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INDUSTRY VIEWPOINT: How to strike it rich in Las Vegas

It has been 25 years since the fresh produce industry was in Las Vegas, the No. 1 convention city in the world. This year, for the first time, United Fresh Produce Association is co-locating its two expositions -- FreshTech and Fresh Marketplace -- to bring more of the entire produce supply chain to Vegas.

And if two produce shows weren't enough, there are golf and bowling tournaments, receptions, banquets, educational opportunities, industry tours and more. But with so much happening in just a few short days, how do you ensure that you and your company make the connections you need to grow your business? Here is your guide to striking it rich in Las Vegas -- produce rich, that is.

First, make a plan. There is much to do at United Fresh Las Vegas 2008, and while there are only so many hours in a day, you can make good use of each and every one of them.

And if you have more than one person from your company attending, you can cover even more ground. So determine what you want to do most and start there.

Want to meet current business partners and friends? Attend any or all of the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night receptions to reconnect with friends and the produce community? Want to make new business connections? The Sunday golf tournament and evening opening reception will make those first introductions easy. Or maybe you want to learn about the latest in produce marketing and food safety. Then schedule breakfasts at the Monday and Tuesday general sessions at Bally's and stay for the best workshops you'll attend all year.

Second, take time to review the "Official United Fresh Show Directory" and the show floor plan, especially if you want to find new products and services for your own business. We have over 75 first-time exhibitors. These are 75 companies that you've never seen before at a United Fresh exposition -- and one just might have the solutions you are looking for.

United FreshTech exhibitors specialize in produce technology and equipment, and United Fresh Marketplace exhibitors focus on produce marketing and merchandising. The new Food Safety & Research Pavilion features the latest innovations, technologies and research in this growing industry sector. Visit exhibitors you know and those you don't know. Make the most out of your show experience.

Third, give every exhibitor and attendee your full attention and the maximum time you have available. It is worth it - you never know where your next supplier or buyer may come from. It could even be the person sitting next to you on the shuttle to Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Finally, to strike it rich in Las Vegas, save the partying until the last night -- when you have reason to celebrate. If you've followed the first three tips, you will no doubt have grown your business, made some valuable connections, and have made some new industry friends and allies. That will be the time to enjoy yourself before returning to the office and placing followup calls and e- mails.

(John Toner is director of convention sales and services for the United Fresh Produce Association)