From the rustic feel and holiday decorations of the Heathman Lodge, to the familiarity and mutual respect between attendees, the WPUDA Annual Conference felt more like a gathering of old friends and extended family than an industry conference. But then again, why shouldn’t it? The power, water, sewer and telecommunications services seamlessly provided by PUD’s for over 84 years allow approximately a million of Washington state’ families to spend their family time building a home and a life with less worry about the day-to-day needs to keep it all going.
Full transparency, this was my first WPUDA Annual Conference. Looking around at the crowd during a shared meal, a thought came to me: “these are actually the people who will keep the lights on for you.” I also recall the phrase “many hands make light work” repeated so often when stacking chairs or setting up tables at a wedding or school function to be true.
Who was there?
The attendees were commissioners and managers representing most, if not all, of the 28 Public Utility Districts along with nine presenting vendors and a smattering of other industry folks all there in service of providing districts across Washington with electric, water, sewer and telecommunications services.
Because of the intimate venue we were able to connect with most of the people at the conference and oftentimes on more than one level. Many attendees remembered the pre-conference email that I sent hoping that we’d meet, and when we did the conversations often went well beyond the Aerial Harness Safety Training system that we came prepared to discuss and into the many challenges faced by districts with regard to monitoring powerlines, or using our motion-based sensors to optimize tool and equipment utilization.
At larger conferences, attendees often get fatigued by information overload, but this gathering with just nine vendors was the perfect size and atmosphere to learn from each other without either side feeling overwhelmed.
The nicely curated group of vendors included a range of technology and service providers who were all welcomed to this family gathering by the help of a clever ice breaker. Like many other family traditions that make interaction a fun game, the vendors at each table handed out a ring to each of their visitors. Gathering all of the colored rings gave you eligibility for the raffle. Prizes ranged from a car jumper kit to a Pendelton wool blanket. The thoughtfulness designed into this part of the conference was just one of many ways to enable people to build community in a way that seemed so natural to this group.
Each of the vendors was different enough that a lap around the room felt like a thoughtfully prepared meal.
Providing hands on, practical engineering, permitting and planning solutions to public power utilities in the West since 1985.
Making utility structures safer, longer-lasting, and more resilient.
Empowering utilities to run their day-to-day operations efficiently with advanced, integrated IT solutions for billing, accounting, engineering and operations.
A communications co-op delivering innovative solutions to publicly-owned utilities since 1954.
Helping utilities save time and improve safety through the use of drones.
A 100% employee-owned, full-service engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm.
A mid-sized full service architectural firm located in Redmond, WA. Member of the Washington PUD Association
K-12: Education about PUD’s and their role in the community.
Improving the safety of bucket trucks with the patented Aerial Harness Training System (AHTS) powered by our Operational Intelligence platform of real-time motion based monitoring, alerts, and asset utilization tracking. Together they keep workers safe and operations running efficiently.
Investment in the future
Of particular interest to me was the K-12 PUD education table. Seldom do we see this sort of overt investment in the future of an industry group.
This program teaches how the PUDs came together for mutual interest, stuck together through challenges, and provided for each other.
Looking back now, I shouldn't have been surprised. We’ve all had a similar experience when we’ve heard how our grandparents met, became united, grew and cared for each other, and then this repeated generation after generation.
Beyond our small room of vendors were numerous other highlights that culminated in the Lifetime Achievement awards for two exceptional PUD leaders, Chelan County PUD Commissioner Dennis Bolz and former Pend Oreille PUD Commissioner Dan Peterson. Congratulations to both.
In closing we’d like to offer special thanks to tour point of contact Lena Mendiola Lenya Mendiola, the WPUDA Director of Member Services & Education who came up with the great idea of putting the conference agenda on the back of the lanyards. For a first-time attendee it was yet another family touch that made sure everyone was in the loop at all times.
Now that we told what we saw and heard, we’d love to hear from you. This link leads to a survey that took us an average of 1 minute and 34 seconds to complete, and, if you share your email, we’ll share the survey results.
Answer 4 quick questions in 1 minute 34 seconds, more or less, and then see what everyone else says. Sounds like a family game to me. Enjoy.
Thank you for making me feel at home,