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A history of developments in the industry

April 1st, 2013 / By: / Updates

The Geosynthetic Institute celebrated GRI-25 in Long Beach as part of the Geosynthetics 2013 conference. Bob and George Koerner invited 20 industry folks to present a history of developments in the industry—geosynthetic materials, properties, infrastructure, and systems. I was asked to make a presentation on the history of IFAI and IFAI involvement in geosynthetics including GMA. Following is some of the information presented.

In 2013 the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) celebrates its 101st year and its 33 years of representing the geosynthetics industry. The association had humble beginnings when 14 members met at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver on Sept. 12, 1912. Today, IFAI, with 1,800 member companies, is the largest trade association representing suppliers, end product manufacturers, and service providers of industrial fabrics.

The association began as the National Tent & Awning Association representing the canvas and awning manufacturers in the central part of the United States. Today, IFAI represents 12 distinct special interest groups—market segments—including the original tent and awning markets and extending into highly technical markets such as safety and geosynthetics.

With the advent of polyester in the 1960s, polypropylene and acrylics in the 1970s, and more synthetic-based fibers in the 1980s, the association changed its name to the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

In 1980, IFAI formed the Geotextile Division, representing the manufacturers of geotextiles. In 1982, IFAI organized the Second International Conference on Geotextiles in Las Vegas. IFAI began publishing GFR (Geostechnical Fabrics Report) magazine (now Geosynthetics magazine) with the first issue in the summer of 1983. IFAI has organized or co-organized 13 geosynthetic conferences since 1982 and has published the conference proceedings.

In 1983, IFAI formed the Geomembrane Division and in 1997 IFAI merged the Geotextile and Geomembrane Divisions to form the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA). Joe Luna of Colbond was the initial chairman of the GMA Executive Committee. Other members were Gary Willibey of Amoco Fabrics and Fibers Co., Marc Theisen with Synthetic Industries, Dave Clarke with TC Mirafi, Giovanni Capra of Tenax, and Monte Thomas of TNS Advanced Technologies. GMA membership grew to 37 compnaies. IFAI assigned staffer Diane Fettig as the managing director. She continued managing GMA until 2004.

By 2004, GMA had gained significant membership and an aggressive agenda. Capra began an initiative to develop a long-term strategic plan for GMA. The plan identified the need to compete with the traditional construction materials at a policy level within the U.S. government. It also recognized the need for more education regarding the proper use of geosynthetics. In 2005, I was hired as the managing director of GMA. During that year, Ernie English replaced Capra as chairman. He resigned due to work commitments at GSE and John Henderson from TenCate was elected chairman.

My first major assignment was to find a lobbying firm that could help GMA affect government policy to help preserve and grow the geosynthetic market in the U.S. GMA hired Kemp Partners and Whitmer & Worrall lobbying firm to represent the industry in Washington, D. C. The Kemp Partners firm was led by Jack Kemp, the former congressman and vice presidential candidate. For the first time, the industry had full-time representation in Washington, D.C. along with a high-profile name associated with it.

The second need identified by GMA’s strategic plan was more education regarding the proper use of geosynthetics. GMA looked to Bob Koerner and the Geosynthetic Institute to provide technical assistance to the marketplace through the GMA Techline. The Techline has become a robust educational tool for anyone with technical questions regarding geosynthetics. Dr. Koerner and his GSI team have fielded thousands of technical questions through gmatechline@ifai.com.

Henderson led GMA as chairman from 2005 to June 2011. During his tenure GMA’s government relations program matured. The successful efforts to get the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to complete a study of geosynthetics as an innovative material in transportation applications began at that time. The government relations activities were an attractive recruiting tool and GMA’s membership doubled in by 2007, boasting 80 member companies.

Boyd Ramsey of GSE became chairman when Henderson’s terms ended. He took the lead in fashioning GMA’s position on coal ash waste, ensuring that geosynthetic liners in coal ash disposal sites were included in the two regulatory options put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Education and government relations will continue to be a focus of GMA’s activities. All but a few manufacturers are members of GMA. GMA developed a program for distributors, and today a third of the members are distributors of geosynthetics. Membership also includes testing firms and equipment manufacturers.

The Geosynthetics 2013 conference included co-locating with the Southwest Geotechnical Engineers Conference and GRI-25. In 2015, IFAI will co-locate with International Erosion Control Association (IECA) in Portland, Ore. IFAI’s magazine, Geosynthetics, and its associated website, is the premier source of credible feature articles and case studies of geosynthetics applications, as well as producing the annual Specifier’s Guide.

Andrew Aho is the managing director of the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA).

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