Eric Olander is president of EPi, Electrochemical Products Inc., a New Berlin, WI, supplier of metal finishing chemicals his father purchased as a small operation in 1985 and grew into a global company. With 20 years in the finishing business and four on the SUR/FIN steering committee, Olander was an ideal choice to assume the chairman role when it was vacated at the beginning of 2009. The committee has quite the challenge this year—create a diverse educational program that inspires and motivates participants, while balancing show costs and exhibitor concerns in the midst of an economic downturn. Recently, Olander gave us a behind-the-scenes look at planning for SUR/FIN 2009, set for June 15–17 in Louisville, as well as a sneak peak of what the show has to offer.
You were thrust into the position of committee chairman a bit suddenly this year. How’s it going?
E.O.: This is the fourth year I’ve been on the steering committee, and until January I was vice chair, working very closely with Barry Cohen [of Enthone], the former chairman. Basically, the committee is responsible for making SUR/FIN happen, but it’s Cheryl Clark, the NASF director of events, who does a great job and has the great ideas. She’s all about trying new things. The intention of the committee is to have an equal say from the people on the board, end users and NASF members and to get good input from all involved. That’s the secret to success—it’s not dependent on one committee member or chairperson.
Tell us about the choice to locate the show in Louisville this year.
E.O.: We’re excited about Louisville—it really reflects the state of the industry today. Louisville is close to several automotive plants—Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Saturn, Ford. There is still quite a bit of automotive manufacturing done in Tennessee and Kentucky, and it’s a central location with a positive feel. We’re a smaller show, and visitors aren’t going to want to pay $300 a night for hotel rooms. So Louisville is a good choice in economic terms, but there are also a lot of neat things about the area. It’s the home of the Louisville Slugger Museum, the Muhammad Ali Center, Churchill Downs, Fourth Street Live, and it’s a big transportation hub, too. Southwest flies there, and hotel rooms are only $129–159 a night.
What challenges did the committee face when planning the show this year?
E.O.: The day and age when we just build a trade show and people show up is gone. We’re a smaller organization, and in the last few years there’s been a lot of consolidation of exhibitors. With less manufacturing, there are fewer metal finishers in the U.S. That means we need to work harder on the technical conference program—it needs to be right on. Peter Gallerani has stepped up to the plate to be the technical conference co-chair, and he and co-chair Christian Richter from The Policy Group have really been working hard on the programming. We have 70–75 papers being presented in concurrent sessions all three days of the show.
What aspects of the show are you most excited about?
E.O: We wanted to get back to the grass roots of the organization, yet stay in touch with what’s going on economically and environmentally. Monday we’re having an interesting symposium on Nickel, where representatives from the EU, U.S., Japan and Canada will talk about world views of the metal, because very soon it will be listed as a carcinogen. If you do anything with nickel plating you should be at this conference—and it doesn’t conflict with any other programming. There’s also a theory that’s starting to build around trivalent chromates—that even though we’re doing so much with trivalents on zinc plating, studies have shown that the surface film turns into hex chrome. So as part of the technical program, we are leading discussion on this topic.