The first couple years for the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors, in the late 1990s, were decidedly lean.
Troy Nix, who's been the executive director since the beginning, remembers occasionally sleeping in his car on business trips in those early days to cut costs: "Things were always really tight."
This year, as the group marks its 20th anniversary, those days are in the rearview mirror. Nix and other MAPP officials say it's in a solid position, with more than 380 companies as members.
But the early days were a struggle, Nix said, with MAPP "nearly going out of business in the late '90s."
In an interview about MAPP's 20th anniversary, Nix laughed when asked about stories told by others in the association that he sometimes turned his car into a hotel room on work trips.
"Yeah, sometimes you have to do what you gotta do, that's all I'm going to say," he said, chuckling. "I don't know that I'm necessarily proud of it."
The group formally opened its doors with Nix and two other paid staff in April 1997, aiming to fill what it saw as a niche in the plastics industry that other associations were not covering.
MAPP said it would target business services for small- and medium-sized plastics injection molders and other processors.
It grew out of an Indiana state government program to support its local plastics industry. At the time, MAPP was one of more than 30 local and state-level plastics industry groups that sprang up around the country, Nix said, but few of them remain today.
MAPP has survived. Nix credits a very entrepreneurial board of directors who stuck with the idea.
Today MAPP wants to maintain a laser focus on business services, like conferences, plant tours, joint purchasing and online networking, where people share ideas on subjects such as complying with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations or tracking down hard-to-find grades of plastic.
"I look at this as we're a Google to the United States plastics industry," he said. "But our Google is putting people in contact with each other so they can solve their problems."