Leveraging Technology to Improve Your Business was the theme of the 2017 Gases and Welding Distributors Association (GAWDA) Spring Management Conference, held from May 11-13 at the posh Boca Raton Resort & Club.

GAWDA President Mark Raimy opened the event by welcoming attendees from more than 65 distributors, and more than 135 gases and welding supply companies. He then talked about the role technology played this year in helping to organize and promote the conference.

Raimy talked about social media campaigns, showing a promotional video of himself dressed in formal attire and riding a board on the resort’s surfing simulator. But he also talked about the new GAWDA app and a new website that will be launched at the national conference in New York City in the fall.

“It’s all about communication. Put purpose first, and technology follows,” said Raimy, who also introduced a new communication portal for GAWDA board members.

It was an important message to the roughly 500 attendees, many of whom are Baby Boomers not totally comfortable with technology when it comes to communication. It’s a demographic that is, on average, over the age of 55.

Panel on ‘Generation Next’

But maybe even more important than Raimy’s initial update on “Leveraging Technology to Improve Your Business,” was the panel that followed.

Dubbed “Generation Next,” George Ratermann (pictured above), President of Ratermann Manufacturing moderated a panel of four millennials in what served as an effective focus group for attendees. After all, while knowing how to leverage technology in your business is critical, Ratermann said, knowing your workers and your customers might be even more important.

The panel, all of them in the gases and welding business, included millennials ages 18-28, who spent the hour answering questions about how they like to communicate, how they like to work, and how they view vendor relationship management in the future.

Ratermann panel GAWDA SMC 2017

“This is all coming very fast, and if we don’t understand it then our businesses are going to be missing out on a lot of opportunities within 3-5 years,” Ratermann said. “These (this panel) are your future people (workers), and your future customers. Understanding them is really important.”

Curt Steinhorst, who presents to businesses nationally on the topic of working styles of his generation – including major corporations such as General Motors and Raytheon – then followed with his take on the theme.

First day presentations also included one by Christopher Mapes, CEO and President of Lincolon Electric, while GAWDA’s new Chief Economist Alan Beaulieu spoke to the gathering on Day 2 about leveraging technology to do better business forecasting.

Also at the event was the group Workshop for Warriors, an organization of American war veterans, who are training returning servicemen and women in the welding profession. It’s a program that not only helps provide jobs for veterans, but also will help alleviate the national welder shortage, since more than a million veterans will enter the workforce over the next five years.

The SMC event, under the Florida sunshine, also featured an informal dinner/reception by a pool overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, golf on Saturday, and the opportunity to learn about the latest and greatest in new applications by visiting the more than 100 companies in the exhibit hall.