ISRI2022 is back and in person March 21-24, 2022, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Learn more and register here.

Chuck Carr, ISRI’s vice president of convention and meetings, is the architect behind the industry’s biggest event of the year, the annual ISRI Convention and Exposition. He speaks with Scrap News about networking, presentations, educational programs, and more as he plans his last ISRI annual convention and exposition before retiring in 2022.

How many ISRI Conventions have you organized?

If all of them had happened [because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 event was canceled and 2021 was virtual], this would be my 19th. We’ve seen the attendee numbers grow. In 2003 we had 2,000 people and were thrilled to have that number. We had a high in the early part of the last decade of almost 7,000. We seem to have settled into an average of above 5,000 people.

Has the typical attendee changed over that time?

There’s more diversity today than ever before. Our international attendance has continued to grow. We now have an international attendance of 15–17%.

We have built a brand—a recycling industry meeting that is not to be missed, year after year. There’s no meeting or trade show that is specific to the recycling industry that is larger. So, it’s become an opportunity for all of those in our global marketplace to touch base with the biggest, brightest, and best that is going on in the industry, and it’s an event that will continue to be important for years to come.

How has the physical event evolved over the years to meet members’ changing expectations and needs?

In 2003, ISRI had just over 2,000 people at a convention. In 2004, which was the first convention I worked on, we had 3,099. The highest we’ve had was almost 6,500 in 2012.

The most noticeable change is that ISRI’s show has gotten larger. In 2003, the entire exhibit space fit into a 90,000-square-foot hotel ballroom. Today, the show is housed in convention centers using 300,000–350,000 square feet. We spend more time on our choice of workshops and sessions than we’ve ever done before to make sure that we can bring in the people who can address the issues the industry is facing—today. We’re not talking about what was going on six months ago; we’re talking about what’s happening in the industry as the convention is happening.

We’re keeping an eye on issues such as energy costs; on the supply chain issues that are affecting everybody in the world; we’re looking at the labor issues that [recyclers] have. I wish I could say that [labor] was an acute problem, but that has become a chronic problem for this industry. We want to help those who come to our convention attract the best candidates they can find to join their workforce.

Has the process ISRI uses to pick speakers changed over time?

No. Speaker choice as a matter of rule and tradition is solely up to the ISRI chair. Through the years, they’ve done a great job overall of attracting good speakers. I like to tell people they will have one of three speakers at an ISRI Convention general session: You’re going to find somebody famous who you’re going to want to tell the folks back home you saw; you’re going to find somebody that may not be famous, but who is a character in the industry, and has been around the industry for a long time; or you’re going to hear from somebody who is truly an expert in a field that matters for your business. In any case, you come away from that meeting informed, educated, or entertained like you won’t find anywhere else in this industry.

What are some of your fondest memories of conventions past?

We’ve had two former presidents speak at the convention since I’ve worked for ISRI. We’ve had three secretaries of state speak. We’ve had military generals, foreign leaders, and many other authors, business experts, and even a few other entertainers who have spoken over the years. Each of them has left the audience with a take-away message that can make their lives and/or their businesses better tomorrow than today.

My favorite convention [2015] was one of the smallest we ever had, in Vancouver, British Columbia. We had the best programs; we had the most beautiful setting. It’s an opportunity we’ll never get again because we’ve outgrown the facilities in Vancouver.

There’s a few more stories I could tell, and a few I’ll never tell!

What do you hope your ISRI Convention legacy will be?

To make sure that this convention does not become static, that we continue to have a meeting that is dynamic and addressing the needs of the industry every year. That’s going to change the way we produce content for the meetings. The social and networking aspects of the meetings will change—as it should in any industry.

We used to do workshops that were longer than the ones we currently do. We’ve learned that the amount of information that you can absorb at these kinds of events is finite, so we try to give people information that they can carry away much more efficiently. There is a little bit of science that goes into what we do. We always are looking for ways to do it a little better.

When I first started out, the closing event was a black-tie, formal affair with table reservations. We wouldn’t consider trying to have an event like that today because that’s just not what we do. Each year, we try to build an event that can entertain attendees (and their guests) in a way that also allows them the freedom to gather in small groups, to enjoy the evening with friends, or to close that deal they’ve discussed all week.

This year’s closing night party will take place at Drai’s atop the Cromwell hotel in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. The indoor-outdoor event will feature great food, great music, beautiful views of the Bellagio fountains and all the lights of the Strip. There’s indoor and outdoor seating space allowing groups of friends to dance, network, and enjoy ISRI’s favorite convention city.

What about COVID?

We are constantly watching the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics and guidance. Of course, where we’ll be with COVID next year is difficult to predict, because of new variants and mutations. We are looking into all the things we can do to ensure safety and at the same time permit attendees to enjoy our sessions, shows, networking lounges, and other comfortable spaces. Whatever happens, we fully expect to have a live, in-person ISRI Convention at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in March of 2022.

Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; and marketing communications.