Volume 44 Number 5
WQA New Orleans 2002: Organized Chaos Leads the Way for a Year of Strategic Planning
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A number of things seemed in disarray as the 28th Annual Water Quality Association Convention & Exhibition got under way in New Orleans. For one, attendance at the March 5-9 event was down sharply -- credited largely to trends and after effects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the East Coast.
The plan will address tightening up cracks in lines of communication, command and overall focus that have emerged as the association expanded its core membership structure of retail dealers and manufacturers to include Commercial/Industrial (C/I) and Consumer Products sections in 1997. The idea is to develop a better vehicle to balance competing interests within these four groups, as well as possibly a new bottled water section.
“Keep in mind, everything I’ve learned about water has been in about the last two weeks,” Kahn told one of group during meetings with each of the sections to gather input, “so I come to it without preconceptions.”
In addition, it will look at goals of the World Assembly Division (WAD) and the struggling Water Quality Society, which was designed to boost a stagnant WQA membership (see Tables 1&2) by attracting individual members. These would not only include staff of manufacturer and dealership members, but operators and end-users of water treatment equipment -- particularly C/I customers -- engineers, consultants, academics, etc., with related influence in the industry.
Can’t please everyone
“I got a lot of support from companies, when in the United States, that said they want to work with Aqua Europa for it to be a stronger organization in representing the point-of-use/point-of-entry water treatment industry throughout Europe. I’m also getting support from a number of European groups in that regard,” said Aqua Europa chairman Tony Frost, of the United Kingdom’s Aqua Focus Ltd.
The issue had come to a head over the European federation’s ongoing inability to reach a consensus on harmonization of water treatment equipment standards, particularly with respect to conflicts over the softener standard that lead to last month’s WHO/NSF International HPC Symposium in Geneva. WQA joined in supporting the conference out of hopes it would provide some guidance on the lack of health risk of common heterotrophic bacteria. HPC growth in softener resin beds has been used as a trade wedge by German and Austrian industry players selling units with an automatic disinfection step. Support of the conference and greater stability of Aqua Europa also are seen as preemptive moves to keep the issue from crossing the Atlantic.
“It would not just target the ion exchange market (here) but the carbon and cooler portion of our industry as well,” said 2002-2003 WQA president Bob Ruhstorfer. “My personal fear is, as in times past, when bad regulations were able to stand, they gain legitimacy. And if one regulatory body doesn’t change it, then the next assumes it has some validity. We have to be vigilant against bad science or misinformation any time it presents itself.”
Manufacturing a dream
The point was raised in a letter of “concerned members,” dated March 1, sent to the governors from heads of several large manufacturers -- Don Brockley, EcoWater; Jorge Fernandez, Pentair; Ed Fierko, Osmonics; Bill Prior, Kinetico; Mike Reardon, Culligan, and Bob Ruhstorfer, RainSoft. While acknowledging the WQA’s rich history of defending the industry’s rights and interests in the marketplace, the letter states: “We believe the governance, funding and some of the activities (services) have become misaligned with needs of its key members and realities of the marketplace, as they exist today. We are very concerned that if this situation is allowed to continue, it will threaten the future of the WQA as we know it.”
Key points made in the letter include:
The letter also mentions the need to bring in an outside consultant to help the association refocus and reposition itself for not only the current makeup and dynamics of the water treatment industry, but to anticipate and adapt to future trends. To be fair, Ruh-storfer mentioned some of these very same points earlier in the year (see “New WQA President’s Report,” WC&P, April 2002). As a result of the letter and WQA’s response to it, though, two big companies not supporting the association as much in recent years renewed their commitment and even sent top executives, EcoWater’s Brockley and Culligan’s Greg Norgaard, to serve as WQA directors.
“It was good traffic. It was decent,” Hall said. “We were off maybe 10 percent, I’m told. They’re still crunching the numbers. There’s a bunch of things we’re going through right now, and it’s all good. It’s good to re-evaluate yourself now and again. And, given that every other industry association is off in attendance at their conventions much more than we are because of travel restrictions and the general outlook since 9/11, we’re not doing that badly.”
An April 10 release from WQA points out actual convention registration was down 19 percent, which put trade show attendance at around 3,000. It also mentioned trade show attendance was off worldwide, according to the Association Forum of Chicagoland. The average drop in 2001 was 20 percent, but some have seen figures off by as much as 50 percent due to negative effects of Sept. 11 on business travel.
“We’re looking at many ways to regain attendance, including moving future show locations to the north where we have higher concentrations of dealers,” said WQA executive director Peter Censky in the release. “However, considering the currently improving economic situation, we believe our 2003 convention and exhibition in Las Vegas will have significantly higher attendance. We’re taking many steps to ensure that.”
Among those steps are:
However, Kahn pointed out the real work -- once a blueprint is drawn up -- will fall to the WQA committees, the boards and staff. They have to be willing and ready to implement it right away. With a horizontally integrated organization such as the WQA that encompasses such diverse interests in the water treatment industry, not everyone will get their way, she stressed: “The outcome is not going to make everyone happy. Just accept that now.”
In the end, though, the ideal of establishing one voice for the water treatment industry may be closer than ever.
EXTRA: Feeling the Pinch
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