Close to 100 attendees gathered at the Omni Homestead Resort (circa 1766) in Hot Springs, VA to engage, learn and connect with colleagues in the industry. A day and a half of informative business sessions, intermingled with several networking opportunities, were filled with knowledge and idea exchange as well as insights from various thought leaders in their areas of expertise.
IFAI’s U.S. Industrial Fabrics Institute (USIFI), Narrow Fabrics Institute (NFI), Military Division (MIL) and Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) organized the always-top-notch conference, where attendees heard topics ranging from military textiles to fiber markets, from trade and policy to the economic picture, from sustainability to employee engagement, from supply chain to contracting.
This year’s conference included the debut of the “Geosynthetics Morning” — a new opportunity to explore the intersection of markets and include professionals in geosynthetics for a morning of specific education followed by including these participants in the main conference programming. Education included updates on Federal Infrastructure Law, the asphalt and pavement market and the federal environmental outlook. The inclusion of this morning presented a new opportunity to expand the reach, increase attendance and enhance the overall conference experience.
The usual Military Morning also took place and featured presentations by former U.S. Congressman Alan Grayson, Esq., who discussed strategies, risks, threats and opportunities around contracting to the U.S. military on Day 1 and how to work within the rules to deliver conforming supplies and services on Day 2.
Other speakers in that session included Ron Houle, founder & president of Pivot Step Consultants LLC; and Donna Pointkouski, chief of the Strategic Material Sourcing Division at the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA): Clothing & Textiles.
Houle gave an eye-opening talk about all the moving parts in the Department of Defense (DoD) procurement system, the defense budget and the National Defense Strategy around the concept of integrated deterrence as global threats remain ever-changing. Related to the major weapons program, the fiscal year 2023 budget request for procurement and R&D totaling $276 billion is the largest in the history of the DoD and ensures combat-credible forces across all domains, he said, adding, “That’s no small statement.”
He pointed out that “anything arctic” is an area the U.S. military has paid scant attention to in the past and is now playing catchup to other global powers. He noted that the U.S. Army’s Unfunded Priority List includes individual clothing and equipment for extreme cold weather. “If you don’t operate as a supplier in this domain, I encourage you to do so, or partner with someone who does.” Pointkouski provided an overview of the DLA, its mission and procurement of clothing, textile, and equipment items for the DoD and other customers. Opportunities abound in the Clothing & Textiles Division, she reported, which she listed in detail.
Later, Dr. Roger Tutterow, professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, gave his always well-informed and entertaining look at the economic, business and political climate. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic after economic stimuli and forbearance agreements, “We’re finally getting a look at how the economy feels without training wheels,” he said, before doing a deep dive into the economic fundamentals and how the lingering effects of the pandemic, supply chain and labor issues and inflation are negatively impacting the trendline.
Melissa Henkle, director of Brand Sales, Unifi Manufacturing, Inc., discussed how her company is working internally and with partners to bring sustainability to the textile and apparel industry. Unifi, makers of the recycled polyester REPREVE® brand, is collaborating with leading industrial and textile industries to source recycled materials, reduce energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions and help plan for a future in circularity.
Other presenters provided information on hot topics in the government relations, political and trade and policy arenas.
• USIFI & NFI consultant Sara Beatty, president at White Haven Trade and senior vice president & secretary of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), reviewed various federal policy matters confronting the U.S. textile sector. She updated the group on military procurement under the National Defense Authorization Act; the Berry Amendment Textile Coalition; and international trade matters
• Martin T. Whitmer, Jr., founding partner, Whitmer & Worrall, LLC, provided a government relations update on behalf of the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) and the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)
• Kim Glas, president & CEO of the NCTO, who reviewed the Council’s 2021 accomplishments; provided employment, investment and trade data for the U.S. textile industry; and brought attendees on international trade items.
• Dr. Melissa Furman, MS, DBA, founder & consultant at Career Potential, LLC, gave one of the most lively and insightful presentations, “The Future Landscape of Labor & Talent.” In the interactive session, she discussed principles in which leaders should use to recruit and retain talent and engage with employees of multiple generations.
• Bill Rooney, vice president of Strategic Development at Kuehne + Nagel Inc., discussed the current global supply chain mayhem and how and why it reached this point, the global sea logistics network and pain points.
• Laura Murphy, research director of Fibers at Wood Mackenzie Chemicals, offered a data-driven look into the state of affairs in the synthetic fiber world, which is being rocked by volatility in supply, demand, energy prices and inflation. Supply and demand remain out of balance due to tailwinds such as inflation, Russia/Ukraine and energy prices and headwinds such as ocean freight, port congestion and demand, she said.
Overall, this year’s Outlook Conference provided the vital updates needed for industry in a historic location rich in stories and visits from America’s leaders. The scenic location also provided the backdrop for activities such as golf at a top-rated course and a very competitive game of croquet. Stay tuned, details for IFAI’s Outlook Conference in 2023 are coming soon!