May 2004
Volume 46 Number 5

NewsFlash: RAI & WQA Go for Broke with Aquatech USA
by Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor   Pages: 

After 30 years, the Water Quality Association Convention & Exhibition—as you know it—has changed forever.

That was WQA executive director Peter Censky’s message in signing an agreement to form a joint venture with Amsterdam RAI to co-own a new event, WQA Aquatech USA that would take the place of the WQA exhibition and run concurrently with the convention. The first outing would be in March 2005 at the Las Vegas Hilton (see:

“We really began talking with RAI about this nearly two years ago,” Censky said. “We started having more serious conversations about it two months ago. The concept evolved into what I’ve referred to as uniting niches. This industry is not really an industry. It’s a niche, just as the AWT (Association of Water Technologies) and other events represent a niche. Niches tend to shrink. These niche shows will never reach critical mass needed today to survive... But together we can represent more than just one or two markets, we can be the place to go for a total water solution.”

Censky suggested the WQA may have to dip into its reserves to push the effort, but he expects the size of the trade show to quadruple within three years as a result. Regarding the International Bottled Water Association, he said it had chosen to go another route with its alliance with the World Wide Food Expo and BevExpo in alternating years, but other cooperative ventures weren’t ruled out.

The Netherland’s RAI was represented at the March 19 signing ceremony by Ids Boersma, international exhibitions director; Jan van der Molen, RAI Exhibitions USA general manager; and Heleen van der Meer, Aquatech product manager. Boersma pointed out its flagship event in Amsterdam is the largest water treatment industry expo in the world, with over 700 exhibitors from 42 countries and over 23,000 visitors from 100 countries. The event, which started out as an annual show in 1972, celebrates its 20th edition Sept. 28-Oct. 1. WQA has hosted the USA Pavilion, one of 11 national pavilions, at Aquatech Amsterdam for the past decade. Other shows RAI has put on include the EWW Expo, Aquatech Asia and Aquatech Brasil, the last of which RAI announced earlier this year that it would discontinue. Other than Aquatech Brasil, all the events are held every other year. However, the USA show will be an annual affair, moving among a select group of cities—less than 10—to draw the best turnout, said van der Meer.

Everyone acknowledged the hard work and focused marketing and promotion needed to build the WQA Aquatech event into the premier show in North America for all segments of the water treatment industry, which is the goal. Boersma noted differences with the European market, which “is the sum of a number of small markets that make up a big market and the niches that are in every area would not make a big show as is the case in the United States, where you have a big market.” All also acknowledged relationships with existing competing events in the United States would be tricky, considering the strength of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and Water Environment Federation (WEF)—which have been battling fiercely for exhibitors and attendees for several years now—and some might feel threatened. Still, numbers for most events have been dropping in recent years as industry competition and consolidation have reduced the number of players. This has affected moreso the medium- and smaller-sized shows and the organizations that depend on them for revenue. Thus, Boersma and Censky pointed out it’s a crucial time to move to create an alliance to build critical mass to support the WQA—whose Baltimore expo attendance fell below 3,000 people and booth space dropped 20 percent—as well as any partner associations that join it. Initial markets targeted, Censky said, would be wastewater and chemical water treatment, and the Waste Water Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) already voiced tentative support. Boersma mentioned the International Sanitation Supply Association (ISSA) as well.

Response in Baltimore was largely positive:
• Dennis Rupert, a Culligan dealer from Michigan, said many dealerships already are dabbling in or deeply involved in commercial/industrial water projects, not to mention small system and related wastewater applications. And, if it helps the WQA show—and, by extension, the WQA—become stronger, then that’s better for all members.
• “I think it’s great,” said Jamie Wakem, Atlantic Filter president and a past WQA president. “It exposes our members to a different side of the industry. There are so many opportunities we don’t see on an everyday basis. I don’t really see any downside. It’ll be an eye opener—just when you thought you knew everything. This is very exciting.”
• Mike Baird, president of California’s TST Water LLC, said he attended the last Aquatech in 2002 when still with Sta-Rite and told Censky it was the most significant show he’d ever been to and he encouraged him to make the alliance.
• Good Water Warehouse’s Pat Dalee, another past WQA president, expressed concern about the risk, since the only time previously WQA dipped into its reserves was to fund lawsuits in the fight over softener bans in California.
• Mel Mraz, of Czechoslovakia’s Earth Resources, said to be careful on how the deal was structured because there’s a reason for the phrase “Dutch treat.”
• “If we came anywhere close to that show in Amsterdam, then our membership will double in real short order at least,” said Rainsoft president Bob Ruhstorfer, also a past WQA president who’s attended Aquatech Amsterdam for the past 10 years.
• Kinetico founder Bill Prior, said, “I believe this will be a very good thing. It would be an irreversible step to internationalize the WQA. If we can do it right, then it would forever change this association.”