COAA Connect Fall 2023 Recap

Posted By: Jessica Bonin Education, Membership, News,

COAA Connect Fall 2023 | The Power of Engagement

The Construction Owners Association of American (COAA) recently held its fall conference in Orlando, returning to the sunshine state for the first time since 2017.  More than 230 Owners and Associates attended, with many experiencing COAA Connect for the first time.  Each person spent two and a half days engaging with the content, speakers, and each other. 

The conference started with an optional Sunday afternoon golf outing at Disney’s Lake Buena Vista Golf Course.  Players enjoyed beautiful weather, a fun scramble format, and camaraderie. 

Monday started off with a “101” introduction to COAA, featuring Executive Director Howie Ferguson and President John Zahor.  The rest of the morning allowed attendees to either attend a Lean Coffee discussion or take a walking tour of the Hilton Bonnet Creek & Waldorf Astoria.  Lean Coffee is not so much about Lean or coffee as it is about interacting and talking about hot topics.

Following “lunch on your own,” the conference officially kicked off with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, opening remarks by COAA leaders, and an overview of Orlando architectural history by Gregory Stock with Stantec, who is also the events committee chair with the Orlando Foundation for Architecture.  Attendees then had a chance to give back through the COAA Cares initiative by assembling children’s bicycles ... an activity made more difficult (and fun) by limiting assembly partners with blindfolds or wrists tied together.  A Wish For Wheels representative provided adult supervision and then transported the (50) assembled bikes to the Camaraderie Foundation, which serves Orlando-area Veterans and their families.   Everyone left the bike build with smiles on their faces and a reminder of how fortunate we all are. The remainder of the afternoon featured interactive workshops, followed by an evening reception with delicious food, live music, and networking. 

Tuesday was an intensely full day, beginning with a kickoff from COAA’s Conference Committee Chair, John Bechtel with Penn State University. Following opening remarks, the conference keynote speaker, Jody Urquhart, led a captivating session on leading and influencing teams. Following the keynote, Tuesday was full of concurrent sessions with a break for lunch, where the Project Leadership Award was presented and an outstanding COAA volunteer was recognized. 

  • The Project Leadership Award celebrates Owner excellence in project delivery, promoting leadership, professionalism, and exceptional management. This year, Shawn Kelly accepted the award on behalf the General Services Administration for their work on the Charles R. Jonas Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Charlotte, NC. 
  • John Bechtel, a long-time COAA member and volunteer, received The (Mike) Kenig award for his outstanding service and dedication to the association. The Kenig award is a championship belt that any boxer or MMA fighter would be proud to wear. 

Tuesday concluded with a “Wear Your Favorite T-shirt” reception to spark conversation among attendees. The evening included lots of laughing, a DJ, and even some popup dancing.  We see you, Kate Edwards. 

Wednesday featured more engaging content, including the ever-popular Owners Roundtable with so much good discussion that it continued into lunch.  At the end of lunch, Maria Cherjovsky, CEO of Camaraderie Foundation, accepted notes of thanks & encouragement to Veterans (hand-written by COAA Connect attendees throughout the 3-day event) and the bicycles from Monday’s build to donate to children of the families served by Camaraderie. The Camaraderie Foundation provides healing through counseling, emotional, and spiritual support for all Orlando-area Veterans and their families. 

COAA Connect indeed!  This event illustrated exactly why the name of COAA’s national conferences was changed several years ago to emphasize the value of connecting with peers.  As past COAA president Jack Mumma says, “it’s as much about the mortar as it is the bricks.”

As calendars turn to 2024, COAA looks forward to celebrating its 30th anniversary and invites you to attend COAA Connect 2024 in Atlanta next fall.