More than 250 AICC members, spouses, family members and guests attended the 2021 AICC Spring Meeting at the luxurious and safe  (COVID-free) Omni Amelia Island Resort in Amelia Island, Florida, from Sunday, April 25, to Thursday, April 29. The 2020 Spring Meeting was canceled due to the pandemic. 

AICC President Mike D’Angelo opened the corrugated industry’s first large, in-person gathering with emotional words of gratitude for all of the industry professionals that were gathered in a room together. 

The meeting started as all AICC meetings start, with the playing of the U.S. and Canadian National Anthems. For many in attendance, it was the first time in more than a year that they experienced the emotion of tradition, which was articulated by AICC Chairman, Jay Carman, CEO of StandFast Packaging Group.

“I’m excited to see so many friends and colleagues here today. It’s really good to be back,” he said. “When I assumed the position of Chairman in the Fall of 2019, I said that I wanted to focus on helping Independent companies grow, either organically, new product offerings, increased sales or acquisitions of other companies. Never did I anticipate the year that lay ahead or that growth would be defined, not by a carefully implemented strategy, but by frenzy of marketplace demand that has framed our ability to keep up.”

Carman, the only AICC Chairman to serve for two years, noted the growth of the industry, despite the global pandemic. Box shipments increased a phenomenal 5.5 percent between June and July of 2020, following a year of essentially flat growth in 2019 and a 1.7 percent decrease in growth in 2018.

“We’re concerned due to the supply chain constraints everywhere in our system – from paper, to glue, to inks, and our lead times are stretching out further than we’d like to see. We’ll be focusing on all of that here at this year’s spring meeting.”

Carman said the pandemic caused converters and businesses to create new ways of doing things. “In the plant and office, we’ve had to raise technology in the form of plant automation and working from home when possible. We’ve had to rely on virtual meetings and discussions and although it was certainly not ideal, we successfully navigated through it,” he said. “We’ve learned from each other, we’ve leaned on each other and we’ve maintained our focus, primarily through our participation through AICC activities.

Although the AICC COVID calls and converter ‘Think Tanks’ were very successful, Carman noted that he hopes this does not become the new normal. “I am optimistic that because of what we’ve learned in the past year and how we’ve grown in the past year, that our industry can return to a semblance of normal person-to-person interactions with our employees and suppliers.”  

Carman closed his opening remarks, comparing this year’s meeting  to the AICC meeting following the September 11th attacks, nearly 20 years ago. “You’ll remember back then that many people were fearful to fly,” said Carman. “AICC did not cancel their meeting, as a lot of other associations did at the time. Those that wanted to attend were thankful we made the decision. There was an increased camaraderie among us, almost like kindred spirits that have shared a difficult experience together. We appreciated each other’s presence and we were glad to be there. I feel the same way today, in the face of this pandemic, as I felt then.” 

AICC President Mike D’Angelo provided an update on the status of the Association. “The staff and the board and the committees of AICC did a tremendous job keeping AICC programming relevant and successful and vital to our members’ interest. I’m so proud of the work that they’ve done in the past year. We will continue to do some of the things we’ve pivoted to, but we will also fall back into the in-person meetings and the things that are most important to this organization. 

AICC is projecting revenue to be a little under $3 million, which is a decline from last year. Expenses have been reduced to keep pace with the decrease in revenue. The drop in revenue from the previous year was due to the lost programming from the canceled 2020 Spring meeting and its additional programming. 

“AICC was the recipient of a PPP loan, which was forgiven,” said D’Angelo. “We still had a challenge, but we are in good shape. The association is financially sound, the reserves are very strong, and the state of the association, financially, remains in a good place.”

AICC met their retention goals and added 25 new members. The association also created several new programs, including the COVID update calls, daily COVID updates, the All Access program, and virtual plant tour series. It has also launched the Foundation for Packaging Association – a 501 c3 charitable organization – and has matched the $1 million in pledges it received from donor companies.

Kevin Ausburn of SMC Packaging, provided an update from the Paperboard Regulation and Sheetboard committee on the supply chain issues and the set-aside agreement with WestRock to provide 1.2 million tons to AICC member buyers. The set-aside agreement also provides one million tons of paperboard to buyers on a similar basis. Ausburn said the agreement is set to expire December 31st of this year and some changes will be made to the agreement to make it more beneficial to independents. 

“You’ve got to have that agreement with WestRock in advance. These are a signal of the importance of the independent sector, to the mills that execute these agreements with us,” said Ausburn. “The mills slowed production in the first few months of the pandemic and they have struggled to catch up. Box demand has increased, as have cyberattacks and weather issues. All of these have resulted in supply issues. Price increases are expected to follow, and that’s what’s happening now.

Ausburn noted the continual price increase and said that they will be providing members with information on this in the coming weeks. “The economy is very strong right now,” he said. The manufacturing and purchasing managers index rose to 60.1 percent in April. This is the highest that it’s been since 2007. In April of last year, the index was 36.1 percent. The unfilled order index is the highest its been in 17 years, the order back logs are the highest since 2004 and 16 out of 18 manufacturing sectors have shown growth in February. All of these are indicators of how strong the economy is and particularly, how strong the manufacturing sector is.” 

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