Majority of respondents say 2020 was "average" in the annual SWS State of the Industry Report
It is safe to say that 2020 has been unlike any other. The word “unprecedented” has become a part of every day newspeak. In March, states and other countries mandated stay-at-home orders, travel was halted, and people transitioned to almost all online meetings and networking.
“Obviously, everybody’s had to pivot and learn some new digital tools and video meetings and things of that nature,” Derek Berg, president of SWEMA, said. “So it’s sort of a mixed bag, but at the end of the day, a lot of storm water projects continued to move forward.”
On the manufacturing side, Berg said he thinks people would consider 2020 a decent year in that a lot of projects that were already in motion, stayed in motion for the most part.
In the Storm Water Solutions’ 2020 State of the Industry survey, of which there were 139 responses, the majority of responders, 53.24%, rated this year as average, and 43.17%, the majority again, expect to rate 2021 as average as well. In 2019, the majority of survey respondents anticipated to rate 2020 as a good year. That being said, the majority of respondents (48.20%) rated the health of their organization as “good.”
“I think there was a big slow down, but right now, the industry is as busy as I’ve ever seen it,” IECA President Adam Dibble said.
Dibble, who along with being IECA president is director of marketing for Profile Products, said in surveying their contractors and distributors, his gut tells him that most of the installers will end the year just as good, if not better, than they had forecasted.
That being said, Dibble said he would also rate this year as average. While there have been trying times this year, he said there has also been innovation. He touched on key takeaways, such as the possibility of more efficient traveling and a digital transformation. He pointed to an example of hearing that some installers have embraced the new digital way of life and now take photos to use for quotes instead of being onsite.
Facing the Challenges
In addition to navigating a new digital landscape, Berg pointed to funding as a challenge that is being compounded by the pandemic.
“COVID-19 is not helping the fact that storm water is strained for resources in a general sense,” Berg said. “Our regulatory programs don’t have enough resources, our municipal programs don’t have enough resources, and there’s not enough money to maintain all of our BMPs."
In the survey, “regulations/compliance” rated as the most important topic for the upcoming year. And when asked what the greatest challenge they will face in the next 24 months, multiple respondents listed regulations.
“This is an election year, so I think there’s going to be a lot to play on what happens with, truly, the government,” Dibble said. “Infrastructure spending, what’s going to happen with [U.S.] EPA regulations? Will there be a stronger environmental policy that’s pushed out there that will require stricter clean water laws? I don’t know. There’s a whole lot to be determined.”
As of press time, the 2020 General Election had not yet occurred, but Dibble said that regardless of the outcome, citizens will continue to persevere and take the learnings from this period and apply them to standard parts of business.
And, of course, after February, nearly all industry trade shows went virtual, which transformed the way people network and continue education. While some people are comfortable traveling now, trade shows are still being held virtually, and the impacts of that are not clear yet. Seth Brown, executive director of the National Municipal Storm Water Alliance said it is hard to say what the final impact of that will be.
“‘If I can’t network this year, does that limit my ability to make money next year?’” Brown said. “I think that might be true if everyone else could network, and I couldn’t. When we’re all in the same boat, then it’s hard to say if it hurt anybody more than anyone else in terms of business development, and those business development things usually you don't see until sometime in the future."
Looking to the Future
When asked what the most important industry topics will be in the next 24 months, numerous survey respondents said budgets, which could be impacted by the pandemic. Berg said as far as 2020, people are wanting to get their projects done this year because they are not sure what the future holds.
“I have a hard time imagining we don’t see some sort of slow down in 2021 unless there is a major change,” Berg said. “There’s a lot of project activity now, but I think investment in new projects will likely start to slow under the current circumstances.”
Despite future potential obstacles, Dibble said the industry will be ready.
"There’s a lot of big things in play for next year, but I think as an erosion control industry, you’ll see that we’ll continue to persevere,” Dibble said. “Technology and education will continue to advance, and as practitioners, I think we’ll be ready to be on the call and responsive to those needs.”
Berg shared similar sentiments.
“Storm water has come a long way,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot on the science side, we learned a lot on the funding side, and I think we’re all kind of collectively trying to push these issues over the hump, if you will, to where we have viable solutions for our big problems.”