Steel Products

SMU Steel Summit Conference: Protocols, Platform & More

Written by John Packard

There are three weeks left before the start of the 2021 SMU Steel Summit Conference at 9 a.m. on Aug. 23. The amount of effort and thought being put into this one event is monumental. The pandemic, and the resistance by some Americans to being vaccinated, has provided new challenges this year as we make our way back to an in-person event for the first time since 2019.

John Packard Summit 18I am looking forward to this year’s conference which will be held at the Georgia International Convention Center (GICC) in Atlanta. The conference center and the four main hotels are located adjacent to the Atlanta International Airport (ATL). To reach the GICC and the Gateway Hotels requires only a short light rail ride on the SkyTrain. You know that you’re on the correct train if it is going toward the rental car area. Total travel time once you leave baggage claim, get on the train (not MARTA), and reach the Gateway Hotels and the GICC is no more than 5-7 minutes.

The conference program is strong with leaders from the steel industry, economists, analysts and company executives who will provide forecasts, observations and opinions about steel prices, supply and demand, changes to the way business is being conducted, and a view of what we need to be aware of as the world changes around us.

On Friday we added Rick Marabito, CEO of Olympic Steel, as a panelist. He will join Barry Zekelman, CEO of Zekelman Industries, and Chris Shipp, Vice President Supply Chain for Priefert. This panel will be moderated by Michael Cowden of SMU. We believe this will be one of many interesting panels for those attending our conference (in-person or virtually).

You can learn more about the full agenda and register for this year’s SMU Steel Summit Conference by clicking here.

We are looking forward to hosting a safe event. But this will require that those attending work with us, be aware of others around you, and take notice of the protocols that will be in place during the event.

Hosting a Large Conference During a Pandemic: Three Scenarios

The safety of our attendees, staff and those working an event are paramount to Steel Market Update and our parent company, CRU. We began planning the 2021 SMU Steel Summit Conference immediately after the conclusion of the 2020 conference. We knew a virtual conference could be run successfully, but I wanted to get back to an in-person event.

Due to the pandemic, we planned for three scenarios for the 2021 SMU Steel Summit Conference: 1) a live, in-person conference, 2) a hybrid event in which we had a live conference that was also streamed to a virtual audience, 3) a virtual event similar to the 2020 conference.

The first scenario, a 100% live audience, could only happen if COVID-19 infections were all but eliminated by the various vaccines.

The second scenario could only happen if approximately 60-70% of eligible adults were vaccinated – allowing us to conduct a live event that could be streamed to those who were at risk, could not travel, or who felt more comfortable not interacting with a large crowd.

The third scenario was if the vaccines were ineffective and COVID continued to spread, infect, and kill people indiscriminately. This would present us with no option but to remain virtual as we did in 2020.

Decision Not Made Until June 1

As we worked through the various options, the events teams in London and the U.S. agreed no final decision could be made until June 1, 2021. This would provide us enough time to see whether people were getting vaccinated, how effective the shots were, and to see whether any restrictions were being placed on travel/entertainment by the CDC.

On June 1we made the decision to develop a “hybrid” event (option number 2) because it looked like the U.S. was well on a path to having 60-70% of all adults vaccinated, the vaccine was proving effective, and the CDC was removing social distancing and relaxing mask mandates.

One Sure Way to Reduce Risk of Getting Seriously Ill from the Virus – Get Vaccinated

Everything that we are reading and learning about COVID and the Delta variant points toward those who are not vaccinated accounting for the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths. If you want to attend this year’s conference and are concerned about your health and the health of those around you, then be sure to be fully vaccinated prior to arriving at the conference. There is still time to get the Johnson & Johnson one shot vaccine. We also recommend getting tested prior to coming to the conference to make sure you are not carrying the virus.

The SMU staff are all vaccinated, we will be tested the day before the event begins, we will wear masks in the venue (except when speaking on stage, eating, or drinking), and we will be using common sense when it comes to interacting with large groups of people.

With Three Weeks to Go…

Now we are three weeks prior to the start of the 2021 SMU Steel Summit Conference. The Delta variant of the virus is giving people some reasons to rethink exposing themselves to a large contingent of steel executives at the Georgia International Convention Center and area hotels. Questions are being asked, and we are doing our best to provide answers to those questions.

decisionWhat Will the Protocols Be for the Conference Venue?

The Georgia International Convention Center (GICC) is mandating that anyone inside their building wear a mask. Since we are using their facility, we are bound by their rules. The area hotels are mandating anyone who is not vaccinated must wear a mask inside their hotel. At this moment, there is no social distancing mandate at either the conference center or the hotels.

Steel Market Update and the GICC are working to develop a seating arrangement that allows for attendees to social distance themselves from other attendees. This is a project that is being taken very seriously by both our staff and that of the GICC.

The GICC has advised us they will increase the air flow inside the facility. For those of you who have not been inside the GICC, it has extremely high ceilings and they can filter and replace the air inside of the facility numerous times during the day.

We have doubled the size of the exhibition area. This will allow for a greater distance between attendees (as desired by some), increased air flow in the facility, and allow for more private seating in the exhibition area. The cocktail parties will be centered in the exhibition area, and we will have much more space than in the past. The goal is to minimize large groups and encourage smaller group settings.

We have expanded the length and number of breaks, as well as the time dedicated for lunch. Food will be served as opposed to you having to reach for it. We will supply food during breaks, at lunch and at breakfast on Tuesday and Wednesday. We are currently considering whether we need to provide breakfast on Monday for those who arrive early to attend the pre-Summit programs, which begin at 9 a.m. ET.

As was the case during past conferences at the GICC, we will also place sitting areas in the foyer outside of the exhibition hall.

For those of you who have attended past Steel Summit Conferences (2018 and 2019 in particular), the conference attendance, while large, is not at the levels it was in those years. If you remember how busy the conference hall and exhibition area were, you’ll recall that there were only a couple of times that the rooms appeared to be full. This year, we believe we will be able to spread out those attending in the meeting hall. And with the doubling of the exhibition area, even the cocktail parties should feel more comfortable and less shoulder-to-shoulder than what you experienced in the past.

All of our events will take place in the Georgia International Convention Center. We will not conduct our pre-Summit Programs on Monday in the Marriott Hotel but rather at the GICC.

Conference Badge an Indicator of Your Risk Tolerance

The registration desk will open at 7 a.m. ET in the lobby of the GICC (side located closest to the Marriott Gateway and other Gateway hotels). This is the same lobby as in past years’ conferences.

The conference badges, which will be picked up at the registration area, will include an option for you to place a clearly visible dot on your badge that identifies your risk tolerance. A red dot indicates you do not wish to interact with others, no dot means you are ambivalent, and a green dot shows you are open to being approached, shaking hands, etc. Please respect the wishes of those who have a red dot on their badge.

Steel SummitUsing the Platform to Reduce Your Risk/Expand Your Options

As we have mentioned in previous articles, we are not using the app we used prior to 2020. We will now be using the online virtual platform that will be open to all (in-person and virtual) fully registered attendees on Monday, Aug. 2. You will receive an emailed link to the platform from us on Monday morning around 8 a.m. ET. There will be a live help desk available on the platform on Monday from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. ET, and then 8 a.m. until noon for the balance of the week. If you do not receive an emailed link to the Steel Summit platform, please reach out to

The platform is the same one used for last year’s virtual conference. It will also be used to host all virtual workshops.

One of the benefits of the virtual platform: those attending the conference in person can stream speaker and panel presentations from outside the conference hall. You can be sitting at a table next door at one of the hotels, inside your room, at a restaurant in downtown Atlanta or anywhere else with a suitable internet connection and be able to stream the live event.

This means if you are having a meeting, you can talk and watch at the same time.

If you are taking a rest in your room, you can watch the live event.

The platform will also allow you to communicate with those who are registered attendees. This can be done via email directly through the platform. There are other options available, which we will discuss during our SMU Community Chat Webinar, to be held on Wednesday, Aug. 11, at 11 a.m. ET. This free webinar will discuss our platform, protocols for the conference, agenda changes (if any), and answer any questions you might have about this year’s conference. We highly recommend attending this short 45-minute webinar to maximize your conference experience. You can register for this free webinar by clicking here.

Requirements for Changing From In-Person to Virtual (or Vice Versa)

If you are fully registered, you can move your registration from in-person to virtual, or from virtual to in-person, up to the day of the event without penalty.

To make a change, we request that you inform our Steel Summit Conference events team as soon as you decide to make the change. This can be done by sending an email to

For those who are moving from in-person to the virtual platform (or vice versa), we would appreciate as much notice as possible because we must order food, name tags, and we need as accurate a head count as possible.

If you have any questions, please send a note to or to myself

John Packard, President & CEO,

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