Industry Forecast: Expect the Unexpected

Jan. 28, 2022

Industry experts offer forecasts for the coming year’s business climate & trends

About the author:

Rick Andrew, Director of Global Business Development—Water Systems NSF International, [email protected]

Marianne Metzger, Executive Director Easter Water Quality Association, [email protected]

Frank A. Brigano, Ph.D. Industry Advisor & Principal, Brigano Consulting LLC, [email protected]

Pauli Undesser, MWS, Executive Director Water Quality Association & Water Quality Research Foundation, [email protected]


Planning for the Unexpected

Rick Andrew

Director of Global Business, Development–Water Systems, NSF International

[email protected]

2021 saw the rollout of vaccines for COVID-19, and with it some return to travel and face-to-face, in-person industry events, as was expected. Additionally, focus on PFAS contamination of drinking water and source water continued to be a hot topic regarding drinking water. Lead contamination and lead-related infrastructure also continued to be front and center in the world of drinking water, as well. These issues of contaminants in drinking water and effective treatments and remediation will continue to be a focus into 2022, especially considering potential federal infrastructure funding that should allow significant actions to be taken and investments to be made.

However, even as some expectations of 2021 became reality as we had thought, many other developments in 2021 were not expected. A significant one affecting the POU/POE industry, as well as many other industry sectors, was supply chain disruption. Some of the disruption has been due to impacts related to COVID-19, and shortages of labor, particularly in the transportation sector. Yet other disruptions were due to extreme weather events, especially the impacts of cold weather on the plastic materials industry in the U.S. These factors combined have caused manufacturers to consider how they can adapt going forward.

Some of the supply chain disruption has been or will be resolved through the transportation sector recovering and once again matching supply with demand, alleviating bottlenecks in distribution to become more efficient. And some of the disruption has been or will be addressed through restoration of capacity in the plastic material manufacturing sector in the U.S.

What will be interesting in 2022 will be to see how manufacturers will assess their supply chains, identifying the weaknesses in these supply chains, and ultimately what adjustments in supply chains will be made to render them more robust in the future. There are many possibilities for changes, including expanding alternate supplier options; considering additional domestic manufacturing either for their own operations or their suppliers; and possibly considering acquisitions or expansion of capability to have more vertically integrated operations. Some manufacturers may ultimately adopt more than one of these strategies to strengthen their supply chain and position themselves more securely against potential future events that impact national or global trade.

Just as 2021 brought about unanticipated events and challenges, surely 2022 will do the same. There will be some type of new emerging contaminant, some kind of industry challenge, and some completely unexpected event that has unanticipated impacts on the POU/POE industry. If 2020 and 2021 have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.

Supply Chain & Labor Shortages

Marianne Metzger

Executive Director, Easter Water Quality Association

[email protected]

The last two years have been a crazy rollercoaster ride for just about everyone, if only I could accurately depict what is going to happen in the next year. The COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, political drama, supply chain issues and labor shortages all made appearances in 2021 with various impacts on the water treatment industry. Unfortunately, none of this is going to go away in 2022, but hopefully the negative impacts will be diminished.

While social unrest and political drama are not going anywhere any time soon, the pandemic, supply chain issues and labor shortage seem to be the biggest threats to our industry. The COVID-19 virus continues to threaten our healthcare system and impact the workforce; however, medical advances, including vaccines and other medical therapies are helping prevent the disease and those who do become infected to recover more easily than previously was possible. Unfortunately, the virus is not just going to magically disappear and will most likely continue to impact the world for years to come.

Most businesses are experiencing labor shortages and the water industry is no exception. Since the water treatment industry in general was in great demand over the last two years, the demand for qualified labor has increased. At this point, most water treatment companies are in such need that they would likely not turn away someone qualified if they came along right now. It is a great time to look for talent outside the industry where there are numerous people with interchangeable skills that can be taught what is needed. Requiring experience in the industry for those applying for a job will leave you with less viable candidates.

Supply chain issues seem to be the biggest challenge of the moment with the question lingering in everyone’s mind of “when will this end?” Supply chain became an issue due to the pandemic shutting down or severely reducing production in manufacturing across the world, especially in China and southeast Asian where they were hit hard by the pandemic early on.

Due to less production, shipping companies assumed that demand would decrease as well and reduced the schedule to move products. Unfortunately, the demand for products increased, the supply of said products dropped, thus the problem we are currently faced with.

This supply chain issue highlights the fact that the U.S. is quite dependent on foreign manufacturing. As a result, we will start to see more American companies ramp up manufacturing at home. In our industry, there has always been a push for more “Made in America” products, making this the perfect time for companies to invest in building more products here, while catering to the customers who want American built products.

Happiness & Success

Frank A. Brigano, Ph.D.

Industry Advisor & Principal

Brigano Consulting LLC

[email protected]

A person who is clairvoyant is said to have “supernatural” abilities to perceive events in the future. Life experiences help all of us predict or respond to situations differently than if we had not had those experiences. In fact, our experiences may anoint us with some clairvoyance. These past couple of years provided us with life experiences many of us wish we never had. One of those may have been leaving our positions with the expectation of finding something new and/or better. This phenomenon has been labeled “The Great Resignation.” The Great Resignation has resulted in many businesses being short of capable staff. Whether you resigned and are looking for something new, are out there looking for your first position, want to progress in your current role, or are a business owner searching for new staff, I would like to share some life experiences that may be helpful.

Passion is the most important. Loving your work is the key to enjoyment and progression. Since most of your life is spent working, passion keeps your work joyful and meaningful. Passion extends to a commitment to perform to the best of your ability and represent the true you in all that you do. Ownership goes beyond your own work; it extends to the sign above the entrance door. No matter whose name hangs above the door, you must transform it to yours. Symbolically putting your name above the door enhances your passion and commitment as your identity now becomes one with the company’s successes and failures. Ownership drives the commitment to succeed in business and in life.

Business is built on relationships. Integral to relationships are communication and empathy. Communication up or down the chain of command is hugely important. We all want to feel like we belong and are part of the team. Communication is key to that. None of us wants to be left “out of the loop.” Communication ensures engagement and enhances belonging, team building and ownership. Expressing sincere empathy to your fellow co-worker builds trust and fosters strong relationships. Afterall, none of us are free of flaws or personal hardships.

Selling does not mean just products or services, but also yourself. A great man once told me that no matter what path you pursue in life, you must sell. Sell not only goods or ideas ­— sell yourself. Be true to yourself and others, and promote who you truly are.

Lastly, remember to have an appropriate work/life balance. In today’s age of 24/7 contact, we must take time for ourselves and our families. It is critical that we refresh our minds and bodies plus build strong bonds within our families and with friends. Time away can bring a new perspective to your work, goals and objectives.

I am not a clairvoyant. However, I do know from my life experiences that passion, ownership, communication, empathy, selling and maintaining a strong work/life balance are fundamental to success and most importantly, to a happy life.

As Never Before

Pauli Undesser, MWS

Executive Director

Water Quality Association & Water Quality Research Foundation

[email protected]

Reflecting on 2021, we all have been through so much personally and professionally. While we celebrate many businesses and channels in the industry that marked a record year, we will never forget the loss, strife and heartache.

The Water Quality Association (WQA) builds from the achievements of the past year. We kicked off 2021 by running dual operations, constructing a new laboratory, renovating offices and relocating facilities — all safely completed during a global pandemic, no less. We launched the grand opening of our new International Headquarters and Laboratory, which was due in no small part to the generous contributions we received from member companies in our “Building Our Vision” campaign. When I think back to all of the virtual meetings and having to wear my hard hat on site during construction, it is amazing to see how far we have come and the resulting productivity for staff.

WQA’s Convention & Exposition in Las Vegas in July was one of the first large in-person gatherings in the U.S. Just being able to get together face-to-face started the excitement and energy. However, the quality of topics and the raw authenticity of speakers created an energy and excitement that rippled throughout the industry even if you could not attend in person. WQA staff and volunteers really stepped up and brought forward relevant content with an engaging mix of speakers and presentation styles. Just six weeks later, our Mid-Year Leadership Conference was held in Oak Brook, Illinois, in September and the leaders of the industry drove discussions to progress the industry. Industry members are strength for the voice of the industry as never before.

As I mentioned during WQA’s 2021 Opening General Session, WQA developed its 2022-2024 Strategic Plan, and it is not something that will set on a shelf and collect dust. No, this strategic plan is set up for success by the first two topics I discussed above — WQA’s new headquarters as the catalyst (our strategic launch pad) and WQA members as the strength behind the voice of the industry. Yes, we will have action plans, resources and budgets behind the strategic plan too, but true success comes from the catalyst and the strength in the voice of the industry. The industry is set up for success as never before.

We will dive deeper into the Strategic Plan details in 2022 at the WQA Convention & Exposition in Orlando, Florida, April 6 to 8. For awareness, there are three overarching strategic goals intended to achieve defined outcomes for the water treatment industry:

  • Goal 1: Advancing knowledge and professionalism of industry participants. WQA will enhance and expand the opportunities by which the water treatment industry demonstrates value and positive impact on water quality.
  • Goal 2: Increasing advocacy. WQA will strengthen its position as a thought leader having a voice with government, NGO, and other industry associations at the U.S. federal, regional and state levels, and globally relative to all critical water quality concerns and solutions.
  • Goal 3: Driving public awareness and knowledge. WQA will proactively provide awareness and knowledge about the importance of understanding water quality by strategically communicating thought leadership, while highlighting the industry’s ethics, technologies, methods and benefits.

To gear up for launching WQA’s Strategic Plan in 2022 and begin achieving success for the industry, I challenged the industry during WQA’s 2021 Opening General Session to Help WQA Help You. If we are not promoting within the industry and presenting our pride of the association, industry, and participants within it, the impact of the advocacy and public awareness aspects of the strategic plan are limited.

To maximize our impact, I also challenge the industry to promote and be proud of your WQA and WQRF interactions such as, but not limited to: WQA membership, industry training, professional certifications, Gold Seal product certification, WQA Business Excellence, WQRF contributions and volunteering. My challenge to all industry professionals goes through 2022 WQA Convention & Exposition, but truly is an ongoing challenge to maximize our impact. Your industry impact is set up for success as never before.

We again look forward to meeting together as an industry during the 2022 WQA Convention & Exposition. Our theme is Impact, and I can think of no better industry poised to have a major impact on public health and safety than the water treatment industry. We look forward to seeing more of our members and exhibitors who were unable to join us in Las Vegas.

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