Conferences really pay, not play
Making it harder for local employees to attend professional conferences can save a little but cost a lot.
The ASBPA just held its annual technical conference on coastal issues, held every fall at a coastal city around the country (this year, Charleston, SC). More than 200 coastal professionals from around the country -- and even a few from overseas -- gathered to hear 80-plus presentations on issues ranging from the recent Gulf oil spill to regional sediment management to sea level rise to coastal structures and policy... and much more.
During these tight economic times, conference such as this are often the first items to be cut by local and state governments urgently working to curb expenses and balance budgets. That's a political decision that each elected official or board has to grapple with, but too often such cuts end up being penny wise and pound foolish -- saving a little, perhaps, but eventually costing a lot.
Conferences are more than a chance for government employees (and others) to get a few days out of the office. In reality, they can be efficient ways for those employees to be more productive, more effective and more strategic in their jobs. Why?
- Information: Through presentations and informal discussions, coastal experts can learn how others in the field have addressed similar problems in their own communities, seeing what worked and what didn't and perhaps avoiding the problems and pitfalls that cost those communities a lot in time and money.
- Networking: Coastal professionals don't work in a vacuum,, but instead rely on a network of fellow professionals, agency regulators and government permit agents to get local projects moving forward. Meeting those people face-to-face at events such as conferences helps develop professional relationships that can pay off when you're trying to move a project forward.
- Problem-solving: Often, conferences bring together people who can make decisions affecting your coastal project or concern... and if your coastal official is there to draw them together to address issues with your local efforts, things can be resolved right on the spot. We've seen project logjams get broken from an impromptu meeting during a conference, simply because all the people who needed to be at the table were right there and ready to work together. The value of that to your coastal efforts can be incalculable.
- Education: Coastal management is a dynamic field, with new advances and ideas continuing to expand and evolve the disciplines. Your local coastal professional needs to keep up on the latest thinking or the most current research -- and where better then a conference where experts gather to share their work and ideas? By listening to this array of knowledge, your coastal professional can bring this knowledge back home to benefit your local efforts.
- Professionalism: Conferences are how many professionals in diverse fields stay engaged and informed in their particular discipline. If local and state governments want to attract and keep qualified and knowledgeable employees, they need to ensure those employees are able to keep abreast of changes in their fields -- for their own good and for the people and projects they work for.
A final note: For many coastal communities, conferences are also a potential source of revenue for coastal hotels and meeting venues, generating jobs, spending and bed-tax revenues from the influx of attendees brought to your town only because the conference is being held there. Cutting back on conferences attendances by your employees could come back to haunt your community if fewer conferences are held... meaning fewer conferences might bring their benefits to your local hotels, restaurants and shops. That can have a detrimental economic impact right here at home -- the last thing most communities want during lean times.
For more information about beaches, go to www.asbpa.org.