No matter what city the Institute of Scrap Recycling
Industries (ISRI) chooses to host its annual convention, the
recycling industry's army of delegates takes over the town.
For five days in May, San Diego took on temporary status as
"Recycling Central" when just shy of 4,500 delegates-the
second-largest attendance on record-made California's
second-largest city their home away from home.
Although known as a big convention town, San Diego seemed to
take a special shine to ISRI. Cab drivers asked riders again
and again what group was in town, and signs inviting ISRI
members to come on in were posted in the windows of nearly
every shop and restaurant in the adjacent Gaslamp Quarter.
This year's attendance figure might have set a new record
were it not for the timing of the event. Noticeably absent were
a number of scrap brokers who passed up the convention because
it was held in the first week of the month, when they are busy
shopping for scrap for their client mills. The downward
momentum of the market also kept other members at home as they
pushed to unload inventory to manage costs.
Although efforts by ISRI to attract recyclers handling
tires, plastics and electronic scrap may be alienating a
portion of their traditional scrap metal base, it is clear that
networking is the number one reason recyclers of all ilks
attend the event. And while major sessions such as the
"Spotlight on Iron and Steel" filled the enormous ballroom,
many individual sessions drew 50 or fewer attendees.
Still, the sessions, which covered a multitude of topics
geared toward ferrous and nonferrous recyclers, tackled many
unglamorous, yet key, issues, such as stormwater management,
combustible dust and how to improve shredding operations.
In contrast, the exhibit hall bustled with activity
throughout the course of the event. The hall played host to
more than 250 exhibitors, including companies like Liebherr
Group, which brought along full-scale versions of its scrap
handling equipment. It also was the favored place to see and be
seen, renew old acquaintances and catch up on market buzz.
Condoleezza Rice, the convention's keynote speaker, was a
major draw, with a quick sampling of attendees indicating the
audience was thoroughly impressed by the former U.S. Secretary
of State. Rice's speaker fee reportedly is around $150,000,
roughly the same amount earned by her former boss, President
George W. Bush.
As part of this year's gathering, ISRI took time to honor
two retired industry veterans with lifetime achievement awards
Marvin Siegel, formerly of Spartanburg Iron & Metal Corp.
in South Carolina, and Tom Salome, who spent his career at M.
Lipsitz & Co. in Waco, Texas
On the sidelines after the official recognition ceremonies,
Salome recalled how "Mr. Lipsitz" was shocked to see actual
buying prices posted on a brand-new board and prominently
displayed. The competitors didn't like the new strategy either,
but the customers did. Decades later, the same pricing board
started by Salome is a permanent fixture.
Siegel's success is legendary. He left a job in the textile
industry in 1997 to become a partner in a small operation.
Through a merger and acquisitions, Siegel grew the business
into one of the largest scrap processing and recycling
companies in the country. The company became known as Carolina
Recycling Group and ultimately was sold to OmniSource.
ISRI chairman George Adams, known for sporting trademark
hats created for him exclusively by a Chicago hat maker, passed
the gavel to new chairman John Sacco, president of Bakerfield,
Calif.-based Sierra International LLC, which operates
scrapyards and is involved in the scrap equipment industry.
The face of the convention has changed in recent years.
Besides embracing recycling businesses outside metals, the
event attracts a significant number of delegates from other
countries who show up to find and cultivate new scrap contacts.
One convention veteran quipped that recent events look more
like a United Nations conference than the gathering of a U.S.
trade association. These visitors are supportive of ISRI, pay
dues and are full members. Their presence also underscores the
growing influence on, and importance exports play in, scrap
American pride did exude in one major session, however, when
a hedge-fund panelist suggested that the U.S. embrace the
European way and the moderator countered, "We don't want to be
like Europe." The retort was met with thunderous applause.
One of the things ISRI does exceptionally well is inject a
little fun into an otherwise very serious mission, such as
promoting the message that safety in the workplace is more than
a challenge and must become a way of life. To drive that
message home, ISRI hired a professional actor known as "Dave"
to deliver the mantra in a series of videos. Dave appeared live
on stage complete with hard hat and sporting an out-of-place
necktie to catch the attention of the crowd.
"I think you think ISRI got me off a supermodel gig," the
unshaved actor told the audience in San Diego. Effective? You
bet. You could hear a pin drop when Dave's newest safety video
hit the screen. LISA GORDON