Last month, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. held its annual meeting and fall conference in Boston. The attendees were mostly upper-level executives from a broad sampling of sectors of the industry, and the discussions were lively. SPI staff and, when present, attorneys, ensured that the discussions met antitrust limitations on joint actions. While there were a number of hot topics discussed in meetings and workshops, this author found the subjects of recycling and government regulations (both here and overseas) of most interest.
Our industry is one of the most important segments of U.S. manufacturing. It is also targeted for ever-increasing regulation like few other industries. The regulators are agencies based both overseas (e.g., the European Union), and in the U.S. (federal, state and local governments). And let's not overlook such aggressive private special interest groups as Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Many small-company owners and managers are prone to think that only big companies have the resources to be involved in dealing with these problems, but this is not correct. U.S. congressional representatives, in particular, are very conscious of the importance of small businesses to the economic well-being of their districts. SPI provides forums for owners and managers to learn how to reach out to local, state and federal government agencies, as well as Capitol Hill fly-in events, plant tours and other events for industry leaders to meet with elected officials who write and enforce the laws and regulations of their respective government units.
It has also been the experience of this writer that it pays to talk to the staff of such officials initially, to ensure that the individual you want to see ultimately will be briefed correctly on who
you are, what you do, and what you want to discuss.
This is also a valuable opportunity to show that plastics industry business people (including engineers) are reasonable, friendly individuals who have problems — e.g., plastics packaging litter — that may not be of their making. This understanding can provide opportunities for cooperation with the government to provide solutions. This will go a long way toward a friendlier reception and more favorable outcome than might otherwise be the case.
Some public office holders will add your name to their mailing list for donations to their next election campaign.
SPI educates that this is delicate turf — if you do contribute, it is absolutely essential that there is never any implication this is a quid pro quo — an obligation of the recipient to do something for your specific benefit as a condition of the gift. Your lawyer can answer any questions about this.
This author has only scratched the surface of what one could learn during these two-day meetings. Since several sessions met simultaneously, a company would have done well to send more than one individual to hear and participate in topics scheduled simultaneously.
While some sessions are closed to members only, industry leaders should note that the 2014 SPI Spring Leadership Conference, scheduled for April 9-11 in Miami, is open to non-members, too.
Our industry has a long, proud history of technology growth and appropriate substitution for conventional materials in applications, resulting in significant amounts of energy conservation.
That's a proud record and we need not be afraid to publicize it.
Jones is president of Franklin International LLC, an industrial consulting company in Broomall, Pa.