This year's two-and-a-half day technical program included newly added Management Essential tracks and two panel discussions.
The WCS officially began with a keynote address by Duncan Meldrum, chief economist at Air Products and Chemicals. His presentation, "The Economy's Impact on the Coatings Industry," provided an in-depth analysis of the current U.S. economy and its implications for the coatings industry. According to Meldrum, the U.S. economy is currently in the middle of a period of slower growth. This is a typical mid-cycle correction caused by the Fed's actions to temper inflation pressures and financial excess by driving up interest rates. According to Meldrum's analysis, the U.S. economy will continue to be sluggish. "A reasonable U.S. economic outlook predicts real growth will drag through mid-2008," said Meldrum. "The housing slide will continue into early 2008. Implications for the coatings industry will include a market demand slide for the second year in the row."
However, there are some bright spots, he noted. He predicts that consumer confidence should recover, jobs are plentiful and still growing and wages will continue to grow. "Financial conditions are not that bad," he said. "Interest rates remain low by historical standards, the stock market has recovered and net growth continues to grow despite the housing price slide," he added.
The technical program featured a number of presentations on both the technical and business aspects of the coatings industry.
Kevin Reid of Orr and Boss presented "Coatings–Global State of the Industry." According to Reid, the global coatings market is estimated to be $80 billion. Architectural coatings comprises 51% of the total market. Regionally, Asia has grown from 28% of the market to 31%. Reid spoke about recent mergers and acquisitions that have occurred in the paint and coatings market. "Akzo Nobel, which was the third leading coatings manufacturer in 1997 is now number one," Reid said. "The big guys are getting bigger. The U.S. is the dominate player in the North American architectural coatings market at 88%. It is five times the size of Mexico and Canada."
According to Reid, value is growing faster than volume in the U.S. The top ten paint companies in the U.S. comprise 90% of the market. "The big fish keep getting bigger and we expect that to continue," he said.
"Changing Design, Color and Demographic Trends," presented by Deborah Zimmer of Rohm and Haas Company's Paint Quality Institute (PQI) offered insights into recent trends in design and color and what trends drive the market.
"Today we are learning a little bit about what is happening in the design and color arena," said Zimmer. "To anyone in the coatings industry it is so key to have an understanding of what the end-user wants. PQI goes to contractors and consumers and listens to what they want, then we bring that information back to Rohm and Haas."
According to Zimmer, trends are being born everyday. Some drivers of color trends for consumers include personal style and increasing consumer confidence in the area of paint and coatings. "For every trend there is a counter trend," she said. "Changing design, color and demographic trends are supported by social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends." In conclusion of her presentation Zimmer offered this advice: "Be relevant, be aware and collect experiences and skills that will help you develop products your consumers want."
The technical program featured a number of educational tracks that addressed the topics of green chemistry, formulation issues as well as new trends in coatings and raw material technologies.
New to this year's WCS were a pair of panel discussions. The first panel, "Future Trends and Issues Facing the Global Paint and Coatings Industry," featured experts in the manufacturing, raw material and distributors side of the business, including Ken Edwards, Dunn-Edwards Paints; Sheryl Southwell, Specialty Polymers, Inc.; Hassan Ali, P.T. Hutchins; and Ed Fischer, Vista Paint Corp. One of the issues that was discussed is the U.S. architectural coatings industry's recent trends in consolidation. "For many years volume growth and value growth were about equal," said Fischer. "Now value is higher than volume. In 1975 there were 2,000 paint manufacturers in the U.S.; by 2010 it is estimated it will be down to ten. Currently six companies are doing 80% of the architectural coatings business in the U.S."
According to Fischer, the remaining small- and medium-sized architectural coatings manufacturers have generally been more successful in developing specific niche products to survive." Fischer surmised there is no reason to believe these trends will change. "Other coatings segments suggest consolidation will continue," he concluded.
Sheryl Southwell spoke about globalization and how it affects raw material suppliers. Global supply of raw materials is viewed as a commodity, with products being sold to who is willing to pay the most money. Supply issues have been caused by tremendous growth in China and India, as well as unplanned facility shut downs in the U.S. "Consolidation is the name of the game now," said Southwell. "What companies are looking for is that global footprint to expand their business."
Ken Edwards spoke about environmental issues and their impact on the coatings industry. He spoke of the importance of truly understanding solvent's effect on the ozone in the air and the need for additional time and testing.
Hassan Ali offered a distributor's perspective on the challenge to remain relevant and ideas on how suppliers can strive to remain relevant to their customers. "There will always be room for distribution channels," said Ali. "We will have to step up our game. We cannot be merely order takers. We need to start looking at out of the box thinking."
The second panel discussion, "Women in Coatings," featured an enlightening discussion on the role of women in the coatings industry. The panel was comprised of leaders in the industry including Sandy Berg, Ellis Paint; Jeanne Savage, Forrest Paint; Melinda Forbes, Kronos Worldwide/Ribelin Sales; and Gail Pollano, DSM Neoresins and was moderated by Patricia Jones of Lanxess.
The first topic for discussion was "How have things changed for women in the coatings industry?"
According to Pollano, there is definitely an increased presence of women in a variety of roles in the coatings industry today "I think women have come a long way in the industry and all you have to do is look around the show floor and see the number of female research chemists walking the floor as well as behind the booth," she said.
"Today we see a tremendous difference," said Berg. "Fifty percent of our executives are female. I do see quite a few breakthroughs on the FSCT side too."
The next dealt with the increasing presence of women in leadership and research positions in the coatings industry.
Savage noted the increased presence of females on the plant level. "It is so encouraging to see there are more women working at high levels in the plant," said Savage.
The panel then went on to discuss special strengths and skill sets that women bring to the workforce, including being a team player and the ability to multi-task.
"One of the interesting things women bring to the job are organization skills," noted Pollano.
The experts offered their insights for women wishing to enter the paint and coatings industry. "It's very important to find a mentor if you want to learn something new and be proactive," said Savage.
Acquiring tools to enhance productivity is key. The women on the panel agreed that education and personal development are crucial to success.
"Never stop learning because learning is power," said Pollano. "Keep coming to these events. I believe the second most important thing you can do to succeed in this industry is to do your job well and to volunteer."
Berg offered a number of insights for women looking to break into this industry. "There are still challenges for women in the industry. I had to break through my own barriers before I could succeed. Be willing to take a risk. Learning should be a life long quest. Working on your own barriers is a fast track to success." she concluded."