Conferences come to an end

It’s hard to believe four days have gone by so fast. USBLN 2012 is now officially in the books.

As a BLN rookie, I didn’t know what to expect. My first thought when I found out shortly after being hired in August that I was going to a national conference was, “why Orlando?” I should have known not to be overly critical before arriving.

Now I have nothing against Orlando, personally, but I knew the area a bit from a visit nearly 20 years ago, when my son was small. Knowing that Orlando is a city requiring an automobile (and I didn’t have one for my time at the conference), I wasn’t thrilled about being isolated in one location, which was right next to SeaWorld.

I shouldn’t have been concerned about this. The Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, a Marriott property was a terrific conference hotel. Staff was outstanding and friendly. Rarely did a Renaissance employee pass you without a “hello.” The hotel was immaculate. Each morning when I was up before dawn, I saw the hard-working cleaning people readying the property for their customers.

Last night, I decided to attend the awards dinner. I was a bit unsure about it, given the “black tie optional” nature of the event as it was listed and wondering whether the business suit  I packed would suffice. Then, when getting dressed, I realized that my last clean shirt had been stripped of buttons in transit, at least on one of the sleeves. Not to worry; when I went down to the registration desk to ask for a safety pin, Khalid one of the hotel’s front-end staff gave me a tutorial in how to sew on a button. Instead of thinking it was pathetic that I didn’t know how, or being impatient with my request for a safety pin, he showed me how to do it and next time I travel, I’ll have a sewing kit with spare buttons in my bag for emergencies like this. He also modeled outstanding customer service.

Because of Khalid’s assistance and care for his customers, I didn’t have to worry about being self-conscious and when I accidentally crashed the VIP event before the annual awards dinner. I should have known I was in the wrong locale when all the USBLN and corporate heavy-hitters were present, and the drinks were free. My colleagues from Maine let me know when we met up for dinner and I scolded them with a “where were you?” that I was actually at the “wrong” reception. Or maybe I wasn’t.

Because I had worked my networking magic prior, I met someone at the VIP event who introduced me to Randy Lewis, senior VP of logistics and supply chain with Walgreens, a corporate leader in disability hiring and inclusion.

I told Randy my story about Walgreens, about when my wife and I lived in Northwest Indiana when my son was small and we had little money for eating out, we used to love the Walgreens’ lunch counters, which Randy told me were phased out around 1989. They used to have the best cream of broccoli soup (and Mark loved the grilled cheese sandwiches).

I’m no stranger to workforce development. I’ve spent the last six years working for a WIB in Maine. At the same time, I was still a bit unsure about how disability employment fit together with my broader understanding of workforce, and what BLN models were better than others. Seven weeks isn’t a very long learning curve.

Fortunately for me, I did come to Orlando, got to do what I do well, which is network, and now I return home with a roster of expertise and a wealth of resources to draw upon.

Waiting for my shuttle to arrive to whisk me off to Orlando International Airport for my early evening flight, my head is full of way too much to share effectively. There are several things that came to me during breakout sessions, including this morning’s outstanding one on the aging workforce in America and how it ties into disabilities.

My goal is to get up one or two more USBLN-related posts from notes I took at breakouts and conversations that occurred while I was in Orlando, especially how this all relates to my own holistic ideas of workforce development.