STATE OF THE WATER INDUSTRY 2020
Editors Note: An extended report with exclusive insights will be released in January 2021. Subscribe to WWD’s weekly newsletter at wwdmag.com/manage-subscription to get exclusive access when it releases.
A year unlike any other. Unprecedented. Historic.
2020 has more platitudes going for it than any other year in the lifetime of the editors overseeing Water & Wastes Digest, and the same can likely be said for practically all the Water & Wastes Digest audience members.
In 2020, the water industry started strong and remained determined, diligent and unrelenting in the face of the challenges presented to it. From the still ongoing and currently nine-month long global pandemic of the coronavirus to a tumultuous election—the results of which could present considerable change for the industry—the larger conversations of society have begun to permeate the water and wastewater industry as a whole.
Digital and smart solutions gained steam, creating a surge in adoption for smart water technologies. Likewise, national conversations on race have pushed the issues of diversity and inclusion, water equity, water affordability and water access to the forefront of industry leaders’ minds.
It has become more important than ever that Water & Wastes Digest survey its audience to better understand the current state of the industry.
Survey Respondent Demographics
A total of 135 audience members responded to the Water & Wastes Digest State of the Industry Survey in 2020. Of those who responded, Operations (31.95%), Government Administrators/Corporate Management (28.95%), Engineering (24.06%) account for the bulk of respondents’ primary job functions. OEM (9.4%) and Technical (5.64%) rounded out the list.
Respondents skewed to 50 years old or older with 17.29% of respondents indicating they were 70 years old or older, which nearly doubled from 2019’s results. 37.97% said they were between the ages of 60 and 69 (up nearly 14 points from 2019), and 25.19% said they were between the ages of 50 and 59 (a decrease of 2 points from 2019). With such a large portion of respondents over the age of 70, this lead WWD editors to consider two things:
1) Those in positions of purchasing authority are more likely to be over the age of 50; and
2) People are working later into their life, which reduces the opportunities for those under the age of 50 to take purchasing authority positions because they are still filled by those with greater experience.
While nearly half of respondents to the survey said 2020 was a good year (49%) and 16.34% said it was very good, nearly a quarter of the responses said it was mediocre (24.84%). This is the largest portion to indicate mediocre since 2018 when 21% indicated it to be as such. Respondents are not deterred by this, however, as more than half said next year will be good (54.9%) and more than a quarter said it would be very good (25.49%). This follows a similar trend to 2018 when 70% of respondents that year thought 2019 would be good, very good or excellent.
The industry was considered essential during the pandemic, so most work still continued, although the earliest stages resulted in an initial stall.
“We had a healthy amount of activity occurring before the pandemic,” said Chad Mize, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Mueller Water Products. “There was this little lull. And then as we’ve seen, as people have been able to get back to work and figured out how they’ve worked from home, and city councils get back together and they get to approve projects, that things certainly continue to roll.”
According to the 2020 WWD State of the Industry survey results, 50.23% of respondents said they are not planning new construction. This is a small drop from last year’s 53% and on par with 2018’s 51%. In the past three years, WWD has noted that this does not mean a lack of work, so much as it means projects primarily are focused on rehabilitation, repair, upkeep, maintenance and other upgrades. That trend has not changed in 2020, as 37.67% and 11.63% indicated upgrading in 24 months and 36 months, respectively. New construction is not off the table, however. The 2020 results also show 26.98% of respondents indicated new construction in 24 months, and 9.30% are looking at a 36-month timeline.
Lastly, revenue expectations for 2021 appear promising. While respondents largely indicated their revenue remained the same from 2019 to 2020 (43.23%) and expect their revenue to remain the same in 2021 (47.4%), the percent of respondents who expected 2021 revenue to increase (42.21%) leaves only 10.39% expecting a decrease in revenue for 2021.