Jenny Gaines
Senior Director, Communications and Engagement
(571) 348-5110

Ask the Expert
Jay Dickson is President of Nation Ford Chemical (NFC), a leader in toll manufacturing and specialty chemicals located in Fort Mill, SC. A chemical engineering graduate of Clemson University, Dickson joined NFC in 1989. He spent 15 years working in the plant in several different roles, including process and project engineering and technical director. As the company grew, Dickson expanded his work to include global sales and new product development, and he has served as President for the last 12 years. In addition to serving on SOCMA’s Board of Governors, Dickson is a lifetime member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and serves on UBM’s Informex Advisory Committee.

  • How or why did you become involved in the specialty chemical industry, and how long have you been a part of the industry?

As a chemical engineer, the specialty chemical industry is the perfect job that allows you to work on a variety of unique products. I started my career as a process and project engineer responsible for many aspects of process development and production. It gave me a chance to use what I learned in college, and there has been a new challenge almost every day of a 28-year career.

  • What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing the specialty chemical industry and what solutions do you recommend for addressing them?

There are a growing number of laws and regulations the federal government places on the entire chemical industry that may or may not apply to specialties. Each of the specialty chemical companies must be involved with government relations to call for meaningful regulations. SOCMA provides the perfect platform for the industry to work together so our voice can be heard.

  • Do you think there should be common goals within the industry? If so, what would those goals be?

The industry is facing a shortage of chemical engineers and operators. Introducing the great opportunities in the specialty chemical industry at the high school level would be a great common goal that would benefit the future of our industry.

  • How would you define and measure innovation in chemistry?

Innovation can be the creation of a new molecule that provides a particular solution, or it can be in the form of a more efficient manufacturing process using new and unique chemistry. A measure of innovation should be in the efficiency it creates. That could be waste reduction, a safer process, better economics, or an improved end-product.

  • What are some of the major changes you have seen in the industry since you became a part of it?

The largest impact on the industry has been the loss of chemical manufacturing capacity to China and India. It started in the mid-1990s and continued through the 2000s. As a result, countless numbers of small and mid-sized companies closed their plants, and the equipment was sold or scrapped. This reduced the specialty chemical manufacturing capacity. I believe off-shoring has largely stopped, for a number of reasons, and it has left fewer companies in the United States to scale-up custom chemicals. Our company survived the hard times by investing in product lines that were not conducive to Far East competition. As co-founder of the company, I defended our products by utilizing the anti-dumping laws. In the next 10 years there will be a shortage of fully qualified specialty chemical companies to bring new products to the marketplace.

  • What advice would you give a young person thinking about going into the specialty chemical industry?

For students interested in engineering, I would strongly recommend choosing the chemical discipline because of the unlimited and exciting opportunities it presents. The problem-solving techniques learned from a career in engineering translate into other opportunities in business management, sales and entrepreneurial activities. This will be a great field to enter considering the business climate.

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