A history of the SC&RA Annual Conference

By Mike Chalmers11 April 2023

The Annual Conference continues to drive both members and industry productively forward.

One thing SC&RA members have become accustomed to each year in late April is setting aside a week and traveling to the Association’s Annual Conference. It’s an opportunity to network, take part in committee meetings and education sessions and have some fun with industry colleagues and friends – both old and new.

The Heavy Haulers, Machinery Movers and Erectors Section of the Local Cartage National Conference – met for breakfast in Detroit, MI on May 21, 1950.

All the while, attendees are also participating in an historic occasion that has played a vital role in shaping the work they do and the environments they do it within for 75 years and counting.

Dating back to 1948, when what is now SC&RA began as a segment of the Local Cartage National Conference (LCNC) of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the Heavy Haulers, Machinery Movers and Erectors Section of the LCNC was eventually born – with the new Heavy-Specialized Conference of the ATA holding its first official meeting on December 6, at the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C.

Seventy-five individuals attended this first event, which was designed to address laws and regulations specifically affecting the transport of specialized loads, but which would also become what many consider today as the year’s premier gathering of industry owners, CEOs, top managers and leaders within the specialized transportation and construction industries.

A familiar theme that has become more prevalent over the decades, SC&RA Annual Conferences represent a chance for members to reconnect and build on relationships that often last a lifetime.

Averaging 700 attendees, more than 80 exhibitors, nearly 100 first-timers and representing just short of a dozen countries over the last ten years, the modern Annual Conference is different than its earliest iterations in that it includes a wider variety of opportunity for all – from meetings and noteworthy presentations to golf and tennis tournaments, a 5K Fun Run/Walk, the popular Specialized Carriers & Rigging Foundation (SC&RF) fundraising event, evening receptions and the highly anticipated Exhibit Center. But both the motivation and the intent remain the same: to advocate on behalf of the industry to fundamentally improve safety, efficiency and profitability for SC&RA members.

This year’s Annual Conference lands in Carlsbad, CA at the Omni La Costa Resort April 17-21. Interspersed throughout the event will be near-countless moments to learn, network, take part in industry-shaping initiatives and explore new business. And seeing as how 2023 represents the 75th anniversary of SC&RA, the annual assemblage also offers an opportunity for all involved to reflect on the significance of the history behind it, and consider the passion and dedication that remains more than seven decades since that first gathering.

Common interests

“The Annual serves notice that the industry is watching and cares,” explained Ed Bernard, president at Precision Specialized and SC&RA president. “We want to better our companies and ourselves – and be better at the jobs we do. The Annual allows us to see how others are doing – a barometer if you will – and allows us to share issues with others.”

Not unlike the role of SC&RA committees and task forces today, an early mission at Association annual gatherings was to educate members on the trends, issues and concerns of the industry.

Bernard particularly appreciates the networking. “I was all nerves my first Annual Conference, but I eventually realized, we all have the same issues – and it unites members. While the networking has remained integral for me, I’ve also received work from other members. And because of the event, I’ve seen colleagues become lifelong friends.”

SC&RA CEO Joel Dandrea agreed. “We’ve made it a point over the years to inform and educate members on key issues and initiatives that are being undertaken – and how to get involved in that process. This puts members together with common interests, and before long, an exchange of ideas begins to take shape. A lot of member companies that meet and network at our events often end up in partnership on some level.”

Like Dandrea, Alan Barnhart, president and CEO at Barnhart Crane & Rigging, understands the power of bringing together highly talented people beneath the idea of moving the industry collectively forward. “We talk about things that matter at the event – Joel and the team do such a great job every year in that regard,” he said. “Over the years, our time together has changed the industry. And then there’s the exhibit center, the Job of the Year competition. The speakers. But the best part for me, is spending time with new and old friends.”

An Annual Conference today includes a mix of committee meetings, educational sessions, motivational speakers and networking events for attendees across the construction and transport sectors.

To Barnhart’s point, Dandrea noted that the Job of the Year competition remains a distinguishing characteristic of the Annual Conference. “It’s definitely one of the highlights, and continues to attract interest from attendees around the U.S. and the world. It gives them a chance to see how different companies are addressing different challenges and what unique strategies they’re employing with different types of equipment.”

For Bernard, it takes on personal meaning. “My most memorable Annual has to be 2013 – the spectacle, the size, the scope of the event. The nerves. And, of course, our first Job of the Year – and a win.”

Core mission

Doug Williams, CEO at Buckner Companies, acknowledged that the Annual Conference has opened plenty of doors for his company. “As a result, there are so many truly talented peers we can reach out to for various needs – and they can do the same,” he indicated. “Additionally, the interaction with the scholarship recipients renews my optimism in the future. Moreover, I particularly enjoy the relationships we’ve built with international members.”

The Annual Conference culminates with the Annual Awards and Recognition Dinner, where members recognize their fellow industry professionals for accomplishments, longevity, advocacy, innovation and much more.

Williams has also had the privilege of seeing the conference consistently improve over time. “And I attribute that to staff and leadership at SC&RA,” he said. “Everyone involved stays current on cutting-edge trends, challenges and solutions. All the while, the founding values, the mission, but also the relationship-based look and feel has remained intact.”

Jim Vitez, owner at KMX International, and an SC&RA member since the early 1960s, can drill down even further. “Back in the early years, a board meeting at the Annual Conference would last all day,” he indicated. “There was no agenda – nothing was worked out in the committees ahead of time … it was whoever showed up and had an issue. Your decision on whether to support or not support a particular issue was made in a matter of seconds.”

Vitez confirmed that the modern event is light years beyond those earlier versions. “Back then, you’d just head to the bar and work everything out, but now, everything is so streamlined, organized, efficient – it’s just so professional. And there’s just more of everything. The social. The educational. Which is why it’s grown so much. I find it fascinating looking back and seeing how we got here. But the spirt of it all has carried through. Everyone still accepts everyone else – doesn’t matter how big or small you are.”

Each Annual Conference is completed with a Board of Directors meeting, where committee discussions are summarized and votes are made on various member and industry issues.

As for the quality and value Vitez is describing, Dandrea explained, “We understand that people come to the conference for different reasons. Some for networking, others for education. Some for business development. Or all of the above. Our motivation is to package enough into the event to appeal to a diverse membership – but also make sure they’ve experienced great value, that they met good people, had fun, got some leads, acquired things they could take back to their business to hopefully make it better.

“But through it all, the connection to this event’s history is strong and ever-present. The world is a different place today. We have to appeal to a different professional and an emerging younger generation who will one day be the leaders here. We examine and adapt accordingly. But the core mission and priorities won’t change – to do our best as an association to advocate on behalf of the industry, and to fundamentally help improve safety, efficiency and profitability for our member companies.”

For more information, and to register for SC&RA’s 2023 Annual Conference, visit www.scranet.org/AC2023.

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