This praise for the Society of Plastics Engineers is overdue, and it's taking a different angle than what we originally planned.
Let's put it in historical context. Remember March 2020? It was just two months ago, but it seems like another era.
Back in early March, just a few days after our Plastics News Executive Forum, the coronavirus pandemic started to disrupt the events business. On a daily basis, we were publishing news about trade shows, conferences and open houses that were either being canceled or rescheduled.
But Antec looked like it was going to take place, as scheduled, in San Antonio.
The big annual technical conference organized by the Society of Plastics Engineers was a favorite event for Bill Bregar, our senior reporter who had covered just about every Antec since 1989. And he was looking forward to covering it in 2020. Bill was pumped about going, seeing his many industry friends, and covering the keynote talks by two big plastics company CEOs: Jim Fitterling of Dow Inc. and Tom Salmon of Berry Global Group Inc.
Bill suggested that we write a column praising SPE for going ahead with the in-person event. "Good idea," I told him, "but let's hold off, just in case they change their minds."
But that seemed unlikely. On March 3, SPE had posted an open letter announcing that Antec would be held as scheduled, while emphasizing the steps it had planned to ensure the safety of attendees.
When the big plastics industry Washington fly-in was canceled on March 12, Bill wrote me an email: "Can't have a fly-in when nobody wants to fly." I responded: "Now Antec is the last plastics event that hasn't been canceled or postponed. Your move, SPE."
The next day, we learned that SPE was canceling the event in San Antonio. But officials promised that the technical papers would still be delivered, but like a live webinar.
"Antec 2020: The Virtual Edition" was on.
It kicked off on Monday, March 30 with a joint keynote address by Fitterling and Salmon. More than 700 people tuned in live, including Bill, and I was honored to moderate the session. Bill was pumped about his coverage and my role.
That first day of Antec was a great kickoff for what turned out to be a very successful virtual conference. Last week, on May 5, after six weeks and 167 technical presentations, the event came to its conclusion.
SPE deserves a hand. Instead of sticking to its original plan and holding an in-person event, the Danbury, Conn.-based organization quickly scrambled to make Antec a fun and successful virtual conference. More than 3,300 people from seven countries tuned in to at least a portion of the 93-plus hours of programing.
SPE CEO Patrick Farrey acknowledges that it wasn't an easy decision to cancel what would have been an in-person three-day event. He credited the executive board, technical committees, presenters and, most of all, the SPE staff, for quickly coming together to pull off the virtual Antec.
Audiences grew exponentially for the virtual event, with some technical sessions attracting nearly 300 attendees. That would have been unlikely in a regular Antec, when SPE schedules many concurrent sessions. And the audience is likely to grow, because more than 20 presentations, podcasts and demonstrations were livestreamed on YouTube and are still accessible to anyone.
Bill didn't get to see the conclusion of Antec 2020. He died unexpectedly on April 5, the day before his coverage of the keynote session ran in Plastics News.
In the weeks since then, I didn't forget Bill's idea to publish a column praising SPE for its decision. It wasn't easy, but SPE pulled it off.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.