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EDPA ACCESS 2022: The association returned to San Antonio’s rocky hills

by Emily Olson

The stunning La Cantera Resort and Spa rose from a swell in San Antonio’s hill country. The elevated pool area offered sweeping views of the surrounding hills, and the resort’s carved limestone nature trails offered glimpses of deer that seemed accustomed to human presence.

This was the setting for EDPA ACCESS 2022, a return to the spot that hosted ACCESS 2020, a much more lightly attended event due to the pandemic. This year, nearly 300 event professionals gathered to learn, network and have a little fun on the golf course. 

The event opened with an address from EDPA president Dan Serebin, followed by a keynote address from Jim Morris, the late-in-life pro baseball player whose experience was depicted in the film The Rookie. In his talk, he promised attendees that perseverance pays off, as does holding colleagues accountable through gentle encouragement. This was an apt message after the challenging years the industry has faced. Following the keynote address, IPME hosted a cocktail reception on the resort grounds, complete with street tacos and dessert cooked to order. IPME used the opportunity to display the versatility of their shipping containers, and lead designer Hamza Benchekroun said that IPME’s goal for the evening was to create an engaging experience for attendees. 

The next day was one of education, during which EDPA members took to the stage to share their knowledge with attendees. The theme of the presentations seemed to be differentiation. In a competitive industry selling to customers who are watching their budgets after a difficult couple of years, how can companies best prove their value? 

Following remarks from keynote speaker John Rancic, of “The Apprentice” fame, attendees heard from John Gleason, Amy Wirtz and TaChelle Lawson, whose talk on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the tradeshow industry sparked the most lively Q&A session of the day. Her advice was practical: As she looked at the audience, she said the need for greater diversity was evident, but she said the goal is not to force diversity, rather for companies to have a staff that mirrors their community makeup.

Many who attended the State of the Association Luncheon said that the talk was lighter on information than in years past, and EDPA board members recognized that, imploring members to participate in next year’s survey so that they can provide richer data in 2023. Another major point made during the luncheon was the need for advocacy. EDPA vice president Chris Griffin pointed out the effort the industry put forth to recover from 9/11, the 2009 recession and the 2020 pandemic. “There’s going to be another thing,” Griffin said. “How do we keep from going back to zero again?”

EDPA vice president Mike McMahon agreed with Griffin’s focus on the importance of advocacy. “We are a small industry,” he said. “But we’re mighty.”

That evening was the pinnacle event: the Presidents Gala and Silent Auction, which took place in the La Cantera ballroom. Attendees of the black-tie-optional event were served an elegant meal of chicken and short ribs, accompanied by mashed potatoes and roasted carrots. As the awards were presented, winners spoke passionately about the industry and what it means to them. The silent auction, coupled with donations received during the event, raised $165,000 for the EDPA Foundation. The gala was followed by a lively President’s After Party.

The next day was another opportunity for learning, and attendees heard from Joe Federbush, Amy Sondrup and ECN columnist Jim Obermeyer. Before lunch, EXHIBITOR’s Mark Johnson took the stage for a town hall to discuss the future of the organization. Johnson was moved to tears as he described his reasons for purchasing EXHIBITOR—the organization dissolving as former owner Lee Knight considered retirement was too painful a thought. Johnson reassured attendees he would not be involved in the day-to-day operations of EXHIBITOR, explaining that he would lead a recently formed holding company, then he invited EXHIBITOR president, Dan Raynak, to discuss EXHIBITORLive!’s departure from Las Vegas in 2023. 

Jessica Sibila, executive director of The Exhibitor Advocate, closed the day by introducing her organization to attendees and explaining it’s imperative to protect the health of the industry by giving exhibitors a voice. Sibila’s support among event professionals continues to grow, and she invited audience members to help their clients self-advocate by telling them about The Exhibitor Advocate or joining the organization themselves by visiting exhibitoradvocacy.com. 

Attendees filed out of the ballroom after the final session of the day, and happy voices rang out as EDPA members joined chapter challenges, ready to relax, swap stories and have some fun. 

EDPA ACCESS President’s Award Winners: 

Michael McMahon, Hill & Partners

Ambassador Award

Kyle Lucken, beMatrix

Designer of the Year Award

Chris Griffin, Crew XP

Hazel Hays Award

EDDIE Award winners included Classic Exhibits, Exhibitus, Derse, beMatrix, VonHagen Design, happy projects and Elevation 3D.

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