Your Nov. 21 editorial — “Glut of trade groups may fragment efforts” — struck a chord close to my heart. I couldn't agree more with the comments you made — especially when you asked who will represent plastics companies on big-picture issues that cut across wider markets. The other day I looked through the folder on my desk containing airline ticket receipts — and I think the answer is becoming clear.
As president of SPI for the last nine months, I have visited over 20 organizations that represent the interests of plastics companies in one way or another. I have met with state groups, product-oriented groups, process-aligned groups, raw material supplier associations, associations that serve American plastics companies, and organizations that have a more global perspective. I have attended meetings in over a dozen states. (Though I did miss the meeting of the “Nashville Alliance of Processors and Left-Handed Molders” featured in your Nov. 21 editorial cartoon.) Some of these groups hadn't met anyone from SPI before; others had been associated with SPI for awhile before leaving a few years back. Some of the associations had members that also included SPI members; others did not. Additionally, I have had extensive discussions with the leadership of other plastics associations, one-on-one opportunities that explored areas of industry challenge and member concern. We exchanged comments about overlapping programs and resources and ideas about working together in the future.
In short, I have met with a virtual alphabet soup of plastics organizations, all diligently striving to promote and grow the interests of their members. These meetings afforded me a unique chance to look at these groups collectively — a bird's eye view, if you will, that showed, in sharp detail, not only their distinct diversity, but also their common goals. Traveling from one group to another, I became acutely aware of all their divergent, and yes, sometimes contrary, interests, but most often found that they were always more similar than not. There was always that thread, that common link, that connected all of them: the plastics industry. Emphasis on the word industry.
At SPI (the Society of the Plastics Industry), we have built a successful organization that has brought together diverse industry groups that have needs, issues and goals that frequently differ. We have constructed an association that not only provides mission-critical business services across the board, but develops customized programs that specifically reflect the fluctuating needs of all our plastics industry members, under one umbrella. SPI's two dozen business units and special operational committees focus on tailoring and delivering services for their community of members: Our “core” depart-ments provide expertise to our entire industry membership in broader areas, such as government affairs, communications, science and technology. This provides SPI members with significant economies of scale, access to a broad sweep of industry knowledge, enhanced contacts and relationships within all levels of government, and superior networking activities.
Because of our diversity, we are the unified, centralized voice of the plastics industry. We have leveraged our diversity to become our strength. It's as simple as that. By pulling together the myriad interests of the plastics industry, and speaking with one unified voice, people listen to us.
SPI represents many industry interests, and you'll find an electric synergy between our groups and members that is unparalleled in the industry. Walk down our halls and you'll see groups developing conference programs together, partnering on common problems, sharing industry expertise. You'll see our machinery and equipment members working on safety programs with processors. You'll find processor members writing to Congress on behalf of resin companies. We are sensitive to the fact that issues facing one industry segment today will be the nemesis of another industry segment down the road. It is this finely tuned balance between finding solutions to broad industry issues while, at the same time, tackling problems faced by specific industry segments, that has given us a special vitality. It is possible to create a unified industry association while maintaining the integrity of individual industry segments.
Yes, the plastics industry needs a central organization that can deliver big-picture results and yet be responsive to the specialized needs of niche industry segments. I firmly believe that SPI is that umbrella organization. We have the experience speaking on behalf of the plastics industry, of being responsive — and responsible — to all our members, large and small, supplier, vendor or manufacturer.
I invite the leadership of the plastics industry organizations mentioned in your November editorial to investigate what SPI can offer. We stand ready to reach out to all the groups and provide them with the resources they need to successfully answer the needs of their members, now and in the years to come. Let us know the time, place and date. Have suitcase, will travel.
William R. Carteaux is president & chief executive officer of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., based in Washington.