The Society of Plastics Engineers is struggling. SPE suffers from declining membership — from around 30,000 members a decade ago to just 16,000 this year.
Executive Director Susan Oderwald and President Paul Andersen were upfront about the situation at SPE's annual Antec conference, held June 22-26 in Chicago alongside NPE2009.
Plastics industry layoffs, globalization and how to lure young people to join the society are all formidable challenges. That's why it was so uplifting to hear new members of the Plastics Hall of Fame publicly praise SPE during the hall induction ceremony at NPE.
The best comments came from 80-year-old Ralph Noble of Canada, who back in 1970 became the first non-U.S. citizen to be SPE president.
“What has to be undertaken is the determination to return [SPE] to the vital organization that it has to be, and that it has been for a good deal of its life,” Noble said. “If there's one thing I want to say … it's that SPE is a marvelous organization. I think it thoroughly deserves your support.”
Noble didn't talk about his company, vinyl compounder Synergistics Industries Ltd. Instead, he showed class by using his time to support the organization where over the years he has made so many friends and learned so much about the industry.
Hall of Famer Don Witenhafer also thanked “the hundreds of friends I've made through SPE.”
Witenhafer, 69, chairs the SPE Polyolefins Conference in Houston and spent 16 years as an SPE council member. He got into the Hall of Fame for his work at B.F. Goodrich Co. to solve problems with vinyl chloride monomer when it was discovered in 1969 to be a carcinogen.
SPE also won kudos from Robert Malloy, who chairs the prestigious Plastics Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. During the Hall of Fame banquet, Malloy received SPE's Education Award. He cited his experiences with SPE and Antec conferences over the years.
With all the recent hand-wringing over how to excite generations X and Y, it sure was great to hear these industry veterans — yes, older people! — shout out the benefits of SPE.
Social interaction and the idea of volunteering certainly have changed. Today, everyone is so “wired” with iPhones, BlackBerries, social networking — so “very busy,” so damned efficient — that they don't have time to know their next-door neighbor, let alone get active in a community or industry organization.
A quote from Noble in his Plastics News Hall of Fame profile [June 22, Page 19] hit the nail on the head.
Once, people wanted the camaraderie of other people who were in the same line of business, he said. “Today there isn't the same desire for camaraderie, the group activity, as there used to be. Everybody finishes off their meal, and, by God, they're out of there like a rocket. People used to sit around after the meeting and talk.”
That was before text messaging.
Bregar is an Akron, Ohio-based Plastics News senior reporter.