What Congress means to me

Richard Ridings, P.E., R.P.L.S.
APWA President

Since Congress is rapidly approaching, I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you just how much our annual conference means to me.

I have been going to Congress for more than 30 years, and one of the main reasons I have attended so often concerns the wonderful educational opportunities to be found there. Attending Congress is the best way to keep up with public works infrastructure activities, legislative issues, solutions that other communities have developed, and personnel, management and financial issues that are working in other communities. I utilize these solutions daily in the communities that I am serving.

Congress has always provided me the opportunity of developing professional and personal relationships. For the Congressgoer, our annual event gives you the opportunity to interact with your peers and grow the relationships that you have with others. This, in turn, assists you in growing as a person and to better serve your own communities.

Going to Congress also makes me feel inspired and energized to take on the challenges of the coming year. Knowledge and information helps you build a level of confidence in what you are doing, and I believe that in turn inspires public works professionals. That has certainly been true in my case.

Finally, I must say that I love going to Congress for the camaraderie, the teamwork, and the public works "family." Truly, it is like being with family again. These are the key reasons that I continue to go to Congress, and I look forward to going again this year.

Tips for the first-timers
For you first-time attendees heading to Kansas City this year, let me pass on a few items that may help you truly enjoy the Congress experience. First of all, be sure to plan your schedules carefully in advance to make sure you see all the educational programs that you are interested in. Second, plan on spending plenty of time on the exhibit floor, because there is a great deal of new information, ideas, and computer-related issues to be found there. Also on the exhibit floor, be sure to check out our InfoLink program and the educational materials that we will have at the APWA Central booth.

Next, plan on attending your chapter dinner, as chapter dinners during Congress are a great experience. And speaking of dinners, be sure to wrap up your Congress experience with the annual banquet, which will give you an additional opportunity to develop and grow new relationships.

Finally, take the time to learn what your colleagues in other communities are doing. With what extra time I can come up with at Congress each year, I always enjoy meeting public works professionals in other communities and learning what they are doing to address their current issues. That has worked for me for 34 years, and I would certainly advise others to do the same.

They've all been pleasant...
I have always appreciated the opportunity to attend Congress and meet the current public works leaders in other states and communities. And, in looking back at each Congress I have attended, I can honestly say that they have all been pleasant—in fact, I can't say that one stands out above the others.

That said, the Philadelphia Congress and what happened while we were there will never leave me. The events that followed September 11—our chapter dinner, the closing banquet, and being with other public works leaders—certainly confirmed for me that in difficult times, the people you want to be around are public works people. They know how to handle tough times and tough issues, and they know how to deal with the rest of their family members in difficult times. I will never forget the Philadelphia Congress and the feeling of family that I had, even though I was away from my own family that week. I was certainly much more comfortable being around public works leaders during such a difficult time. It was the next best thing to being with your own family.

On to Kansas City!
This year's Congress provides an interesting and unique opportunity for APWA members. It's going to be an excellent Congress, of course, but I'm referring specifically to the fact that this will be an opportunity for members to meet all of our Kansas City headquarters staff. I would like to see our members take the time and visit our local office in Kansas City, and match faces with names along with the activities that the staff are responsible for carrying out.

Also, think about it this way: Many of you might not get the chance to meet all of the Kansas City staff again, since Congress may not come back to Kansas City, very possibly, for many years. So take this opportunity to visit the center of APWA's operations and meet the staff. During our leadership meetings conducted in Kansas City in February, one thing that a number of people talked about was that it was really great to meet the staff. This is your chance to do just that.