Lots of hands to shake at VCU’s 25th annual Commercial Real Estate Trends Conference
While other conferences come and go, the annual Virginia Commonwealth University Real Estate Trends Conference has proven its staying power.
Now in its 25th year, the 2015 conference will be held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Thursday, Oct. 22, from 1:30 to 5 p.m, with networking and registration beginning as 12:30 p.m. According to Robert Taylor, executive director of VCU’s Kornblau Real Estate Program, which helps organize the conference, 1,100 people have registered so far.
Typically, the conference draws about 1,400 people from throughout Virginia and North Carolina, with the greatest concentration from Central Virginia.
When he got involved back in 2002, Taylor said, “We had maybe 350 people. Then we hit 500, which was a critical mass, and it continued to grow.”
With the growth, the conference has changed venues several times. It started out at a Sheraton Hotel in Henrico County, then moved to the Omni Hotel in Shockoe Bottom in Richmond and on to the convention center where it keeps booking larger rooms.
So what’s the secret to the conference’s success? “People want to be seen at this event,” says Taylor. “One of our attendees once commented that he could meet with more people in that half a day than he could in six months of cold calling.”
There are opportunities for networking between conference sessions and at a reception following the event.
Students enrolled in VCU’s real estate program assist at the event and also take advantage of networking to meet future job contacts. “One student even had a business card made up with the tagline: “It’s not only the grades you make; it’s the hands you shake,” says Taylor.
The conference is a fundraising event and proceeds support VCU’s real estate program, with some money going to student scholarships. “We end up netting about $100,000,” Taylor says.
A planning committee of about 25 to 30 people put on the conference. René Shepperson, a senior commercial real estate banker with Union Bank & Trust in Richmond, serves as committee chair for this year’s event. “This conference would not be possible without the hard work of the VCU School of Business staff, the conference committee volunteers and the approximately 90+ local businesses, which sponsor this event. Their commitment helps support the mission of the VCU Real Estate Program to prepare its students to be our future real estate leaders,” she said.
Taylor says planning is one of the conference’s strengths. “Each year the planning committee gets back together and says, ‘How can we do it better next year?’ “
Since attendees responded well to one of the 2014 speakers, Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of “Freakonomics,” “We’ve tried to bring a more fun, light-hearted component this year,” says Taylor.
Dubner talked about ways to think more productively, rationally and creatively. This year’s keynote is Erik Qualman, who is credited with starting the “Socialnomics” movement with his book of the same name. Qualman looks at the impact of social media and the art and science of developing a digital reputation.
Joining Qualman are real estate and economics experts Mary Ludgin, Maurice Jones, and Michael Rubinger.
Ludgin is a managing director at Heitman, a global real estate investment management firm with $34.3 billion in assets, where she serves as director of global investment research.
As Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Jones talks with businesses across the state and helps recruit new companies to Virginia.
Rubinger, president and CEO of Local Initiatives Support Corp., leads a national nonprofit that focuses on community redevelopment.