We all understand the urgent need for water and wastewater construction, improvements and repairs. The reports and the calls for action are sobering, from the American Society of Civil Engineers’ “D” rating of our water infrastructure, to the estimated costs (in the trillions, with a “t”) cited in American Water Works Association’s Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge.
So how is the nation responding? Are projects being funded? Are they moving forward?
One measure the industry uses to examine the question of market growth is the WWEMA Market Indicators Survey. Each year, we ask our membership—some of the industry’s most prominent water and wastewater equipment manufacturers and their reps—whether they are seeing growth or reductions in sales, orders, quotations and design work over the 12-month period of September through August.
Our August 2014 responses offered the most positive outlook in several years. In particular, orders and sales are increasing. It is a slow rise—not a sea change—but it does point to overall growth.
Specifically, 71% of respondents indicated they saw 2014 domestic sales improve over the previous year. This compares with 56% reported in 2013, 31% in 2012, 51% in 2011 and 56% in 2010. Even more encouraging, the percentage of companies that have seen a growth in sales of at least 10% over the previous year was much higher, at 25% in 2014 as compared with just 4% in 2013, 10% in 2012, 4% in 2011 and 15% in 2010.
For bookings and orders, 69% of 2014 respondents indicated they saw increases, as compared with 56% in 2013, 48% in 2012, 49% in 2011 and 52% in 2010. And again the percentage of companies that reported a boost of at least 10% was much higher this year, at 29%, compared with 13% in 2013, 10% in 2012, 8% in 2011 and 13% in 2010.
Granted, because these percentage increases are each based on the previous year, they are building on sluggish sales. As I said, it is a slow rise and not a sea change, but orders and sales are going in the right direction. This appears to be borne out by the construction figures released each month by the U.S. Census Bureau. A year-to-year comparison of the nation’s “sewage and waste disposal” and “water supply” construction expenditures show a seasonally adjusted annual rate of spending during August 2014 of $36.5 billion. This represents slight growth over the previous two years: $35.9 billion in August 2013 and $34.3 billion in August 2012.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests a rising tide in water and wastewater spending. Each year, WWEMA staff cruise the halls at WEFTEC to greet our members and other manufacturers in the exhibit hall, and this year in particular companies seemed to be doing more business on the floor. In general, members reported a good show with quality leads.
What are you seeing in your community? Is there a willingness to improve infrastructure and to invest in new, more effective technologies? They say a rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be sure to work together—manufacturers, consulting engineers, contractors and utilities—to educate our communities and encourage them to make the investments needed to address the nation’s water and wastewater needs.
Vanessa M. Leiby is executive director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Assn., a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization that has represented the interests of manufacturers serving the water supply and wastewater treatment industry since 1908. Leiby can be reached at [email protected].