SOCMA Show Driving Business for the Specialty Chemical Industry! 

March 8, 2024
By Jenny Gaines, Vice President, Membership

Cautious optimism, regionalization of manufacturing, onshoring opportunities, capital expansion moving forward and return of demand – these are five key themes that resonated loud and clear at the SOCMA Show in Nashville! As I reflect on the 2024 event, there’s little doubt that specialty chemical manufacturers are primed and ready for new business growth opportunities, and SOCMA plays a critical role in helping them connect! 

We also heard the first quarter is busier than expected, and companies onsite in Nashville were thirsting for critical industry intelligence to help them garner new business opportunities and navigate what remains an uncertain commercial landscape. The SOCMA Show delivered this in spades!  

Who was there? 

We hosted about 1,100 attendees and 157 exhibitors, 70% of which were specialty chemical manufacturers, at this year’s SOCMA Show. These specialty chemical decisionmakers and service providers took advantage of a myriad of networking opportunities with some of the biggest names in the industry – Dow, Chevron Oronite, Ascend, Milliken, W.R. Grace, Huntsman, Sun Chemical, among others.  

From the show floor to the SOCMA Member Lounge and private meeting rooms, our SOCMA members and industry colleagues connected with new companies, expanded their reach and strengthened their business prospect pipelines. They also took time to catch up with old friends and existing customers in our member lounge. It’s never more evident of how closeknit this community of specialty chemical manufacturers truly is until you spend time with them at an event like the SOCMA Show! 

Vital Business Intelligence 

SOCMA President & CEO Jennifer Abril laid the foundation of our educational programming with a pulse on the specialty chemical industry. She provided the latest intel, validating SOCMA’s 2024 Contract Manufacturing Outlook Report. According to Abril: 

  • Both tolling and proprietary chemical companies are anticipating growth in 2024.  
  • To accommodate growth, specialty chemical manufacturers are moving forward with CapEx projects – some are even planning to add additional CapEx to their budgets this year.  
  • Specialty chemical manufacturers are supporting onshoring efforts and are interested in learning more about how they can work together with the federal government to secure the U.S. supply chain.  

As a bonus, all session attendees received a bound copy of SOCMA’s Contract Manufacturing Outlook Report. Do you have a copy of the report? Reach out to me, and I can help you get it! 

Economic Update 

In our economic update, keynote speaker Robert Fry, a former senior economist with DuPont, told us he is still forecasting a recession for 2024: 

  • The risk of a U.S. recession has come down but remains elevated despite persistent growth and a big decline in inflation. If there’s not a recession, we won’t get big rate cuts and a strong 2025 recovery.  
  • Labor is likely to remain the scarce factor of production, but labor shortage is due to demographics, not just COVID fears and bad policies. The seven highest years for U.S. births were 1956-62. 
  • Reshoring looks increasingly attractive but will be limited. Capital-intensive business can move to the U.S., but labor-intensive business can’t, not without major immigration reform. 
  • Our neighbors, Mexico and Canada, can be great allies and a strength to North American chemical manufacturing.  

The economic update concluded with a fireside chat between Fry and Bryan Kitchen, President of Ascent Chemicals. Kitchen asked Fry for his insight on friend-shoring and the likelihood and challenges he sees for select chemicals returning to the U.S., the impact of policies from previous administrations on the U.S. economy, as well as key indictors driving the Federal Reserve Board’s decisions to alleviate economic burdens on U.S. consumers. More details on this conversation coming soon via our Specialty Insights magazine and other articles! 

General Sessions 

As part of our General Sessions, SOCMA hosted government officials from the Department of Defense who are working through the Defense Production Act (DPA) to onshore chemicals vital to the U.S. supply chain. This government agency is working directly with SOCMA to bring these projects to the specialty chemical community. 

I personally had the pleasure of introducing two panels – one with buyers from W.R. Grace, Milliken and Sun Chemical, who shared information on what’s most important to them with their tolling and contract manufacturing partners, and another featuring five SOCMA contract and toll manufacturing members – ChemDesign, Hampford Research, Inc., Nasi, Seatex and Toll Solutions – who inspired us with personal stories of resilience as they used a slower second half of 2023 to build and ready their teams for a bigger and better 2024. I also want to give a shout out to our headline sponsors, National Ford Chemical and Chevron Oronite, for moderating the sessions. 

What did we learn? 

Government Procurement 

  • DOD has already awarded $192.5 million to seven different companies to establish domestic manufacturing capabilities for critical defense chemicals.  
  • One SOCMA Show attendee was awarded $86 million to produce seven of the critical chemicals listed in Call 12. 
  • The federal government is using DPA to invest in small to medium-size chemical companies to ensure continuous supply of these critical chemicals, while reducing barriers and timelines for onshoring.    
  • The Call 13 chemicals list is expected to be released soon, and SOCMA plans to provide resources and guidance to companies interested in these opportunities. 

Buyer Panel 

  • Widespread disruptions in 2020 have led to a shorter, more sustainable supply chain. 
  • There’s a global trend of regionalized manufacturing, and buyers believe being closer to the customer base is a good thing. 
  • Buyers are looking for tolling partners who are more flexible and willing to adapt because every project is different. 
  • The current regulatory environment is a hurdle to bringing some chemistries back to the U.S., and a change in administration won’t help because the agencies have legacy employees who do not change with a new president in the White House. 

Contract Manufacturing/Tolling Panel 

  • Despite high costs for inventory, companies retained and invested in their employees because they knew this was a season and business would return. 
  • CapEx continued throughout 2023 as tollers and contract manufacturers invested in new equipment and technologies in preparation for growth.  
  • Companies implemented tiered training programs to boost flexibility, training operators to work across different production areas and skill levels. 
  • SOCMA tollers and contract manufacturers employed lean activities such as value stream mapping to examine process flows and improve efficiency.  

This is just a sampling of the information available to your companies at the SOCMA Show. But commercial opportunities, connections and resources don’t end when the show floor closes in Nashville. SOCMA is “the epicenter” for the specialty chemical industry. We are the association buyers come to year-round to locate contract and toll manufacturing partners through our Lead Sheet Service and Member Services Directory because they know our members are well-informed on regulatory issues and implementing safe manufacturing practices.  

If you are looking for new project leads, training and manufacturing support for your team, or guidance, compliance tools and assistance with regulatory advocacy, SOCMA is your resource!  

Please reach out to me at to learn more about the SOCMA Show and how membership can benefit your company! 

I hope to speak with you all soon and look forward to seeing you in-person at the 2025 SOCMA Show! 


Jenny Gaines
Vice President, Membership

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