By Jon Isaacson
What happens when local facility managers want to meet with local peers, network within the industry, and grow their collective resources but are in a market that’s underserved by national organizations? What do facility professionals do when they can’t find an organized means to make local connections that will benefit them in their responsibilities?
Here are some options:
- Travel monthly to larger cities where national organizations are active. The FM may make some local connections with other professionals who have taken the same interest and investment, but the likelihood that they find local peers or even local vendors is low.
- A facility professional who has expendable resources or the support of their organization may be able to 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 for localized connections is decreased the greater the distance from their center of operations.
- Local professionals who wear multiple hats in their organizations (which may not be limited to facilities maintenance) can just 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, as much larger engines they typically address facility issues from the macro perspective. Even in larger cities there exists a need for local facility managers to be able to connect with each other to address specific needs within their market sector and share localized resources.
In Eugene, OR a group of local facility managers decided to take matters into their own hands and formed 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 facility professionals began discussing creating their own networking group. The resulting Local Facilities Managers Connection (LFMC) has been serving local facility management, maintenance, and risk professionals for over a year.
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 in the infancy of its organizational structure this can be prohibitive. LFMC decided that rather than paying for a conference space, the group would host meetings in alternating member locations throughout the area. In addition to cost reduction, self-hosting 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 helps create context when discussing challenges with others in the group.
Obstacle Two: Meeting Structure
The most common structure for professional organizations attempting to create value is to bring in a speaker to lecture on a topic and inform the membership. While this educational structure has value, the purpose of LFMC was to connect local peers so that they could expand knowledge, network, and access local resources. The value of the group was found in being able to share experiences. Rather than hosting a lecture from a presenter, the bulk of LFMC monthly meetings are centered around a specific topic relevant to facility management and the local environment. By focusing on a topic, members 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, but the emphasis remains on interaction between peers.
Obstacle Three: Cost
When organizations have a limited budget, annual dues and fees per meeting can be prohibitive for some facility and maintenance professionals. By self-hosting, self-presenting, and meeting in the mornings, LFMC has significantly reduced costs typically associated with professional networking groups. Because cost and revenue are important structural components of most professional organizations, the introduction of vendors and sponsors becomes a resource for lowering the burden on members. When revenue is a factor in the decision making process, the sponsor selection becomes quite broad and many professional networks become 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.
LFMC is entering its sophomore year of serving local facility management, maintenance, and risk professionals primarily in the combined Eugene, Springfield and Lane County areas of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The group has created a strong core of peers that are expanding knowledge, networking opportunities, and access to local resources.
Jon Isaacson, LFMC Director, is a Project Manager working in property restoration with 14 years of experience assisting facilities professionals recover following disasters large and small.