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It was such a pleasure to sit down with Tanya Martin, executive director of the SMTA, at the recent SMTA-Ohio expo. Among other things, we talked about local one-day expos, like this one, which are spread across the country throughout the year, and the increasing interest in student chapters on campuses.
Patty Goldman: Tanya, tell me about this show and what you are doing these days. It sounds like you're up to some pretty great things on campuses with students, which sounds both important and interesting.
Tanya Martin: This event is organized in partnership between SMTA HQ and the Ohio Chapter. It consists of a program of technical speakers as well as an expo. What I enjoy most about the events at the local chapter level is that it gives us a more personal opportunity to connect with engineers, buyers, with local reps, as well as national and global suppliers, right in their backyard, so to speak. We are able to customize the technical content in the sessions and presentations to what's important to the demographics here in Ohio, or whichever chapter area we are serving.
Goldman: Nice! I understand that the membership cost is extremely low for students to join your chapters.
Martin: It is very low—$20.
Goldman: I would hope that encourages them to join, but then you're saying maybe they want their own chapters on campuses? That's kind of neat, too.
Martin: We are seeing an explosion of interest in our students and the young professional age range. We're being contacted by many universities, both at the undergrad and graduate level, to organize and support student chapters. We're getting requests from our standard chapter officers that they're hearing the need for these, as well. We've been working with professors and students in a couple of the new student chapters to actually incorporate some of the SMTA activities and events into their curriculum. They are telling us what the curriculum topics will be, and we assist by scheduling speakers and presentations that would be relevant, and at the correct technical level, for the classroom.
Goldman: You would have some local people at each of those that you could draw on for these speakers, right?
Martin: Right. We also have an amazing number of non-local resources that are willing to travel for these purposes as well. One of the main goals here is to bridge that gap between academics and industry.
Goldman: And people can learn from it. One of the things that we always hear is that we're an aging industry, and we need more young people in here at all levels, from design through assembly and beyond.
Martin: Absolutely. And sales and marketing professionals as well. Rather than having the students go into the workforce and being so insulated and trying to figure out what they should be learning though the veterans within their company, the SMTA would help them to branch out and learn more on their own; learn things like what other companies are doing, how they're resolving issues, manufacturing problems, what new technology is available, and what tools they're using.
Goldman: You can't have too narrow a focus. On another subject, I've been told by exhibitors, that sometimes they actually prefer these little local shows to the big shows. I'm sure that's not everybody, but a lot of them seem to like it because they get access to that local market, and can get up close and personal with local people. If they want to get into the Cleveland area, which is where we are, why wouldn't they go to an SMTA show right here in Cleveland?
Martin: It really does help to get in front of the audience that doesn't have that travel budget to go to a bigger conference. It's more intimate and personal, where you're not going to be one of five thousand attendees. It allows that one-on-one connection, and if a supplier or manufacturer is looking to penetrate a certain region, or expand market share, this is a great platform to do so.
Goldman: How many exhibitors are at this one? I think I counted 85 or so on your website.
Martin: We have more than 80 exhibitors at this year’s Cleveland event, and we ended up having to put a few on a wait list. It's good to see that level of interest.
Goldman: That is a pretty good size for one day.
Martin: It's exciting.
Goldman: How many attendees are at the conference part? I don't know if you ever know an exact number, maybe you do.
Martin: That can always range. We'll get a pre-registration list, but we also get a lot of walk-on registrations, as well, so we usually finalize that number about three to five days after.
Goldman: These are such great little events. You have a free conference, you have free lunch, and then you have all these exhibitors to go around and talk to.
Martin: Yes, and we can bring in, like I had mentioned before, the presentations that hopefully are more tailored to the demographics and the industry in that particular chapter area.
Goldman: Do you usually have a speaker in the morning and a speaker in the afternoon? Is that about how that works out?
Martin: That's generally what we do, however some of the chapter officers are getting more creative in how they can maximize time so people can get out into the exhibit hall. And some of them want to bring in more technical content, so they'll have four speakers or more.
Goldman: I suppose it's a balance, because the exhibitors are paying for exhibit space and probably for that lunch so they're underwriting a whole lot of it.
Martin: We have to make sure that they're getting the benefit out of it, as well. That's very important to us.
Goldman: And yet, people want the technical information, also. Do most of the attendees come and stay all day?
Martin: Not necessarily, I see it ebb and flow a little bit depending upon if a technical presentation is important or relevant to them, but most people will stay for lunch. They'll either come in the morning and stay for lunch, or come for lunch and stay in the afternoon.
Goldman: Everybody makes sure they get the lunch!
Martin: We do try order good food! It’s something we are happy to provide.