There will be some new faces at the 14th annual Cascadia Educational Conference. A joint venture of the Washington and Oregon chapters of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), the 2016 conference will, for the first time in its history, officially include the British Columbia chapter of MPI. The conference is taking place March 13 to 15 at Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Oregon, located approximately 20 miles southwest of Bend, Oregon.
“The goal of the conference is to bring meeting planners and suppliers together for education and networking opportunities to develop relationships with one another and collaborate,” explains Ryan Davis, senior event sales representative at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall at Seattle Center and co-chair of the conference with Erin Jaso, senior catering sales manager with Hilton Portland and Executive Tower.
“The British Columbia chapter reached out because it heard great things about the conference and the high quality of education it provides. So this year’s conference is going to be a great opportunity for members of the Washington and Oregon chapters to meet people from Vancouver and the greater B.C. area. We’re excited about that.”
This year’s conference will mark the second time it has been held at Sunriver Resort. “We’re excited about going back to Sunriver,” Davis notes. “It’s a gorgeous hotel. They recently did a fairly large remodel. We’re expecting about 300 people to attend.”
Sunriver offers more than 44,000 square feet of flexible meeting and banquet space, inside and out. Amenities include a full-service business center, on-site audio-visual and IT departments, and complimentary wireless Internet access in most meeting areas. In addition, the resort features fine and casual dining options, such as The Grille at Crosswater and Merchant Trader.
The conference kicks off on Sunday, March 13 with breakout sessions, an opening keynote speaker and a reception. Following the reception will be a poker tournament—a popular activity at past conferences. Monday’s agenda includes morning and afternoon breakout sessions, a keynote lunch and the conference’s evening gala. On Tuesday, there will be a networking brunch followed by more breakout sessions and a keynote lunch to end the conference on a high note.
Planning the conference is a joint effort by Davis, Jaso and approximately 20 to 30 volunteers. “We started planning the conference last July,” Davis says. “We do a conference call every other week; then, as the conference gets closer, we chat more frequently if necessary. A lot of the planning is done through emails as well. We had a site visit in August when we all went to Sunriver and talked about how the space would be used, the theme of the conference and the schedule of events. Then, in October, I went to one of the Oregon chapter meetings just to touch base.”
Davis, Jaso and their crew poll their respective chapter members regarding the type of education they desire and what they liked and disliked from the previous year’s conference.
“We also research other educational conferences,” Davis explains, “to see what education they’re offering and keep abreast of the best practices. When it comes to our speakers, we’re always going to cover subjects like current trends and how to maximize your time and efficiency, but we also try to get newer content that people might not have heard before. With the breakout sessions, sometimes we’ll have speakers return, but we try to keep the keynote speakers fresh and new every year.”
“I am so excited for this year’s educational offerings,” Jaso notes. “With over 20 sessions and numerous guest speakers, there will be something for all learning styles. No matter how experienced you are in your field, everyone can learn at Cascadia Educational Conference.”
To promote attendance, conference planners rely heavily on social media, but do not limit themselves to MPI members.
“We try to reach out to other organizations that are either in the meeting industry or have members who plan meetings but aren’t necessarily involved with our organization,” says Davis. “For example, there are a lot of executive assistants who do meeting planning but who aren’t typically considered meeting planners. We try to give them the opportunity to get educated and make sure they know what MPI provides.”
The theme of this year’s conference is “Navigate the Adventure.”
“Bend is very outdoorsy,” Davis says. “There are all sorts of things to do whatever the weather. We wanted to incorporate that into our theme.”
Indeed, attendees will have plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure, pre- and postconference. Skiing and snowboarding at Mount Bachelor ski resort and golfing at the numerous courses around the area are two popular local outdoor activities. Others are hiking, biking, rock climbing, and kayaking and canoeing on the Deschutes River, or fly fishing on one of the area’s countless trout streams.
“There’s also a great food-and-beverage scene to try out. They’ve got tons of breweries,” Davis says. “There are a lot of places to shop, too.”
To register for the conference, visit mpicascadia. com. Early-bird registration (by January 31, 2016) is $325 for MPI members and $400 for nonmembers. Standard registration is $395 for members and $495 for nonmembers.