Arkansas association gathers in person, following Georgia’s lead

The Arkansas Trucking Association recently became the second state trucking group known to have held its annual convention in person, with Tennessee right behind in its plans to meet face to face. 

Arkansas followed Georgia, which held its meeting in June. At the time, the Georgia meeting was thought to be the first trucking-related in-person meeting since the start of the pandemic, and was the first event of any kind at the hotel in Amelia Island, Florida, since COVID-19 made its way to U.S. shores.  

Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said she looked to the experience that Georgia had in figuring out what to do after its regularly scheduled meeting in May was postponed.

“As we were going through the summer, Georgia did hold that meeting,” Newton said in an interview with FreightWaves. The Arkansas association had decided in April to postpone its May meeting, but that gave the group plenty of time to figure out its next steps, she said.

That effort to determine what to do next involved speaking to the Arkansas Department of Health, the governor’s office, the state’s secretary of commerce, and members of the state’s hospitality association. “No one told me not to do it,” Newton said. 

Having not run into any roadblocks, the association never actually shut down registration. People who had already sent their registration fees in were offered the option of rolling it forward into 2021 but few made that choice. Vendors and sponsors also remained interested in holding an in-person gathering.

“And so we moved forward and had an event,” Newton said. 

Source: Arkansas Trucking Association

The result is that two weeks after it ended, there are no reported COVID-19 cases tied to the meeting.

The event brought in about 135 attendees when 300 to 330 might be the normal level. Trucking-specific companies that are members of the Arkansas association were well represented, but Newton said companies that service the trucking industry, known in the association as allied companies, were impacted more by their company restrictions on travel. “Where it might usually be 60-40 allied companies to truckers, this time it was more like 50-50,” she said.

The Embassy Suites in Rogers, Arkansas, was the site of the meeting, as well as the nearby John Q. Hammons Convention Center. Rogers is in the northwest portion of the state.

“They were very gracious and excited to be returning,” Newton said. “More than anything, they wanted us to be successful as much as they do because they want to showcase the fact that it can be done.”

Plans for the meeting did require approval by the local board of health which meant that things such as seating charts needed to be given a green light. “You have to have more square footage to allow for the distance between attendees, she said. 

There were differences with the Georgia meeting. For example, Newton said there were receptions; those were not held at Amelia Island. 

But then there were the wrist bands. The association set up three types of bands, red, yellow and green. Essentially they were indicators of just how close you were willing to get to other human beings. 

The association ordered an equal number of bands of the three colors. But as Newton conceded, the attendance at the meeting was “self-selecting.” Somebody who strives hard to avoid contact with other human beings is not likely to even show up, even if a red band tells others to keep their distance. 

The result? The meeting ran out of green bands. And Newton said she has advised the Tennessee meeting to not order a balanced number of bands, since the organizers of that gathering Sept. 20-22 have been in discussion with the Arkansas association about what it went through to pull off its meeting. Tennessee is holding its event in Florida.

“We had all kinds of people who adhered to everything we asked them to do,” Newton said. “But there were some individuals who were more comfortable once they got there.” That resulted in people pulling down their masks  a bit more than the meeting planners thought was prudent.

“We were constantly reminding people to please wear their masks to make people feel comfortable and safe,” Newton said.

The American Trucking Associations had planned on holding its Denver meeting in-person in October. But it announced in late July that it would shift its meeting to an online event.

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