National SBEAP Conference: A new staff perspective

bridge over water


The beginning of March marked 10 months since graduating the University of Northern Iowa and my nine month work anniversary with the IWRC. I have kept busy attending several workshops and trainings, but this month presented me with the opportunity to attend my first national conference - all by myself! On March 11, I boarded a plane from Cedar Rapids, IA to Chattanooga, Tennessee for the 2024 Annual Small Business Environmental Assistance Program Training

I came into the training anxious and excited about meeting new people, learning about other programs, and with the hope to cultivate new ideas. I left the training feeling the most inspired since I started at the IWRC and bearing four pages worth of questions, ideas, and general thoughts to bring back to our program.

There were many new and young SBEAP specialists at the conference, and I had an abundance of time to get to know them, learn aboutSBEAP attendees and networking their state programs, and about themselves in general. I spent most of my free time exploring Chattanooga and networking with young professionals from Kentucky, Minnesota, and New Jersey. It was astonishing to learn how different each SBEAP program is and the environmental problems most imminent in their states. For example, I learned that some programs do cold visits while some don’t do visits at all, and some programs only have one person assisting the entire state, such as Idaho.

My favorite sessions were hearing about successes, struggles and resources in other states. One of my favorite success stories was about Michigan’s webinar series on a variety of environmental regulations where they had upwards of two hundred attendants. Another highlight was Ohio’s success in gathering quality client feedback and testimonials. EPA gave many great updates on their initiatives for 2024 including a focus on Environmental Justice communities that are underserved and disadvantaged. We also got to hear updates on regulations in the rulemaking stage that will highly impact small giving presentation on AI

Another great session from the Pennsylvania SBEAP focused on how SBEAPs can incorporate Artificial Intelligence into their programs to dissect long regulations, create guidance materials and develop new resources to streamline environmental regulations that impact certain industries.

Lastly, I got to enjoy new experiences and learn more about life in the South. The Tennessee Aquarium exhibits underwater life from the Tennessee to the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico.

By far the most rewarding part of the training was getting to build new relationships with other programs and be able to come back with a suitcase full of ideas and inspiration!