Conference & Conventions: ACTE 2008 (Charlotte, NC) Wrap Up

6 Dec

acte-2008I had planned to blog each of the last three nights we (Lindsey and I) have been in Charlotte, NC, for the 2008 Association for Career & Technical Education convention, but the wireless Internet connection was so slow at night—although not in the mornings—at The Westin that it just wasn’t feasible. Then again, I’m such a nerd about getting to places ahead of time that, as always, I’ve gotten to the gotten to the gate for the flight out 2 1/2 hours ahead of time so it’s giving me a chance to get caught up now.

Much of this trip—our only one outside of Texas this year—was like most others: talk to folks, collect business cards to send out desk copies next week, elevate swollen feet at night  in the hotel room while watching old episodes of NCIS after standing around all day in the exhibit hall. Then again, also as always, there were some odds and ends of stuff that were enough different—“weird” or even that “out of the ordinary” would probably be overstating it—to remember for the future.

First of all, always read the fine print of the exhibit hall agreement. When we got to the booth on Wednesday afternoon for set up, our box of stuff from Waco—display stands, table skirt, calendars, books, etc, etc, etc—was there sitting on the carpet we were required to pay $160 for but there was no table or chairs. Every other conference we’ve been to has had at least one table and a couple of chairs have included in the fees. Well, not this time around. On the other hand, the Freeman folks—they’re the ones who coordinate all kinds of conference/convention set up—were  very accommodating in getting this stuff to our booth. Then again, one really skinny six foot table and two padded chairs were an extra $300! Just amazing: at The Texas Book Festival last month we paid something along the lines of $600 total for the booth, a big 8 foot table, chairs and, as an added bonus, their staff periodically brought all the vendors cold bottled water and fresh cookies. Anyway, I’m not complaining (much)—I was just more surprised than anything else—but certainly it was a case of lesson learned: always read the fine print of the exhibitor contract.

Second, we saw one of the biggest money makers in an exhibit hall ever: a guy selling cashmere scarves for $10 each. He only took cash or checks made out to cash (and with no receipts given) and did an absolutely land office business for two solid days. (Plus, they’re easy to pack and ship for all parties concerned.) Some of the other exhibitors grumbled some—“the exhibit hall is no place for retail business” and “they used to not allow this kind of stuff”—but even most of them wound up buying a scarf or two. There were plenty of times when he had 10-15 people milling around and when I went over there the lady in line ahead of me to pay was buying 17 at once. I mean, considering the wholesale price he was probably paying—two to three dollars each?—and the exhibit hall fees, travel and so on, I think he was still clearing a 50% profit on everything he sold . . . easily $10K in gross sales and probably much more than that. At first I was thinking—and this is purely unsubstantiated conjecture on my part—that the way transactions were set up could be interpreted as a way to avoid paying taxes but after that I moved on to the idea that it would actually be an even better way to launder money from some other “enterprise.”

Finally, more to the point and back on topic, I look forward to going to more career & technical education (CTE) conferences. As one of the vendors across from us pointed out, the two-year college CTE folks have actual budgets to work with—they’re building labs, recruiting, staying up with industry trends/requirements—and they come to these shows with a list of what they’re looking for and how much they have to spend on it. English departments, for example, can say what they want—as a broken down old English teacher I do know this much—but the baseline equipment/space they really need to teach is a classroom and an adequate textbook/reader. But to put together—and even maintain—a good technical program requires big money to support even 30-60 students a year and even more when you have greater enrollment. Certainly, once we get through our conference schedule this year we’re going to take a long hard look at where we went—CTE shows, trade book events, academic conferences—to see where we want to invest our time and energy in the future. (A few odds and ends of photos from the trip can be found here.)


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