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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.

Brendan Broviak
Anheuser Busch

Brendan is the Trade Marketing Manager for Anheuser-Busch covering all events and sponsorships in Minnesota. He started working for Anheuser-Busch directly after finishing his undergraduate degree in Economics and Consumer Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. During his time with Anheuser-Busch, Brendan has gone through the Global Management Training Program and held the position of Category Manager in Charlotte, NC before returning home to Minnesota as the trade marketing manager. Presently, Brendan works to ensure that all of Anheuser-Busch’s portfolio is showing up in Minnesota through passion points aligned with each brand, while engaging consumers in an authentic and impactful way via events and sponsorships.

Melissa Bradley

Hockey Day Minnesota originated in 2007 by the Minnesota Wild to celebrate the game that has made Minnesota the “State of Hockey.” It is produced in partnership with Bally Sports North (Formerly Fox Sports North), Minnesota Hockey and the local organizing committee, and for 2022, was co-chaired by David Wittenberg and Michelle Schooff. Melissa Bradley served as the Finance, Contracts and Risk Management executive for the eight-day celebration designed to grow the game of hockey. It was held on the grounds of Minnesota State University, at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato. Hosted for first time in Southern Minnesota, over 22,500 visitors came to experience Greater Mankato (with record-setting attendance on Hockey Day of 10,000+ attendees) while 2M+ households watched Hockey Day Minnesota through Bally Sports North programming.

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.

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.

Andrea Graham
Co-Executive Director, Big Ten Basketball Tournaments 2023-2024, Minnesota Sports & Events

Andrea is a Minneapolis-based brand experience consultant currently acting as the Co-Executive Director of the Big Ten Basketball Championships coming to Minneapolis in 2023 and 2024. She originally partnered with Minnesota Sports and Events as a member of the Minnesota Local Organizing Committee responsible for bringing the 2022 NCAA Women’s Final Four Championship Tournament to Minneapolis. For this project she was responsible for the VIP hospitality events programming, oversaw the partner advisory council, managed local DE&I priorities, and served as the Title IX Program Director for the Title IX 50th Anniversary campaign. With a passion for community building and a need to create work that positively impacts the world around us Andrea has also been lucky to have worked with the teams at Minnesota Festival and Events Association, Twin Cities Catalyst Music, St. Paul Downtown Alliance, Towerside Business Alliance, the Basilica Block Party Planning Committee, Rock What You Got, Surly Brewing Co, and American Public Media Group. Andrea is also a co-founder of the Great Lakes Association of Musicians and Artists, a membership-based non-profit committed to supporting the contribution of independent artists and musicians in our community by providing the social, mental, and physical support resources that allow them to continue to create a kinder, more beautiful world.

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.

Ben Ische
Sanitarian Supervisor, Mankato District Office, Minnesota Department of Health

Ben Ische is currently the Sanitarian Supervisor for the Mankato District Office for the Minnesota Department of Health. He manages the Food, Pools, & Lodging Services Section for the Mankato District. He started his career in environmental health at the Minnesota Department of Health in 2009. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Biology and Doctor of Chiropractic Degree from Northwestern Health Sciences University. He has worked in various fields of environmental health for MDH including fieldwork inspections of establishments, foodborne illness response, and statewide variance coordination.

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.

Cory Lake
CEO/Owner, Lake Group Insurance

Cory began his career as a real estate investor, sold his first company in 2014, and has decades of experience advising start-ups, corporate collaborations, and philanthropic partnerships. A leader in advising and evaluating changes in emerging markets, including the cannabinoid and med tech industries, Lake is also Co-Founder and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for the medical software firm Palisaid

Joy Leafblad
Sports & Special Events Director, Visit Mankato

Joy received her bachelor’s degree from Minnesota State University, and a master’s degree from Baylor University.  She has lived and worked in Mankato since 2007 and joined Visit Mankato in 2018 as the Sports and Special Events Director.  Joy enjoys working in the community as a volunteer and sharing what the Mankato area has to offer.

Korawan (Yin) Muangmode
President, Thai Cultural Council of Minnesota 

Yin served as the primary organizer of the inaugural Minnesota Songkran Festival. Yin also worked tirelessly to bring Thai dignitaries and guests to the United States, serving as an invaluable moment for diplomacy.

Yin has created many cultural and educational events to foster cross-cultural connections such as the Thai Sunday Market, Thai street food festivals, and more.

Yin Muangmode currently serves on the Board of Directors of Wat
Promwachirayan and is currently the President of the Thai Cultural Council of MN in St. Louis Park and the General Manager of Amazing Thailand Uptown Bar & Restaurant

Sue Murray
Senior National Account Executive, Meet Minneapolis

Sue Murray is a Senior National Account Executive for Meet Minneapolis and has been with the organization for over 12 years. She is responsible for citywide convention and meeting sales within the territories of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Overall, she has over 35 years of experience in the hospitality industry. Prior to joining Meet Minneapolis, Sue worked for Holiday Inn Corporate hotels, Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, and owned and operated her own 150-seat restaurant and 10 room in on Lake Michigan.

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.

Denise Olsen
Senior Sales Director, Enjoy Eagan

Denise Olsen is the Sr. Sales Director at Enjoy Eagan and has been with the organization for 17 years.  Before her time with Enjoy Eagan, she worked at the TwinWest

Chamber of Commerce as the Membership Director.  Denise has earned her Certified Travel Information Specialist certification through Destinations International and will be starting her Certified Destination Management Executive certification.  She works the group, sports and leisure markets and attends numerous trade and industry shows throughout the year.  She is the proud service person to her rescue dog Sadie Mae (a pure bred Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier) who she adopted in March 2020.  She loves nothing better than spending sunny summer days, nights and weekends watching her two grandsons (ages 9 and 15) playing baseball. 

Scott O'Malley
CEO, CLRTY Company

An experienced, connected and passionate entrepreneur with a history of success in generating revenue, developing new business and sales pipelines as well as operations. With over 25 years of entrepreneurship across a broad range of industries, Scott is adept at strategy, sales, and client relationships.

As a co-founder of CLRTY Company, Scott focuses on revenue, including sales, business development, seeking opportunities and partnerships at every turn. He is an integral member of the team creating the strategy and future direction of the company. Scott has a BS in Marketing and Communications from St. Thomas University.

Derek Ramthun
Northeast Industry Relations, Explore Minnesota

Derek Ramthun is on the Industry Relations team at Explore Minnesota, serving the Northeast region of the state. Derek also plans and manages Explore Minnesota’s Co-op Program – a perennial marketing program that provides the Minnesota tourism industry with the opportunity to collaborate with Explore Minnesota and its trusted vendors. Derek’s goal is to increase participation in Explore Minnesota tourism industry programs, ultimately leading to an increase in tourism to and within Minnesota. Outside of work, you can find Derek on a trail with his family, on a kayak or jet-ski on one of Minnesota's 11,842 lakes or on a hike in the north woods chasing waterfalls.

Mark Remme
Director of Communications & Research, mpls downtown council & Mpls Downtown Improvement District

Mark Remme is the director of communications with the mpls downtown council and Mpls Downtown Improvement District. He has nearly 20 years of communications experience ranging from sports journalism to internal and external business communications. He currently helps lead public relations, sociamedia, marketing and website efforts for promoting mpls downtown, including two of the city’s major events: The Minneapolis Aquatennial and Holidazzle. Mark has also covered the NBA, WNBA, Major League Baseball and the NFL during his time as a print and digital journalist.

Nate Rosa
Recreation Supervisor, City of St. Louis Park 

Nate has over two decades of experience in the field of parks and recreation. He has been at his current position for the past sixteen years. His main focus areas are large events/rentals and managing the aquatic facility. Nate is a husband of over ten years and father of two little girls under the age of five. 

Michelle Schoof
Vice President Strategy, Industry Marketing

Hockey Day Minnesota originated in 2007 by the Minnesota Wild to celebrate the game that has made Minnesota the “State of Hockey.” It is produced in partnership with Bally Sports North (Formerly Fox Sports North), Minnesota Hockey and the local organizing committee, and for 2022, was co-chaired by David Wittenberg and Michelle Schooff. Melissa Bradley served as the Finance, Contracts and Risk Management executive for the eight-day celebration designed to grow the game of hockey. It was held on the grounds of Minnesota State University, at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato. Hosted for first time in Southern Minnesota, over 22,500 visitors came to experience Greater Mankato (with record-setting attendance on Hockey Day of 10,000+ attendees) while 2M+ households watched Hockey Day Minnesota through Bally Sports North programming. 

Craig Storms
On Premise Sales Director, Hohensteins

Craig Storms, "Stormy", began his beer business career as a college intern from St Cloud State University in June 1993. After completing his internship, he was hired as a full-time Merchandiser in January 1994. His roles have included Merchandiser, Sales rep (both on/off premise), Area Sales Manager, and currently On Premise Sales Director.

Jason Tarasek
Attorney, Minnesota Cannabis Law

Jason Tarasek founded Minnesota Cannabis Law in 2018 to serve the hemp, cannabinoid, medical-marijuana and adult-use marijuana markets in the Upper Midwest.

During the Spring of 2022, Jason successfully lobbied in favor of Minnesota’s “THC-infused edible” law and he is currently lobbying in support of an adult-use legalization bill in Minnesota. Jason previously served as the Minnesota Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Jason has nearly 20 years of legal experience as a transactional attorney and litigator. He has been named to the list of Super Lawyers, which is an honor bestowed on only the top 5% of attorneys in Minnesota.

In addition to Minnesota, Jason represents clients in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Dakota.

Jason previously served as an Adjunct Professor at Mitchell Hamline Law School, where he taught a seminar titled “Marijuana and the Law.” Jason is a frequent speaker on legal issues related to hemp, cannabinoids and marijuana.

Teresa Thomas
Author, 50 Fun Things® and Win/Win Networking

Teresa Thomas fosters mutually beneficial, energizing and meaningful connections through her umbrella brand Win Win Connects. Teresa creates communities of connection where individuals feel valued, respected, included, and welcomed. Her professional yet lighthearted style encourages engaging conversation and connection. Teresa Thomas is the author of Win/Win Networking: Your Guidebook for Confident and Effective Connections and 50 Fun Things: Enjoy the Small Things (and more recently 50 Fun Things for a Writer's World). She has led, facilitated, and presented for hundreds of events and groups for over 20 years guiding thousands to connect and grow. Teresa created the 50 Fun Things® system of workshops and tools to ignite joy and connection for personal and professional fulfillment for teams and individuals. Teresa was awarded the title of Women’s Business Champion in 2019 by the SBA (Small Business Administration of Minnesota) for her commitment to helping others succeed through networking. She was named Dynamic Connector and recognized by AARP of Minnesota and Pollen as one of Minnesota’s 2019 50 Over 50 Exceptional Leaders.

Bill Tourville (He/Him/His)
Assistant Director, Student Activities, Mankato State University

Bill Tourville currently serves as the Assistant Director for Student Activities at Minnesota State Mankato. He has been in the event planning world for over 15 years with specialization in festivals, fairs, and national touring concerts. Areas of interest include talent buying, 1st amendment rights, inclusion and diversity, and student education.

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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