Over 900 delegates and spouses attended the annual gathering of distributors, gas companies and equipment suppliers at the exotic Atlantis Hotel, Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

The ambience was still optimistic despite the US credit crunch, with realistic expectations that demand for gases and equipment was expected to slow down for the remainder of 2008.

First time delegates, followed by members, met out-going President Gary Stoneback at the pre-conference welcome reception. This was hosted by the GAWDA committee and gives suppliers and distributors the opportunity of networking and meeting new people and companies operating in the North American gases industry.

The next day, Stoneback officially opened the conference once the Bahamas National Junior Choir had sung both the US and Bahamian national anthems. He gave a ‘State of the Association’ speech on the changes made – especially in the auditing process and the drive for more transparency.

Stoneback also stated that such GAWDA events are becoming more challenging to organise as consolidation within the distributor community continues, resulting in reduced numbers of members. However he was extremely pleased to see the number of suppliers at the event.

There was an interesting update on some of the changes happening on both DOT (Department of Transportation) and FDA (medical gases) regulations being applied to the industry in the US. Truck drivers hours legislation and driver training was emphasised as important, while there are changes afoot on the ‘Security Plans’ for what is classified as a dangerous load (of flammable gas) and how it differs from the anti-terrorism Security Plan. These were discussed by two of GAWDA’s prominent consultants Michael Dodd and Rick Schweitzer.

The main speaker on the first day was Pat Williams, Senior Vice President to NBA (National Basketball Association) side Orlando Magic. He gave an informative and motivational speech on the eight pointers to managing a successful team. Many delegates were seen writing furiously to keep up on the main points, which no doubt will be passed onto company executives over the coming months!

It was certainly powerful and a great tool for management.

A round table discussion followed, where distributors and suppliers could get together and debate items such as delivery times, efficiency, and much more beyond.

Day two followed, with an early start for the customary supplier booth programme. This year over 140 companies were represented – spanning the whole supply chain for the industry. Again, this is an opportunity for networking and seeing the latest technologies on offer – though the booth programme was followed by a long, hot game of golf for the fanatics (sorry keen members)!

Day three gave rise to the hand over from Stoneback to the new President – Britt Lovin, Vice President of Andy Oxy Co. Delegates were introduced to Britt’s family and one positive image filled the convention – the presidency is significantly younger looking these days.

There followed an enlightening speech by John Stropki, Chief Executive Officer of Lincoln Electric. Stropki gave an interesting insight into the $20bn global cutting & welding hard goods market stating clearly to local distributors and suppliers, the need to embrace the international opportunities that exist or at least be aware that manufacturing in the US is losing out to such countries as China and India.

However, he was very upbeat about the future for his industry and his company, despite the current credit crunch. Stropki revealed that it was the expansion of the railroad that was one of the most influential drivers for global growth in the 19th century, that the explosive industrialisation of the western world drove the global economy in the 20th century, and that the majority of the Fortune 500 Chief Execs expect to see the 21st century become the age of the ‘Great Global Build Out’ (infrastructure projects).

Just looking at the US, up to $1.6 trillion is needed to be spent on ‘emergency rehabilitation’. It was also estimated that $20.2 trillion needs to be spent on energy projects around the world by 2012 and $400bn will be spent on pipelines! These are all major consumers of welding gases and consumables.

Following a closing speech, delegates were invited to the President’s Farewell Gala that evening where almost 900 attendees met to be greeted to Caribbean hospitality and entertainment.

During the five days, there were a number of hospitality-sponsored evening events.

Taylor-Wharton International (TWI) held a hospitality event for its customers, the first such occasion since TWI became independent of the Harsco Corporation. New CEO Bob Gagomsky welcomed guests, informed the invited guests of the company changes, and said a fond farewell to Scott Boyd who retired at the end of September. He also welcomed Stuart Java, who replaces Boyd.

Matheson Tri-Gas Inc. (MTG) hosted a beach cocktail event in which Rick Kowey welcomed Mr Kawaguchi, Senior Vice President of Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corp. (TNSC) to the GAWDA event for the fist time. Kawaguchi announced a number of changes and investments that TNSC had made over the last year and thanked distributors for their support.

Bill Kroll, CEO of MTG, also welcomed Alfonso Elliot, MD of Bahamas Welding and Fire Co, as the sole distributor of industrial and medical gases in the Bahamas.

Air Products also hosted a hospitality event for customers in the US. Tom Ward, Vice President for Gases North America, greeted guests during a break from the Caribbean Jazz band.