Savor sweet rewards of professional workshops

I think we've all gone into a situation not really knowing what to expect -- maybe even laced with a little reluctance -- and come out of it with more than we bargained for. This happens to me all the time at Costco -- and at dessert time.

But it also happens with more serious things like professional workshops, and I highly recommend them no matter what business you're in. Take for instance a half-day strategic business forum hosted by Washington State University Tri-Cities that I recently attended. The event, co-sponsored by a variety of local businesses including local chambers of commerce, drew professionals from around the area to hear about hot topics of interest to small business.

Among the speakers and attendees were credit union leaders, financial planning experts, attorneys, hospital executives, business owners, marketing professionals, and policy buffs -- all people who play key roles in improving the economic and overall well-being of our community.

Topics covered included preparing for upcoming state and federal tax law changes, planning for the "new normal" in retirement, the expected impacts of health care reform on businesses and employees, using marketing dollars for maximum impact and ways to avoid costly human resources errors.

Each session featured a panel of experts representing organizations from across the region, with plenty of time for Q&A from attendees.

The day was capped off by a keynote presentation from Scott Carson, former president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, who shared his secrets for career success that involved concepts such as personal balance, flexible thinking and a focus on the success of others. It was a very content-rich, enlightening day.

Not only do forums like this help business people expand their knowledge in certain areas, but they also offer the opportunity to hear a variety of perspectives from experts in a number of fields -- all in one place, over the course of a few hours. The bottom line is that they provide an excellent bang for your buck, and their potential value to you both professionally and personally should not be underestimated.

I'll use myself as an example. With my writer hat on, I went to gather some highlights that I could use to write a couple of short articles. But I came away with pages and pages of valuable information that I've since found myself sharing with others.

I was more informed and excited about what I learned and the many points of view it came from than I had anticipated. I grew a little, and I watched it happen to others.

I met a few new people too, which brings me to an equally important point -- these forums represent some of the few times each year that such a diversity of business leaders find themselves under the same roof. And although the social element is fun, the business networking opportunities are not to be squandered. This is exactly where you can meet with other professionals who could serve as critical resources for your business in the future.

I liken failing to recognize networking opportunities at a workshop to eating the cake and ignoring the frosting. To me, cake is merely a vehicle for my frosting, a way to get what I really need but in a bit more socially acceptable fashion than diving into a bowl of frosting.

So keep in mind next time you find yourself at a workshop that the learning is critical, but the networking opportunities are the icing on the cake.

-- Ali Madison is with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Economic Development Office. She can be reached at This column on Tri-City diversification and economic development appears monthly.