PITTSBURGH—Planning for in-person technical conferences and expos can be challenging in the best of circumstances. And when it come to the 2021 International Elastomer Conference, COVID-19 proved once again that challenges are designed to be overcome. The on-going pandemic forced the ACS Rubber Division staff to think outside the box and plan for the unexpected.
“Month to month—and sometimes even week to week—things would change or something would come out in news (about COVID-19) and we were like, ‘oh man, this could change people’s thoughts (about attending),’ ” Lakisha Miller-Barclay, Rubber Division executive director and CEO, said on the final day of the IEC.
So how did the Rubber Division plan an in-person conference in the middle of an ongoing pandemic? Patiently. Nimbly. And with a whole lot of data and information.
To pull it off, everyone had to remain flexible, ready to change course at any moment. Sure, there were plans that fell through—the Women of the Rubber Division (WORD) event was put on hold, for instance—but overall things came together rather well.
That, Miller-Barclay said, is the direct result of the wisdom, patience and vision of the Rubber Division staff, executive committee and members.
“We expect the unexpected and that is what (COVID-19) has taught us,” Miller-Barclay said. “We had a COVID task force that met quite frequently. I would update them and they would make decisions. And I would update them again and they would make more decisions. Things like that have made it very easy for us to stay nimble and that is why we were able to pull things off.”
The Rubber Division expected the 2021 IEC to be on the smaller side. And while it wasn’t as big as the team had hoped when it began preparations for the event early in the year, the staff was encouraged by the support the industry showed.
About 1,900 registered for the technical conference and expo, bringing hundreds from across the industry together at a time when it was most needed. After a year of virtual meetings and seminars, Miller-Barclay said, the industry was ready to meet in-person again.
“There are some industries that could go virtual and never see each other in person again. I don’t think the rubber industry has that capability and that’s a good thing,” she said. “ … Our people want to have in-depth conversations with their presenters, they want to talk to people on the (expo) floor, they want to learn what makes their equipment different than the next person. I don’t think that can be replaced with something virtually, it has to be something in-person.”
And while the show was on the smaller side, that didn’t stop the Rubber Division from implementing some new networking ideas. The special Awards Breakfast hosted on the final day of the event is one example. It offered a new forum to recognize the students, professionals and volunteers who have had an impact on the association and the industry. In the past, the awards were given during a business meeting that marked the close of the IEC.
“(We are trying) different things, just trying to streamline and make the best use of your time while you are here,” Miller-Barclay said.
The Awards Breakfast, likely will make a return in the years ahead. As will an expansion of educational offerings.
You can bet that the Rubber Division team has big ideas for the 2022 International Elastomer Conference, set for Oct. 10-13 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Rubber Division staff and members are doing their best to ensure that the next show offers the same quality educational and networking opportunities the industry has come to expect from the International Elastomer Conference.
“If all fares well, and the vaccines continue to roll out—if we are able to tamper down the wildfires of COVID as it sparks up, and there is more of a calm across the country and internationally the borders stay open—I think it will be a phenomenal even-year show,” Miller-Barclay said. “We have never been to Knoxville before, so people are curious and interested to see if it will be a good fit.”