Chuck Robinson, assistant copy chief
Chuck Robinson, assistant copy chief

A couple of weeks later I still am feeling a glow from attending the New England Produce Council’s 15th annual produce and floral expo on Sept. 11.

It was a posh time in Newport, R.I., for the show, themed NEPC by the Sea. It’s true, you can combine a good time and business, and the leaders of the New England Produce Council have shown us the way.

I am expecting a similar combination of fun and business at The Packer’s West Coast Produce Expo on May 1-3 in Palm Desert, Calif.

I sort of wish we could clone Laura Sullivan, executive director of the NEPC.

She and the board pulled off quite a feat producing this expo in a resort setting. The logistics, I imagine, of putting an expo under two tents because there isn’t a convention facility to hold it in must be mind boggling.

For the most part, things went very smoothly. There are things to adjust if they return to Newport or pitch their expo tents at another New England resort, but all in all NEPC by the Sea was a great success.

Despite all the scheduling and logistics of putting on the show, what puts Sullivan above most of the rest of us is her attention not just to the business details of putting on an expo but also the personal details.

During the clambake on the night before the expo, while a group of us were talking Sullivan noticed out of the corner of her eye a couple trying to get a picture of themselves in front of a beautiful lighthouse. Sullivan broke away and asked if she could snap the picture for them.

Details like that made the NEPC expo something wonderful.

Bob McGowan, president of the Burlington, Mass.-based NEPC and a partner in Wellesley, Mass.-based wholesaler Northeast Produce Sales, led a hands-on board to help Sullivan put on this event. They gave the event a friendliness and graciousness that can’t be faked.

I am not the only fan of the event.

Ray Mattern, Northeast U.S. vendor development manager for Brampton, Ontario-based Loblaw Cos. Ltd., congratulated Sullivan, McGowan and the NEPC board for a good show and for taking the risks involved in producing it and doing it in such a gracious manner.

“Their engaging way was not overbearing,” Mattern said. “It was just the right touch.”

Mattern said he didn’t know what to expect, coming from Canada, but it was a positive experience. He said he would recommend his company send more representatives to the NEPC expo.

The size of the expo was good, Mattern said. There were about 150 exhibitors.

“It wasn’t so large that you couldn’t cover it in a day,” Mattern said.

He appreciated that the exhibitors were not engaged in a bigger and fancier booth competition but instead could get down to business with less hassle. He said he made useful contacts that he might not otherwise be able to make.

“I got to meet with some smaller suppliers that I didn’t even know existed,” Mattern said.

The allure of Palm Desert is much different than Newport, R.I., but I think the West Coast Produce Expo will have a similar attraction.

It is a posh place to combine some fun with business, and a one-day expo seems manageable.

Of course, there is also a golf tournament. Golfers know better than I do the reputation of Palm Desert golf courses.

However, Palm Desert has a lot of other things to do.

Being a gardener, I am interested in visiting the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. I want to get a look at the tortoises and lizards and check out the Mohave, Chihuahuan, Sonoran and Colorado desert gardens.

I also want to check out nearby Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument and Joshua Tree National Park.

I have read there is shopping, and El Paseo, Palm Desert’s milelong shopping district that has been dubbed by tourism marketers as the “Rodeo Drive of the Desert.” Well, that’s not for me, but I know a lot of people who would be thrilled to shop there.

Just west of Palm Desert is Palm Springs, Calif., where I am looking forward to riding the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up the cliffs of Chino Canyon to get a peek at the mountains. I also want to check out the desert plants at the Moorten Botanical Garden.

I got the impression that a lot of meetings and negotiations took place at NEPC by the Sea, and I listened in on some great business interactions. I know work was accomplished.

But it also was fun, and that is not a bad deal.

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