Planner Spotlight: Buffalo Soldier

As head of the NBA, Dave Carter deals with some pretty big guys. Bigger even than LeBron James or Yao Ming—Carter's players can weigh 2,000 pounds, yet still run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. And they're hairier than Chewbacca.

In Carter's case, NBA means the National Bison Association, not the National Basketball Association, and last summer he organized the International Bison Conference in Rapid City, SD. Bison didn't actually attend (unless you count the steaks and burgers served up during the convention's various culinary presentations). But hundreds of rancher-members did, some from as far afield as Denmark and Russia, as well as entrepreneur Ted Turner and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who both spoke at the opening ceremony at Mount Rushmore.

B Is for Bison
Not unlike bison themselves, the bison industry narrowly escaped extinction but is now going strong. "In the '90s the business grew very quickly, to the point where it almost became a get-rich-quick scheme," notes Carter. But when consumer demand for the meat failed to catch up with supply, "the bottom fell out" and by 2000, "there was a total meltdown."

Since the International Bison Conference only takes place every seven years, Carter was working with severely limited resources when planning this gathering: "Our organizational budgets were cut way back from 2000, the last time this meeting was held," he says. "Now they're much leaner and meaner"—again, not unlike bison, known for being temperamental beasts with low-fat flesh.

Carter leaned heavily on 50 volunteers from the South Dakota chapter of the NBA. Coordinating the two groups required "lots of phone work" and several seven-hour drives from Colorado—where Carter is based—to South Dakota. "I've worked with these volunteers for six years and have good chemistry with them," he says. "I made sure communication lines were open and everyone knew their responsibilities." The volunteers planned the recreational and off-site events (a wagon-train ride, a "Taste of Rapid City" food festival, a rodeo in Deadwood), while Carter and his team arranged educational programs and speakers.

Where the Buffalo Roam
Speaking of speakers, Carter says it was "pretty easy" landing Daschle and Turner. Some local chapter members knew Daschle from his days as a South Dakota senator, and "once he looked at his calendar and saw he had the date open, he said, 'You bet,' " says Carter.

Turner, an NBA member and the owner of the world's largest private bison herd, also readily agreed, even leading the audience at Mount Rushmore in an enthusiastic chorus of "Home on the Range." Asked by Successful Meetings about the gathering, Turner called it "a valuable opportunity to get together and discuss ways to build on the success we've had as an industry." He added, "I truly enjoy raising bison and watching the species thrive, and I look forward to the next conference."


International Bison Conference
Attendees: 600
Time spent planning: 3 years
Carter's bison herd: 14
Ted Turner's bison herd: 45,000


Originally published March 01, 2008

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