Despite the doom and gloom seemingly all around us in the mainstream press, the 67th annual GAWDA convention started and finished in buoyant mood this October, held in the ‘Big Apple’, New York.

The Gas and Welding Distributors Association (GAWDA) annual convention opened in Times Square, New York city with the President’s welcome reception in which well over 800 delegates met to begin the three-day gathering. As outgoing President, Lloyd Robinson said he was delighted with the turn out for the opening cocktail party and was looking forward to the three days ahead.

Despite talk of a recession, the backbone of the industrial gases business - the distributors - appeared to be in high spirits and buoyant mood ahead of the next day’s opening day proper.

That formal start to proceedings was provided by Airgas President, Chairman and CEO Peter McCausland, who gave an interesting keynote speech from the perspective of a company that essentially remains a ‘distribution company at heart’.

McCausland detailed the company’s rise to prominence to become the $4.5bn revenue behemoth it is today. He told the audience that competition from well-run, independent distributors - many of whom were present at the convention - still “kept him awake at night.”

Then came the perspective that, despite having some 11% of US atmospheric gases production, Airgas remains “a distribution company at heart,” he said.
McCausland also reflected on last year’s unwelcome takeover bid from Air Products, which he said was opportunistic, citing moves in September 2010 to place Air Products directors on the Airgas board as his “darkest hour.” The proposed takeover situation was brought to an end earlier this year, when Air Products announced that it had withdrawn its offer to purchase Airgas, following a decision by the Delaware Chancery Court to uphold the Airgas Stockholder Rights Plan.

Despite that darkest hour, when asked if he would consider retirement any time soon, McCausland said he had no plans yet - but that the company took its succession plans “very seriously.”

Other highlights from the convention included an informative speech from GAWDA president elect Bryan Keen, who informed members gathered at the event that members would soon benefit from access to safety data information from the Compressed Gas Association (CGA).

Speaking at the convention’s opening session, Keen announced the joint, five-year initiative, which will see the organisation paying the CGA so that GAWDA members can use the CGA’s online database of safety documentation.

The idea was first proposed by CGA President and CEO, Michael Tiller. He told gasworld that he aims to roll out access to GAWDA members in Q1 2012. Keen commented, “Michael Tiller presented the concept, and we welcomed it, and entered into discussions. Ultimately, it’s a safety issue - it’s in the best interests of our members and their customers.”

Keen said CGA membership, and access to its database, was previously too expensive for many GAWDA members. He added that the CGA safety data sheets would be a boon to many companies’ safety compliance programmes.

Tiller also announced a new safety award from the CGA, for all GAWDA members who participate.

In a separate announcement that reinforced the sense of buoyancy in the air, Keen also said GAWDA was in good shape financially - and would demonstrate this to its members with a 25% reduction in 2012 membership fees. This is despite a decline in the overall number of GAWDA members, a result of a number of factors including industry consolidation.

Women’s gas and welding initiative launched
Women in Gas and Welding (WIGA), which aims to be the “driving force” for the advocacy, recruitment and professional advancement of females in the gas and welding industry, was launched in New York at the recent Gas and Welding Distributors Association Annual (GAWDA) convention.

Led by GAWDA past president, Jenny McCall, the American Welding Society Foundation’s Monica Pfarr, WESCO’s Judy Miller, and Dynaflux’s Amy Milligan, the organisation can be found on LinkedIn and has a new website at www.wigaw.org, where it invites women and girls to participate.

“Our goal is to enhance the industry image as it relates to women, disseminate educational and career information, and provide resources for networking outreach and support,” says Milligan. Praxair has provided initial sponsorship to the initiative.