Symposium organizers were pleased with both the quality of the presentations and the number of attendees. “People were happy at the show,” said Sean Feng, president, West Coast Societies and chairman of the 30th Biennial Western Coatings Symposium. “Exhibitors were excited with the waves of attendees. Attendees were pleased with the number of presentations and presenters were equally impressed that so many attendees showed up at their talks. Every keynote speakers had dozens of participants who stood to hear the talk.”
The Symposium commenced with keynote session, “U.S. Economic Outlook,” by Robert Fry, a senior economist at DuPont. “Where are we in terms of industrial production is about where we were in 2008,” he said. “Growth is slow. The trend is still down. The recovery is being driven by China, Korea and Thailand. It started in China and spread through the rest of the world.
“Global growth reaccelerated into 2011, but has slowed again,” Fry said. “This can be attributed to high oil prices and the tsunami in Japan. Growth has slowed more recently because of the debt situation in the U.S.”
Recovery has been weak in the U.S. because of the poor housing market. “Housing is one weak link in the U.S. Another is U.S. employment growing slowly,” said Fry. “Spending is growing a little more than disposable income. Right now consumers are rebuilding their savings and not spending as much. We are starting to see some acceleration. Motor vehicle sales were hit hard and have fallen to the lowest levels since the 80s.”
According to Fry, a U.S. recession is not inevitable, but there are risks that it could happen.
“Five times since 1960 there have been declines in U.S. stock prices of this magnitude that were not followed by a recession,” he said. “That happened last summer and 2002. So there is a precedent to have these economic conditions and not have a recession. Consumers and investors have lost confidence in leaders in the U.S. and Europe. Consumer sentiment has plummeted. Stock prices are down sharply, especially in Europe. Stock price declines are both a predictor and a cause of slower growth. A U.S. recession is not inevitable but the risks have risen.”
The second day of talks began with a keynote session on “The Challenges of Innovation,” presented by John Gilbert, vice president of R&D for Behr.
“Today I’m going to address innovation in the workplace,” said Gilbert. “To be successful in producing innovative R&D work, we need to retain our best technical employees to provide an environment in which they can innovate. Motivating your workforce is a key to innovation.”
Gilbert defined innovation as “a change in a product offering, service, business, model or operation that meaningfully improves the experience of a larger number of stakeholders.”
Another key to innovation is the filtering of ideas. “Innovation is not about ideas, it is about being productive with those ideas,” he said. “Focus not on the idea of ideas, but the value generation. Innovation happens somewhere between chaos and control.”
Innovating in today’s economy can be a challenge. “There has been a decline in median household income,” said Gilbert. “Nationwide it dropped 2.4 percent. How do we respond to this? Middle class shoppers are trading down. The key is to figure out how to please both the high-end and the low-end. We need to think beyond price points. Pull ahead things discovered in your innovation projects and incorporate them into your current products. Let your product stewards innovate. Reinforce innovative behavior. Kill projects that aren’t going anywhere. Load up key products with resources. Innovation is something new that creates economic value for a company and its customers.”
Other technical presentations covered green chemistry, environmental friendly color technologies, additives for improvement and new trends in coatings. In addition to the technical sessions, the Symposium featured student posters and an exhibitor showcase. There was also an awards presentation.
The Samson Adler Distinguished Service Award was presented to Dr. Dane Jones, associate dean and professor, department of chemistry and biochemistry, California Polytechnic State University. Dr. Jones oversaw the development of both undergraduate and graduate polymers and coatings programs for Cal Poly’s chemistry department and has more than 30 years of experience in the polymers and coatings field.
“My greatest joy is working with the people in this industry,” Jones said. “They have provided equipment, raw materials and most importantly expertise. I’m deeply humbled. It’s been a great ride and we are going to continue to provide the industry with the best students.”