This past weekend my wife and I made the five-hour trek from New Jersey to York, Maine to attend the meeting of the Plastics Pioneers Association (PPA), of which I am a member. (Full disclosure: I and fellow PPA inductee and Plastics Technology Executive Editor Matt Naitove make up the group’s publicity committee.)
Anyway, during the drive up in what was tantamount to a monsoon, I started to think about the first time I made that trip. It was four years ago, when I received my PPA induction pin. I reflected on the impressions I had of the PPA before I had become a member, and how much they have changed since.
Like any story, it’s best to start at the beginning. My timeline might be off a bit, but around the summer of 2011 I received a phone call from extrusion industry veteran Al Hodge. I’ve known Al for more than 20 years, so it wasn’t an extraordinary circumstance to receive a call from him. But I was surprised at what he wanted to talk about.
“How would you feel about becoming a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association?” Al asked. My first response was “Huh?” Now, I had heard of the PPA in my nearly 30 years in plastics, but didn’t envision myself as a fit.
As Al talked a bit about the group a variety of thoughts raced through my head. “Why would I, a 51 (at the time) year-old guy, join a ‘club’ of, well, ummm, much older people?” I don’t think I actually said that to Al, but I might have, as sometimes the filter between my brain and mouth malfunctions, However I put it, Al chuckled a bit, filled me in on some of what the PPA gets involved in, and I said yes. I think it was Al and Tim Womer who nominated me.
Shortly thereafter I received a very thick book in the mail, about as thick as the yellow pages used to be. It was The Who’s Who of the Plastics Pioneers Association Inc., the PPA's membership roster. I leafed through it, saw the names of members active, inactive, and no longer with us. I thought “Wow, this is an impressive group of people.” Many, in fact, have been inducted in the Plastics Hall of Fame.
So then, since I’d now become honored about the appointment as opposed to befuddled about it, I felt a little bragging was in order. I called a couple of friends in the industry, "young" old timers like me, and filled them in. Well, the jokes were relentless. Here’s one of the more tame ones: “Congrats. Every time you go to a meeting the average age will drop to 85.”
Undaunted, I fueled up and made the 300-mile journey to York to get my pin. There were a few other people inducted with me. I don’t remember all of them, but one was my friend Rick Shaffer, who used to run Netstal and before that Demag. Rick’s got a great sense of humor. “I used to think being inducted to the PPA was a great honor,” he said before a group of people, including me, at the cocktail reception. I knew the punch line was coming, and Rick delivered, chuckling, “Then I saw Jim Callari’s name on the list.”
Then I started attending meetings. I listened mostly at first, and quickly had an epiphany: These people do important stuff, the kind of stuff that's dedicated not only to preserving this great industry's past, but teeing up its future. They award scholarships; early this year they set up an endowment program with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. They continue to award scholarships to individual students. As I reported in an editorial about a year ago, through the efforts of PPA long-timers Harry Greenwald and Glenn and Patsy Beall, the group established a virtual museum at Syracuse University.
But like many associations in this industry, PPA’s membership is starting to dwindle a bit. Many of the founding fathers of the industry that comprised the PPA membership roster since it was formed in 1944 have either passed away, retired, or are no longer involved. The “face” of the PPA is beginning to change: now that many of the entrepreneurs that made this industry great are gone, the newer (and potential) members are in positions within their company (be it sales, marketing, engineering, general management) that they say make it difficult for them to get involved in these kind of associations.
The way I look it, that’s a situation that cannot be allowed to perpetuate. This industry is in dire need of young blood, and work that the PPA does has helped keep such blood pursue careers in plastics. Case in point: in Maine over the weekend the group was introduced to Michael Magaletta, a U-Mass Lowell student with a 3.99 GPA who will graduate next May with a BS in plastics engineering. Michael was the first recipient of the PPA’s scholarship endowment, and after school will begin his professional career with a very well-known consumer products company based in New England. Michael spoke briefly, and said he would have had more difficulty in achieving in goal without the PPA's support. Michael wasn't alone; in Maine the group announced that it awarded scholarships to nine other students outside the U-Mass endowment program, and had increased its donation to the Plastivan program.
I'm off my soap box now, but promise me if Al Hodge, Tim Womer or anyone else from the PPA calls you and asks you about joining, don't say "Huh," forget about what you think you know about the organization, and consider getting involved.