Casting Advocates: Get to Know FAM
In our blog series, Casting Advocates, we get to know organizations and industry leaders who work to elevate the metalcasting profession. This installment focuses on the Foundry Association of Michigan.
The Foundry Association of Michigan (FAM) is a non-profit organization that works between the Michigan casting industry and state legislators, acting as a liaison and a lobbyist. When Michigan legislators propose new bills that will affect the casting community, either negatively or positively, FAM is there to galvanize member firms around an appropriate response, with the goal of keeping Michigan casting competitive locally and worldwide.
FAM Organizational Structure
The Foundry Association of Michigan (FAM) was formed in 1976 to inform, represent and promote the Michigan metal casting industry. Members include both casting facilities and their suppliers, and the organization is supported by member dues of between $400 and $5,000 annually based on company size. Suppliers and service providers to the foundry industry pay associate member dues ranging from $400 to $1,000 annually. Today, FAM consists of approximately 50 member companies and has an annual operating budget of around $40,000.
FAM is led by a 15-member Board of Directors made up of representatives of member firms. Each Director serves a four-year term before turning over the reins to another member company. Elected officers include President, Vice-President and Secretary-Treasurer.
Officers and Directors stay in touch throughout the year in order to respond to developments, and the organization provides a monthly legislative report that notifies all members of regulatory changes and new bills on all levels, from local to international.
"I am continually scouting anything on the legislative or regulatory front that affects the industry," says Bill Lievense of his ongoing duties with FAM. Working as FAM's part-time Executive Director since 1996, Lievense is the organization's sole hired staff member. "Any time a bill is introduced that impacts the foundry industry it's my job to flag that and make sure we have the opportunity to provide input." Whenever he identifies an issue, he alerts the Board of Directors and they work together to decide an appropriate course of action. Depending on the type of response merited, Lievense might testify in front of a committee or meet directly with legislators.
Once FAM members are aware of any pending changes to the legislative or regulatory environment, they must decide how to respond. If the legislation in question would be detrimental to the casting industry, they will most likely choose to oppose it through any available channels. If the legislation would have a positive effect, they will choose to support it and work to convince others to do the same. In some cases, change (either positive or negative for foundries) is inevitable, in which case FAM members cooperate in making preparations.
Collaborating with Local and Regional Organizations
According to Lievense, "Any company from MI that's a member of AFS should be a member of FAM," and the two organizations do have a significant amount of membership overlap. While the American Foundry Society as a whole is more concerned with national-level issues, the West Michigan chapter works closely with FAM to ensure that the voice of the casting community is heard at all levels. In addition to a fly-in to Washington, DC for the annual AFS delegation, FAM representatives sometimes attend AFS West Michigan meetings in order to provide updates and share information.
Lievense also interacts regularly with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Manufacturer's Association. As a representative of FAM, he attends a quarterly round table hosted by the Chamber where he meets directly with state leaders in environment, energy and business. FAM is the only organization in Michigan devoted to the legislative and regulatory side of metalcasting, but broader organizations like the Michigan Chamber and MMA often share interests with the Foundry Association.
Key Issues for the Michigan Casting Community
Legislative issues affecting foundries are most often related to energy, environment, health and safety. Foundries are subject to legislation affecting general businesses as well, such as tax structures and employer requirements. For example, a recent change in Michigan's Paid Medical Leave Act requires all companies with over 50 employees to provide paid medical leave. On the safety front, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recently adjusted their regulations on exposure to silica, which is present in some types of foundry sand. Other local legislation may affect sand mining, emissions or energy prices. Since foundries are large energy consumers, their bottom lines are directly affected by energy costs. Foundries in Michigan are subject not only to general industrial energy rates, but also to special metal melting tariffs.
At the end of 2018, Michigan's then-Governor, Rick Snyder, proposed an increase in the landfill tipping fee for foundry sand. The measure was intended to fund environmental cleanup, but would have cost the Michigan foundry community millions of dollars a year. FAM took immediate action and rallied and lobbied heavily until they defeated the proposal.
FAM's position was that foundry sand is chemically inert and not related to environmental deterioration. This proposal amounted to an unfair tax on their specific industry. After the proposal was defeated, the Michigan legislature found a new, more appropriate source of funding for the cleanup program.
Protecting the Future of Michigan Casting
Having worked as a lobbyist and attorney on behalf of Michigan industry for 25 years, Lievense has developed a unique skill set allowing him to predict the effects of legislation on environmental, safety and energy topics. But FAM's success can't only be attributed to his experience; it's also a result of cultivating relationships with leaders and legislators around Michigan.
Lievense knows many stakeholders on a first-name basis, including the Michigan Director of Environmental Quality, MIOSHA, and the Chairs of the Michigan legislature's various policy committees. He encourages FAM member companies to also build relationships with local legislators. For example, foundries can take advantage of events like Manufacturing Day and Infrastructure Week to host events attended by senators and congresspeople from their districts. The goal of relationship building is to open lines of communication, through which casting companies, legislators and regulatory bodies can work together to ensure fair legislation that benefits Michigan taxpayers as well as the casting industry.
Michigan provides a healthy climate for casting facilities to operate and grow. According to Lievense, "I think it has been a very positive environment in Michigan over the past 8 years because Gov. Snyder was a very pro-business governor and very balanced on environmental issues." With a new governor and new leaders at the helm of energy and environment, it's impossible to know what the future will bring, but FAM has a long history of successfully advocating for the Michigan casting community.
"It’s a matter of representing the industry, building relationships with key stakeholders and then promoting and advancing the interests of foundries in Michigan," Lievense says, "That’s basically what my job is: building and maintaining relationships out of mutual trust and respect."
Written by Jim Smith, Jr.
Jim Smith, Jr. is the Technical & Sales Manager at Eagle Aluminum Cast Products in Muskegon, MI. Given his father’s career as a mechanical engineer, Jim grew up in foundries and often used castings his father brought home as toys. During his college years and into his first jobs, Jim developed skills in quality, engineering and customer service. Jim joined Eagle Aluminum in 2012 as a Technical Analyst and now manages all of the company’s Technical and Sales functions.