MILWAUKEE, Wis.—In the world of trade associations, the Polyurethane Manufacturers Association stands out simply because it beat enormous odds and countless battles to survive.
Born at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in August 1971 when a half-dozen businessmen—many of whom had started making cast urethane products in their garages in the late 1950s—gathered to organize the formation of the organization.
It grew over the next two years of relative tranquility as both a business and social association. But that changed dramatically in 1973 when its mettle was severely tested and some long, drawn-out battles began with U.S. government agencies over the prime curing agent MOCA that many urethane product makers needed to survive.
The MOCA war only gave the organization resolve, unified a band of small businessmen into a tight-knit group and put it on the map. The PMA survived that turmoil and built a rich history.
Today it is a strong, healthy association that focuses on ways to help better informed members and their companies improve and grow, according to Michael Katz, president of the association.
If Katz had to select a prime benefit of the organization, it would be networking with others in the industry, which he said is a tremendous advantage to members. When a major issue pops up that needs to be resolved, members can get solid information quickly.
“This group is pretty open in sharing ideas with each other, even things that others would call trade secrets, especially at the processor level,” said Katz, who is also the president of Molded Dimensions Inc., based in Port Washington, Wis.
For Walt Smith a key benefit is education about the industry and building a polyurethane business the proper way.
The chairman of ITWC Inc. of Malcom, Iowa, and New¼ton, Iowa-based Thom¼bert Inc. and former pre¼sident of the PMA has been active in the group since its early days “and I learned an enormous amount about our industry as a member of the PMA.” He said that even when major issues like MOCA dominated conferences he picked up invaluable tips on cast urethane company management.
Smith was strictly a processor, working for and running Thombert, founded by his father Robert Smith, until 1988 when he launched ITWC, a chemical maker, and became a supplier, initially just for Thombert. ITWC began supplying other urethane processors in 1992.
“By studying others, I learned how to run my businesses better,” he said. Other members of the organization echo his sentiments.
The association thrived throughout the '70s, '80s and much of the '90s. But slowly membership began to dip as the organization entered the 2000s.
Smith credits Katz and several other younger members of the PMA for turning around the association in the last several years. “They have done an excellent job.”
The association's membership was at its lowest point several years back when it dropped to 77 companies. Younger leaders like Corey Barge, Axiom Industries Inc. president and CEO, and Ken Neil, at the time with Dicar, stepped to the forefront and were instrumental in the adoption of key changes that halted and stabilized the membership slide. At the time Neil was president and Barge vice president of the PMA.
Changes included one general meeting a year, rather than two; reduced administrative costs; lower membership costs; and an extension of officer terms from one to two years.
The cost-cutting measures made it easier for smaller molders to join at lower rates, more suppliers are drawn to association meetings because they can meet with more processors, and the term extensions for officers led to more cohesive leadership.
Those moves worked, Smith said, and membership in the association is growing while attendance at meetings is at a record clip. It can count 96 member companies on its roster today and it's looking to improve on that number next year.
In addition, Katz said, the Milwaukee-based PMA “has begun to market cast urethane as an alternative to other materials in an effort to increase the general urethane awareness in potential customers. We are in year two of a pretty intensive four-year plan with an eye on affecting the overall market.
“We also have to continue specific programs for member companies that can help them be more profitable.”
Both Smith and Katz believe the PMA and cast urethane product makers have bright futures. “The usage of our material keeps growing,” Smith said. Urethane is very diverse and can be used in all kinds of products, he noted.
Katz thinks “the future of the organization is bigger in terms of global breadth of members and in terms of polyurethane marketing to help increase the overall market.”