‘Hats off’ to the Hydraulic Institute and Valve Manufacturers Association for a highly informative virtual workshop on August 6th & 7th. Over the two-day online only event, I was able to learn from some very high-caliber professionals. During the market outlook workshop, these experts shared important data and projections designed to help leaders within the pump and valve industries make decisions about their businesses and how to navigate the ‘new normal’.
During a global pandemic, it has become more important than ever to embrace virtual meetings, and because everyone has had their own unique set of experiences during the era of covid, it was eye-opening to really dive into what has been happening across industries. This was an opportunity to step outside of my own bubble and learn about what has happened over the past 6 months from an economic standpoint. The professionals leading the presentations provided an honest sense of where the markets may be going in the water / wastewater, power industry, pulp & paper, power generation, commercial construction, oil & gas, chemical, petrochemical, and food & beverage sectors.
I’m not an economist, but I have been paying attention to what is going on in the world and recognize that covid has caused a dramatic recession; however, participating in the HI / VMA Market Outlook provides a much deeper understanding of the impacts to various markets both globally and domestically. While some people may fear dire straits ahead, there was a good amount of positivity shared. Almost every presenter had something positive to offer in regard to recovery. I especially appreciated the statement by Jay Bowman, Managing Director of Research & Analytics at FMI, during his presentation on the construction industry, when he declared: “There are always growth opportunities – no matter the economic conditions. Understand the difference between what’s possible and what’s probable.”
With many projecting a V-shaped recovery (yes, I had to google this and learned that a v-shape means the economy would recover as quickly as it shut down – again, not an economics major, but I followed along!), the major thought to take away was to stop focusing on the turmoil of today and focus on how to create a competitive advantage moving forward.
Gaining that competitive edge takes creativity, which Tom Decker, Vice President at Brown and Caldwell, demonstrated with his immensely entertaining Broadway-themed presentation on the water and wastewater industry. Mr. Decker brilliantly weaved theater titles and real-life anecdotes into his highly educational session, which was then followed by an enlightening forty-five minutes with Lyle White (retired from Black & Veatch) who covered the diversifying power generation industry. I was very happy to hear climate change and renewable energy addressed in his presentation, and while the changes to the industry are happening, I can’t help but feel like these changes are still not happening quickly enough.
I felt a similar pang of urgency during Russell Heinen’s presentation on the chemical / petrochemical industry, when he touched upon environmental considerations, such as addressing plastics in global oceans and discussing the industry’s ability / interest in effectively recycling materials to ‘close the loop’. Even with consumer pressure driving these changes to the industry, I am concerned that taking another two decades to figure out how to gather / grind / remix / re-use plastics is not going to make the impact we need to see now (from a consumer standpoint – not from an operator’s standpoint. From an operator standpoint, things will get done when it makes financial sense to do so).
The happy hour on Thursday evening was a great place to discuss some of these issues, and I opted to join the VMA group to meet some new folks and enjoy some face-to-face time. With drinks in hand and plenty of smiling faces on screen, we shared stories of our experiences and had some good laughs.
Friday morning brought more detailed graphs, charts, and terms for me to research. There were well-stated ‘lessons-learned’ and insights on how to plan for the future. I really applaud the organizers of this event for creating an educational experience with highly knowledgeable specialists who presented a wealth of information that is needed when trying to make a plan in a world so full of uncertainty.