26 April 2013 12:51 [Source: ICB]
After several difficult years, the US adhesives and sealants industry is poised for renewed growth, argues the ASC, which continues to develop its offering to members
"We've all experienced the downturn, and many of us had to make tough decisions to remain competitive and stay in business," says Rusty Thompson, chairman of the board at the Adhesive and Sealant Council (ASC).
In the wake of the 2008-2009 "Great Recession", Thompson says, the industry in 2011-2012 was characterised by mergers and buy-outs, as those who held on through the downturn expanded with strategic combinations and bolt-on acquisitions. "But now, today, we're focused on growing our markets and leveraging investments, especially in the building and construction sector."
That downstream industry - building and construction - is second only to packaging as the primary consumer of adhesives and sealants. Domestically, the adhesives and sealants sector is already making gains as the US housing industry continues to recover, but the industry's potential is broader still.
Thompson, whose day job is president of Evans Adhesive Corp, says ASC and its 125 member firms are seeing great opportunities in the emerging markets of China, India, Brazil and Mexico.
Those regions "are being looked at for market potential because of the growth rates in those areas", he explains. "From our industry perspective the question is how do we understand those market opportunities, and how do we leverage that knowledge?"
That, says Thompson, is where ASC comes in. "The goal of ASC is to help our member companies make sense of the marketplace and make it relevant to them."
Part of the solution is the Spring Conference and EXPO, where "we have asked some of the best speakers available to come and provide the kind of insightful knowledge that we can use to make heads or tails about growth rates and where they're headed - so we can focus our efforts toward that growth."
But there is a lot more to it than the convention. For ASC president Matt Croson, the Atlanta conference is indeed "one of the primary platforms we have to share information, and it is a primary value proposition for the members" but it is only one tool in a panoply of benefits and educational options.
"Our market reports for North America and Asia are part of that, and we're looking to develop additional reports on India, Brazil and Mexico," he says.
And, "because a lot of the information we need to share with members is technical, we have five short courses, two a year, that are co-located with the convention," Croson adds, noting that combining the short courses with the conventions "allows members to maximise their time when they get together".
The convention also will feature new research from academia, he notes, "giving members insights on where the market may be headed, to be aware of emerging opportunities such as biobased adhesives - things that are being discussed at the research level but are not quite commercially ready."
Beyond the conventions and on-site courses, Croson says that in the last two years ASC has invested heavily in beefing up its two websites - www.adhesives.org and www.sealants.org - to establish a stronger platform for ASC members that provides educational training, market information, innovation resources and even allows members to have online discussions through "Ask the Expert", a linked-in group of almost 3,000 community members.
"We have regular postings of questions and links and information sharing," he says, with queries running to 10 a week. The sites also offer blogs by three industry leaders on the three major consumer markets, packaging, building and construction, and transportation. Through the blogs, "members can engage in dialogues and seek more information."
The council recently added ASC-TV, a YouTube venue where nearly 100 videos offer instruction on a wide variety of topics, including adhesive uses, packaging, woodworking and joinery, how-to techniques, standards and test cures, among other industry-critical issues.
"The ASC website used to function chiefly as a library," he says, "but in the last year we've expanded it to make it a more dynamic engagement platform that allows the community, the members to ask questions, view videos, connect to solutions providers and generally interact with each other when they need to solve an industry issue. It's been really successful, growing from 7,000 visitors in April last year to 10,000 now this April."
Another recent addition to the ASC resources pool is the council's training academy, a webinar system that teaches fundamentals in eight different areas that are especially valuable when member firms take on new employees and need to get them up to speed in a quick and thorough manner.
Like Thompson, Croson sees ASC members as "focused on growth, again our most pressing concern. When I talk with members, they are focused on pulling teams together, focused on outreach to their core customers and discussing how to best reach their customers," he says.
"Trying to get more growth is what all manufacturers are doing now," Thompson adds, "that's how we survive. ASC recognises that growth is the focus and we are trying to help our members find those opportunities for growth, how to reach their customers."
Toward that goal, Croson says that he soon will be discussing with the ASC board how the council and its member firms can engage the downstream communities, the users of adhesives and sealants.
"Historically, we have focused on our supply chain, and we haven't spent as much time downstream with the end users, so we're going to have a major discussion on what that might mean," he says.
Less visible than some of the council's other member benefits but equally important is ASC's advocacy role. "Our focus is on legislative and regulatory affairs that directly impact our members, their products and services," Croson explains. "Each year we identify the primary issues that will impact our industry directly - and that can cover a lot of ground.
"For example, we cover issues as broad as TSCA reform and as micro as California's South Coast Air Quality District rule 1168 governing VOC requirements," he says, referring to the looming battle in Congress over modernisation of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the principal US law governing chemicals in commerce.
"We are in favour of TSCA reform," Croson says, "but we want to ensure that it is risk-based and prioritised - and that CBI is protected," referring to confidential business information (CBI). If a new TSCA should oblige manufacturers to disclose CBI in regulatory compliance, ASC and other chemical sector leaders worry that Uncle Sam could end up giving away the store. "In the chemicals sector, you can reverse-engineer things pretty quickly," Croson notes. "So if you have a government that wants to share our CBI with the world, people will see that and take advantage of it."
Thompson says that in its advocacy role as well as in its conferences and education functions, the ASC board has set as a guiding principle a move from being a reactive organisation to one that is proactive.
It is in advocacy in particular, said Croson, that the reactive-to-proactive policy has been most pronounced. "Instead of waiting to see what happens, we're getting more and more active in confronting issues that are out there," he says, with ASC staffers meeting frequently with both Democrat and Republican leaders in the Senate and House.
The proactive effort also involves meetings with congressional staffers "to ensure that they understand the important role of adhesives and sealants in every market area".
To support and advance ASC's advocacy with legislators and regulators, Croson says the council is investigating an online software package that would allow members to respond at the council's prompting to issues that arise in Congress or among rulemaking agencies. "This will be a grassroots programme that will allow our staff to alert members to new and developing issues, provide guidance and give members the tools they can use to help shape the conversation that needs to take place in the legislative and regulatory areas."
Altogether, Croson says, "It is wonderful that we're now so focused on ways to innovate and add value for our members. So far it has been great, and we're seeing a 94% retention rate [among members] in the last couple of years compared with 85% in earlier years, attendance at conferences is up 25%, and we've gotten eight new members in just the first quarter. The members see where we're going, and they support it."
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