The FEICA 2008 Conference & Expo took place on September 11-12, 2008, in balmy Marseille, France’s second-largest and oldest city, with roots dating back some 2,600 years. As a thriving metropolis and “gateway to Europe” for North Africa, Marseille’s multi-cultural population underscores the demographics of “new Europe” and was chosen, in part, to illustrate the fact that diversity breeds success within FEICA.
The venue for the event, the historic Palais du Pharo, is situated on a rocky plateau with breathtaking views of Marseille’s scenic Vieux-Port (Old Port). In 1852, then-Prince/President Louis-Napoleon III commissioned its construction as an expression of his commitment to the City of Marseille. However, he died before its grand opening, and the edifice was later donated to the city. The complex currently serves as a prestigious conference center, attracting groups from all over the world.
The event’s theme, “Meeting the Challenges of Tomorrow Through Innovation,” featured multiple session tracks running throughout the day on Thursday, with a mid-afternoon lunch break co-located with an Expo. On Friday, delegates attended a business forum, followed by a keynote address on sustainability by Professor Karl-Henrik Robert. Robert is founder of The Natural Step, an international non-profit research, education and advisory organization that helps other organizations attain more sustainable business practices. Previous clients cited include Rohm & Haas, Hydro Polymers and Swedish furniture retailer IKEA.
During the two days prior to the conference, FEICA held various internal meetings, including the European Technical Board, National Associations Forum and Direct Companies Forum, all of which I was privileged to attend and participate in. Because of the logistical challenges of delegates staying at five nearby hotels and the conference being located in two different buildings, the informal moniker of the event was “Let’s Stick Together,” as was emblazoned on the backs of ever-helpful local hosts serving as “traffic directors” to ensure that no one got lost.
Some 260 people attended (a reported 25% increase over last year), with delegates representing 19 countries, including 15 from the United States (also an increase over previous years). FEICA also reported that the number of delegates from SME (small/medium enterprises) increased by a third over previous meetings, achieving one of its primary goals in increasing attendance from this sector of the membership. A total of 17 companies exhibited at the Expo, representing a mix of industry publications, service suppliers and raw-material suppliers.
Thursday’s Opening Session featured a timely talk on REACH, led by consultant Andrew Fasey, PtK Ltd., who enthusiastically implored the audience to “get moving” on working with raw-material suppliers to ensure that critical feedstocks were pre-registered before the deadline. After this, the program split into three parallel tracks - Technical, Legislation, and Service Provider - designed to communicate the latest in raw-material technologies, industry services, and key changes in EU legislation affecting the European market.
I was honored to be asked to speak in the Service Provider track. Three of us presented talks on the global market review. Monique Von Dungen, founder of Chem Research GmbH and author of FEICA’s European Market Study, kicked off our session and presented on the state of the industry in Europe. I followed with a discussion of the U.S. market. David Nick, managing director of DPNA International and author of ASC’s North American Market Report, concluded with a report on the “rest of the world” (including Asia, Latin America and Africa/Oceania). I am pleased to report that the room was packed with audience members asking insightful questions of all speakers.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the evening networking events, which FEICA is known for. On Wednesday evening, we were treated to a relaxing motorboat ride in the harbor, followed by a lively fish dinner on a restaurant in Vieux-Port. Thursday’s gala dinner, at the Palais du Pharo, featured delicious French cuisine and, as usual, a first-rate band that got delegates out of their seats and dancing until the wee hours of the morning.
FEICA 2009 will take place September 17-18 in Budapest, Hungary. This will be FEICA’s first foray into hosting a meeting in this part of the world, with the goal of growing their membership to include companies (and future national associations) from Eastern Europe.