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Early Registration: 
October 5 - January 31
MNFEA Members $250/person
Non-Members $300/person

Standard Registration: 
February 1 - Onsite
MNFEA Members $300/person
Non-Members $350/person

Conference fees include general sessions, breakouts, networking activities, included optional events, and most meals.


2023 Conference Speakers

Meet The 2023 Speakers

Mark Anderson
Executive Director, Barbara Schneider Foundation

Mark Anderson is Executive Director of the Barbara Schneider Foundation, an organization named for a woman who was tragically killed by responding officers in the year 2000 in her own home when she was in mental health crisis. The Foundation works with police, jails, hospitals, social workers, educators, local government, courts and community members to improve the response to individuals who are in mental health crisis and to prevent crisis. He was a policy aide to U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone from 1990-2002 on all his mental health, health care and human rights reform initiatives in the US Senate and has been the founding Executive Director of the Barbara Schneider Foundation since 2002.

Jim Bach
Apres Event Decor and Tent Rental

Jim was born and raised in Bloomington, Minnesota. He graduated from Normandale Community College and wanted to go into Law Enforcement, but ended up in the party rental business {go figure!}.  Jim has been a integral part of the Après team and just celebrated his 32nd anniversary in 2021! In that time, he has worn many different hats - from a delivery driver to crew chief, from warehouse manager and to now Director of Tent Operations. He has been in the sales end of the business for the past 28 years. He loves the challenges of the event business, from the smallest of events to the large-scale functions that can attract thousands of people. From deadlines that give you all the time in the world to complete, to the short challenging timeline that keeps him up at night wondering what he got himself into!  Working in the event industry gives Jim a lot of satisfaction. He loves working with a wide variety of clients and meeting new people. Executing events and seeing the rewarding accomplishments we can do at Après is the most satisfying. "When" Jim is not at work, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons.

Jessica Barret & Kastina Morrison
Bigger Picture Solutions

Bigger Picture Solutions offers venue consulting and management services. We serve start-up and currently functioning hospitality-focused venues. Our projects typically include commercial real estate and private property event space activations. Alongside property owners and managers, we work through spatial functions and design, holistic event operations including staffing, as well as building community connections within each venue’s local event and hospitality industry. Jessica Barrett created the operational infrastructure of two high-capacity freestanding venues in the Twin Cities that have made a significant impact on the overall industry. She’s also consulted with multiple venues throughout the midwest ranging in varying sizes and capacities. Kastina Morrison comes from a similar venue management background and was on Jessica’s venue team for 3+ years. Kastina has managed the construction and operations of two boutique venues in Minneapolis. Collectively they've spent over 20 years managing and operating venues in Minnesota.

BalenciaSariah Crosby
Interim Director of African American and Multicultural Affairs, Minnesota State University

BalenciaSariah Crosby, (she, her, hers) received her Master's in Communication from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2018. Immediately following graduation, she moved began serving as an adjunct faculty member at Lone Star College, University Park. Crosby departed from LSC in July of 2022 and is now serving as Interim Director of African American and Multicultural Affairs at Minnesota State University, Mankato. When out of the office, Crosby enjoys traveling, watching wildlife films and planning for the birth of their first niece.

J. Marie Fieger
CEO, Nemer Fieger & Associates

Growing up in the family advertising business, J. Marie is energized by the opportunity to lead an amazing team of dedicated and talented professionals and maintain decades-long client relationships as CEO of Nemer Fieger & Associates. The full-service ad and pr agency provides integrity-driven, creative, and strategic solutions to drive businesses forward through breakthrough advertising and public relations campaigns. Giving back is important to J. Marie and she proudly serves on the boards of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, the Minnesota Twins Community Fund and Cars Against Crime. She is active in the Women President’s Organization and enjoys volunteering for Bridging and other non-profit organizations. A University of Minnesota graduate, she believes that life is best seen on horseback and lives on a hobby farm with a host of horses, chickens, dogs and other four-legged friends.

Shad Gordon
Sales Manager, Biffs, Inc.

My name is Shad Gordon and I’m very passionate about my role as the Sales Manager for Biffs Inc. I had a great career in the golf business before coming to work for Biffs Inc. I have worked at The Wilds Golf Club in Prior Lake for 23 year, the last 16 years as the General Manager. During this time, I have gained valuable experience, sales knowledge and have so many great relationships that I know will be continued during my time at Biffs Inc. 

My wife Becky and I have 4 kids: Emma (22), Austin (20), twins Carly & Isabelle (14). Our daughter Emma is currently a student at the University of Minnesota and our son Austin has committed to attend and play baseball for the University of Minnesota – Duluth.  I have enjoyed many father-daughter dances and coaching my son in baseball, basketball and football over the years. Family, friends and golf are a big part of my life.

Eric Harkins
President/Founder, GKG Search & Consulting

Eric Harkins is the President and Founder of GKG Search & Consulting, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that helps organizations Get talent, Keep talent & Grow talent. He is also a ForbesBooks author of: Great Leaders Make Sure Monday Morning Doesn’t Suck; How to Get, Keep & Grow Talent. 

His goal is simple: Help every company he works with make sure Monday morning doesn’t suck for their employees. Eric is a motivational speaker, consultant, executive-coach, and an expert in helping companies create a culture high performers want to be a part of.

During his 25-year career in corporate America, Eric held leadership roles ranging from Manager to Chief Human Resources and Chief Administrative Officer.

Paula Kennedy Smith
Owner, Kennedy Concessions Inc.

Elementary school teacher turned full-time concessionaire, Paula Kennedy Smith has been in the festival industry since 1995. Paula and her husband, Andy Smith, run Kennedy Concessions Inc., a mobile food and beverage company serving large, outdoor events in and around the Twin Cities metro area. Their most recent project, The Blue Ox Burger Bar, is a build-your-own-burger destination at the Minnesota State Fair. Team Kennedy-Smith has served delicious bites to thousands of hungry customers at fairs, festivals, special events and concerts for 26 years. Paula and her family reside near Hastings, Minnesota.

Tracy Nielsen
Executive Director, Hands On Twin Cities

Tracy Nielsen currently serves as the Executive Director for HandsOn Twin Cities, and has done so for the past six years. She received her Bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University and her Masters in Business Administration from Alverno College in Milwaukee, WI.

Prior to her current role, Tracy worked with United Ways for twelve years serving in roles as Chief Executive Officer for United Way of Kenosha County, Communications Director and VP – Marketing and Resource Development for both United Way of Racine County and United Way of the Wine Country in Northern California. Tracy has held other roles in the nonprofit sector. Roles included, Regional Program Coordinator for a ten‐state AmeriCorps Program focused on the retention of low-income and first generation college students throughout the Midwest, as well as AmeriCorps*VISTA member focused on addressing the issues of homelessness in Racine, WI.

Tracy is devoted to helping all people achieve their potential and believes that every person can play a role in the betterment of their community – especially through the power of volunteerism.

Justin Neumann
Mankato Department of Public Safety

Justin Neumann is a Commander with the Mankato Department of Public Safety where he has served since 2003. Justin is currently assigned to the Strategic Response division which oversees emergency management, threat and risk assessment, investigations, specialized units, training, internal affairs, and other support functions. Justin is a lifelong resident of Mankato and graduated from Mankato East High School. Following high school, he attended Gustavus Adolphus College where he earned degrees in psychology and criminal justice. Justin also possesses a degree in law enforcement from Minnesota State University-Mankato and a master’s degree in Security Management with a specialization in threat assessments, risk analysis, and protective studies.  Justin is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and is also a graduate of Northwestern University's School of Police Staff & Command (SPSC) and a graduate of the Oatman School of Executive Protection.

In addition to working full-time with the Mankato Department of Public Safety, Justin is also an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University where he instructs for the School of Police Staff & Command. In addition, Justin owns and manages a security consulting firm entitled Neumann Protection & Consulting, LLC, that specializes in corporate threat assessments, risk analysis, and active shooter prevention and response. Justin is also a co-founder of Flashlight Security Services, Inc. which is a technology company that connects consumers with licensed security companies, licensed private investigators, and safety and security related training and consulting services. 

Justin resides in Mankato and lives with his wife Kelli. Justin and Kelli recently welcomed Baby Oliver into their family through adoption. Justin currently serves on the board for the Greater Mankato Area United Way, Mankato Area Dollars for Scholars Board, and the Mayo Clinic.

Vince Vanella
Owner, The Vanella Group

Vince Vanella has worked in the environmental services industry for over 30 years. A lot of that time was with Waste Management, handling their largest Minnesota accounts.  He’s held numerous positions in operations, operations management as well as marketing. He has designed and implemented large commercial, institutional, event, and residential waste and recycling programs.

The waste industry has been actively “going green” for nearly 30 years.  Vince has been at the forefront of these changes.  For example, he was one on the founders of the Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM).  He also started the Ronald McDonald pop tap recycling program in 1989.  This program has raised millions of dollars for Ronald McDonald charities in the United States.

10 years ago, Vince, and his wife Kris, decided to branch out on their own and started The Vanella Group of MN. One of the company’s fastest growing division’s is TVG Events, where they provide a high level of environmental and logistic services for majority of all events, of all sizes, in Minnesota. They have become the leader in providing sustainable event services.

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