In 2020, a group of Washington Rock team members and their spouses traveled to Las Vegas for CONEXPO-CON/AGG, one of the largest construction trade shows in the world. People came from all over the world to attend, make connections, and showcase their products and ideas.
We rented a sprawling house about 20 minutes from the Strip and had two vans to shuttle employees to the show, nicknamed Van Damme and Van Morrison (one of my favorite memories).
There was talk about COVID-19, but it seemed like a distant threat. The trip unfolded like an apocalypse movie come to life: eating, drinking, and being merry in Sin City right as the pandemic swept in like a dark cloud. CONEXPO shut down a day early. In the following months, hotels and casinos along the Strip closed down completely, turning the Strip into a ghost town.
It was a dark contrast to the Vegas I returned to last week for the annual NSSGA Convention and CONEXPO. Walking on the Strip again after the height of the pandemic felt a little like stepping into the sun after being in an underground bunker. The glitz and glam had been restored, along with the crowds and street performers in knockoff Disney costumes.
What did change and maybe even improved since 2020 was the sense of camaraderie I shared with fellow members of the industry. No doubt, the pandemic is seared into our collective consciousnesses. I think many shared with me the feeling of enjoying, carefully, our newfound freedom.
Let me share with you some of the highlights from the trip.
Winning Industry Photo of the Year
One of the reasons for attending the NSSGA Annual Convention was to celebrate our big win! Our photo of the Upper Nisqually River Levee Retrofit project (phew, that’s a mouthful) won 2022 Industry Photo of the Year.
The NSSGA recognized Washington Rock’s achievement in a press release during the convention. Our photo was on display with other winners next to the Encore ballrooms. Our social media followers voted on a photo submission in October, and I’m excited to say that they chose a winner!
The NSSGA Annual Convention
The National Stone Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) teamed up with the National Ready Mix Concrete Association (NRMCA) and the Portland Cement Association (PCA) to host a convention at the Wynn Encore.
Check out our full Vegas trip video below. If the video is blurry, use the gear icon to increase the resolution to 720p.
The hotel itself is a spectacle: two enormous foo dogs guard the main entrance. A butterfly motif runs throughout the hotel, appearing in the design of the carpet and in gaudy rhinestone silhouettes on the walls. Crimson glass chandeliers seem to bloom out of the ceiling. The central courtyard features pools and a European-style garden. It was a wild contrast to everyday life at a quarry.
The convention kicked off on Saturday, March 11th and was packed with committee meetings and networking events.
The highlight of the convention for me was the keynote breakfast on Monday morning. The Brahms Ballroom was crowded with members from all three associations.
Cal Ripken, Jr., the “Iron Man of Baseball,” was the featured speaker. He now runs clubs (and gives motivational speeches), making him a successful businessperson in addition to being a famous athlete. He holds the record for consecutive games played (2,632).
What made Cal so consistent? He talked about 8 traits that may have played a role:
- Having the right attitude toward your job
- Having a strong will to succeed
- Being passionate about what you do
- Challenging yourself
- Making a consistent, daily effort
- Maintaining your convictions
- Staying strong through physical and mental preparation
- Managing the areas of your life that you have control over
Cal took questions at the end of his speech, and an answer he gave struck me. An audience member asked which baseball organization he thought was best at the moment?
Cal explained that a good organization knows how to develop people. The skill set that each team member develops can be transferred to any other organization. Managers should manage to each individual’s needs.
After the keynote, I attended the Small Producers Council Lunch and a few networking events.
Throughout the convention, it was nice to see familiar faces at the NSSGA, including association management and other industry workers who I connected with at the Legislative & Policy Forum last May.
CONEXPO-CON/AGG is a trade show with products for the construction, ready-mix concrete, and aggregates industries. It’s touted as North America’s largest construction trade show. Over 2,000 exhibits were spread out of 2.8 million square feet.
I walked the show with Washington Rock sales manager Sam Martinson and his wife Brynne. At the end of the day, we had accumulated over 10 miles’ worth of steps.
Each hall (North, South, Central, and West) of the Las Vegas Convention Center featured different categories of vendors ranging from earthmoving equipment to software specialists. What you couldn’t find inside, you could find outdoors in three different lots.
Tuesday was the first day of the convention. We spent most of our time in the Central and West Halls. The Central Hall was filled with some of the biggest names, like Komatsu and Hitachi. They displayed equipment ranging from mini excavators to enormous haul trucks.
Seeing brand new, shiny equipment put a different perspective on the work done at Kapowsin Quarry and King Creek Pit. It’s easier to appreciate the technology when you can see what’s under all the dirt and mud.
Attendees waited in line to sit in the driver’s seat of wheel loaders or excavators. There were virtual operating experiences as well. Two-story construction offices built from shipping containers provided a platform to get a better view of the activity on the show floor.
The West Hall had gleaming new conveyor systems, jaw crushers, impact crushers, hoppers, and scaled models.
The outdoor lots offered access to more equipment. The Festival Lot was Caterpillar’s domain and featured live demonstrations of their equipment. If you were patient enough, you could also meet celebrities like Mike Rowe or attend panels featuring influencers like Instagrammer Missy Sherber.
If you had the time (which I didn’t this year), you could even take one of 190 different educational courses.
An essential part of the convention experience is exchanging your contact details with vendors in an attempt to win whatever prize they offer: an iPad, a Yeti cooler, a 2-year lease on an electric car, etc. And of course, there is so much candy and so many branded bottle openers, pencils, pens, notepads, and other branded merchandise to add to one of many free tote bags. It’s like office supplies Halloween.
Our video provides better visuals of the event than I can begin to explain.
All About Connections
Part of the attraction of having a convention in Las Vegas is the world-class opportunities for entertainment, shopping, and dining. But the convention is ultimately about business exchanges and connections.
I reconnected with great people at the NSSGA Annual Convention. I met industry professionals and vendors. I enjoyed getting to know my coworker Sam and his wife Brynne better.
I’m grateful for the opportunity Washington Rock gave me to attend these conventions, meet new people, and expand my worldview. Now I just have to wait three more years for the next CONEXPO!