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Specialty Chemicals

Trade group Socma heads back to New Orleans

Specialty chemical manufacturers association hits reset with a new annual event

by Rick Mullin
December 6, 2019


A photograph of people at tables in a hotel ballroom.
Credit: Rick Mullin/C&EN
Attendance at Socma Week in New Orleans exceeded the association's expectations.

Socma, a trade association representing specialty and fine chemical manufacturers, debuted a new event this week at the Royal Sonesta hotel on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. Socma Week—3 days of networking receptions, conference sessions, and exhibits—exceeded the association’s attendance expectations. Many on hand opined that turnout may have been boosted by a sense of nostalgia.

Socma, originally an acronym for the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturer’s Association, hosted an annual trade show, Informex, in the city from 1984 to 2004. What started as 42 tabletop exhibits in a hotel on Canal Street grew to 450 exhibitors at the Sands Expo Center.

Socma sold the trade show in 2005, and it has struggled to gain its bearings since, according to some members, several of which dropped out of the association in recent years. Jennifer Abril, who became Socma’s CEO 3 years ago, has concentrated on defining a new direction for the association and increasing membership. Efforts culminated in a “rebranding” earlier this year in which the association debuted a spate of programs for members and announced the launch of Socma Week. The association say it has recruited 21 new members this year.

When we thought about where we should look to create a new environment for our industry, we really were going to go back to our roots.
Jennifer Abril, president and CEO, Socma

Abril said she likes the notion that Socma is hitting a reset button. “When we thought about where we should look to create a new environment for our industry, we really were going to go back to our roots,” she said. “We wanted to resurrect that community, and I have been hearing from people that this event has that early-Informex feel.”

The turnout alone indicates that the bet on a New Orleans event paid off. “We planned for 150 and were thrilled to have 250,” Abril said. Events included a Women in Specialties initiative and an Emerging Leaders career development program.

Several of those in attendance wore name tags with “New Member” strips. Cynthia Peterson, CEO of the Ohio-based specialty chemical toll manufacturer Howard Industries, said she decided to sign the company up based on Socma’s new initiatives.

“One in particular that caught my eye was networking for women,” she told C&EN at an evening reception on Wednesday, Dec. 4. “There’s a woman’s networking breakfast tomorrow morning, which is a tremendous way to get to know the women in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.”

Peterson observed, however, that she is in good company among women in leadership positions in the industry, including Kate Hampford Donahue, CEO of the specialty chemical maker Hampford Research, and Beth Bosley, CEO, founder, and owner of Boron Specialties. Both are Socma board members.

Thomas A. Swallow, president of Chemorganics, a toll manufacturer based in Houston, said he has been in close contact with Socma since participating in the association’s golf outing—another new membership recruiting initiative— in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Swallow said he also likes the programs instituted at Socma over the last year.

Scott Martin, president of Albemarle’s fine chemical unit, said he’s pleased the association chose New Orleans for the event. His company is among those that left Socma after the sale of Informex.

“I go way back,” Martin said. “I was a board member of SOCMA years and years ago.” In fact, he remembers the first Informex meeting. “It was in a room probably smaller than this in a hotel north of Canal Street,” he told C&EN during a reception in a hotel ballroom.

After the sale of Informex, Martin said, Socma membership seemed redundant to Albemarle’s membership in the American Chemistry Council, the leading US association of chemical companies. Martin said he came to New Orleans to see how the networking agenda would work and whether new membership-support programs would be of adequate value for the company to rejoin. “I have an open mind, and I want Socma to succeed,” he said.

Rudolf Hanko, vice chair and former CEO of the pharmaceutical chemical company Siegfried, agrees that large trade shows are a thing of the past. He said Socma should model its meeting after DCAT Week, an annual week of conference sessions and networking hosted by the Drug, Chemical and Associated Technologies Association in New York City.

Abril said Socma plans to return to New Orleans next year with a new spate of conference and educational sessions. “We’d love to have recommendations from the industry about what is the best build-out,” she says.


This article was updated on Dec. 6, 2019, to correct Cynthia Peterson's name.



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