United We Stand, Divided We Fall

As I write this column, the Republican National Convention has just concluded and President George W. Bush has been nominated by his party to run for a second term.

by Dawn C. Kristof, WWEMA President

As I write this column, the Republican National Convention has just concluded and President George W. Bush has been nominated by his party to run for a second term. It seems an appropriate time to recall another Republican who, at the close of his party's state convention on June 16, 1858, voiced the famous words: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

This sentiment was expressed during a time when our nation was divided on the issue of slavery. It was also expressed on numerous occasions in the wake of the 9-11 tragedy — when all Americans were encouraged to put aside their differences and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to fight those who have different goals, so that we do not fall as a nation divided.

As true as these words are for us as a country, they are equally true for us as a water community. Through participation in a variety of professional and trade associations, we join our collective talents to accomplish goals for the betterment of our industry and the public at large.

Likewise, associations enter into partnering agreements and form strategic alliances with one another to engage in joint efforts and advance the mutual interests of their respective memberships. WWEMA fully endorses this collaborative approach toward doing business. It currently holds partnering agreements with four industry associations and one federal agency. Two of these agreements are with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

As an example of how these agreements work, WWEMA approached AWWA and WEF in December of 2002, requesting the creation of a joint task force to explore the efficacy of combining their two national shows at some future date. While WWEMA has maintained a neutral position with regard to the combining of these shows, we agreed to facilitate a discussion of its merits in response to a growing interest within our membership to consider such a move.

Our Chairman wrote an article in this column applauding AWWA and WEF for their "visionary leadership" in agreeing to the formation of an AWWA-WEF-WWEMA joint task force and their willingness to "seize the opportunity" to carefully consider this matter.

I am writing to report that our joint task force met only twice over a two-year period, with marginal results. Just recently, WWEMA's Chairman received a joint letter from AWWA and WEF indicating their decision to discontinue formal discussions with WWEMA on this matter. Their reasons were three-fold.

First, they stated that the actual experience and market research does not indicate displeasure with the current conferences, that the conferences were well attended and have strong exhibitions. Second, they believe their own internal committees (the MAC and the MARC) are the appropriate groups to work with on conference matters. Finally, they implied that WWEMA had a conflict of interest in having signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) with the Water Quality Association (WQA) around the same time that WQA announced its partnership with a European conference management firm to put on the "WQA Aquatech USA" conference next year in Las Vegas.

WWEMA was disappointed to receive this letter and to learn that a similar communiqué was sent to all AWWA and WEF exhibitors announcing this decision. In its response, WWEMA has asked to review the market research that supports AWWA and WEF's claim that the attendees and exhibitors are pleased with the status quo. It also agreed wholeheartedly that the MAC and the MARC should continue to be engaged in this matter, as they have been since the formation of the AWWA-WEF-WWEMA joint task force.

With regard to WQA, our respective associations are active members of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee. Our MOU formalizes our mutual commitment to work to reduce trade barriers and enhance our members' competitiveness in the global arena. It was never intended to imply support of a competing national conference. WWEMA has no reason to believe that the WQA event would compete with AWWA or WEF, given its emphasis on the residential and commercial marketplace. It is regrettable, therefore, that AWWA and WEF would reference our alliance with WQA as a basis for discontinuing formal discussions with us on the future of their national conferences.

Regardless of whether the combining of the AWWA and WEF national conferences ever takes place, the lesson that we must take away from this joint task force effort is the need to keep channels of communications open, to remain open to new ideas in light of the changing marketplace, and to find ways to further unite our interests – not divide over unfortunate misunderstandings.

About the author:
Dawn Kristof is president of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association. WWEMA was established as a non-profit trade organization in 1908 and represents the interests of the nation's leading producers of water and wastewater technologies used in municipal and industrial applications worldwide.

More in Technologies