By Elizabeth Peggs – I confess that when I heard “February in Portland” I quietly questioned a few things about the International Erosion Control Association’s (IECA Region One) 2015 conference! My reservations were immediately offset by the second part of the same announcement: IECA had opted to co-locate its 2015 Environmental Connection conference with IFAI’s biennial Geosynthetics conference. It was an unexpected but intriguing idea. It offered a solid foundation of technical expertise with multiple points of crossover. The formula could succeed.
As it turns out, that assumption was correct. The combined conferences were a huge success, with more than 2,700 participants on hand, including 240 exhibitors. Even the weather cooperated!
Both conferences conducted their own technical programs, in keeping with their typical formats. The two technical programming areas were somewhat isolated but joined by the exhibit hall. This allowed provided attendees a common setting for networking, discovery, and additional opportunities.
In many cases, when topics were relevant to both audiences, authors presented similar but different versions of their work in both venues. With ever decreasing travel and marketing budgets, I am confident that this “two events for the travel budget of one” approach created the environment where more authors could more easily justify presenting their work.
The conference “buzz” on this front was excellent. Attendees and presenters were excited by the opportunity for diversity without an additional time/financial risk.
Exhibitors experienced the same benefit as authors, by offering an exhibit hall in which all event participants could freely roam. Exhibitors were able to meet with their most relevant sector clients and potential clients as well as with affiliated and more tangential sector professionals. It allowed them to lay the foundation for new ideas and opportunities.
A DEPARTURE IN SCHEDULE
The schedule of the conference exhibit hall was adjusted from the historically standard format. There was a Monday – Wednesday technical program, but the exhibit hall was offered as a full day only on Tuesday, while Wednesday was a partial day for access to vendors. This provided amazing traffic on Tuesday, but the Wednesday traffic didn’t enjoy the same benefit. (Most trade shows struggle with the “last-day blues.”) The interesting thing to consider is how difficult it is for conferences to strike that perfect balance between enough time and enough traffic. Perhaps the same 1.75-day schedule but on Monday and Tuesday of the conference would hit that sweet-spot?
I applaud the organizers for listening to the input of the exhibitors and working to develop a new formula that meets everyone’s needs.
MORE SOCIAL NEEDED?
One negative I picked up was regarding the disappearance of some of the IECA traditional social experiences. I am confident that the co-location of events complicated the possibility of these engagements to be held in the same way they have been at previous Environmental Connection events. IFAI, which also has a long record of event staging in the technical textiles field, has reduced or eliminated extra-curricular activities at a number of its events in recent years.
The benefits of co-location in this case were a fine tradeoff, as it provided the participant number pop that both hosts were hoping for; but we will all look forward to the next Hydrodeo and other IECA social events next year when the strong IECA community reconvenes at Environmental Connection 2016 in San Antonio, Texas, 16 – 19 February 2016.
Elizabeth Peggs is the Director of Minerva Technology, Resources, and Information, the publisher of Geosynthetica, GeosIndex, and Geosynthetica’s Portuguese-language site dedicated to the Brazilian market.
Geosynthetica served as a media partner to Environmental Connection 2015.0