By Denise M. Roberts
The best way to describe Dave Haataja (pronounced Ha’ dee ya) is a man with boundless enthusiasm, a can-do attitude and great rapport with people. He answers questions forthrightly, even those that might not be the most positive in nature. Haataja is focused on moving the Water Quality Association and its membership forward into future roles that are developing due to water scarcity and sustainability, as well as being more communicative with WQA members and other like-minded organizations.
Haataja’s feet have definitely gotten wet in a short period of time. When asked what he thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, he acknowledged the strengths are its members. “After attending the Texas Water Quality Association’s annual convention and reaching out to regional directors, I’ve found that the organization’s greatest strength is its membership,” he said. “There is a sense of pride and willingness amongst members to share information and work together, including working with the competition to help and achieve a mutual goal. There is a level of professionalism that shines through; but more than that, this is a group of people who take the time to enjoy what they accomplish and to enjoy each other’s company.”
Haataja noted that speaking to members has enlightened him to what they want and expect of the organization and what they want to see more of in the future. “I’ve been told that our Regulatory Affairs section is doing a wonderful job. That’s the kind of feedback we need to hear. We want to position WQA as a collaborative partner interested in water purity and be the go-to organization. And it’s important that we demonstrate by our actions what we can achieve. We’re here to provide solutions to problems. Looking at what has been accomplished in Arizona tells me there needs to be more collaboration in regulatory affairs at regional and state levels as well.”
There are also weaknesses that are being addressed. “We need to be more focused on creating awareness of our industry,” Haataja said. “Why wasn’t my phone ringing when problems were cropping up in Illinois or other areas? Being more communicative with members, like-minded trade organizations, outside agencies (including non-governmental organizations) will bring us into better focus across the broad spectrum. As we look at water scarcity and globalization, we have to be more visible, more willing to be out in front to collaborate on issues that affect everyone, not just those inside our borders. Globalization cannot be overlooked and we have to make sure we are positioned to effectively deal with emerging elements of this process.”
Education and product certification are pivotal to this industry. It’s why we are expanding our programs to encompass sustainability, the industrial market, regulatory affairs and more.
The key to many efforts will be education, according to Haataja. “How are we going to be better stewards of our resources? How do we accomplish those goals? How do we create more awareness of the industry and the value we present to our membership? We must be educated and we must provide education. Education and product certification are pivotal to this industry. It’s why we are expanding our programs to encompass sustainability, the industrial market, regulatory affairs and more. I have members tell me they gain great value from the educational venues and committee meetings at the trade shows. The industrial round-tables are very well received and can be expanded. It’s the hands-on education they are looking for and would like to see expanded.”
During TWQA, Haataja held a town-hall type forum that provided great feedback. “There were questions and concerns that helped to define what the membership is seeking and what they expect from WQA. Change is needed in some areas and we will be the lightning rod for that change. We intend to increase the value of membership. We are putting together a process by which we can categorize the priorities and address those issues as measurable deliverables. These are your ideas and here’s how we have put them together and how we are going to deliver. Three basic tenets are membership satisfaction, employee satisfaction and fiscal responsibility. You must have all three to be successful and we are working to make sure those aspects of the organization are appropriately addressed. We want to create a culture that defines the industry but doesn’t limit it.”
Three basic tenets are membership satisfaction, employee satisfaction and fiscal responsibility. You must have all three to be successful and we are working to make sure those aspects of the organization are appropriately addressed.
Lack of communication has been a problem but Haataja has been exploring what can be done to overcome this. “First, we have to break down the barriers that are inside our own walls,” he said. “We need to be more communicative inside and outside the organization. We are making progress. At TWQA, the town-hall approach was the right one. Round tables are the right approach also. People are telling me to keep doing what I’m doing. We’re moving in a positive direction and we are keeping the momentum that is necessary to improve relationships and build new ones. You’ll be hearing much more from me as time goes by. We will find opportunities to communicate in the best way.”
Looking forward to the next WQA Aquatech, there is an active program to promote and enhance participation. “We need to learn from both past successes and failures,” Haataja noted. “We’ve been talking to the membership to see what excites them so we can demonstrate that we are hearing their voices. We’re looking for quality attendance, not just turnstile turns. We are creating action plans for successful events that bring quality to the membership and the industry. The staff are passionate about the conferences and tradeshows and put monumental effort into making them work for everyone. Our collaborative partnership with Amsterdam RAI, which is a professional tradeshow organizer rather than a trade organization, is an equal opportunity situation. They help us promote greater awareness internationally and that is of great importance because of globalization. We look for every opportunity to bring to the membership, through our efforts and our partnerships, the best possible experience.”
The need for an industrial program has been well-noted over the past several years. WQA has made extensive progress in launching new educational programs, webinars and training for this market segment and the efforts have been proceeding well. “We’re getting very positive feedback,” said Haataja. “Better than expected. We responded to a need that we should have responded to more quickly. This is another way to increase the value of the water treatment industry for our members. And it’s working!”
Regulatory aspects of the water treatment industry have a huge impact on everyone, not just those in the municipal segment. Right down to the consumer, who sees increased costs when new regulations are issued, there is no area that remains unaffected for long. WQA has been involved in US EPA discussions and other regulatory affairs but as Haataja noted, there needs to be more. “We need to take our voice to the national level and have a methodical approach to participation in discussions. We need our members to know who their local and state representatives are and how changes in the regulatory landscape affects them. WQA will be a much more communicative organization that will take regulatory issues to a new level.”
As with most organizations, WQA will evolve based on trends, membership needs and legislative rulings. The strength of the organization, as Haataja said, is its members. They will drive changes that are necessary and will prompt WQA to also make changes that are beneficial. “We will concentrate on building relationships with other organizations and look at being more in tune with external forces,” said Haataja. “We’re listening to the membership and looking at what is going on in the world that affects water. We’re going to seek out and find those who are interested in water quality and develop those relationships. And we are going to actively represent our membership’s needs, especially in the regulatory forum. We’ll develop our role in water scarcity and purity. There are many things we can do and many we will do. We won’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the answers but I’ll ask if I don’t know.”
Haataja is very passionate about his role as Executive Director and excited to embark on new paths to reach the necessary goals. He is a people person, one who takes the time to listen. He wants to find answers to the questions he is asked and his ideas are creative and thoughtful. There is a sense that the new leadership will increase the value of membership and advance the role of the industry on the global stage. Partnerships, of which many would benefit the organization, will be explored. Dave Haataja has a plan to move things forward and it appears he has already started making a difference.