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Local Networking In Smaller Communities

by Jon Isaacson

What happens when facilities managers have a desire to meet with local peers, network within the industry, and grow their collective resources, but they are in a market that is underserved by national organizations?

Option 1 – Travel monthly to larger cities where national organizations are active. The facilities manager may make some local connections but the likelihood that they find local peers or even local vendors is low.

Option 2 – Make the more costly investment to travel for annual regional/national conventions. The FM will have exposure to a broad range of resources and organized activities but the likelihood of finding local connections is decreased the greater the distance from their center of operations.

Option 3 – The facilities professional who wears multiple hats in the organization — which may or may not be exclusively facilities management — can assume that they are primarily alone, this is the way things are in their smaller market, and they just have to do the best they can on their own.

While national organizations have national resources to draw from, are well organized and provide educational/certification options, they also are much larger engines which typically are addressing facilities issues from the macro perspective. Even in larger cities there exists a need for local facilities managers to be able to connect with each other to address specific needs within their market sector and share localized resources.

In Eugene, Ore., a group of local facilities managers decided to take matters into their own hands and form a group that met their unique needs. After several iterations with professional organizations and members either traveling to Portland (larger market) for monthly meetings or quarterly spin off meetings in their region (smaller market), a core group of facilities professionals began discussing creating their own networking group. Currently Local Facilities Managers Connection (LFMC) has been serving local facilities management, maintenance, and risk professionals for more than a year  — primarily in the combined Eugene, Springfield and Lane County areas of the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Obstacle One – Meeting Space: As any networking group understands, location is important but it can also be a significant cost burden. Many locations require a minimum payment to meet and for a start up group that is in the infancy of their organizational structure this can be prohibitive. Does the group meet for breakfast, lunch, or in the evenings? What day does the group meet? For LFMC, the agreement was that rather than paying for a conference space, this group would host their meetings in alternating member locations throughout the area. Self-hosting, in addition to cost reduction, generates a freshness to the meetings by exposure to new locations each month. Self-hosting allows members to show off their facilities; displaying a new project or a tour of the facilities also helps create context when discussing facilities challenges with other facilities professionals in the group.

Obstacle Two – Meeting Structure: The purpose of LFMC was to connect local peers so that they could expand knowledge, network and access to local resources. Rather than hosting a lecture from a presenter, the bulk of LFMC monthly meetings are centered around a specific topic relevant to facilities management and the local environment. By focusing on a topic, facilities professionals are able to share their experiences, stories, and resources related to addressing that topic. As the group has grown, guest speakers and presenters have been integrated into the meetings where the guest brings perspective and value to the group but the emphasis remains on interaction between peers.

Obstacle Three – Cost: When organizations have a limited facilities budget, annual dues and fees per meeting can be prohibitive for some facilities and maintenance professionals. By self-hosting, self-presenting, and meeting in the mornings, LFMC has significantly reduced costs.

One way to reduce costs to members is to turn to vendors and sponsors. When revenue is a factor in the decision-making process, the sponsor selection becomes quite broad and many professional networks are flooded with vendors, often disproportionately to practitioners within the industry served. LFMC has made it a core value to review vendors on a case-by-case basis and emphasize value for the group over revenue. The first significant expenditure for LFMC has been creating and hosting a website, which is the first venture that the group has opened to vendor sponsorship at a formalized level.

Jon Isaacson is director of Local Facilities Managers Connection. You can find the LFMC group at www.localfacilities.com, on twitter @localfacilities, and on their Facebook page and LinkedIn group. LFMC would love to hear stories of other groups that have taken networking into their own hands and found value in localized peer-to-peer advancement.