Reinforcing the Virtues of the Specialty Chemical Sector
With New Initiatives and Services SOCMA Sets out to Provide Solutions for a Dynamic Specialties Industry
The Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, known simply as SOCMA, recently launched a more member-centered brand focused on solutions for the specialty and fine chemicals industry. The US association, formerly known for their annual convention InformexUSA, now intends to solidify its place as the central hub for this sector by offering new services. Michael Reubold spoke with Jennifer Abril, president and CEO of SOCMA, about the latest changes in the chemical industry that — among other reasons — were pivotal for the rebrand.
CHEManager: Ms. Abril, in June SOCMA launched its new brand. Is the rebranding already heralding SOCMA’s 100th Anniversary in 2021?
Jennifer Abril: SOCMA’s rebrand is indeed reflective of our keen focus on the association’s 100th anniversary. It is a culmination of the work and outreach of our volunteer leaders and staff over the last 2.5 years to reinvigorate SOCMA as the hub of the specialty and fine chemical industry. Our vision is to reflect the uniqueness of this complex and dynamic sector and to celebrate the creativity and innovative nature of our members.
SOCMA’s members are international specialty and fine chemical manufacturers. Were they involved in the brand refresh?
J. Abril: Our members are at the very heart of our rebrand, which is also an opportunity to reinforce and promote the virtues of the specialty chemical sector. It is always prudent and responsible to create a baseline for analyzing your organization’s relevance and contributions. In this vein, we commissioned two surveys to provide us with objective insights and to validate internal assumptions. Through the two studies we heard that our members want to be known as proactive, innovative leaders who are finding solutions to the complex needs of an ever-evolving value chain. We endeavored to reflect this in both the new logo and tagline. The new tagline — Solutions for Specialties — intends to convey a double meaning.
It speaks to what SOCMA strives to be — a solutions provider for the specialty sector, and at the same time reflects that our member companies provide critical solutions for their customers’ needs.
What were the two surveys you mentioned about?
J. Abril: In the first survey, we talked to more than 150 industry representatives about current and future industry needs in areas such as operations, regulatory, training, networking, trade association participation, and customer/supplier relations. In the second, we evaluated SOCMA’s brand and identified opportunities and gaps for SOCMA programs and services when overlaid on top of those changing industry expectations. The results of these two surveys were crucial in helping us identify major trends and in understanding SOCMA’s value to the market.
What were the results of the surveys, what did you identify as biggest challenges for chemical companies now and in the near future?
J. Abril: From the first study, we learned that the industry values a convener to bring companies together with customers and potential business partners in the trade show arena and beyond to promote growth. These companies also desire a trusted source for business resources, industry intelligence and forums to discuss issues influencing growth such as disrupters and trends.
Our second study built upon the first by drilling down to identify expectations and potential gaps. We learned that advocacy continues to be a high priority for specialty and batch manufacturers, and companies continue to look to associations to champion policies that support their ability to grow their businesses and remove regulatory barriers that would impede their ability to compete in a global economy. We are proud that in the last two years, we have made significant progress in reinforcing our role as a safety net for our members, particularly during challenging times.
What are you offering now to your members that you weren´t before?
J. Abril: We are excited about several new initiatives in the commercial, manufacturing and workforce development arenas that are already receiving positive results. For our contract and toll manufacturers, SOCMA now serves as a connector for companies looking for business partners with the right materials and the right equipment at the right time. Launched in late 2018, this “Lead Sheet” service improves efficiencies by streamlining the procurement process and identifies manufacturers based on real-time needs. To date, SOCMA has facilitated 22 project requests totaling more than 5 million tons of material, matching an average of three to five companies that have the capabilities and available capacity.
For companies that make proprietary chemicals we launched our ChemSectors program in January 2018. ChemSectors keeps a pulse on what’s happening in key downstream markets. Having an additional, trusted source of industry intelligence concerning end-use trends is an asset to any leader making decisions about where to invest future resources. To help companies bring new hires up to speed quickly, we will soon launch our revitalized Chemical Operations Training tool. As a new and younger generation of employees comes into the industry, we understand that they learn in different ways, so the new tool includes 3D animation. It is also flexible and adaptable and can be used as a standalone program or as part of an existing training program.
We are also modernizing our ChemStewards program to dovetail with complementary EH&S management programs and to remove barriers for companies to participate. It will be a more robust program with a holistic view of the industry. Finally, we are excited about two new peer groups formed earlier this year — Emerging Leaders and Women in Specialties. These peer groups connect top industry talent and provide an open channel for dialogue on topics such as professional development and current business challenges.
We are seeing a lot of disruptions in international trade that result in new barriers and tariffs, for example Brexit, the new USMCA or the trade conflict between the US and China. Your members maintain global trade relations. How do you help them to manage these disruptions?
J. Abril: For our US-based members, the specialty and fine chemical industry is facing one of the most disruptive trade climates of our time, the most significant of which is the ongoing trade dispute with China. SOCMA‘s International Trade Committee and team of staff experts are working closely with member companies to identify hundreds of individual chemical products that are affected and presenting arguments for delisting to the Office of the US Trade Representative.
For example, SOCMA staff recently accompanied a coalition of members in Washington, DC, to ask that Congress support the companies‘ exclusion request for a chemical input on US List 3, subject to a 25 percent tariff. SOCMA was integral in successfully securing signatures from the US House of Representatives and US Senate on letters of support for the exclusion request and also submitted a letter in support to the US Trade Representative to convey that the industry as a whole backs this exclusion.
Moving beyond the China tariffs, international trade issues such as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement — USMCA — and Brexit are also top of mind. Through routine dialogue with our International Trade Committee, SOCMA experts provide the latest recommendations on how to navigate these changing requirements.
How important is it to coordinate SOCMA’s efforts with other US-based or international organizations such as ACC or CEFIC/EFCG in Europe?
J. Abril: I believe strongly in building partnerships, both in the US and internationally. Our team is encouraged to look for areas of mutual interest where we can engage with allies to become a stronger voice for the industry. For example, for over 20 years, SOCMA has partnered with the American Chemistry Council on educational programs regarding global chemical regulations. And, through our ChemSectors program, we have strengthened our connection to associations representing end-use markets.
By having a network that is well-informed, we can spot the changing winds and interpret what may be the potential impacts to companies typically situated in the middle of the value chain. The aim is to ensure our members have the intelligence needed to make strategic business decisions.