3-day forum in Toledo to draw reps from 300 telecom companies

11/1/2012
BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
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Nearly 300 rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the tele­com in­dus­tries in Ohio and Mich­i­gan will con­verge on Toledo next week for a con­fer­ence that will pro­vide them with in­for­ma­tion on a va­ri­ety of top­ics, in­clud­ing how to use so­cial me­dia more ef­fec­tively or how to pre­pare for a di­sas­ter.

The three-day Great Lakes Tech­nol­ogy Show­case, spon­sored pri­mar­ily by the Ohio Tele­com As­so­ci­a­tion and the Tele­com­mu­ni­ca­tions As­so­ci­a­tion of Mich­i­gan, will be­gin Wed­nes­day and end Nov. 9 at the SeaGate Con­ven­tion Center.

Nearly half the at­tend­ees will be from tele­com com­pa­nies, from the large play­ers, such as AT&T Ohio and Cen­tu­ryLink, to the ti­ni­est in­cum­bent lo­cal ex­change car­ri­ers, such as the Rid­geville Tele­phone Co., in Rid­geville Corners, Ohio, one of the 35 small tele­coms that pop­u­late Ohio.

The re­main­ing at­tend­ees will rep­resent var­i­ous ven­dors that pro­vide the tech­nol­ogy and ser­vices used by the tele­com in­dus­try.

“It’s a great mix from both the large com­pa­nies and the small com­pa­nies, and it’s not just Ohio com­pa­nies. It’s Mich­i­gan tele­phone com­pa­nies as well,” said Cheryl Bur­chard, di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions for the Ohio Tele­com As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­resents 42 tele­com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies.

“It’s sur­pris­ing, but the big guys and the lit­tle guys ac­tu­ally have a lot more in com­mon that you’d ex­pect. The small com­pa­nies com­pete just the same way the AT&Ts do in that they also pro­vide tele­phone ser­vice, plus video ser­vices, agree­ments with wire­less pro­vid­ers, and broad­band,” Ms. Bur­chard said.

“But while the big com­pa­nies know where their cus­tom­ers are, in some cases, the small com­pa­nies know their cus­tom­ers lit­er­ally. They see them at the gro­cery store and at the Fri­day night foot­ball games,” she said.

Both big and small com­pa­nies have signed up to send their ex­perts and ex­ec­u­tives to hear about the lat­est is­sues that af­fect them all, she said. “They all come to learn just the same way,” Ms. Bur­chard added.

A key ses­sion, which takes place at 2:30 p.m. Wed­nes­day and will be re­peated at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 8, will be a Google work­shop on “Grow­ing Your Busi­ness On­line.”

Ms. Bur­chard said the ses­sions, pre­sented by so­cial me­dia ex­perts Betsy Hub­bard and De­bra Jasper, co-found­ers of Mind­set Dig­i­tal LLC, will help tele­phone com­pany ex­ec­u­tives bet­ter un­der­stand how to use so­cial me­dia like Face­book and Twit­ter to their ad­van­tage.

“It’s things that you re­ally don’t think about much but once you hear them pres­ent it, you think, ‘Wow, they give a great mes­sage on what’s out there, what’s avail­able, and as a busi­ness, what you can of­fer your cus­tom­ers,’” Ms. Bur­chard said. “When it comes to so­cial me­dia, many com­pa­nies are us­ing it. But one thing we hope they’ll learn is they are us­ing it ef­fec­tively and stra­te­gi­cally.”

Each Google work­shop ses­sion is lim­ited to 50 peo­ple, but both are open to the pub­lic — the only two ses­sions of the three-day con­fer­ence that are open to busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives other than those in the tele­com in­dus­try.

Ms. Bur­chard said spon­sors ex­pect the show­case’s fi­nal ses­sion at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 9 — “How do com­pa­nies re­spond to a nat­u­ral or man-made di­sas­ter” — to be ex­tremely well at­tended.

The Ohio Tele­com As­so­ci­a­tion spon­sored a sim­i­lar pro­gram this sum­mer in Cin­cin­nati, and it was a big hit, she said.

“People will learn what an­other com­pany like theirs is do­ing, or plans to do, and how they do it. It would be a ben­e­fit to any­body in this in­dus­try,” Ms. Bur­chard said. A panel of ex­perts will dis­cuss how large com­pa­nies and small com­pa­nies can cope with di­sas­ters, she added.

Although it was sched­uled co­in­ci­den­tally, the sub­ject should be timely in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Sandy, Ms. Bur­chard said. “I hate to say, ‘Thank you Hurr­ri­cane Sandy,’ but it will bring some added in­ter­est to the sub­ject of pre­pared­ness,” she said.