The US Hide, Skin and Leather Association (USHSLA) and the Leather Industries of America (LIA) held their joint annual meeting and convention last week, 26-27 September in Chicago, Illinois. It was the 39th annual meeting for USHSLA and the 101st for the LIA.

The Board of Directors of each association at the meeting jointly announced their intention to seek a merger of the two organizations by the end of 2019. Overlapping membership, increasing alignment of purpose and interests and a strong desire to secure the future of the entire hide, skin and leather industries in the US prompted the leaders of both organisations to explore merger discussions.

Once finalised, it is expected that Stephen Sothmann, current president of USHSLA, will continue as the chief executive of the newly combined entity. John Wittenborn, current president of LIA, plans to retire by the end of 2019.

The final decision to merge the entities must be approved by the membership of each organisation according to their own bylaws.

“The merger of the Leather Industries of America and the US Hide, Skin and Leather Association makes sense at this time in the industry’s history. It will create a strong, cohesive and vibrant association representing the entire hides, skins and leather supply chain in the United States,” said Wittenborn.

In addition to the merger announcement, each organisation elected a new chairman of the board of directors at the meeting. The USHSLA elected hides and skins industry veteran Jay Jensen, of Southwest Hide Company, and the LIA elected longtime leather tanning executive Bob Hawley of S.B. Foot Tanning Company. The two chairmen will provide strong leadership and steady guidance to the organisations during the upcoming merger discussions.

“The US hide, skin and leather industry supply chain has more at stake now than ever before. Soft global market demand, international trade disruptions and an increasingly consolidated industry require our representative bodies to take bold action,” said Sothmann.  “By combining our efforts, the USHSLA and the LIA will position the new entity to be the premier voice of the entire leather supply chain, both in the US and abroad.”