APWA Congress: The best bang for the buck

Susan M. Hann, P.E., AICP
Deputy City Manager
City of Palm Bay, Florida
Member, APWA Leadership and Management Committee

Your travel budget is tight and your boss or your significant other thinks something called "Congress" has to be a bad place to spend your money. So how do you convince your organization that attending the APWA Congress is a great investment for your travel and training budget?

Well, I'm very particular about how I spend my time and my money. Generally, I am not the person you'll see hanging out at seminars unless I am sure my agency and I are getting a good return on our investment. If I don't get good value for my money and time, I am one unhappy camper. To give you an example: Last year I mailed my "certificate of course completion" back to an unnamed organization that sponsored a technical training event and I demanded a refund because the class didn't last long enough and didn't cover the stated material. Sure, I could have claimed the credit and fulfilled my continuing education requirements and no one (but me) would have known. But instead I was pretty angry that I had wasted an entire day on training that did not live up to its marketing. So, it is from this perspective that I tell you that the APWA Congress is a great deal for your money.

Congress provides incredible opportunities for learning and networking. If you're new to the profession, you can get a break on the registration by signing up for the Emerging Leaders program. This program offers some extra classes and gives you the chance to interact with national APWA leadership. One-on-one conversations with current and future Presidents of APWA are a common occurrence. Our Public Works Director still chats with an APWA Past President he met several years ago at his first Congress.

If you're a veteran to the profession, choose among the myriad of educational opportunities that can enhance your professional growth, inspire new ideas for your organization and fulfill your state's continuing education requirements. You will also meet hundreds of your peers from around the country and around the globe who will gladly help you when your next crisis hits your desk. Several prolific APWA authors also regularly attend Congress and present educational sessions. Meeting these recognized experts is as easy as saying hello.

Along with all the educational opportunities, the APWA Congress is a great place to have some fun. These attendees had a great time during Craig Zablocki's General Session presentation at the 2004 Congress

Regardless of where you are professionally, Congress is inspirational! The equipment show is first-rate and the vendors will give you many great ideas to save money for your agency by working smarter not harder. Pre- and post-Congress workshops also offer a variety of training opportunities from technical subjects to leadership and management training. Although the professional speakers are excellent, the educational sessions are often led by people just like you proudly talking about their work in their community and encouraging you to "borrow" their ideas for your community.

Congress is also a great place to recharge your personal batteries so that you can go back to your organization reenergized and ready to take on the challenges of public works with renewed enthusiasm and new ideas. But don't take my word for it—the Congress experience means something important to all who attend, so here are a few comments from my friends around the country. When you arrive at Congress, look for these folks—I guarantee they will be happy to talk with you and show you around!

Jim Proce - Public Works Director, City of Palm Bay, Florida: "Aside from the obvious benefits of escaping hurricane season for a week (well not really), going to Congress has been an experience that has provided me useful knowledge, ideas that I can use, mega-networking, and the opportunity to see some really cool stuff. The highlight for me each year has been participating in the Emerging Leaders Program, where the experienced public works person (that would be me) gets matched up with a "newbie" and gets to share the experiences together. The extra sessions that you attend as a part of the program (starting at 7:00 a.m. each day) have had many outstanding speakers and presentations. As a result I have made so many new friends that I can count on when I need a hand. I am so looking forward to going to San Antonio this year as I will be making a presentation myself and hope to share the experiences of what I considered a very interesting story with many of my APWA friends and family. See you in Texas!"

Richard Coates - Assistant Director of Fulton County Public Works, Atlanta, Georgia: "Going to Congress is the best opportunity to network with colleagues from all over the world. There is no other opportunity to get the comprehensive public works continuing education for the price. It's a great bargain!"

Gary Strack - Director of Structural Engineering, Shafer Kline & Warren, Inc., Overland Park, Kansas: "Why do I attend Congress? To recharge my batteries, attend sessions to learn new ideas, meet new and old friends, network, see other parts of the country, make presentations to a national audience and to increase my agency's exposure to a national audience."

John Ostrowski - Management Consultant, JOMC, Vancouver, Washington: "Attending Congress led to work with what turned out to be my best client. I keep going back hoping to repeat that experience."

Sharyn L. Fox - Fox Consulting Services, Newport News, Virginia: "The opportunity to network with your peers is one of the more valuable tools available to Congress participants. Congress fosters the interaction that often leads to sharing of great ideas between municipal employees, consultants and vendors. It is the perfect forum to discuss strategies, challenges, solutions and successes."

George Haines - Director of Operations, Peregrine Leadership Institute, Gillette, Wyoming: "During my public works career, the city I worked for was more than willing to allow me to attend Congress. Congress enabled me to share things we were doing that could be beneficial to others, and in turn, I was able to gain knowledge of cutting-edge programs happening in other parts of the country. For me personally, I got the most value through networking and establishing relationships with other professionals around the country. If I needed help on an issue, it was easy to call or e-mail and get answers. Congress is truly an event that pays long-term dividends for a short-term investment in my registration fee, travel and lodging."

Elia Twigg - Maintenance and Construction Division Manager, City of Palm Bay, Florida: "Congress is a great way to meet people and learn how other organizations handle similar situations or problems. Sending a delegation can help gain a wider range of knowledge and information than one person sent alone could handle."

Mike Geisel - Director of Public Works and City Engineer, Chesterfield, Missouri: "From an organizational level, the Congress gives me the opportunity to stay abreast of current technologies, share experiences and interact with my peers about similar experiences. While we all tend to think our problems are unique, the reality is that they frequently are happening, have happened, or will happen if not successfully identified and avoided, to others. The Congress provides a resource of technical materials and equipment that could not be duplicated in catalogs or publications. The hands-on aspect cannot be overstated. More importantly, in my position I'm required to be somewhat of a visionary to propose new programs, processes, or services for our residents. Going to Congress, walking through the myriad of vendors on the floor, allows me to view products and services and determine who and what can help me expand existing services or provide services at a more efficient level. It's like walking through a 'what if' catalog."

My friends and I wrote this article because we believe in APWA and we believe in what Congress can give to a public works professional at any level in the organization. We encourage you to come to Congress to understand the synergy and excitement of several thousand public works folks all gathered in one incredible place.

So, what do you think? If you're still not sold on the value of Congress to you and your organization, call me or e-mail me. I'll talk to you or your boss or your Mayor or your budget guy about what Congress can mean for the people in your organization. Sure, it might take an investment of a few thousand dollars, but it is truly an investment in your future and your agency's future.

See you in San Antonio!!

Sue Hann can be reached at (321) 952-3411 or hanns@palmbayflorida.org.