PPAI’s SPARK conference is designed to encourage young professionals in the promotional products industry to get involved through making connections, becoming educated and positioning themselves for unlimited growth. The event, which is being held through Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina, brought in 67 participants, 39 who were first-timers.

The conference kicked off Wednesday evening at Lucky’s Bar & Arcade, where the SPARK workgroup, a group of industry volunteers who head different components of the conference, introduced themselves, and attendees mingled over appetizers and vintage arcade games—like pinball, Skee-Ball and a boxing machine, which stirred up some friendly competition—and gaming consuls, like Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis. Earlier in the day, before SPARK officially commenced, 10 attendees toured the 75,525-seat Bank of America Stadium – Carolina Panthers in uptown Charlotte, a main attraction of the city.

Unique to this year’s event are the demographics: there is a 50/50 split between male and female attendees, attendees from supplier and distributor companies and attendees who are categorized in the Spark group, or who are new to the industry (0-3 years), and those in the Ignite group, or the more experienced attendees (4-plus years). But especially unparalleled is the energy transposing through the event, with SPARK attendees not only happy to attend the conference, but eager to get involved. During the welcome reception, several attendees expressed interest in joining the SPARK workgroup for the 2020 conference.

“Being that it’s my first year, I don’t know exactly what to expect, but after going over the mobile app, I’m really excited for the discussions, from the morning discussions to the evening discussions, and I’m excited to see what develops, because we’re all ‘the awful Millennials,” says Dylan Sullivan, production manager and graphic designer for supplier Insane Apparel in Centereach, New York, a first-time attendee.

Angela Currell, South Texas territory manager for Hit Promotional Productswho lives in Houston, Texas, is also new to SPARK. “It’s my first time coming here, so I’m excited to meet people that I’ve never met before and might not have ever met otherwise,” she says. “This is a really cool way to get people together; people who are young, and a lot of people who are here are new to the industry like myself, and I’m just excited to get to know people and see where it takes me.”

Alyssa Inkrott, account executive for North Mankato, Minnesota-based supplier 3M Promotional Markets, and chair of the 2019 SPARK workgroup, is looking forward to the new connections that will “spark” from this year’s conference. “I am most looking forward to all of the new people, getting to network with everybody and meeting everyone. I think when you’re new to the industry it’s vital that you meet other people who are like-minded, so I’m just super excited for everybody to get to know each other and just connect.”

The conference continues today and began with a breakfast session and conference overview on the pool deck of the Omni Charlotte Hotel, led by Jodi Shaw, PPAI’s manager of professional development. Sessions follow throughout the day, including Transparent Accountability To Launch Success led by Bill Petrie, president of PromoCorner; Your Personal Influence On Facilitating Change and Finding Your Voice To Advance Professionally, with the SPARK session led by Mason Linn, CAS, national sales representative for Raining Rose, a member of the workgroup, and Inkrott, and the Ignite session led by Petrie; Overcoming Advertising to Maximize Personal Growth and The Power of You: Storytelling To Engage, Influence and Inspire, led by Petrie; and Increasing Your Leadership Skills Workshop and Tips On Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone, led by Dr. Leah Flynn Gallant, associate dean and director for student leadership and engagement programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group will attend some of these sessions at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where they’ll test their leadership skills using NASCAR-style simulators. The day closes with a dine-around this evening.

Sessions will continue throughout the day on Friday, beginning with a breakfast and recap at the Charlotte City Club, followed by a walk to the Mint Museum Uptown for Develop A Profit and Purpose-Driven Organization, led by Danny Rosin, CAS, president and co-owner of Brand Fuel, and Stephen McFadden, CAS, president of Perfect Promotions & More Inc.; a SPARK community service project, where attendees will help assemble bags of food for local schoolchildren through Blessings In A Backpack; a session on Shaping the Industry of Tomorrow, led by Brittany David, MAS, vice president of sales for SnugZ USA, and the chair of PPAI’s Board of Directors; and a session on Quality Materials, Fair Labor Practices, and Why It Matters, led by Blair Potts, owner and master chocolatier of Potts Chocolate in Charlotte.

Fourteen adventure-seekers will remain in Charlotte on Friday night for an optional whitewater rafting trip at the U.S. National Whitewater Rafting Center on Saturday.

Throughout the event, SPARK attendees will be sharing their photos via social media, using the hash tag #PPAISPARK. Search this hash tag on Instagram for updates on the conference and follow @PPBmagazine on Instagram for additional photos and updates.