The Western States CREF conference is more dynamic than ever

by Kimberly Greene26 Aug 2019

Planning the same conference for more than two decades could put an organizing committee in a bit of a rut. Rather than featuring the same old panel discussions on industrial, multifamily, and office, however, the California Mortgage Bankers Association organizing committee behind the annual Western States Commercial Real Estate Finance (CREF) conference listened to their members on the ground.

“They told us, ‘this is not the same story anymore. We need to shake things up here and mirror what's going on in the industry right now,’” said Dustin Hobbs, Communications Director at California Mortgage Bankers Association (CMBA). “We've actually got a panel that's going to focus on how to reimagine space because from what we're hearing on the ground level, that's a big topic in the industry right now: What do you do with old industrial space? How do you transform that into something else? Same with office: How do you transform office or retail into something different? They're looking at different options on how you can reimagine those spaces.”

In addition to featuring new topics, the Western States CREF conference will also have a more interactive component, which will operate like “speed dating roundtable sessions”. There will be discussion leaders, but the goal is to spark more ideas, more conversation, and more new connections among attendees. Featured discussions will include agency lending, insurance lending, and bank lending, among others.

“Instead of having panelists talk at the attendees, we want to engage the attendees,” Hobbs said. “The idea is, you're going to sit there for 15-20 minutes and then we'll have everyone switch up and move to different tables, so we'll get a lot of different ideas and topics discussed and some new perspectives.”

The CMBA, whose main priority is advocacy work in the state legislature and with regulatory agencies, plans to transform their other events with more interactive experiences as well.

CREF attendees will also hear from Mary Ludgin, managing director and head of global research and Heitman, a “huge hit” at CREF conferences due to her ability to bring facts and high level ideas down to the level of the layperson, who might not be as well-versed in economist-speak. Chris Voss, former FBI lead international kidnapping negotiator and current CEO of black Swan Group, will also speak—and undoubtedly give some tips to originators and investors who consider themselves great negotiators.

Organizers are expecting around 1,000 attendees, which would surpass attendance for 2018 and break a record for the event.

In some ways, there’s a lot of stability on the commercial side of the industry, and the same players tend to participate year after year—which, Hobbs added, is great. This year, however, a number of new players are participating in the conference, some of which are new companies and others are vendors who are realizing their opportunity in the commercial space. Low unemployment rates and a strong economy benefit all property types, and people see that.

Based on the new vendors combined with the excitement and buzz in the space, Hobbs feels that interest in the commercial real estate space is “as strong as it’s ever been.”

“I think that all works together to create some good excitement for this year. So I think there's going to be a lot of deals made at the conference and a lot of new business,” Hobbs said.

The 22nd Annual Western States CREF conference takes place at the Wynn Las Vegas from September 4-6. Register before September 1st to receive a discounted rate!