“NetworkASA 2010: THRIVE” was what they called this year’s ASA Annual Convention, held Oct. 12-14 in my hometown of Chicago. Without further ado, here are some of the things that stick in my mind about it.

The fact that it was held in Chicago. I know trade associations need to move their meetings around to please members from around the country, and I suppose a change of scenery is good for its own sake. But you won’t find a better place to hold a convention than my hometown of Chicago. Many out-of-towners agree, judging from numerous unsolicited comments I heard from NetworkASA 2010 participants. Come the dead of winter, I find myself wishing for a magic wand capable of moving my beloved city 1,000 miles south, but its pluses far outweigh its one weather-beaten downside. In any case, ASA attendees enjoyed close to perfect weather for their mid-October confab.

Attendance was up quite a bit from the 2009 event in Washington. The figure I heard was around 350 registrants. Partly it’s because the economy has improved a bit in the last year and travel dollars have been loosened up. Partly it’s because of #1, IMO. Last but not least, ASA’s Network 2010 had an abundance of worthwhile programming that probably tipped some decisions to come.

Weldbend went “over the top” in sponsoring a breakfast on behalf of ASA’s Industrial Piping Division. After dining like royalty on lavish made-to-order provisions and enjoying spirited football-themed music by a local band, attendees were captivated by a talk and Q&A session conducted by NFL and Chicago football legend Mike Ditka. Later came an inspirational speech by Chicago Tube & Iron CEO Dr. Don McNeeley in accepting his IPD Award of Excellence. That afternoon, McNeeley put on a program recapping his educated opinions about the state of our economy and the direction of PVF markets. Nobody is a more spellbinding speaker than the authoritative and dynamic Dr. McNeeley. 

Kudos as well must go to Kohler for recruiting Karl Rove to speak at an “ASA Future Trends Luncheon.” President George W. Bush’s former chief of staff, now a Fox News commentator and Wall Street Journal columnist, is one of the most brilliant political tacticians and analysts of our age. What struck me most was how out of sync he is with the image forged in the liberal press of a right-wing, fire-breathing Rasputin. At ASA he very much was preaching to the choir; nonetheless, he was even-keeled in crediting President Obama where he felt credit was due, such as his handling of the war in Afghanistan and for his charisma. Rove also showed class in walking around the room prior to his speech stopping to chat with the crowd and posing for numerous photos with them. Sure, there was an element of political glad-handing to it, but I’ve heard many political VIPs speak and most stay aloof from their audience when off the podium. Besides, Rove is not running for office. He came across as a genuinely decent man.

ASA’s Executive Committee members gave their usual annual reports at a member luncheon. These typically are cures for insomnia, but this year’s presentations conveyed detailed and forthright information. For instance, Treasurer (now President-Elect) Scott Weaver took time to explain the Board’s decisions in accepting hefty one-time charges for opting out of ASA’s Merchandise Mart lease and canceling next year’s scheduled convention in Hawaii (since shifted to Las Vegas). Of the latter, outgoing ASA President Frank Nisonger noted that the move was in response to much griping among the membership about the Hawaii venue. “Those of you who were griping better show up (in Las Vegas) in 2011!” he admonished.

A “Marketing to Thrive” panel discussion, moderated by Mueller Industries’ Director of Marketing Roscoe Bufkin, featured a host of marketing and advertising professionals, including Supply House Times Publisher Scott Franz. The role of social media came in for extended discussion. A consensus was that social media is here to stay and will grow in importance for businesses, although nobody right now can figure out how to mine it for profit. One of the most pertinent insights offered was that while every business seems to be dabbling in social media with Facebook and Twitter accounts, this may be counterproductive without frequent updates. “Have a plan” about how to use social media, or stay away, was the message.

I have not run out of things I really liked about NetworkASA 2010. I’ve merely run out of room.

For more conference highlights, read Pat Lenius’ mini-feature in this issue.

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