Strength Through Connections
By Jack Merry
A few years ago during a review of its purpose and mission, the Tacoma, Wash.-based Engineered Wood Technology Association (EWTA) adopted a new marketing tagline: “Strength Through Connections.”
By Jack Merry
The idea of solidarity embedded in the slogan seems to have struck a chord among the members of the industry supplier organization, because despite the difficult economic conditions of the past two years, EWTA by several measures has actually gained strength.
“Our membership has remained stable, our annual supplier exhibition grew by 35% last year, our reserve account is strong, and we have some new initiatives underway,” says EWTA managing director Terry Kerwood. “I think those are indications that the value proposition of the organization continues to be very much appreciated by our U.S., Canadian and international members.”
Founded in 1945 as the Plywood Research Foundation, a related nonprofit corporation of the Douglas Fir Plywood Association (now APA–The Engineered Wood Association), the organization’s original purpose was to advance processing and technology research of benefit to the plywood industry. Over the years however, with the advent of new engineered wood products, industry consolidation, and more companies doing their own proprietary research, the group’s mandate gradually evolved into serving primarily as a vehicle for information exchange and industry networking among engineered wood product manufacturers and their product, equipment and service providers.
A key activity in support of that mission is Info Fair, a supplier exhibition held in conjunction with the APA annual meeting. The latest such event, held last October in Tucson, Ariz., boasted 57 exhibitors, up more than 35% from the previous year.
“One of the main attractions of Info Fair,” says Kerwood, “is that it connects key buyers and decision makers from among the APA membership, so it is a very target-rich event for EWTA’s members.” Kerwood adds that unlike other shows where exhibitors are chained to their booths during the entire length of the exposition, Info Fair is open at various strategic times during the three-day annual meeting, then closed to provide exhibitors ample opportunity to participate in the numerous other networking and information transfer opportunities (including a golf tournament) featured during the convention. Info Fair 2011 will be held in October at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.
Exhibitors can also elevate their exposure and broaden their reach to prospective customers through sponsorship of various meeting events and activities. Several sponsorship categories are available. And Info Fair exhibitors receive free company descriptions in the annual meeting issue of EWTA’s Engineered Wood Journal.
EWTA assumed management of the Journal from its parent APA two years ago. The biannual industry trends and issues-oriented publication has proven to be a boon to EWTA’s efforts to broaden its reach and exposure, and to cultivate the relationship between APA’s product manufactures and EWTA’s supplier companies.
“There aren’t very many associations of EWTA’s size that can boast a magazine of the quality and credibility of the Journal,” says EWTA Advisory Committee vice-chairman Tim Fisher, who oversees veneer and panel business development at USNR, the Woodland, Wash.-based mill machinery manufacturing and supply company. “We assumed responsibility for the magazine at the height of the economic meltdown, so it was a bit of a risk. But advertisers have continued to support it and, like Info Fair, it’s become a major networking and communications asset of the association,” Fisher says.
The Journal has been produced by an association magazine publishing company since its inception in 1998. But EWTA plans to begin publishing the magazine in house through independent design, printing, mailing, advertising sales and editorial management contracts beginning with the fall issue later this year, Kerwood says. That plan, approved by the EWTA Advisory Committee last October, is expected to generate additional revenue for the association that can then be used to support sponsorship of industry market and technical research, additional networking activities and other information transfer priorities, Kerwood says.
In addition to the print edition, which is distributed free of charge by mail to U.S. and Canadian engineered wood product manufacturers, suppliers, consultants, analysts, academia and other industry stakeholders, recipients can elect to receive it by e-mail. Current and past issues also are posted on the EWTA website at www.engineeredwood.org.
Another area of emphasis for EWTA information exchange is the association’s website, which includes a Technology Forum section featuring articles on technology advancements, APA and industry website links, Info Fair exhibitor information, a membership directory, a newsroom, and information on the association’s Supplier of the Year Awards.
The supplier awards program recognizes EWTA member companies for excellence in quality, service and delivery as determined by a vote of APA members. Awards are presented in three membership categories: equipment and tooling, materials and supplies, and consulting and services. An Innovation Award also was recently added to the program to recognize a new technology or product shown to provide a substantial benefit to users’ bottom lines. Awards are presented during the Chairman’s Dinner at the APA annual meeting.
The awards program, Kerwood notes, was reinstated last year following a one-year hiatus because EWTA members believed the program provides a valuable vehicle to elevate and enhance the relationships between APA member manufacturers, who select the winners, and EWTA supplier members, who receive the awards.
The stability of the EWTA membership during the past several months of economic and industry downturn is testament to the ongoing value of EWTA to both manufacturers and suppliers, concludes Advisory Committee Chairman and APA Board of Trustees member John Murphy, president of Murphy Company, Eugene, Ore. “The fact that EWTA has successfully maintained its networking activities and broadened its reach during the difficult business environment since 2008 has tended to enthuse EWTA members and provided them a reason to continue supporting the organization,” Murphy says.
EWTA’s supplier membership totals approximately 85 companies representing a broad range of both large and small product, equipment and service providers throughout the U.S. and Canada, some of which are based overseas. The current membership goal, says Kerwood, is to increase the ranks to 100 companies. Safety product- and service-related companies are being targeted as prime prospects because that business segment dovetails well with a major new emphasis placed on mill safety by APA and its members. Companies in the bioenergy sector, which is of growing importance to many APA members, also are being recruited. Annual EWTA membership dues are $1,200 US. APA’s manufacturing members are automatically members of EWTA but do not pay dues, making EWTA fully supplier supported.
The “mutual benefit” approach of the organization – for both manufacturers and suppliers – is reflected by the composition of the EWTA Advisory Committee, which includes both APA and EWTA member company representatives in order to encourage and facilitate information exchange between the two segments of the industry. The committee chairman is a representative of an APA member company (and often an APA trustee) in keeping with the parent-subsidiary relationship of the two organizations. The vice-chairman comes from the supplier ranks. Although the advisory committee technically reports to the APA Board of Trustees, EWTA in practice operates as a quasi-autonomous entity – a governing approach designed by APA to underscore and encourage a sense of organizational ownership among the dues-paying supplier members.
“We look upon EWTA as an invaluable business partner,” says APA president Dennis Hardman. “Its management of Info Fair, its various industry networking and information transfer activities, and its financial support of important APA research projects provide valuable links among manufacturers, suppliers and other industry stakeholders. Those links have been especially important during the recession because they’ve helped buoy solidarity within the industry,” Hardman added. “And that’s important to our future recovery as an industry.”
Sponsorship of research historically has been a key function of EWTA. The association in recent years has dedicated tens of thousands of dollars to numerous APA and other industry research and testing projects of value to the industry, including Wood Products Council residential market research, APA engineered wood product market share studies, an APA combined shear and uplift test program, and CORRIM (Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials) life cycle assessment research.
What about the future of the organization? “I think we’re poised to begin growing again once the economy improves,” Kerwood says. “With increased revenue from membership growth, expansion of Info Fair and in-house publishing of the Journal, we’ll be in an even better position to provide avenues for cultivating business connections between manufacturers and suppliers.”
Jack Merry handles communications and media relations for EWTA.