Adam Brault gets annoyed when national chains like Krispy Kreme and Chipotle opening in the Tri-Cities make the news. He feels the attention should be paid to local businesses.
“There are things here that are totally unique,” he said. “Let’s line up for that.”
Showcasing the people and businesses that are here is part of TriConf, a July 14-18 “barcamp,” where no distinction is made between speakers and attendees. This summer the “unconference” will go further to show what can be in an area.
“We have all this really, really cool stuff, but I see so many people go out to Spokane or Seattle to hire architects,” said Bruce Schmoetzer, who helped Brault start TriConf. “You have great architects here. Why aren’t you using them?”
TriConf has taken place at the Richland Public Library since it started in 2011. But this year, it will be expanding to several locations around the center part of the city. It will culminate with outdoor evening events featuring speeches followed by musical performances on Friday and Saturday evenings at John Dam Plaza.
There also may be events at the Richland Community Center, Adventures Underground bookstore and the Uptown Shopping Center and Richland Players theaters. Brault, who founded the software company &yet, expects to have a shuttle bus taking people around to the locations, and maybe have bicycles for rent.
“Last year, we decided that we were really at the limit of what the library building can hold,” he said after a meeting with 20 other organizers last week. “I’m super enthusiastic about building an amazing downtown in Richland, and there are so many other people who want to as well. I’ve wanted to create an experiment that will bring together so many people who want to see that kind of things happen in the Tri-Cities that we can actually simulate that.”
“For us, creating a vibrant downtown is something the Tri-Cities is really desperate for,” he said. “Why not just pretend to have one for a few days?”
About 250 people, mostly Tri-Citians, attended TriConf last summer, and organizers hope to double that. The first year drew 45.
This year’s TriConf will promote pedestrian and bicycle travel. Another new feature will be a film festival.
Schmoetzer is working with organizers of the Tri-Cities International Fantastic Film Festival to have a two-day event at the conference. The shows likely will be at the Uptown Theatre.
The heart of TriConf still will be the presentations. Attendees get together on the first night and nominate others or volunteer to speak on topics.
“One of the best ways to get introduced to a community is to give a talk in front of people,” Brault said. “You don’t need a whole lot of preparation to talk about something you are passionate about. A huge portion of it, people will be talking off the top of their head.”
Some previous success stories, include the writers of the popular musical Guns of Ireland and founders of Fuse, an office sharing, co-working space, joined up at TriConf, organizers say.
“They get so excited because they didn’t know there was anybody here like them,” Schmoetzer said. “Then they go home and crash for three days because we overloaded them with all this information and all these contacts.”
The talks are listed on the event’s website, www.triconf.com after they are scheduled.
The keynote speeches will be on topics that appeal to wider audiences.
“Sometimes they are a complete secret,” Brault said. “They are sort of a gift from the organization.”
The musicians who will perform after the keynotes also have not been named, but organizer Chris Guel said they will be special.
“This year, we’re looking at having some great Northwest bands that the Tri-Cities will have an understanding and knowing of,” said Guel, a producer with MUX, an all-ages venue at the Uptown Theatre.
Having the keynote speeches and music at John Dam Plaza should draw more people, Guel said.
“Ultimately, what we want to do is create a night where everybody from TriConf, and everybody around town has a great night with food, beverages and making these connections,” he said. The group is trying to line up some food trucks to participate.
TriConf has traditionally been free to attend. But Brault said help is needed to offset the cost. His company footed most of the event’s $16,000 bill last year, and he expects costs to rise this year with the expanded offerings.
People interested in attending the event can go on TriConf’s website and buy a ticket, but they name their own price for it. The site suggests $25. It also offers business sponsorship opportunities from $500 to $3,000.
People looking at TriConf’s poster will notice it features the words “Do Cities,” borrowing from Yoda with “There in no Tri.”
Brault said the theme has to do with setting an example for others.
“The Tri-Cities is a ‘show me’ place,” he said. “People are afraid to do something unless they see somebody else do it.”