Jason Shelton, GM of Loretto Telecom and VP of the TNBA, discusses what attendees can expect from the 2022 TNBA Annual Convention and Showcase.
To register, please visit the 2022 Annual Convention event page.
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Intro: The following program is brought to you by the Tennessee Broadband Associa-tion. Lead Tennessee Radio, conversations with the leaders moving our state forward. We look at the issues shaping Tennessee’s future: rural development, public policy, broadband, health care, and other topics impacting our communities.
Carrie Huckeby: Hello, everyone. I’m Carrie Huckeby, the executive director of the Tennessee Broadband Association. And my guest is Jason Shelton, the general manager of Loretto Telecom. Jason is the upcoming president of the TNBA, and he’s also the chair of this year’s TNBA Annual Convention and Showcase. You’re a busy guy, Jason, welcome.
Jason Shelton: Thank you very much. I’m excited to be on to be able to talk about our 2022 Annual Convention today and anything else that we might want to talk about in regards to Tennessee broadband.
Carrie Huckeby: Great. Well, this year’s convention is May 31st through June 2nd. It’s taking place in Franklin at the Cool Springs Marriott. We’ve been there a few years. It’s a great location. It’s outside of Nashville, but it’s close enough to get there if you want to go. There’s plenty of parking outside the convention center, and the Marriott has been great to work with us, whatever we planned. So we look forward to working with them again this year. So before we dive into any specifics about the convention, Ja-son, tell us why you think the convention is important to the association and to our in-dustry as a whole.
Jason Shelton: Carrie, that’s a great question. Obviously, all of the previous conventions taken place in years before have all been important as well. Obviously, this year’s is no different. And of course, broadband is an extremely hot topic these days. There is a lot of support behind the industry now, whereas in the past it was a little bit of a struggle to be able to get folks to understand why things needed to be changed. And finally, unfortunately, it resulted in a national or international pandemic to kind of help push the envelope a little bit. This year’s convention, we’re kind of at a little bit of a crossroads. And what I mean by that is, is while broadband previously, you know, indi-vidual companies, etc., were kind of doing their own thing. There was some public support, of course, with grant programs in different states across the country, Tennes-see obviously being a leader of some of those grant programs, state grant programs. But more now with all of the dollars being pushed into our industry, both from state and, of course, federal levels, the infrastructure bill rules being announced here within the next few months and so on. All the more important for those that are in the know to need to know what needs to be happening and what they need to be looking out for. Of course, rules associated with the various programs and that sort of thing. And I feel like the lineup that we have this year is going to allow those that attend to be able to have a leg up potentially on some other companies, obviously competitors and that sort of thing. So like I said, I feel like we’re at a crossroads. What we do today is defi-nitely going to impact tomorrow and the next generation and a few more even after that. And so therefore, the Tennessee Association Convention is definitely going to be a location where you’ll be able to get some information and have some discussions with folks that are definitely going to be able to give you a leg up.
Carrie Huckeby: Well, there’s definitely, as you said, a lot going on in our industry to-day with broadband and a lot to keep up with. So it is important to try to keep, you know, as much information and as up to date as possible. So these conventions and meetings definitely serve that purpose, like you said. Well, every convention always starts out with a good committee, and you’ve pulled together a great committee this year, made up of our members, our associate and platinum members. And as I said, that’s a great way to get any convention off to a great start. But tell us some of the things that you and the committee are excited about, about this particular convention.
Jason Shelton: Yeah. So well, first off, I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to all of our committee members for their participation and help. And we’ve got some some folks that have been on previous committees. So, you know, they’re returned participa-tion is obviously appreciated. We got some new faces on as well. And then, of course, with all of our associate members, we wouldn’t be able to have these without their support, too. But as far as the agenda, I’m really excited about our agenda. We do have the Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton of course, from Tennessee, is going to be speaking and doing is going to be our opening speaker. And we’ve got some folks both from the national stage as well. And then, of course, the Tennessee Depart-ment of Economic Development is also lined up to be able to speak in addition to those folks. But then also, we’ve got a little bit of a rock and roll opportunity. We’ve got Sandy Gennaro from The Monkees fame, as well as Cyndi Lauper. He’s a drummer. So for those that are familiar with the rock and roll industry and that sort of thing, it defi-nitely ought to be a name that folks recognize. But I’ve been really excited about being able to listen to him speak. And of course, he spoke at the NTCA Fall Conference that was in Nashville in the fall conference from from back in 2021, I believe. And so excit-ed to have him speak to industry companies again, of course, have a little bit more in-timate conversation with Tennessee companies directly. And ultimately the title of his conversation is “Beat the Odds.” And I definitely feel like that’s something that we as companies need to be focusing on, is beating the odds when it comes to the challeng-es and everything associated with broadband, you know, as far as rules and where to go to get materials and labor and so on. We’re going to have to figure out a way to beat those odds.
Carrie Huckeby: Yes, I’m looking forward to hearing Sandy talk. Just some of our ear-ly calls with him and and conversations have been really motivating themselves. So, yeah, he calls himself a rock and roll thought leader. So looking forward to that. But al-so, as you said, you know, speakers from the Tennessee ECD, you know, they’ll come with, I’m sure, lots of information about the coming grant rewards and the mapping and some and talk about rural community development as well. So a great lineup for the opening and keynote. So you’ve also at the convention have had peer group breakout sessions over the last couple of years and those have seemed to be very popular and well attended. And you have those planned again. What do you think the attendees take away from those and why? What makes those so popular?
Jason Shelton: Well, I believe it’s because you’re able to sit in a room with your peers and talk one-on-one about challenges or, you know, obviously good ideas as well. Not everything is a challenge, but some breakthroughs that folks might have had in deal-ing with their individual departments. Because, again, a lot of times when these con-ferences are put together, what we tried to focus on this year was just overall inclusion and wanting every attendee to be able to walk away with something. These peer groups have been a historical formula for folks to be able to do that. Obviously, any conference is only as good as what you put into it, but I’ve had, of course, good feed-back about these. I’ve had previous or other state association convention exposure, and these to me have always been one of those periods of time that folks are able to ask questions that relate directly to what it is that they want to know about and to be able to potentially walk away something that’s going to be able to help them in their day to day business.
Carrie Huckeby: Well, I know in my career I’ve always if I had questions or a chal-lenge or something I needed help with, it was always the peer group that you would call on or email or say, help me out, or those meetings are very valuable in your career at any point. So glad to see those on the agenda again this year. You know, so with with the convention, we always put an email out there and request speaker proposals. And this year the committee was fortunate to get lots of those and had a lot of great content to pick from. So tell us a little bit about the breakout sessions.
Jason Shelton: Yeah. So once again, you know, again as when we initially set out, we were looking for inclusion. So of course, we did take feedback from last year’s conven-tion. And for those that submitted survey responses, we looked at that as well, and we wanted folks to be able to have a continual take away. And I’m excited because of, not only our opening session and of course the peer breakout sessions, but because of the breakout sessions, we were able to get speakers that are going to align regardless of who attends this conference, they’re going to be able to speak to someone that can directly speak to them. In terms of whether or not it’s operational, finance, or just kind of knowing more about the industry and that sort of thing. So I’m really excited about that. The speakers that we have lined up, I believe, they’ve been all notified and committed, but we’re really looking forward to what they have to say as it — when we’re in the trenches all day, for the most part, we don’t have a lot of time to be able to focus on what the experts are. And I really do feel like the speakers that we have lined up are experts in these individual fields. And that’s going to be a really big takeaway for folks that are in as far as, like I said, their individual responsibilities.
Carrie Huckeby: Yes, I think the committee did a great job this year of picking out those presentations that spoke to different disciplines, as you said. Well, where, you know, the sales and marketing and customer service can go to one session and the operational, network, engineering to another session, and management and leader-ship to the others just and, you know, just good overall sessions. So, and there are six, I believe, on Wednesday, the main day of the convention. There will be three breakout sessions, and then there’s three more. So a good selection there on Wednesday after-noon. The last day, Thursday is the showcase, and that’s really important to our ven-dors. You know, they’re busy setting up on Wednesday evening. But tell us a little bit about the showcase in the expo and what our attendees will see there.
Jason Shelton: One of the changes that we’ve made this year is, especially with feed-back from some of our vendors and associate members, is to have more of an oppor-tunity for attendees to be able to interact. And one of the new things this year is, is we were able to secure those breakout rooms for Thursday morning while the showcase is going on. But we’ve also got some speakers lined up during those time frames. They are shorter session, so it’s not the same as what you would see on a Wednesday af-ternoon breakout session. But it’s more of an opportunity for a vendor to be able to showcase their products and to be able to talk more about whether or not it’s a soft-ware system or something like that. Something that you’re not necessarily going to be able to see on a showroom floor, especially because as anybody that’s ever attended in the past, it can get a little loud in there. And so you might not necessarily be able to get the full takeaway of what that vendor or that associate member was trying to be able to showcase. And so we do have on Thursday some smaller breakout sessions, if you will. There are 30 minutes apiece. And the speakers and folks that are going to be doing those, I think that they’re going to find value in being able to do that and still for everyone else to be able to visit the showcase floor. So we’re not necessarily taking away anything. If anything, we’re adding to it. And I really hope that that’s something that continues to happen just because, like I said, it provides an additional opportunity for some of our associates and vendors to be able to showcase more of their product with a more intimate setting as well. So really excited about that and hoping folks take advantage of it.
Carrie Huckeby: Yes, I think those will be popular. I think they will be a little more hands on where, you know, you’ll have that a little more time to actually demonstrate or show some of your products and services and go into things in a little more depth. So I think those are a great idea. So the expo will be going on. There’ll be some shorter demo sessions on Thursday morning, but we failed to talk about Wednesday night. I hear that you have some exciting things for Wednesday night.
Jason Shelton: Yeah. So this is a little bit of a different thing too. Of course, last year we had we had dinner, and we had an excellent performer with Jake Hoot. He put on a great show, and that obviously was a great experience. Again, listening to feedback that we had from our associate members and vendors was is that while the show was great, they had hoped for a little bit more of a networking opportunity, which is obvious-ly very important. The reason why we’re at some of these conventions and that sort of thing. So we were able to bring — we’re going to have a casino night. Now, we’re not necessarily going to have to use our own money. So that’s the good thing because I don’t want to go broke, that’s for sure. So, but we are introducing casino night this year. We are actually going to allow — or folks are going to go out and have dinner on their own again on Wednesday night, which allows for even more of an opportunity for ven-dors and associates to be able to network with folks. Whereas in the past dinner was always provided, but because again, everybody was in the same room and that sort of thing, it may be limited, some of that.
Jason Shelton: So with the blackjack and other casino games that are going to be happening, it’s going to be very low key. It’s going to be — there’s obviously no pres-sure, especially when you’re not gambling with real money and that sort of thing. So there’s going to be prizes, of course. And we’re really excited about the vendor that does all of this and the things that they’re going to be able to bring for potential win-ning, you know, if you do good at blackjack and all of those fun games. And then of course, we’ve got golf too on Tuesday. We’ll open the conference with our traditional golf tournament. We are switching locations this year, which is okay, but I’m really ex-cited at playing at a new course. I don’t get to play golf very often. Typically when I do, it’s frankly at conventions like this, so I’m really excited. Like I said, to be able to play at a new course and to be able to network with folks at the golf tournament to.
Carrie Huckeby: We are playing at Temple Hills Country Club this year. It is a new course. And we are having quite a few people sign up for golf, so that is a popular thing on Tuesday, first day of the conference. And then of course, Tuesday night we have the reception, the desert reception for after they’ve played golf and had dinner on their own, and we come in for drinks and dessert. So that’s always a good networking event. So it sounds like you’ve got a lot of opportunities for networking for our vendors and associate members to show their wares and their products and services and also to walk away with some really great information from our sessions and keynotes. So a lot going on in Tennessee, as you said, a lot going on with broadband. So the conven-tion is very important to all of us. As we wrap up, what else would you like to add about the conference? Anything, Jason?
Jason Shelton: Well, you know, again, I may not be able to get around and shake eve-rybody’s hand and say thank you for coming. But ultimately, you know, even for folks just to be able to just listening to this podcast, I really do appreciate everything that everybody is doing, whether or not it’s from a policy office or a service provider, a ven-dor that provides service to us. At the end of the day, we are all working in towards one common goal, which is connecting Tennessee. And that is obviously the theme of what our conference is, is connecting Tennessee. And I really hope that folks are able to, if they do come, to be able to maximize their experience. And for those that maybe didn’t get to make it this year, obviously think about us next year, but I’m really looking for-ward to what we have in show. And like I said, this is our crossroads year and essen-tially going to set the stage for the next several generations. And so, again, thank you as well for your participation and thanks for everyone to consider coming to the con-ference. And if you do happen to make it and I don’t shake your hand, thank you for that. And but I do hope to be able to get around and see everyone. And of course, if there’s any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. The hotel cutoff is on May 9th, so that’ll be here before we know it. And then, of course, registrations and sponsorship forms should be submitted by April 30th to make sure that all of our signage and print-ing and everything is done on time. And we know that things can happen after the fact, but we obviously want to try and make sure that it is as perfect of a conference that an-yone attending might expect. So but if you can please submit your registrations earlier rather than later. So but ultimately, again, thank you and thank everyone else for help-ing us connect Tennessee.
Carrie Huckeby: Thank you, Jason. I know you’re very busy. I appreciate you talking to me this morning. And as Jason said, we may not get around to shake everyone’s hand, but we will do our best to do so. But I’m with Jason, and I look forward to seeing everyone at the convention. Thank you.