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November 2003: Volume 45, Number 11

Tale of Two Coasts—Plight (or Promise) of the Regional Associations
by Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor

A Pennsylvania friend from my first WQA international convention, 1997’s Albuquerque show, wrote me to laud the Eastern WQA show held Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Scranton, Pa. In recent years, EWQA’s attendance and membership slipped as it struggled to shift from a director- to a volunteer-driven organization. However, as my friend from Slippery Rock pointed out, “You ought to do an article on the turnaround. Three years ago, everyone thought we were going belly-up. We had over 120 people at our convention this year. That may not sound like a lot, but we paid our bills and the seminars were very good. You should say how we have endured—smaller but stronger, healthy and headed in the right direction.”

I spoke to Res-Kem Corp.’s Mike Urbans, vice president to EWQA president Bernie Palko, of The Duff Co., and he had a lot to say about the shift due largely to July’s hiring of new administrator Jodi Snyder, who also manages the Pennsylvania Ground Water Association. “She single-handedly put this thing together in just a matter of weeks,” he said. “And she’s promised to double membership, which would probably put us over the 300 range.” Urbans added EWQA hasn’t been as vibrant since the departure of “matriarch” Carol Russell, who ran the association for years and left in 2000 to devote more time to her business, Water Treatment & Accessories.

The situation was less clear cut on the other coast. PWQA—held Sept. 24-28 at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, Ariz. (see Ion the Industry online)—drew a sharply lower turnout, due to the association experimenting with holding an event outside California to encourage regional participation. Despite a well-run seminar schedule and strong manufacturer participation as exhibitors, some Arizona dealers went to competing events: the Greater Phoenix Industrial Show and Maricopa County Home & Landscape Show.

Still, new PWQA president Tony Pagliaro said membership is up slightly due to legislative challenges in California. Next year, he added, holds more promise since the event will be in Pasadena, the “heart of the association’s membership.” Like EWQA, PWQA eliminated its director position two years ago and hit a few bumps as a volunteer-run group. But Pagliaro stressed demands on PWQA differ from other states or regionals, considering California’s regulatory nature, role as national trendsetter, an organized “opposition” that reads the trade press, etc. As such, PWQA employs its own PAC fund and shares a lobbyist with the WQA to track and respond proactively to issues. And, he stressed, a three-tier, long-range plan to revitalize the group and refocus it to better serve members is in the works.

The general session—with Las Vegas’ Al Sutherland present, I’ll point out—was a lively give-and-take regarding recent battles over California AB334, which was signed Aug. 5 by now ex-Gov. Gray Davis and “authorizes local agencies to regulate use and availability of self-regenerative water softening appliances that discharge to the community sewer system.” WQA noted the legislation won’t require utilities actually violate discharge permits before starting action to restrict softeners. But it still requires all sources of salt be defined, quantified and controlled—stressing restriction of softeners isn’t the only means for a utility to achieve compliance.

Looking at EWQA and PWQA, it’s apparent a renewed commitment by dealers and manufacturers needs to be made to their local or regional associations. You only get out what you’re willing to put in. Likewise, the associations should continue to think creatively about how to add value to their events and make them accessible to the largest number of their members, whether through pricing, scheduling or site selection.

A Viewpoint that I wrote in April 2001 suggested WQA do more to support the chapters, which then WQA president C.R. Hall set as a priority. WQA did add links for them to its website (as did WC&P), modified acceptance of continuing education credits for workshops, and revamped its presentations at such shows. An idea for WQA to act as clearinghouse for dates to avoid scheduling conflicts wilted since site reservations often are required at least a year in advance and conflicting shows may not be due to WQA chapters. There are any number of other groups’ events, industrial shows, home shows, business expos, state and county fairs, and festivals that might overlap, drawing away attendees.

Still, it’s not enough to say you’re too busy for your own industry. If not you, who?