I stood dazed in a ballroom in Orlando, Fla.
It was nine years ago. I was just months on the job as Plastics News publisher.
The venue? The NPE space draw. I attended plenty of trade shows. But this? A multiday event to pick your booth held two years before the trade show took place? I wasn't in Kansas anymore. To me, the space draw was the NFL draft with seemingly similar stakes. Every major company in the plastics industry lined up to select their spot for NPE2015.
The air in the ballroom buzzed. An emcee announced booth selections from the stage.
As PN's turn approached, I worried about our booth location. NPE occurs every three years. Nobody wants a spot with less-than-ideal traffic. Right then, a gentleman approached. He smiled big. He explained he was here to help with booth selection. He walked me through the process. I asked questions. He answered. Then I went on stage and made our pick. It was over in an instant.
At the time, I didn't know my helper was the president of Wittmann Battenfeld Inc. I hadn't met Dave Preusse before the space draw. But as I ready to leave PN and Crain Communications after 25 years, I'm not surprised how helpful Dave was that day. His friendliness then and always was emblematic of the people that make up the plastics industry.
A couple years later, I began writing a column, "What Keeps You Up At Night?" I'd drive or hop a plane (with trusty videographer Jeremy Carroll) and travel to plastics processors to interview company presidents and CEOs. I can't remember anyone saying, "No."
In fact, what I remember is the dinner GW Plastics CEO Brenan Riehl insisted we have the night before our interview in Vermont. I recall how Tasus Corp. President Melanie Walker toured us around her factory in Alabama. On the shop floor, she stopped at employees' workstations, called them by name and laughed, showing me what a leader does. I remember finishing an interview in Indiana and the entire management team driving to an outdoor BBQ joint to share lunch with me.
When the pandemic hit, "What Keeps You Up At Night?" became a weekly podcast. The guests — from Karen Carter of Dow Inc., Christina Keller of Cascade Engineering and Tom Flannery of Formula Plastics Inc. — continued to impress and teach me.
From Steve Maguire explaining to me how his blenders work and his theory of inventory on my first visit to Maguire Products to the Messe Düsseldorf team taking such good care of our editorial staff producing the K show dailies in Germany to Troy Nix inspiring 800 processors at the annual MAPP Benchmarking conference, the people in this industry amaze me.
As an industry, plastics has work to do. There is far too much debris in our oceans and the U.S. recycling rates are too low. Addressing these issues will take commitment from industry, all levels of government, major brands and the waste management industry. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is a great blueprint that I hope continues to grow.
But the value plastics has to our world is undeniable. It makes automobiles lighter, which conserves oil and gas. It keeps food fresh, allowing it to be transported great distances. Its importance in the medical industry is vast and never more visible than during this pandemic.
The industry's people are the answer to our challenges. And judging by the goodness I've experienced, I believe we are in excellent hands.
Of course, the special people I've encountered include our amazing team at Crain and our Global Polymer Group.
I owe KC Crain and the entire Crain family my deepest thanks for a chance of a lifetime to lead our team. Twenty-five years goes by in a flash. To our team — led by Don Loepp, Debbie Hershfield, John Hickey, Matt Barber and Christine Zernick — I exit knowing they are in the best of hands with the smartest, most caring group of people guiding the way.
As for me, I won't be far from plastics, rubber or urethanes. In fact, I'll be joining Motormindz, an automotive consulting company, as senior vice president of strategy and business development.
With materials such an important part of the automotive industry, it's my sincere hope I'll see you all just down the road a piece.
Lafferty, the publisher of Plastics News since 2013, is leaving the company, effective Jan. 31, to join Troy, Mich.-based Motormindz, an automotive industry consultancy, where he will serve as senior vice president of strategy and business development.