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Fall Conference Reports Record Attendance

December 16, 2014

Fall Conference Reports Record Attendance

By Sue Mason, Conference Planning Committee & Secretary/Treasurer; VP Elect

The 2014 Fall Conference for the APWA Minnesota Chapter was an amazing success. With a record-breaking 540 people in attendance the first day, the Earl Brown Center was buzzing with activity and conversation. 

We started out bright and early at 7:30 a.m. with the New Member Breakfast where I was joined by at least 30 other people who were up and ready to mingle. The morning also kicked off with the first Annual Leadership Academy Alumni Breakfast. Thank you to the Membership Committee, our Volunteer Coordinator, the Education Committee, and the Executive Committee for organizing and attending these enjoyable networking opportunities.

At the start of the official conference we were able to surprise two of our hard working Awards Committee members -- Amy Grothaus from Braun Intertec and Mark Hanson from the City of Coon Rapids -- with the Hugo G. Erickson Award. The award is given in recognition of outstanding chapter leadership, and Amy and Mark are both well-deserving of this honor. Each is responsible for leading an active committee that has worked hard over the years to showcase the Minnesota Chapter and our members, both locally and nationally. Mark encouraged the audience to get involved telling the audience, “You get much more out of it, than you put in.” Learn more about all award winners.

We quickly moved into a powerful and inspiring key note address by Ian Hill from the Changing Point entitled, “Discover the Power of One.” His main objective is to teach leaders to “marshal human capital” by engaging them. He believes we all need to be grateful for our good fortune, and challenged us to raise $10,000 for Toys for Tots and to write down the name of one person who made a difference in your life, and dedicate your donation to them. 

He encouraged us to use our leadership opportunity to help people we work with to grow, using a leadership mindset, and stressed that professionals in the public works industry are uniquely qualified to do so -- primarily because we:

  • Are outcome-based thinkers.
  • Have a “find a way, make a way attitude.”
  • Work with others, all the time.
  • Get stuff done!

His four closing points reminded us to:

  • Create an attitude shift.
  • Hold people accountable.
  • Keep a mindset of excellence.
  • See tomorrow better than today.

Ian believes that “hope” is a powerful strategy, and challenged us to pick one thing we would like to do better or improve at in 30 days. It’s not too late to pick one today!

Next up was our own Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Commissioner Charlie Zelle. The Conference Planning Committee was delighted the commissioner was available to speak at the event, and appreciated that he made time in his busy schedule. He delivered a comprehensive MnDOT update and stayed to answer questions from the audience.

I remember most distinctly his presentation slide of the iceberg; it summed up the dilemma facing not only MnDOT, but many other agencies as they struggle to build new improvements while at the same time maintain existing infrastructure with limited funding.

Ian’s morning session was a good warm up for the next panel discussion regarding leadership in public works organizations. We had an interesting dialogue surrounding nontraditional organizational changes we have been seeing in some communities. 

Local leaders discussed their experiences, facilitated by Bill Joynes and Wally Wysopal from Hamline University. The panel consisted of individuals ranging in positions including a local mayor, current city administrator, past director of public works, past city manager, and a consultant. 

The panel concluded no concrete trends appeared to be emerging, simply specific communities responding to budget pressure and unique staff challenges. All agreed that to be successful, the modern director of public works needs to have marketing and strategic thinking skills, understand economic development, be a good communicator and collaborator, think broadly, and be adaptable. 

The afternoon was a fabulous mix of concurrent public works session topics, including water, operations, street finance, emergency management, safety, and public/private partnerships for water reuse to name a few. A big shout out to those who organized, moderated, or gave presentations. These are all locally led sessions, and it is astounding to see the talent and diverse topics we are able to share and benefit from.

A big part of what people enjoy about the conference is seeing old friends and meeting new ones. We all enjoyed the conference reception, and some continued socializing after-hours at the bowling alley. Always a good time! (Who said public works was boring?)

The next day we were treated to a great session on locally-led trunk highway projects presented by state, county, and city representatives. The session provided attendees with great information about what it takes, and an insightful cross section of information including lessons learned. 

The highlight of Friday at the Fall Conference is always the scholarship and awards ceremony. Congratulations to all the award winners, and thanks to all who stayed for the business meeting (we keep it short) -- business must be done!

After a nice long network and lunch break we headed back in to get the National APWA perspective from Larry Stevens, our past regional director and APWA president. Other out-of-town APWA guests joining us for the conference were Chuck Williams (APWA regional director), Joe Johnson (Kansas City metro national delegate), and Jana Stevens, Larry’s wife.

We were able to see an updated version of 2050’s Liquid Assets documentary and received an update from the committee.

Luckily for all who stayed, when it was most needed, we got to laugh! Mike Veeck, owner and president of the Saint Paul Saints, returned to our stage after five years and told hilarious stories that left us all in a good mood for the weekend, and reminded us it’s okay to be silly. Thanks Mike! Fun IS Good! 

I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who made our 2014 Fall Conference a success -- the Executive, Education, Membership, Awards, Public Awareness, and Planning committees, and most importantly the vendors and attendees of the conference. If you were in attendance, you were afforded an opportunity to hear about some of the innovative approaches being used to maintain our infrastructure today, improve our facilities for the future, honor fellow members in the organization for their contributions to the association and the community, and interact with your peers in the industry. 

Look for the upcoming report from the Public Awareness Committee on the results of the Toys for Tots campaign. You will be proud of the results!

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