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DALLAS-The International Facility Management Association, with $74 billion of purchasing power among 17,300 members, is wrapping up its annual conference and expo at the Dallas Convention Center where the prediction is the turnout could break the record set five years ago at its last confab in the Big D.

The Houston-based IFMA’s annual event most often attracts 4,500 to 7,000 attendees. The 7,000-participant record could be exceeded, given the foot traffic for on-site registration, Donald A. Young, IFMA vice president of marketing, predicts for GlobeSt.com. Today is the last full day of the 2003 conference; next year, it’s Salt Lake City.

What is a certainty is the number of exhibitors stands at 256, of which 108 are IFMA first-timers and 28 are newcomers to the convention center circuit. “When people are trying new things, that’s a sign of recovery,” Young adds.

The IFMA expo, which focuses on “sustainability in the workplace,” has brought together representatives from 126 chapters in the US, Canada and abroad. Representatives were on hand from Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom and Australia. As for the agenda, it was jam-packed with 108 sessions for a broad-based look at the “Best Practices” for today’s “World Workplace.”

Young says the attendees are showing particular interest in technology, outsourcing opportunities and security exhibits and sessions. “It creates energy by getting this many experts under one roof,” he says of the knowledge swap and networking opportunities. In all, 12 educational tracks were set up for the expanded 2003 show and accredited seminars.

“The CEO Perspective: Real Estate Location, Workplace Design and Business Strategy” attracted about 250 attendees tuned in for the outcome of a Hay Group survey commissioned by CB Richard Ellis Inc. and Knoll Inc. The survey group consisted of 200 CEOs from Fortune 500 and Global 500 companies, of which nearly one-third changed the workplace strategy and one-half had made a physical change in the workplace.

“What was clear is real estate in the workplace is an enabler of the company strategy,” said Lucy E. Allard with CBRE in New York City. The findings translate into a “report card” that concluded real estate should be viewed as a way to create value rather than an expense. “We know the physical environment is related to productivity,” Allard said, “and the ability to attract talent.”

Guy P. Thatcher of the Carroll Thatcher Planning Group in Ottawa had another 100-plus attendees locked in open discussion about their buildings’ defense systems and evacuation plans, hot topics in the post-Sept. 11, 2001 world. “We don’t know what that disaster is going to be,” Thatcher said, “so all these things need to be thought of in advance.” And, he meant everything, touching on readiness for every imaginable emergency, including bio-terrorism via HVAC ducts.

Key to the plan is advance communication with first responders to determine what information is needed so they can sweep in and get jobs done in the event of natural or man-made disasters. “The dichotomy is we want our buildings open so we can get in for an emergency and we want them closed so the bad guys don’t get in,” Thatcher said.

Citing an incident in Ottawa, Thatcher urged the group to make sure building blueprints are up to date before passing them along to emergency teams, in house or out of house. In Canada, police were initially thwarted in the response to a hostage situation because outdated prints had doors in the wrong places. At least one copy of all emergency data–phone numbers to blueprints–should be kept off site and readily accessible, he said.

The closing keynote address comes tonight at 8:30 with Dr. David T. Suzuki, the award-winning scientist, environmentalist, author and host of Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s “The Nature of Things.” The IFMA conference sponsors included the Association for Facilities Engineering, AIA and International Design Association.

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