Alaska Journal | Business group leaders adapt as COVID-19 disrupts fall conference season again

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In 2020, the Resource Development Council for Alaska planned to celebrate its 41st anniversary at its annual fall conference.

The organization’s largest event, typically held the week before Thanksgiving, brings together 1,200 guests, 125 exhibitors and 28 high-profile speakers. COVID-19 had other plans.

“We did a virtual program in 2020, but we lost a lot by doing this. Where we have lost is in networking and listening to our exhibitors, ”said RDC General Manager Marlenna Hall.

Known for the diversity of its membership, Hall says what makes the DRC conference unique is that it brings together leaders from Alaska’s five major industries: fishing, forestry, mining, petroleum. and gas and tourism.

Without the opportunity to meet in person, Hall says his organization lost a valuable opportunity to hear project and industry updates. A year later, RDC is again faced with the same prospect.

As Alaskan hospitals continue to struggle to tackle understaffing and limited capacity caused by the current COVID-19 outbreak, many organizations are struggling to decide on the right course of action.

“What to do about this year’s conference is probably the most difficult question I’ve had to answer in my entire career,” said Deantha Skibinski, CEO of the Alaska Miners Association.

After a survey of its members, lengthy discussions with its board of directors and months of planning, Skibinski decided to move forward with the WADA convention and trade show. Scheduled November 1-6 at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, the event will come with a few caveats.

In an email sent to WADA members, Skibinski outlined potential mitigation plans, including proof of vaccination required or a negative COVID-19 test, mandatory masking, and cancellation of lunches, breakfasts lunches and banquet.

“From our membership survey, it was very clear that whatever we decided to do, we weren’t going to make everyone happy. But we do our best to balance public safety with the desire many of our members have to meet in person. It’s a tightrope that’s hard to walk, ”Skibinski said.

Hall is in a similar position. Prior to the explosion of the Delta variant, Hall members expressed their aversion to teleconferencing and advocated for an in-person event. Now, Hall is not sure that RDC would even be able to provide the resources people expect from their conference.

“The challenge is getting the high-level speakers to participate in person, as many of them are from nationally-run companies and have instituted travel bans,” Hall said. “So for us, if we don’t have these top-notch speakers, then why are people coming to us? Today I can hardly tell you anything with confidence because we just don’t know what our conference might look like.

Alicia Siira, executive director of Associated General Contractors of Alaska, echoed Hall’s concerns.

“It really is uncharted territory for everyone. As an organization, we want to make sure that we always deliver value to our members, but not just do something because we always do it, ”said Siira.

For now, Siira is working with her team to determine which parts, if any, of their scheduled conference they can move forward, currently scheduled for November 10-13 at the Captain Cook Hotel. Still, Siira said things change every day, so it’s too early to know what the future holds.

As Hall and Siira continue to weigh their options, others have decided to postpone.

“In fact, we made the very difficult decision last week to go ahead and postpone our conference, which was originally scheduled for the last week of September (28-30 in Girdwood),” Kati said. Capozzi, President and CEO of Alaska Chamber. “We were going to need a vaccination or negative COVID tests, but with everything going on and our hospitals completely overwhelmed, we didn’t feel like we could host a safe and responsible event right now. “

Citing comments from members, Capozzi said the Alaska Chamber will not move to a virtual-only conference.

“We feel like it’s kind of a be-there-done-that with virtual conferencing. Our members are ready to show up in person, but they are prepared to wait the appropriate time before we actually meet in person, ”she said.

After 18 months of virtual conferencing, employees around the world are grappling with the new term “Zoom Fatigue”. Last April, Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, wrote in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal in which he described the five types of fatigue associated with video conferencing: general ( general fatigue), social (wanting to be alone), emotional (being overwhelmed and “exhausted”), visual (symptoms of stress on the eyes) and motivational (lack of motivation to start new activities).

“I think the dominant themes that resonate in associations right now are uncertainty and adaptability,” said Sarah Leonard, CEO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, whose annual conference was scheduled for Oct. 11-14 at Dena. ‘ina Center. “I think that’s just the world we’re living in right now. We’re all trying to absorb the idea that events are probably going to have to be in-person and virtual hybrids. “

However, Leonard remains optimistic that there will be safe ways to host events in person in the near future.

“I think or, at least I hope, that in the next three or four months, or six months, there is a way to organize events in person safely, or at least alleviating health problems,” Leonard said.

Ready for another challenge

As difficult as navigating the ever-changing pandemic landscape has been, for Hall, Skibinski, Siira, Leonard, and Capozzi, it’s just another opportunity to put their adaptability and ingenuity in the spotlight.

When Skibinski took on the role of executive director at AMA in 2012, the organization did not have a website, social media, or even a communications strategy. However, they had outdated technology.

“Believe it or not, our office actually had a typewriter,” she laughed. “AMA represented this really modern mining industry where, you know, there’s technological advancement all the time. There is always a lot of research being done to develop the industry and find efficiencies and find more environmentally friendly ways of doing things.

“But they didn’t have a communication plan to talk about all the good work they were doing.”

Skibinski had developed a high level knowledge of the industry through her seven years as a project coordinator with RDC. However, she was reluctant to take on a leadership role within the organization.

“Typically, (AMA) was run by geologists and engineers, and it wasn’t my experience. So I really didn’t think it was something I could do. But the board was convinced that they could teach me, so I decided to trust their confidence in me, ”she recalls.

Although Skibinski has said that she has had a positive experience working in male-dominated professional organizations, her reluctance to pursue senior management may speak of a larger issue regarding women in C- positions. Following.

According to a 2019 study by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up only 15.7% of all people employed in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction in the United States. . The number is even darker when it comes to construction. Only 10.3 percent of those employed in the construction industry are women. Nationally, women make up 21 percent of C-Suite level executives in all occupations.

“I think sometimes in commerce industries there’s a subtle undercurrent that can favor men over women, but I think that’s changing, and Alaska is in the front. -keep of that, ”Leonard said.

A testament to the diversity in hiring, many of Alaska’s major business industry groups are led by women. Besides Capozzi, Hall, Leonard, Siira, and Skibinski, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association is led by Kara Moriarty and the Alaska Support Industry Alliance by Rebecca Logan.

“I feel like Alaska is a pretty progressive state, and I’ve been fortunate to have amazing role models since I stepped into this arena,” Capozzi said.

One of those mentors is the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s longtime president and CEO, Moriarty, whose organization has postponed its annual event from September 2 to January 12, 2022.

“Kara took me under her wing and showed me the ropes, and I’d say she’s the ultimate promoter of businesswomen,” according to Capozzi. “I know she has mentored a lot of us and taught us to bend over and be perfectly comfortable sitting at the table.”

A fellow of the Athena Society and an Alaska Journal of Commerce Top Forty Under 40 recipient (just like Skibinski and Siira), Moriarty has been a role model for many and has inspired a sense of collective achievement among her female counterparts. She has led AOGA since 2012 after succeeding Skibinski’s mother, Marilyn Crockett, as President and CEO.

“As industry leaders, we are all close and cheerleaders to each other because professionally we have grown together,” said Siira. “I think being close like that has been such an asset. But I think it’s also very important to say that we are just a few of the powerful women leaders in Alaska. There are many more out there.

Now looking to the future, Siira, Hall, Capozzi, Leonard and Skibinski are ready to mentor the next generation.

“We all need this person to help us understand that we can do whatever we think about it. We need that person to come out of our shell and remind us not to be shy, to know our stuff and to open our mouths because we have something to say, Skibinski said. “I was fortunate to have a mentor like Carol Fraser (Regional Director of Sales and Marketing at Aspen Hotels of Alaska), and I hope I can do it for someone else.

O’Hara Shipe is an Anchorage-based freelance writer and photographer. She can be reached at [email protected].


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