Experts weigh in on infrastructure spending, steel tariffs, workforce development and more.

SEEPEX executives answers questions for the Pumps & Systems annual State of the Industry survey of pumps professionals.

For extensive state of the industry coverage, click here.

How are international politics and issues like the steel tariffs affecting your business and/or the pumps industry overall?
SEEPEX President and CEO Mark Jones: Due to numerous markets, economic and competitive demands, SEEPEX had to make adjustments. The U.S. economy has been expanding at a robust rate for 108 months with the average increase in GDP at 2.2 percent per year. Trying to keep costs in check during such a time is difficult. New import duties have started to decidedly impact prices, even from domestic suppliers. Steel prices, especially steel tubes, have increased dramatically, even from domestic mills. Energy prices, a dramatic influence on the U.S. economy, have been rising. Embargoes on Iran, Russia and Venezuela have fueled an expansion in U.S. production but much of that production is now being exported. We have also seen many other cost increases from the supplier. Duties, especially on metals and all of the elements needed to make metals, transportation and the tight labor market have driven up all costs. The Federal Reserve, when increasing interest rates, also drives up the costs for borrowing and trade credit. SEEPEX has seen all of these factors impact our business.

Are changes in the workforce affecting your company? What are you doing to try to mitigate issues related to the skills gap? What are you doing to attract millennials and younger workers to the field/your company?
SEEPEX Human Resources Manager, Ginger Brooks: Unemployment rates are at a record low. Many area companies are expanding and creating large numbers of new jobs. This makes it very difficult to find quality applicants for job openings. Luckily, SEEPEX has a good reputation in the community as an employer, but it is still a challenge to find candidates that meet our needs. SEEPEX is a member of local Clark State Community College’s Manufacturing Partnership, which examines future skills needs and provides guidance to the college in setting curriculum. The company also participated in successfully obtaining permission from the Ohio legislature to allow Clark State to offer a Bachelor of Science in manufacturing technology management degree. As the HR Manager, I have been a member of other committees at Clark State relating to similar manufacturing skills gap issues. In order to attract millennials and younger works to manufacturing, SEEPEX has been refining our benefits package to make it more attractive to the new members of the workforce. Additionally, the company has participated in several internship programs and job fairs at local universities.

Do you think the recent approval of the U.S. water infrastructure bill will impact your business? How so?
Josh Donegia, Sales and Marketing Analyst for SEEPEX: The progressive cavity (PC) pump business will be positively impacted by America’s Water Infrastructure Act, which provides historic new funding for our nation’s infrastructure. SEEPEX specializes in system solutions for a range of water and wastewater treatment processes including chemical metering and sludge handling processes. As a result of the availability of new funds, we are seeing an uptick in demand for equipment in both grassroots and improvement projects. SEEPEX is working hard with our representatives and engineering partners to ensure we are at the forefront of designing and implementing pumping solutions to bring new systems online as quickly and easily as possible for our customers.

How have advancements in IIoT (the Industrial Internet of Things) affected your business? How do you predict they will continue to do so?
Kathryn DeWell, Marketing Assistant for SEEPEX: SEEPEX is taking on the challenges of the digital age and we are fully invested in the digitalization of PC pump technology and our customer experience. Our customers’ business models based upon Industry 4.0 drive this initiative. Our company has adapted our strengths in technical and mechanical innovation and has integrated newly acquired knowledge bases in electrical and information engineering. We have also added digital competencies to other divisions such as marketing and service. Our activities in smart pump development, virtual and augmented reality product showroom and service apps, and online pump management programs are evidence of this effort.

What are you most optimistic about in 2019?
SEEPEX President and CEO Mark Jones: For SEEPEX the most exciting opportunities in 2019 are in the energy sector. This rising price of oil is driving a lot of investments. The launches of a dedicated API pump for the petroleum industry, the BTVE open hopper pump for highly viscous/semi-solid products and the 2-stage SCT pump for higher pressure handling with easy maintenance in renewable energy applications, and a specially designed dewatering unit for mining are only a few recent examples of our innovations serving this sector.

What else should the end users who read Pumps & Systems know about the year ahead?
SEEPEX President and CEO Mark Jones: 2019 is a difficult year to forecast. There are many new factors that can affect short and middle term outlooks. These include the new trade agreement between the USA, Canada and Mexico, an escalation of trade tension, and the Democrats gaining control of the house. All of these can have an impact on impact on the pump industry in 2019 and beyond.