With a stabilized membership and financial picture, the Society of Plastics Engineers turned to future challenges at SPE-Antec - how to organize services and set a dues structure to meet the needs of members around the world.
Susan Oderwald, executive director, said SPE has created a task force to address the issue of ``bundling,'' or offering different packages of services for members to choose.
``Right now, you join SPE, you pay $100, and you get the house. Or you don't join SPE, you get nothing,'' she said at a news conference May 8.
Oderwald told SPE members that the Brookfield, Conn.-based society faces the same issues as any U.S. trade association now trying to become more global.
``How will SPE move into new areas? Will we become a multimodal group with many centers of operations, each distinctive to its own customer needs?'' she asked. ``Or will we try to remain a more cohesive whole with operational efficiencies of scale and common services spanning the globe?''
Answers to those questions will have ``profound implications'' on operations and costs, Oderwald said.
She said SPE probably will evolve to become a ``hybrid'' organization with centralized information management and increasingly localized customer service functions. That means the society needs to beef up what she called its back-office operations - the computer-based support network to serve a global, Internet-connected membership.
Right now, SPE is especially active in Europe, Mexico, Brazil and India.
SPE will always have a main Antec conference - like this year's event May 7-11 in Charlotte - plus local conferences on specific topics throughout the year. But the Internet already is playing a significant role in how SPE delivers technical information. Most of SPE's new-product efforts in the past two years have focused on online offerings, and Oderwald said so far this year, Internet-related business has nearly doubled over the same period a year ago.
SPE's e-Learning Center allows people to hear and see live presentations on their computers and ask questions via telephone. Tom Conklin, SPE's senior manager of training and education, said the Training and Education Department generated more than $280,000 in the first quarter, well above its budget projection. That improvement is largely because of the e-Learning Center, he said.
Oderwald said SPE must serve two types of members: ``wireless warriors'' who prefer short, more numerous interactions, and the ``unwired'' people who value face-to-face contact and ongoing personal relationships.
Meanwhile, SPE leaders said membership is stable at about 20,000 members. Membership peaked in the early 1990s at around 38,000 and then began to sink.
Oderwald said SPE ended the past two years with a surplus, after losing money. As promised, the society resumed the practice of rebating a percentage of member dues to sections and divisions. The rebates were suspended in 2004 and 2005 so that the society could use the money to pay off a loan.
As SPE becomes more global, its new president for 2006-2007, Timothy Womer, is ready. Womer said he spends about 25-30 percent of his time traveling as vice president of engineering and technology for screw and barrel maker Xaloy Inc. of New Castle, Pa. On international trips, he plans to tack on a few extra days for SPE work.
Womer said he started at New Castle Industries Inc. in 1974 as a machinist, then worked his way up the ladder. Xaloy bought New Castle in 2003.
``I'm still there, and I'm more valuable now than that day that they first hired me, which is in no small part the result of my involvement with SPE,'' Womer said.
``I consider myself more of a mechanic than the vice president of a company,'' said Womer, and he promised to bring a workmanlike approach to building SPE. He encouraged SPE activists to mentor younger employees and get them involved with the society.