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Q&A with IFAI board chair Amy Bircher

News | April 1, 2022 | By:

Q: What are going to be your priorities as IFAI’s new board chair?

A: I would like to see the continuation of the strength and growth of IFAI as it has evolved into an association that is much bigger than what it had been historically. And what I mean by that is, IFAI and all of the senior members within IFAI have worked really hard to bring brand awareness to people outside of IFAI, so that they are not just in specific markets that relate to awning, marine and tent. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they are so much more than just that and they’ve worked really hard on that identity.

One of the other things that we’d like to grow or do better is leadership development for the IFAI board, harnessing the future leaders that are interested in board participation. We’re going to start a more robust leadership development program from a board level to bring awareness that the opportunities to participate and the volunteer positions for the board exist. 

Q: What challenges is the industry facing, and how is IFAI supporting the industry in those challenges?

A: Obviously as a number one thing, supply chain and logistics and price increases and things that the country, no matter what industry you’re in, is facing right now. But that’s countrywide, worldwide, no matter what industry you’re in. 

I think our industry really has to be incredibly diligent on finding new people to replace the aging workforce. We have to get creative; we have to continue to have the discussions … about a mentor/mentee, or apprentice, and transfer that tribal knowledge, that invaluable knowledge. They’ve worked hard their entire career and they deserve to retire.

How do we get within that brain and transfer it to younger people to learn and grow so that we have people that want to be in this industry? I would say that’s a big challenge that the industry is facing, that is a long-term problem and not just something that is shorter term that we’re facing right now.

Q: As a board member and now coming into the board chair position, how do you make sure that you know what the members are concerned about and worried about?

A: I’m trying to connect with the different divisions that we have right now on a personal level. I [recently participated] in a PAMA [Professional Awning Manufacturers Association] event to just connect and hear and meet them … just to connect with them, “Here’s who I am, I’m going to be your new board chair and I don’t know any of you. I’m not in the awning industry, but I’m here and I just want you to know who I am and to
say hello.”

So, from my perspective, I would like to connect with the different division members and try to bring them into the fold of the IFAI as a whole, because I don’t want them to think, “OK, well, I’m just an awning company and I just want to stay here. And I’m sort of afraid to branch out and meet other people.” I think that’s fun for me, to try to be a connector.

Q: If you look at our industry, what makes you optimistic and what are you excited about?

A: There are some unbelievably innovative programs that are being developed and implemented from a sustainability, eco-friendly side within our country. We have an opportunity from reshoring and sustainability put together, where we’re creating jobs, products and programs that are 100% made in the USA that are sustainable and employing Americans. If we can all come together and work hard together to keep that on the rails, I think we’ve got an exciting future in our industry.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the January 2022 issue of Specialty Fabrics Review magazine. To read the full article, visit Photo courtesy of Mark Skalny Photography

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