KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Nearly 700 people from across the globe gathered at Kansas City's downtown convention center Thursday to take part in a frenzy of networking that hinges on half-hour individual meetings with other business owners.
Leaders from small and medium-size businesses from 27 countries have been attending Futurallia KC 2011, which started Wednesday and runs through Friday. Participants sign up for half-hour meetings with representatives they have selected from among the various sectors represented, including construction, energy, development and transportation.
Kansas City organizers said it's the first time Futurallia, which is run by an association based in France, has held one of its annual "business speed dating" forums in the U.S.
George Blackwood, a Kansas City lawyer and president of Futurallia KC 2011, said he wanted to bring the event to Kansas City nearly from the moment he heard about Futurallia three years ago.
"The thing that intrigued me about 700 to 800 people coming to Kansas City, I guarantee you 80 percent think we're a flat place in western Kansas and are not aware of the fact that we have amenities that are to me extraordinary," Blackwood said Thursday.
Rakieta Ouangraoua, whose family's company VMAPB in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, repairs glass and aluminum products, had 15 meetings set up with businesses from Algeria, Morocco and India. She said she was hopeful she would be able to compare notes with companies in similar businesses. She had also met with a U.S. mining company Thursday, but that meeting didn't go too well.
"I'm not interested in that," she said. "But I met him, and it was cool."
Representatives from Black & Veatch Corp., an Overland Park, Kan.,-based engineering firm, and an event sponsor, had nearly 30 meetings set up. Clinton Robinson, an associate vice president for Black & Veatch, said he was hoping to find out more about businesses in some of the company's targeted areas, including Latin America and parts of Europe.
"This is an opportunity to see if they're on the ground and they're local and they know codes and they provide engineering services or products that are resources to us," he said.
Greg Bilyeu, owner of GB Sales Associates, based in Chanute, Kan., said about 10 percent of his business is international, and he hoped to boost that to 30 percent. He had more than a dozen meetings scheduled with representatives from Algeria, Poland, Cote D'Ivoire and other countries and said the $1,400 he spent to attend was a bargain.
"It's a great deal because you talk to companies outside of your comfort zone,' he said. "At about $100 a meeting, that's really cost effective networking."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)