GAWDA celebrated its 60th anniversary at its 61st meeting on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui and the location certainly helped achieve a record attendance of 1016 members, associate members and their families.
Established by 13 distributors in Ohio in November 1945, GAWDA, who were called NWSA until 2002, has seen the industry come a long way in the 60 years since that first meeting. Its vision is simple – “To promote the safe operation and economic vitality of distributors of industrial gases and related welding equipment”. Run by professional management company Fernley and Fernley and ably supported by more than 90 volunteers on various committee and task forces GAWDA’s key activities include arranging safety seminars, business training and government representation.
Companies attending included all of the major gas companies as well as a number of major suppliers to the industry including the likes of Worthington cylinders, Chart Industries and Thermadyne. However, the majority of people making the long journey were from the traditional gas and welding distributors from which GAWDA gets its name and for whom GAWDA provides a valuable support service.
Spread over four days, the focus of GAWDA conventions is very much placed on networking and a host of events and recreational activities ensured that attendees had ample opportunity to spend time together and catch up with colleagues and friends alike.
Nine new members including Spiritus Consulting and the Mahoney Group also made their first journey to a GAWDA convention and were welcomed by a mentoring program designed to help them meet other members in what can be a formidable environment solely due to the large attendance.
Starting with an opening business session chaired by outgoing president, Bob Thornton, the first guest speaker was David Foreman who, in morning and afternoon sessions, gave a presentation on transitioning businesses as well as asset protection and tax planning. These are all key issues in the US distributor market as member companies, many dating back to the post war years, come to terms with an increasingly competitive market dominated by a fewer number of suppliers. Consolidation is one of the key issues in the industry currently and many smaller GAWDA members are having to face up to major decisions including possible sale of their, often family owned, businesses or expansion into less competitive areas such as medical and specialty gas with the attendant investment required by this option.
Attendees at the morning session also heard a motivational keynote speech by Vietnam veteran and former POW Gerald Coffee who drew from his life experiences to impart a timeless and life changing message of faith in self; one another, country and God.
After an evening reception on the beautiful lawns of the Grand Wailea Hotel, Wednesday morning saw more than 250 representatives from more than 100 companies participate in GAWDA’s contact booth program which enables mainly associate members to give an overview of their products and services to members and other associates. Comments from booth exhibitors were that this year’s program was better attended than in previous years although a number of them also thought that the program was a little short at only three hours. Nonetheless, the booth program was well organised and enabled members to visit a large number of potential suppliers in a short time which proved invaluable for them.
After a further day of extremely well attended recreational activities to encourage more networking as well as opportunities for members to arrange meetings, Thursday evening saw a final gathering at the President’s reception prior. The day finished with entertainment and dancing from Michael Cavanaugh, star of Broadway hit Show Movin’ Out and featuring the songs of Billy Joel, the Beatles and many others.
On the final day, outgoing president, Bob Thornton, was saluted for his leadership during a year of challenge before handing the presidency to Whip Avery of family owned distributor Corp Brothers based in Rhode Island.
A final presentation was given by Rick Schweizer covering the latest progress in the ongoing welding fume litigation. Lasting for more than ten years, the welding fume litigation represents a threat to GAWDA members on many fronts including insurers seeking to limit their liability by claiming that welding fumes are “pollution” and , therefore, not covered by insurance policies. As well as acting decisively on this topic, GAWDA’s main aims in this litigation are to be a central resource for information, to coordinate an industry defence strategy, advice to members about how to respond to claims and to refer expert witnesses for members’ potential litigation.
Finally, the closing speech was given by former Attorney General, John Ashcroft, who spoke about the necessary qualities of leadership, drawing on his direct experiences in government and, specifically, during the most challenging times faced by America in decades as it dealt with 9/11 and ongoing threats through terrorism.
GAWDA has its 62nd annual convention in Orlando, Florida in October 2006.