Jennifer Perez, vice president of operations at R.D. Abbott Co. Inc. and director-at-large for TLARGI, first came in contact through her husband, Martin, technical director for Vip Rubber Co. Inc. She attended the TLARGI events for several years as a spouse before she entered the industry, she said.
"My exposure to TLARGI was all of the fun stuff, all of the social events," she said. "My greatest memories were from going to the Christmas parties. It was such a dressy event. I became friends with different people, and would look forward to seeing them year after year."
As she and her husband had children, Perez was able to share pictures of the kids as they grew year after year. She looked forward to seeing her friends from the rubber industry at the TLARGI events, she said.
Growing up in the rubber industry, Haney found the social connections at the TLARGI meetings helpful for his growth as a professional, but also in keeping family connections alive, he said. When he would introduce himself, TLARGI members would recognize the last name and tell him about how his grandfather had impacted them, even after he had passed away.
"Everyone was tied to Kirkhill Rubber," he said. "Either they worked there, were a supplier or a customer. He gave them their first job or introduced them to someone. I would meet people I'd never met before, and they're telling me old stories about my grandfather. It was just awesome. I learned so much of my family rubber history through TLARGI."
The social connections have been a major part of TLARGI's history, giving members the chance to network. The organization has had several annual events in the past, between its summer conference, Oktoberfest, casino night, golf outings and Christmas party. And those opportunities go beyond just networking, Perez said.
"It's pretty tight-knit," she said. "I know our membership is kind of small with about 350, but I actually love that people are excited, and you see them embracing when they see one another at an event. They're truly happy to see each other."
Perez started working in the rubber industry directly through a connection at TLARGI, finding a position at R.D. Abbott. With the new job came a new appreciation for the technical side of what TLARGI offered, she said.
TLARGI events gave Haney another way to expand his perspective of the rubber industry as a young professional, he said.
"Especially early in my career it was, like, broaden your horizons and just learn about the suppliers and the competition," he said. "It still is today, a really unique experience. There's a lot of friendly competition around here, and I know them because of TLARGI."
Even though he and his competition are bidding on similar projects or sharing customers, the meetings give him a chance to meet the people behind the company name and make connections there, he said. It also provides a chance to go back to more personal ways of connecting with colleagues.
"Meeting with my suppliers has been good," Haney said. "Especially in the day and age of technology where we have less face-to-face interaction, it's good to get out from behind your computer and shake hands, see friendly competition and suppliers."
Those connections are at the heart of the organization, said Scott Kearns, chief operating officer for R.D. Abbott and chairman of TLARGI.
"I genuinely believe it's the relationships that folks build coming here. It's the relationship first, then business comes along with it," he said. "It's the rubber industry that brought us together, but this relationship holds us together."
Education is another important aspect to TLARGI, with technical sessions covering multiple topics across the industry, Kearns said. That includes the group's annual Basic Rubber Technology course, a 20-week course that runs on Thursday nights, taught by Rick Ziebell, technical manager at R.D. Abbott.
"It's a key part of our program," Kearns said. "I still remember my instructor's name. They were an influence on my life at that time. I hope our graduates continue to feel that way as they come through the program."
When Perez started working in the rubber industry, she took the Basic Rubber Technology course along with a friend.
"It's as technical as they want it to be," she said. "Just the way they explain the chemistry, it's put in such a user-friendly language so anyone, based on any education, could receive it.
"For someone like myself, who is a lifelong learner, I found it extremely valuable, and I use it in my work. It made all the difference in my job as a customer service rep, which is what I was doing then," she said.
The course was a great way to learn about the larger rubber industry, as well as make some industry connections as a young person in the industry, Haney said. Year after year, it keeps bringing in new students and potential rubber professionals.
"The Basic Rubber Technology course is so important for us to continue," he said. "The attendance has been really good for a long time. For the last 10 years, it's been solid, about 30-50 people in the group. That's great, and it's important for us to continue that."
TLARGI also encourages education by reaching to an even younger group with its scholarship program, Kearns said.
"We understand that the future of the rubber business is premised on education and those who are coming up in the organization. We're interested in recruitment and bringing people into the industry," he said.