As the National Plastics Center & Museum celebrates its 20th year, its value exceeds the hopes of the pioneers who founded it. The museum started as a repository for our history but is now also a force for our future. Thanks to NPCM educational programs conducted in-house and, via our PlastiVans, on the road, each year tens of thousands of people gain an appreciation of plastics, and children discover that our industry provides exciting careers.
Of course a nonprofit institution like ours still must balance idealism with business sense. When the NPCM board appointed me president eight months ago, it was with a mandate to make the museum more visible to the industry and build up its endowment to fund new services to the industry and the public. Since then we have formulated plans to achieve these goals.
To start with, we have begun to create programs to generate revenue in the form of fees paid by the participants themselves or by industry sponsors. Here are three:
New exhibits. We are looking to develop an exhibit on automotive plastics whose centerpiece would be a “see-through car” with plastic components visible. In a similar vein is a plan to expand our environmental exhibit to include a model house highlighting the contribution of plastics to energy conservation, health and safety.
'Plastics is My Bag.' Already in the development stage, this new program for educating youngsters or training new workers would eventually go on the road as part of our PlastiVan program. Composed of multiple after-school or after-work sessions, the program gives an elementary overview of plastics technology and examines the role of plastics in “markets” as diverse as fishing, medicine, mountaineering, automobiles, and beauty salons.
Broader outreach. Our three PlastiVans operate in 40 states and last year reached some 44,000 students. Our goal is to expand the activity of the vans and to add a fourth in the West, bringing the annual total of students educated to 60,000 in 2003. Sponsoring companies and associations generously fund many of our PlastiVan visits to schools around the country. The expanded PlastiVan program would increase revenue 75 percent compared with 2002, contributing some $460,000 to our operating funds.
Until now, NPCM's operating revenues have fallen short of our operational expenses by a good margin, and we have paid for the difference with contributed funds and interest on our endowment. Besides creating new revenue-generating educational programs, our plan to put an end to this operating-budget shortfall also involves organizing special fund-raising activities, ranging from golf outings for industry executives to the museum's 20th anniversary “Platinum Gala,” to be held Oct. 21 in Leominster.
To ensure NPCM's long-range financial security and to fund the continuous innovation and expansion of its programs, we have developed a capital campaign to expand our endowment from its current level of $1.5 million to a short-term goal of $5 million and eventually to $15 million.
The campaign will target corporations, associations, and high-level individual executives, including retirees.
In working with individuals, we will draw on the services of a financial professional to advise on gifts, trusts, income funds and annuities. To facilitate all these new ventures, we have revamped completely our Web site at www.plasticsmuseum.org.
Besides pro-viding visitors with extensive information on our exhibits and programs, the site includes many interactive features, one of them being the capability of paying online to become a member of the Museum.
My career of four decades with plastics machinery corporations taught me much about business and our industry. Now my education is about imagination and discovery. Eight months have been time enough for me to learn what makes NPCM unique: its appeal to the imagination of people — especially young people — through things that they can see, touch, and manipulate.
Time and again I have seen delight in the eyes of children as they explore our exhibits, watch our demonstrators transform common substances into polymers or carry out projects of their own with guidance from our educators. Often kids are amazed just to be shown how many plastics are in the most ordinary objects — a sneaker, say, or a skateboard.
I am convinced that there is no more effective way to educate young people about plastics, and I am confident that more of my colleagues in the plastics industry will realize that the museum deserves their enthusiastic support.
David P. Hahn is president of the National Plastics Center & Museum in Leominster, Mass.