AREMA 2008 Annual Conference
As many predicted, the whole affair in Salt Lake City came off very well. Having noted that, most believed that the Exhibits came off better than the Sessions. The Salt Lake City Convention Center was a wonderful setting no matter what objections or praise could be heard. The exhibit space entrance was sharp, and led attendees into a variety of displays; a choice could be made between visiting old supplier friends and making new ones. I did hear that the total square footage seemed less than one of the major shows from maybe five years ago, but I believe that the Salt Lake City event seemed definitely larger than last year's show in Chicago, and probably larger than the show two years ago in Louisville, Kentucky.
No outdoor exhibits were to be seen, but there were static displays of various heavy equipment in the Hall to offset that fact. While seeing innovations in trackwork machinery actually happening in front of your eyes on track is a great thing, there is no doubt that pulling off these outdoor displays is tough. First, there must be a little used yard facility that can be dedicated for the time required to set up, show, and take down. Little used yard facilities are not easy to find, and this fact alone limits potential sites for AREMA Rail Expos. Second, the logistics of transportation, insurance, basic creature comforts, and the potential for bad weather have to be accomodated. Did we see our last outdoor displays in Louisville? Time will tell.
One thing that worked was the close proximity of the exhibits to the sessions. A quick escalator ride brought attendees to whichever. A quick look over the railing from the walkway going by the session rooms could even be used to locate colleagues.
Enough about the exhibits, how about the sessions? I heard more than one comment that the sessions seemed a bit "lightweight" in comparison to years past. It seems redundant to say that teamwork shortened our project time and saved us money. But I heard it over and over again. Others said that most of the information presented was already available elsewhere, or had been previously presented elsewhere. When I asked one presenter if I should attend his, or another that was in conflict, he remarked that he would like to go with me to the other! One presentation that I had planned to take in was cancelled entirely!
Having done presentations such as these myself, I can attest to the difficulty of doing something that becomes worthwhile to those in attendance. It is easy to simply decide that "something is good enough", but there is a danger here for AREMA. In the end, there absolutely HAS to be value in these sessions and presentations, or our bosses will make it even more difficult for us to justify going. That does neither AREMA nor individuals any good. Simply filling timeslots in an ambitious session schedule will not do at all.
Was the AREMA 2008 Annual Conference worthwhile? Yes, of course! I did, and others I know of, made the event a place where problems could be solved and efforts could be smoothed.
See you in Chicago in September 2009!