With its Food for Thought conference, Erwin Penland has encouraged thought leaders from various industries to chew on the idea of Greenville for the past seven years.
“We were finding that this area was still not as known for the creative class of people that was beginning to populate our area,” said Joe Erwin, president of Erwin Penland. The conference was designed to combat the kind of perceptions that led industry colleagues to joke about whether people in Greenville wear shoes, Erwin said.
Conference sessions are held throughout the Greenville area April 29 through May 1, including Fluor Field and the BMW Performance Center.
The small conference is capped at just 100 attendees, 10 of whom are given scholarships to cover all travel and conference costs. Most are CEOs of companies throughout the country. Several work in marketing, though Erwin said Food For Thought is not a marketing conference.
“We want presenters who are using creativity to change the world. Just so we don’t sound too high and mighty, the world might be 10 square blocks in Harlem,” Erwin said. There is a bit of an activist mission, he said.
Still, a new digital marketing panel featuring heads of marketing at 20th Century Fox, The Coca-Cola Company, Michelin and other companies will offer solutions for smaller companies still struggling with the transition to digital.
The food aspect has less to do with impressive culinary displays than opportunities for people to open up and talk. At the Fluor Field session, people will be eating hot dogs and other ballpark foods. Mornings offer opportunities for group runs on the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail.
“I’ve called this conference kind of the un-TED conference,” Erwin said. “It’s inspired by TED, but unlike TED which is huge, we want people to interact with presenters. Many of them stay for the duration.” The event is not a moneymaker, but a valuable experience for Erwin Penland staff and attendees, who maintain relationships and ties to Greenville after they leave.