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Reenergizing The Relationship Between ACS And Industry

by Diane Grob Schmidt, President, American Chemical Society
December 21, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 49

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Photo of Diane Grob Schmidt.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

This summer, I reported to you on efforts ACS is undertaking to reinforce our relationship with industrial leaders in the chemistry enterprise (C&EN, July 20, page 35). “Why now?” you wonder. In earlier years, industrial leaders were strong supporters of ACS and encouraged their employees’ involvement in ACS. But more recently, industry support has waned. By updating our ACS value proposition, we strive to reenergize our relationship and provide an avenue to reconnect industry with ACS. And we’ve made a good start!

Why do these relationships matter? Industry continues to be by far the leading segment providing employment to chemists. ACS and industrial leaders share a commitment to enable industry chemists and chemical engineers to advance their science, their careers, and the broader chemistry enterprise. Industry is a major driver of gross domestic product, innovation, employment, and economic prosperity. By learning more about the challenges and opportunities confronting industry, ACS will have the opportunity to develop and deliver programs and services relevant to industry leaders and members.

In my July ACS Comment, I described a multipronged approach to build compelling and relevant value with industry this year. Even though significant progress has been made on several fronts, I would like to describe the results of one of these efforts: the first-ever Chemical Sciences Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Summit was hosted by ACS on Sept. 23–24 in Washington, D.C. Leveraging the society’s considerable convening power, ACS provided a neutral forum where CTOs could interact with peers and share perspectives on challenges and opportunities they view as critical to the success of the chemistry enterprise. In addition, ACS provided the CTOs access to a variety of external stakeholders from government, trade associations, and scientific and professional organizations. And most important to ACS, we saw this as a unique opportunity and a game changer for the society to hear directly from senior industry colleagues who are leaders in the broader chemistry enterprise.

The summit drew 18 executives from 17 different companies. The event started with an opening night reception at which the CTOs spoke with senior federal agency leaders, trade association representatives, and colleagues from science and technical organizations. Franklin Orr, undersecretary for science and energy, spoke about the Department of Energy’s efforts in helping drive the nation’s energy independence, efficiency, and innovation.

The next morning, the CTOs gathered for a full day of activities. The day began with a presentation from Timothy Persons, chief scientist at the Government Accountability Office, who explained GAO operations with particular focus on issues and topics of interest and relevance to the chemistry enterprise. This was followed by two panel discussions. The first focused on “Is the U.S. the Most Inviting Place for Chemistry R&D?” and the second on “How to Effectively Engage Scientists in Policy-Making.” Both panels generated robust discussion by the CTOs, as the subjects addressed have considerable bearing on the CTOs’ companies’ ability to achieve their goals. Several ideas were identified for follow-up.

In the afternoon, the CTOs received engaging briefings from three senior administration officials:

Thomas Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation, White House Office of Science & Technology Policy;

Michael Knotek, deputy undersecretary for science and energy, Department of Energy; and

David Widawsky, director of the Chemistry, Economics & Sustainable Strategies Division in the Office of Pollution Prevention & Toxics, Environmental Protection Agency.

The CTOs posed questions and made observations to each presenter, resulting in meaningful dialogue that also identified areas for further engagement.

From the outset, the vision for the Chemical Sciences CTO Summit was to create a “game changing” event relevant to industry in today’s global chemistry enterprise. The focus was on organizing and executing a top-quality event. However, ACS Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Connelly and I knew that such an accomplishment would ring hollow without prompt follow-up. We knew we’d have to initiate a series of post-summit actions seizing on identified opportunities to advance the mutual interests of both industry and ACS.

Consequently, when the summit concluded, we engaged a small subgroup of CTOs to obtain their guidance and input on a number of possible actions identified and discussed at the summit. As this ACS Comment went to press, the following five major areas were being evaluated by the larger group of CTOs:

Engaging with GAO on a sustainable chemistry report,

Reviewing the health of the U.S. R&D ecosystem,

Identifying industry employment requirements and STEM education needs,

Communicating the value of chemistry to the public/media, and

Exploring future opportunities for engagement with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of importance to the chemistry enterprise.

In closing, I am very pleased to report to you that our two key initial goals for this event were met: (1) ACS organized and executed a superior Chemical Sciences CTO Summit that was highly rated by the CTOs in attendance, and (2) along with our CTO partners, we are well on our way to planning and implementing a series of post-summit activities. We believe these initiatives and ongoing engagement will allow us to start reenergizing our relationship with our industrial colleagues.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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