KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — After a relatively low turnout last August in Columbus, Ohio, US, for the first GEAPS Exchange since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, GEAPS officials were relieved that this year’s event, held last week in Kansas City, Missouri, US, was buzzing with energy and excitement.

“It was an extraordinary success,” said Steve Records, executive director of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society (GEAPS). “We had nearly 3,000 people show up, which puts it in the top three or four conferences attendance-wise that we’ve ever had.

“We were really pleased with the metrics we saw. Anecdotally, we had a number of exhibitors tell us it was the best show they’ve been to, period. They saw the clients they needed to see, got new leads at levels they hadn’t at previous shows. Then, beyond that, all our education sessions were packed.”

The GEAPS Exchange is an annual event that brings together grain storage and handling professionals to view the newest equipment at the trade show, participate in educational sessions, and network with grain industry colleagues.

The event historically has rotated on a yearly basis to different locations, but several years ago the GEAPS leadership voted to hold the event for three consecutive years in Kansas City beginning in 2022. Its central location in North America and proximity to the heart of the US grain industry are attractive, Records said.

“What we’re currently looking at is whether Kansas City can be a place where we just anchor the conference in perpetuity,” Records said. “It’s within a six-hour drive for such a high concentration of people in our industry.”

Although GEAPS held several events online during the height of the pandemic, Records said most members have told him they prefer attending live conferences.

“You just don’t get the same engagement (online) that you do at a live show,” he said. “Our industry is relationship driven. The ability to connect with people one-on-one in person is important — to have conversations, share a meal, share a drink. A big part of GEAPS’ mission is to be the hub of that network. We are going to do whatever we can to be that hub in person.”

Making this year’s attendance figure even more impressive was that fewer international members were able to attend, mainly because of lingering restrictions related to the pandemic. That included what is typically a sizeable contingent from Canada.

Records said less than 10% of GEAPS’ membership is from outside North America, but the organization hopes to raise that percentage in the coming years and “to grow on a global basis.”

Another strategy designed to increase membership is offering more educational programming that appeals to industry professionals not involved in operations, although most of the sessions are still operations oriented.

Records described it as “a small but dramatic shift on the types of topics we train on.”

For instance, this year’s conference included a human resources educational track, including a session on diversity and inclusion, as well as a session on the growing importance of cybersecurity at grain facilities.  

“We are looking to draw attendees and members that aren’t just operations people,” Records said. “We want grain merchandisers, people who work in human resources and other non-operations employees to attend the Exchange.”

If the feedback from exhibitors and attendees is any indication, next year’s Exchange in Kansas City will be even larger than this year’s event, Records said.

“I heard multiple people say that now that they know what this is and where it will be, they’re going to bring 10 to 12 more people next year,” he said. “That’s the kind of stuff we can build on.”