By Denise M. Roberts
American Aqua, LLC
723 W. Michigan Ave.
Saline, MI 48176
Toll-free: (800) 224-2528
Tel: (734) 429-5070
Darwin Watts, CWS-V, the President of American Aqua, LLC., has been appointed President of the Water Quality Association. A resident of Plymouth, MI, he has worked in the water treatment industry for over 30 years and his experience encompasses professional, executive management and business ownership roles. Watts also served previously on the WQA Board of Directors and Board of Governors.
Under Watts’ leadership, the company’s offerings have grown from water softener sales, rental and services to a broad range of leading technical solutions for residential, commercial and industrial applications. American Aqua’s trained and certified technicians today serve more than 20,000 customers, mainly in southeast Michigan and northern Ohio, from facilities in Saline, Adrian and Howell.
Watts is also the President of SEAS Capital Partners, LLC, a private capital firm focusing on the water treatment industry. SEAS Capital helps clients with transition plans, advises on company management and improvement, provides entry and exit acquisition assistance, and offers equity ownership positions in selected water treatment companies.
WC&P was fortunate to schedule time with this very busy industry veteran for an interview and Watts happily shares his views on the future of the water industry and WQA with our readers.
As incoming President, what is your vision for the future of WQA?
The Governors have been working on a set of strategic initiatives that will deal with the forces that we think will be affecting the industry in the next five years. Those initiatives, plus recruiting our new Executive Director, are occupying much of my time. We will be rolling out those initiatives on March 7th at the convention.
What do you feel is the most pressing concern for the organization and the members?
There are many but among the most important is the need to promote our relevance to the new buyers and private equity that are entering our industry. I think we will see some major new money in this industry this year and these new owners need to understand the importance of WQA to their future success.
What, as President, do you expect to address as the most important issues facing water treatment dealers and manufacturers?
In my mind, the most important issue facing manufacturers and dealers is growing our businesses at a time when the economic and regulatory headwinds are tough to contend with. Each of us needs to promote our relevance to the consumer and our importance to society. And we need to improve our technologies to meet the challenges of today.
As California communities continue to institute bans on water softeners, what can WQA do to assist members in dealing with these issues?
Really, there have been only a few bans so far but we can expect more to surface. This issue won’t go away and it requires WQA’s and PWQA’s continued perseverance. It is imperative that our industry invents new technologies and improves on the old ones to meet the new challenges we are facing. This isn’t going to go away and, most importantly, our old arguments aren’t going to solve this problem. Salinity is an issue not only in California but also in many other states. My business is in Michigan and believe it or not, there are more bans and restrictions there than there are in California.
Does WQA plan on a national rather than regional response to the various legislative activities that are detrimental to our industry?
That’s not how the Constitution of our great country works. Water is a local and regional issue first, and a national issue second. The national government in Washington doesn’t have the power to preempt state and local regulations – they can just pile on. So, no we don’t envision a national initiative to stop local and state issues because that would just be shooting ourselves in the foot.
Is the membership base being strengthened by the more upbeat economic picture? What promotional activities is WQA engaged in to enhance the membership experience and provide additional support to the industry?
I’m happy to report that our membership numbers are higher than they have been in the last 15 years or so. That’s great news and it tells us we’ve been doing a good job. Shortly we are rolling out a new consumer focused website, which will also strengthen our members. And there will be new initiatives that will emerge from our strategic initiatives.