ACC, Fred Webber, will lead the combined groups, but APC officials said they carefully considered any negative impact from a merger and are taking steps to see that the plastics component remains vital.
``The organization was created in a way that assures the plastics programs receive the same focus as in the past,'' said Susan Moore, vice president of communications at APC. ``Our board has been very adamant that this merger will in no way diminish the effectiveness of APC.''
Moore, who will hold the same job at ACC after the merger, said APC will keep its own name and an operating board of plastics industry executives within ACC. That board will have financial control over key plastics industry programs in advertising and durable and nondurable products.
APC built by far the largest plastics industry lobbying wing in the states, where many of the industry's battles are fought. That unit now also will have responsibility for chemical issues in the states, but it is picking up additional resources from ACC's state unit, and will be led by the former head of APC's state unit, Roger Bernstein.
Some observers said the state level is where there's the greatest need for the groups to work together: ``There is where you're apt to see problems develop. That's where the two organizations will need to find avenues to work constructively,'' one industry official said.
One key reason for the merger, from the chemical industry perspective, is to beef up its image. Moore said the plastics side made clear it wanted autonomy on its roughly $20 million-a-year advertising program, and will not see chemicals-oriented messages mixed in with plastics.
One plastics industry official who initially was skeptical of the merger said seeing how it is structured eased concerns.
``I'm not singing the same song I was before,'' said the official, who, like most in the tight-knit world of trade associations and their member companies, requested anonymity. ``The way they have melded the two organizations shows a lot of savvy and careful thought.''
Still, staffers said some details have to be worked out. The groups have identified about $5 million in savings out of their combined budgets of $70 million. Officials will look for additional savings, Moore said.
The APC budget is about $39 million, but about half of that is spent on its large advertising campaign. ACC has a budget of about $29 million. Those figures do not include the business units or independent panels connected to both groups, which remain unchanged in the merger.
One official who sits on both the APC board and the board for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. said the merger will not weaken the plastics industry.
``Everybody - certainly the APC board and, as I understand it, the ACC leadership - believes [APC has] been a very successful program and is committed to see it continuing along those lines,'' said James Lammers, vice president and general counsel at Dart Container Corp. in Mason, Mich.
But another industry official said he feared that over time, the plastics component of ACC will lose some of its identity. That may give SPI an opportunity to bill itself as the best representative of the plastics industry, said the official, who also requested anonymity.
SPI President Donald Duncan said his organization will work with the new group, regardless of what its final shape is. Duncan repeated statements that SPI should focus on strengthening itself.
It was only two or three years ago that APC and SPI publicly feuded when their own merger talks failed, and some major resin makers pulled out of SPI in favor of APC.
But that open warfare has faded. Plastics industry officials say the topic doesn't seem to generate the kind of animosity it once did, perhaps because companies are focused on their own economic challenges.
Said one industry official: ``People are watching, but they are not watching with a knife in their belt.''