Snow Conference a success

R. Kevin Clark
Editor, APWA Reporter

Good attendance, jam-packed education sessions, a record number of exhibitors, and an evening of sparkling entertainment were the hallmarks of the 41st Annual North American Snow Conference held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in April. Hosted by the Indiana Chapter, APWA's premier event for snow and ice management brought together more than 1,200 attendees, exhibitor representatives, and volunteers at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis.

"The conference was a great success," said Brenda Shaver, Manager of Meetings on APWA's staff. "The exhibits were wonderful, and people spent a lot of time on the floor talking to exhibitors. The education program also was excellent, and a number of the sessions were packed with attendees. I heard a lot of people say what a good conference it was."

Ann Daniels, Professional Development Program Manager, was impressed with her first Snow Conference. "I thought it was a good experience," she said. "It was good to see such a wide variety of people, in both leadership roles and actual hands-on roles, and to see the variety of programming in education courses and sessions that were offered. There was something there for everybody."

Indeed, whether it pertained to the nuts-and-bolts-type issues concerning what kinds of snowplows you should use, to what kinds of chemicals you should use, to how you can develop a snow fighting program for your community and the steps you could follow, all of the important winter maintenance issues were dealt with at the conference.

The conference began on Sunday, April 8, with two technical tours organized by the Indiana Chapter, both of which sold out and were well received. The tours, which included displays of agency-owned snow fighting equipment and a visit to a large transmission manufacturing facility, concluded with a special visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Race Museum.

The exhibit floor opened at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, and featured a record number 123 companies demonstrating the very latest products, services, and technologies available in snow fighting and winter road maintenance. "The attendees really got a lot out of the exhibit floor," said Shaver. "I know the exhibitors were very happy with the traffic on the floor and the quality of people who came by their booths."

The opening reception on the exhibit floor was also notable for one particular event: P.W. Paws, APWA's nine-foot-tall mascot, made his debut at the Snow Conference. "He was a huge hit," said Diana Forbes, Meetings Coordinator. "We had him at the entrance to the exhibit floor, he walked around all the exhibits, and then he went out into the lobby just in time to greet Judy Mueller (APWA President) and escorted her onto the exhibit floor. It was perfect timing."

Monday brought the Opening General Session, featuring keynote speaker Ed Hearn, a former major league catcher who has faced a career-ending shoulder injury, a life-saving kidney transplant, and a battle with cancer. Hearn's inspiring message challenged the audience to view life's ups and downs with a broader perspective. He noted that public works employees are a lot like baseball catchers. Behind the scenes they call the plays that support the community, while the "pitchers" of the world often take all the glory. Audience members responded with a standing ovation and stood in line after the session for a signed baseball.

"His whole message was, you can make life what you want it to be and overcome whatever is thrown at you," said Daniels. "You can give up, or you can go forward. To see the audience give a standing ovation for someone who talked about facing life's problems, and how they too could face life's problems, was really great. It made a strong impact."

The educational program began following the Opening General Session and included topics such as anti-icing/de-icing strategies, winter operations planning, snow fighter training, community relations, and equipment and fleet. "I've been looking over the evaluations of the education session speakers and they look very positive," said Karen Wilson, Education Program Development Manager. "The anti-icing talk show, in particular, went very well. We might do that format again at the Snow Conference."

The talk show format to which Wilson refers was used during the General Session on Tuesday entitled, "One Topic the Daytime Talk Shows Have Missed: Anti-Icing/De-Icing Issues - Let's Talk it Out!" A panel of public works leaders who have used anti-icing techniques in their communities was interviewed by "talk show hosts" John Habermann and Brent Hodne. The best questions came from the audience participants who shared their own experiences and took advantage of this forum to find out how others have dealt with situations similar to their own.

That evening, at the Snow Celebration Banquet, a good time was had by all, as the saying goes. In fact, there was plenty of hootin' and hollerin' for the entertainment provided by PMO Express, a musical group comprised of students from Purdue University. "They were really energetic and fun," said Forbes. "The audience gave them a standing ovation, and they definitely deserved it. They were amazing."

During the Closing General Session on Wednesday, Bob Ash, nationally known speaker and trainer, illustrated how those timeless rules of conduct we learned from our mothers apply to the leadership and work day challenges we face today. By reminding us to "always wear clean underwear," Mom was asking us to do the right thing, even when nobody else will notice. When she dryly noted "it's not the end of the world," she was offering us perspective on our perceived "failures." Ash encouraged his audience by saying, "The next time things don't work out as planned, stop and ask yourself these questions: 1) What did I learn from this experience? 2) What do I need to do differently? 3) Is it the end of the world?"

Ultimately, between the outstanding education sessions, extensive array of exhibits, and the tremendous amount of networking that took place at the Indiana Convention Center, the 2001 Snow Conference was a great success. "The thing that you can never have enough of is good participants, and if you've never been to a show like this you may not realize what the advantage is of going," said Daniels. "Judy (Mueller) made a good comment from the standpoint that she has always sent two or three of her staff each year, but she had never been to the Snow Conference until this year. Well, she thought it was phenomenal. It's one of those things that anyone who deals with winter maintenance, and anyone who sends someone at some point in time, ought to go themselves to see what it's all about."

Special thanks goes to John Habermann and Charlie Bardonner, conference co-chairs, along with the Indiana Chapter for all its work and for providing more than 100 volunteers who helped in numerous capacities.

To view presentation material from the education sessions, just go to www.apwa.net, click on "Meetings" and then on "2001 Snow Conference." If you are interested in being a speaker at next year's conference, just click on "2002 Snow Conference" and "Call for Presentations."

Next year, snow fighters will be getting together at the 42nd Annual North American Snow Conference in Columbus, Ohio, April 14-16, 2002. Hope to see you there.