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August 4, 1998

6 Min Read
Grassroots organizations:  Providing what molders want

Until recently, molders were represented by a single industry trade organization, the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). Within the past five years, companies have recognized the need to be proactive on issues at the local level. These grassroots efforts have resulted in several new groups formed to bring together molders on a local level and address those issues that directly affect the business of doing business.

"An organization for processors run by processors." That's the slogan of Mid-America Plastics Partners (MAPP), a network of plastics processors who work together to help solve the complex business issues companies face today. MAPP, with offices in Indianapolis, IN, grew out of that state's economic development organization in an effort to better serve Indiana's 526 plastics firms, explains Troy Nix, executive director for MAPP. From an initial group of eight industry activists, MAPP has grown in just two years to 70 member companies in the Midwest region.

The Plastics Processors Assn. (PPA) of Ohio was formed in 1994 to create a unified voice for the huge plastics industry in that state on issues that directly affect member companies. The group, whose headquarters is in Akron, currently has 100 member companies.

Says PPA assistant executive director Kim Keiper, "For statewide issues and local issues we can be more effective than national groups." However both Nix and Keiper are quick to point out that the objectives of these two organizations are somewhat different than those of either SPI or the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE). And both groups work with the national organizations on various broader industry issues.

MAPP's Nix says he doesn't want to duplicate the efforts of other organizations like SPI and SPE. "These are two great organizations that provide benefits to the industry in a different way than we do," he says. MAPP does not lobby. However, Nix points out that MAPP knows what phone number to call when something happens legislatively. "And SPI can use us to rally the troops," he adds. "It's been extremely beneficial so far, working together." MAPP wants to adopt SPI's certification program and take it to its members, and the group is planning to hold joint meetings with SPE of Central Indiana.

Keiper says that group does have a lobbyist at the state level to oversee the interests of the plastics industry on a local level. "SPI is better on a national level," she says. "We work with such state issues as environmental matters, electricity deregulation, and employment, things that make it beneficial for our members to do business in Ohio."

Strength in Numbers

These groups operate under the belief that there's strength in numbers, which means that these organizations can offer such benefits as aggregate purchasing of health and property and casualty insurance, long-distance telephone service, and energy and transportation services.

MAPP offers a unique employee benefits program designed to provide excellent employee benefits at significantly reduced costs. MAPP members also work collectively to develop alliances that help them serve their customers better by maximizing each partner's individual efforts and sharing of expertise.

In one case, Flambeau Products Corp. needed to improve production efficiency and reduce labor costs for Duncan Yo-Yos located in Columbus, IN. Flambeau turned to the MAPP network, using the Internet to communicate its needs to the entire MAPP partnership. Within 24 hours, Flambeau's engineering manager found MAPP partners Scottsburg Plastics and C&T Engineering willing to take Flambeau molds to run around the clock. Another MAPP partner, Richardson Industries, took over the assembly operations.

Joe Gizara, Flambeau Products Operations Manager, says, "The partnerships established have given us the production volumes we required to meet the increased demand for Duncan Yo-Yos. The MAPP partners support each other, which benefits and strengthens the whole industry."

MAPP's Nix says today's plastics company owners want actual value from their industry organizations, things that affect the business directly and can be quantified. With the business world moving so fast, delayed gratification or esoteric benefits aren't attractive anymore. It's involvement in groups that can facilitate cost savings and address all the issues that affect business in a "forum" type of setting where company owners discuss and benchmark off each other that attracts molders.

Companies with membership in MAPP and PPA of Ohio can realize the benefits of membership almost immediately in terms of specific services. "We've come to the realization that the days of perceived value are gone," states Nix. "Members want to see the value on the bottom line. We have a bottom line focus because this organization was created by the processors for processors."

Sharing Problems

Dan Smith, general manager of American Plastic Molding in Scottsburg, IN, says he was sold at the very first meeting as he sat with a group of molders talking about human resources problems. "I found out I wasn't the only molder who didn't have the answers to all the problems," he says. "We shared our problems. We're all fighting low unemployment and companies going to Mexico, and we all have the same problems, yet when we benchmark off each other we find better, creative solutions. MAPP is good about getting us together to borrow ideas from each other."

Smith, who says his return on membership investment in MAPP is 100:1 in actual dollars saved, says the MAPP meetings never fail to provide him with valuable information or programs for his business. "I've never gone to a meeting that I didn't learn at least three things that I can try," he says. "Some succeeded and some didn't, but this type of organization that provides these benchmarking opportunities is the future."

Joe Bergen, president of Sajar Plastics Inc. in Middlefield, OH, says he's not sure what people want their trade organizations to provide. He points out that SPI has spent thousands of hours trying to determine what its members value in terms of services and industry representation.

"The battle is trying to get the membership," says Bergen, who's been with PPA of Ohio since its inception. "The dues are relatively low cost but people aren't standing in line to join."

Bergen, who also served as chairman of the Structural Plastics Div. of SPI, says that he believes that money is a very small part of the issue of membership. "The $250 [dues for PPA of Ohio] is not the issue," he states. "I think that for PPA of Ohio there's such a cross section in the 1200 to 1400 processors. Many are small mom-and-pop shops, and it takes all of their sweat
equity to survive.

"If they go to meetings, nobody watches the store. It's a commitment of time, and our organization also needs sweat equity. If we're trying to influence a legislator to pass environmental laws favorable to the industry, it's hard to give up half a day to help. Unless it's life-threatening to their business they don't get involved."

Because of the changing dynamics of the plastics industry as a whole, as well as of individual industry segments and companies within those segments, no one industry group can address all the issues. Groups working together and playing off the strengths each one brings to the table is one answer.

Most people believe that industry trade groups play an important role in the success of an industry as a whole. Participating in these groups is just one way in which people can contribute to that whole. Says Bergen: "I believe that you have to build the industry, not just your own business."

MAPP's mission

MAPP's mission is to help processors in these areas:

  • Manage and reduce costs through economies of scale.

  • Expand markets, seek new markets and customers.

  • Understand technology through alliances with organizations and people.

  • Human resource issues.

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