by Astrid Zeppenfeld
The Saint Charles Convention Center, with its 110,000 sq.ft. total meeting space, has long enjoyed being one of the top business event venues in the Midwest. Whether you are planning a multiple-day conference or an international tradeshow, this prime location west of Saint Louis, Missouri, is only a 20-minute drive from Saint Louis Lambert International Airport and has plenty of accommodation possibilities nearby.
If before the pandemic, Saint Charles Convention was booked out months – or sometimes years – in advance, the industry-wide staffing issues of the Covid Era have put pressure on the venue to find alternative ways to continue business as usual. Especially with its state-of-the-art AtmosAir HVAC system that filters out viruses, bacteria, and dust particles successfully, this venue kept busy even during a time when many others closed either temporarily, or even indefinitely, due to lack of business. For the ones that stayed during the pandemic, especially large venues, whose bulk of business is expos and trade shows, it was difficult to supply the staff that helps vendors move equipment in and out at times. If more than one event was happening at the same time, which also needed employees to help with setup and tear down, it made it even more difficult to provide the service planners have grown to expect from a convention center.
Box? What Box? Thinking Outside the Box
Luke Taylor, Operations Manager at Saint Charles Convention Center, was not convinced this needed to become a permanent problem. As many others did, he turned first to temp agencies, to help bridge the gap in the staffing they were lacking. However, he found that temp agencies could not keep up with demand for labor in this market. So he decided “it was time to try and think outside the box to get ahead of the game”, after he had to staff two events in the same space in one day, one after the other, in the spring of 2021.
Taylor came up with a brilliant idea: He approached the local Lindenwood University’s athletic department, because, as he explains, “I’m a sports guy, so I first thought of maybe local booster clubs, but the problem with those is that they are mostly run by parents who work Monday through Friday. So I asked myself who can help during the day and I thought of college kids. They have a more open schedule. So, I reached out to the director of the university’s athletic department, and, within an hour, I heard back from the assistant coach of the women’s field hockey team.”
When asked about the success of the “University Volunteer Program”, as Saint Charles Convention Center and Lindenwood University dubbed it, and whether he’d make the same choice again, Taylor confidently states, “Absolutely. The coach and the whole team came over; even the players that had class sometime during the timeframe when we needed the help, just switched out with other team members who didn’t have class then. There were no issues at all with the work that they provided and our volunteer staff was very friendly. And it worked both ways – The students were very excited to have a team fundraising opportunity that was unique, because it didn’t involve washing cars or selling pizzas.”
Mark Tenholder, Director of Sales and Marketing, agrees. They both hope to, through this program, be even able to offer employment to students who might be saying, “I had fun doing this and Saint Charles Convention Center looks like a fun place to work full-time.” Tenholder adds, “We were fortunate enough not to ever close down during the pandemic, but everything did slow down last year. It’s picked back up right at the beginning of 2021, although it’s not quite to what we’re accustomed to pre-pandemic.”
Well, all the meeting planners are certainly very glad that one of the most convenient and beautiful venues around Saint Louis has found a fantastic way to keep business events running successfully. Coming up with creative staffing solutions will play a vital role in the recovery of organizations over the next several months, perhaps even years. So, why not model after the leadership of Saint Charles Convention Center?
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a writer and MEET Missouri’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.