VSI's President & CEO Kate Offringa Brings Her Passion for Manufacturing to Work Every Day
If you were to ask Kate Offringa to describe herself in three words, she might be tempted to say: “I love manufacturing.”
That might not be the answer you would expect from an accomplished trade association executive with a strong international background – that includes fluency in three languages, overseas study in Spain and six business trips to China – and an impressive resume in the energy efficiency sector.
Kate’s passion for manufacturing started during her childhood growing up in New England. Her father – a mechanical engineer – built a successful career as a manufacturers’ sales rep and then leveraged his strong network of connections to start his own machine shop in Springfield, Vermont.
“It was called Ferrex, and it was a metal cutting shop with these giant machines that would make custom parts for other companies,” Kate recalls. “A lot of the big manufacturers farmed out work to my dad. He had about 25 employees – including me. I helped out in the office after school, and that’s how I first became inspired by how things were made.”
Since that time, Kate has toured countless plants to feed this “interest.” She keeps a running list of these tours in her wallet and can tell you for sure that she has been able to count at least 20 different building product categories in which she has seen firsthand how these products are made. Chief among these categories are windows, insulation and vinyl.
A Passion for Association Work
Kate’s passion for how things are made led her to the career of her dreams, working with building products manufacturers and the associations that serve them over the last 20 years, with 11 as CEO (including her time as CEO of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association [NAIMA]).
“Manufacturing has always been such an important part of our economy,” Kate says. “And it is still a vital part of what makes us strong.”
Kate is also very passionate about association work.
“I love trade associations because I love collaboration, consensus building, identifying problems and opportunities, and strategizing about them,” she notes. “It’s exhilarating when you can identify a solution and motivate a team to move together.”
According to Kate, it’s the members’ jobs to compete with each other in the market every day, which is essential for innovation, the economy and consumers. But they all need one place where they can come together and figure out how to move a whole industry together. And she likes being in that “place” very much.
“I feel very fortunate because it’s a lot of fun,” Kate says. “I get so much variety in my work. One day we’re talking about hurricanes and technical standards. The next day we’re talking about a bill in the Texas legislature dealing with aesthetics controls. I’ve testified in Congress and state code hearings. The work is exciting and meaningful, especially when you are helping the industry gain traction in so many different areas.”
One of the reasons for Kate’s success as a leader is her steadfast belief that trade associations should exist to serve their members. It seems like an obvious tenet, but many associations become more staff-focused and lose sight of what their membership and industry need to grow. To prioritize member needs, she advocates for engaging and re-engaging the Board and working on strategic planning every three to five years.
When Kate started with VSI in Q1 of 2015, one of the first things she did as President was embark on a “listening tour” of all the members at their facilities.
“I asked all the important questions,” she says. “What do you like about VSI? What’s working? What’s not working? With this feedback, we were able to re-engage our Board and start the first strategic planning initiative. We made a lot of progress in a short period, and we changed everything. We accomplished designing a re-brand, a new logo, a new website, and started working on new program offerings.”
In 2017, VSI updated the strategic plan with new initiatives, including the Architectural Design Program (ADP), Workforce Development, and the State Legislative Initiative. For 2021, Kate says they are doing a whole new round of strategic planning to chart out what she calls “the next chapter for VSI.”
With all the positive changes made since 2015 under Kate’s leadership, the VSI was well-positioned to weather the pandemic storm of 2020: “I am so impressed with both our members and our staff and how they pivoted, stayed positive, stayed productive and kept on going with all their projects. We all adapted quickly to move more offerings online. Nobody sat around and said, ‘poor us.’ We just kept charging ahead in such a positive way.
“There’s been an amazing sense of common purpose and community that’s stuck with us throughout the COVID-19 crisis. There was a lot of association work that had to be conducted this year more than in past years, but when the industry comes together like it has in 2020, it leads to exciting future innovations.”
VSI’s Next Chapter - A New Decade of Growth
Speaking of the future, Kate and the Board are plotting out the next chapter for VSI with a six- to nine-month process of meetings and brainstorms in 2021 to prepare for what they are calling a decade of growth for the industry.
“The next question we are asking is: How can VSI do more?” Kate states. “The industry is excited by its current success, as well as trends suggesting more potential for growth.”
Kate refers to National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports indicating that more Americans want to move out of the cities and into single-unit homes in the suburbs and exurbs. “That trend,” Kate explains, “combined with Millennial buying power coming online, and fueled by a growing desire for remote work from home locations, is good for housing and good for vinyl siding.
“Our manufacturers are really optimistic about sustained growth. They are also optimistic about the role that polymeric siding can naturally play in sustainability for all in the built environment. It’s clear from our initial strategic planning discussion that sustainability will be a key focus of our next chapter at VSI,” she adds.
“It’s an ideal time for us to be renewing VSI’s strategic plan and pushing for growth in our initiatives and growth for our industry. All the work we did since 2015 has set us up for enormous success, and we’re ready to start the next chapter.”
Free Time is Family Time
As much as she loves her work, Kate is equally grateful for the life she enjoys with her husband, Tom, and their son and daughter, ages 13 and 10, respectively. They love doing things together outside (especially now during the pandemic) and appreciate the great outdoor life the Washington, D.C. area has to offer. This same quality time with her family growing up led Kate to discover her career interests.
“Careers take on a life of their own,” Kate notes. “My interest in public policy, energy, economics and manufacturing all came together for me, and it helped that I was able to pursue these interests at such a young age. I’ve been in the buildings industry for 20 years, and I could not be more thankful for the work I do. It really is true that when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.”
Don Browne is a writer, entrepreneur and local legislator who believes that the power of words can change the world. He provides unique writing services for clients in the construction, health care, IT and hospitality sectors. He has a passion for small business and start-ups, as well as writing about Irish history, family and corporate biographies. As a homeowner and father of four who is passionate about community development, Don looks forward to writing more about the exciting possibilities of creating traditional neighborhoods and more sustainable communities using modern materials.