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Your flight arrives at an airport in the vicinity of Anaheim, CA, where the annual Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention is taking place. You claim your travel bag, hop in a cab or shuttle bus, and head to the hotel where you will stay for the next few days. After checking in at the hotel, you unpack your bags, freshen up a bit, and make some phone calls. Then it is off to meet friends and associates to begin another popular PMA Fresh Summit.

After a period of laboring through a tough economy, the PMA Fresh Summit is a welcome respite this year. This event is a timely remedy we all need at this very moment. It can act as a dynamic motivating factor in rejuvenating the produce industry by inspiring it to new heights to overcome the economic woes most of us experienced.

The only variation between this and last year's event is the intense economic issues every company was pressured to face. Each of us has more than experienced the incredible changes that are still taking place in our business operations today. The mood of most workers has been one of pain and worry about the future of companies and jobs as we continue to use every ounce of energy to get our economy back up and running again full steam ahead. This may be the very event needed to draw people together again in order to get excited and enthused about the produce profession.

Ken Green, executive vice president of sales for Westmoreland Sales in Leamington, ON, put it this way: "This past year of uncertain economic times had an impact on most in our industry, even if it hasn't affected you directly. We all have friends or colleagues who have lost their companies or jobs. This isn't the first recession we have been through, but it is by far the worst most have experienced. The bright side is that the economy is on the upturn and employment should follow. During tough times, businesses clean up their act and good operations emerge stronger than ever. I believe 2010 will be a great year for our industry. The Fresh Summit is always rewarding. We look forward to seeing our many friends. I always return with new ideas, new contacts and a healthy respect for our dynamic, resilient industry."

The PMA Fresh Summit has always served the purpose of bringing people together as a means to meet, learn, socialize and experience some joy. This year, everyone deserves to be surrounded by peers and benefit from the wisdom each brings in experiences under similar stresses of the industrial battle.

If you felt the effects of the economic crunch, you are not alone. There are thousands of industry associates who sailed in the same boat. You will find that networking at the PMA Fresh Summit will reveal many stories from people who have had situations comparable to your own. But this is where you can meet face-to-face and support each other by leaving the negative days behind and reaching toward horizons that are more positive. The Fresh Summit is the place to get back on the sales and merchandising track.

Mike Aiton, senior vice president of Sun World International in Bakersfield, CA, said, "For the past year, we have heard nothing but gloom and doom from the media and in our own business lives. At a time like this, it is important to focus on the many positive things happening in our industry. To be successful in today's business climate, it is important for all of us to remember that the best thing we can do is to drive sales and work to increase consumption of fresh produce. The PMA is the gold mine of ideas to do just that. By making this our single focus for every minute we are there, we can bring back new ideas and programs to get those sales comps headed in the right direction."

Kevin Stanger, vice president of sales and marketing for Wada Farms in Idaho Falls, ID, said, "I think in today's economic situation, Fresh Summit can be a great value for both buyers and suppliers to do business, network and learn - all in a single location. By having the industry in one place at a time, the atmosphere alone can get the mood moving in a positive direction."

Many industry individuals agree that generating sales is the primary reason to meet at the PMA Fresh Summit. When all of us return home, putting sales in the forefront should be the prime goal.

Roger Pepperl, market director for Stemilt Growers Inc. in Wenatchee, WA, said, "The PMA Fresh Summit offers our industry a platform to discuss the opportunities to increase sales and consumption of the great product diversity that we all offer. Produce is a nutrient-rich category that offers extreme value to consumers during this challenging economy. We should all take advantage of the networking and idea-generation meetings made available by the PMA Fresh Summit."

Prepare yourself for what could be your best PMA Fresh Summit ever. Start your convention off with inspiration. Get the doldrums of the yearlong economy behind you and look toward the future with a bright attitude. Have a great convention.

(Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a member of the FreshXperts consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at ron@power-produce.com, or check his web site at www.power- produce.com.)