It’s common for associations to use a great location or high-profile keynote speaker to attract members to a convention.

Some will add a celebrity as entertainment at the closing ceremonies in addition to numerous business-education offerings.

It’s rare, however, that an association will pack a convention with six well-known speakers and add a top-selling rock band from the 1980s.

But that’s just what the Mechanical Contractors Association of America has in store for members who attend its March 2-6 event in Palm Desert, Calif.

The association has booked former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Jim Abbott, a one-time pitcher for the California Angels who was born with only one hand; Frank Abagnale, a former con man who was the subject of the 2002 film, “Catch Me If You Can;” James Woolsey, CIA director under President Bill Clinton; Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen; and Dick Vitale, the energetic basketball TV commentator.

In addition, there are golf and tennis tournaments and dozens of educational seminars on business and lifestyle topics, including motivating younger workers and improving health.

The JW Marriott Desert Ridge might also be considered one of the convention’s attractions. The AAA four-diamond property recently underwent $30 million worth of renovations. A new lobby is among the improvements. Situated near lavish 18-hole golf courses, its 450 acres offer gondola rides and lush gardens.

Here are some of the sessions and activities. In addition, a number of MCAA councils will hold their annual meetings during the convention. For more information, visitwww.mcaa.orgor call (301) 869-5800.

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, will be the March 3 opening session speaker.

Before the convention officially starts March 2, the association’s board of directors will be holding daylong meetings. On March 2, a golf and tennis tournament, 5K run and a student chapter outing will be held before the opening party at 6:30 p.m. Called “A celebration of planet Earth,” it will include foods to “nourish your body and soul” and swaying trees and “living fountains” of water. A “Dream Dome” will permit attendees to “peer” into space.

On March 3, the opening session speaker will be Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state under President Bill Clinton and the first female to hold that post. The 70-year-old was born in Czechoslovakia and emigrated to the United States with her parents to escape Nazism. In addition to serving as secretary of state, she was a U.S. representative to the United Nations and staff member for the National Security Council.

Today, she runs the Albright Group, a global strategies firm.

James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, will speak about “Energy, Security and the Long War of the 21st Century" to MCAA members.

At 10:30 a.m. March 3, six sessions are planned, including a speech by James Woolsey, former director of the CIA. During “Energy, Security and the Long War of the 21st Century,” Woolsey is expected to focus his speech on why reducing America’s dependence on Middle East oil offers our best chance at a safer world.
He now serves as managing director at a Virginia consulting firm, specializing in homeland security issues.
Here are some of the other planned speakers and topics.

FMI principal Landon R. Funsten will talk about “Ownership Transfer and Management Succession Planning: An Accelerating Trend in the Construction Industry.”

As baby boomers and other older workers leave the HVAC world, many owners face the challenge of deciding what to do with their companies. Whether you plan to sell it to strangers, your children or employees, each scenario presents challenges. Funsten will attempt to help owners navigate this minefield. This session repeats at 1:30 p.m. March 3.

Following in the succession-planning theme is “Looking to Tomorrow: Successfully Embracing Our Emerging Generation of Leaders,” presented by Bob Wendover of the Center for Generational Studies. Strategies for improving the transition to a younger work force will be explored. It also repeats in the afternoon.

As part of the lifestyle section of the convention program, Dr. Holly G. Atkinson will offer advice on the “Best Medical Treatments for Women.” She says treating female health problems requires a special approach many doctors lack.

Atkinson is editor in chief, an adjunct public health professor at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College and an assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She has appeared on television networks such as NBC and CBS.

She will host a session on “The Five Keys to Optimal Health” at 1:30 p.m. the same day.

Another lifestyle presentation will be “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy.” Michael J. Bradley, a licensed psychologist who holds a doctorate in education, will explain how parents can better handle this often-difficult part of the child-rearing process. It repeats at 1:30 p.m.

New at 1:30 p.m. will be John Koontz, director of the MCAA’s education initiative, hosting “Back to Basics: Sharpen the Skills That Got You Here.” Too many mechanical contractors get complacent after they experience some success. Koontz will explain how to avoid this trap and what to watch out for.

The session repeats at 9 a.m. March 5.

The spouse breakfast at 8:30 a.m. March 4 will feature journalist Anna Quindlen, whose work has appeared in Newsweek and the New York Times. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize, today she writes novels in addition to newspaper and magazine columns.

“Ideas for Living Simply Green” is the title of the spouse program, hosted by Danny Seo that follows at 10:30 a.m. You may have seen Seo on the “CBS Early Show,” where he hosted the “Going Green” series. An expert on sustainable lifestyles, he teaches ways to recycle and live better that you may not have considered.

Business-oriented March 4 presentations include the following. All are at 10:15 a.m.

“Exit Planning and Wealth Preservation for the Family-Owned Business” will be hosted by Dennis J. Amico and Paul D. Miller of Wealth Preservation Solutions LLC. The two men will answer common questions for soon-to-retire businesspeople: How do I ensure my family gets most of my estate? Can I retire? Will any plan treat my children fairly and equally?

“Building the Profitable Contractor: keys to Success.” Strategic planning expert and consultant F. James McCarl Jr. will tell why he believes many companies are success stories waiting to happen. You just need to “keep score,” plan and ensure you hire the right person. It repeats at 10:45 a.m. March 5.

When to save and when to shred will be among the topics discussed by New Jersey attorney James K. Estabrook. Scandals such as Enron have put a focus on the importance of proper recordkeeping. How long information must be saved and what can safely be destroyed will be explained by this expert in business law.

Jerry Yudelson, P.E., has written numerous articles on green building, including one for Snips magazine in July 2006. He will explain how contractors can position themselves as the best “green” contractor in the market during “Branding and Positioning Your Green-Building Offering.”

Frank Abagnale, whose life as a young con man in the 1960s was featured in the movie “Catch Me if You Can,” will speak March 4.

At 1:30 p.m. March 4, Frank Abagnale, whose life as a young con man in the 1960s was featured in the movie “Catch Me if You Can,” will speak about his former life of crime and what he’s done since it ended.
At 9 a.m. March 5, “Speak Like a Leader: How to Make Presentations With Power and Influence” will be hosted by Rob Sherman. He’ll explain how to make the most of public-speaking opportunities. The session will again be held at 10:45 a.m.

“Selecting the Best Green Alternative: An Economic Approach” will be hosted by Tim Wentz at the same time. A licensed professional engineer, he will explain how to choose the right materials to ensure “going green” isn’t a money-losing proposition.

Michael Mack will explain the advantage to performing pre-fabrication services for mechanical contractors during “The Executive’s Guide to Pre-Fabrication” at 10:45 a.m.

The convention will draw to a close with the rock sounds of Huey Lewis & the News. “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” “I Want a New Drug” and “If This Is It,” are just a few of its chart-toping hits during the 1980s. The band will likely perform many of them as closing entertainment at 8:45 p.m. March 5.

There will be one other celebrity at the MCAA convention: Former basketball coach and ABC sports commentator Dick Vitale will speak at 9 a.m. March 6 as part of the closing session.

Convention city is perfect for shoppers, golf, tennis lovers

Palm Desert’s official Web site has a slogan about the city: “Palm Desert is more than a destination; it’s a state of mind.”

This laid-back city near the Santa Rosa Mountains is perhaps best known for sunshine and the world-class golf and resorts it offers. Close to Palm Springs, Indian Wells and a number of other upscale communities, it offers an oasis of activities and culture, which MCAA members will have a chance to experience during the group’s March 2-6 convention.

The region’s history is dominated by that of the American Indian tribes who first called this area home. According to Palm Springs’ tourism bureau, the region’s early settlers were ancestors of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The first non-Indians arrived in the 1770s, starting the region on a growth path that continues today.

During the 1930s, the area became a favorite of Hollywood celebrities and stars such as Marlene Dietrich often visited during the winter months. In the 1940s, the area was used by the U.S. Army to train troops, further increasing the population.

The widespread popularity of air conditioning following World War II made it a popular year-round destination.

Today, it offers an abundance of activities, from festivals to high-end shopping and dining. That’s especially true in Palm Desert.

Palm Desert is a golf lover’s dream: there are more than 30 courses in the city proper, and about a hundred in the surrounding valley. They host such high-profile annual events as the Bob Hope Classic and the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational. Tennis is almost as popular: there are about 150 tennis courts within the city limits.

For shoppers, the city has 14 distinct retail districts, containing more than 1,000 stores, as well as a major mall. El Paseo Boulevard is an upscale shopping destination with restaurants, galleries and chic clothing shops. It’s been called the “Rodeo Drive of the Desert,” referring to the famous street in Beverly Hills, Calif., known for upscale shopping.

If you’re into history, the Palm Desert area offers a number of museums and attractions. The General Patton Memorial Museum, dedicated to the life of U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton, is a short drive away in Chiriaco Summit. In nearby Palm Springs, the Agua Caliente American Indian tribe operates a cultural museum. A museum of World War II-era combat aircraft is also in Palm Springs.

Those interested in - or inspired by - art will find much to enjoy in Palm Desert. The city has a program that encourages the incorporation of art into public places throughout the city: on bridges, parks, buildings and highway medians. More than 90 sculptures are on display.

In addition, dozens of art galleries sit along El Paseo Boulevard.

Among the city’s best-known attractions is the Living Desert Reserve. The privately endowed 1,200-acre retreat contains examples of many desert plants and wildlife, including warthogs, mountain lions, Mexican wolves and others. Camping and hiking are also available nearby.

MCAA’s convention hotel, the Desert Springs, is part of the JW Marriott Resort and Spa line, which marks the hotel company’s most luxurious accommodations. The AAA four-diamond property was rated one of the 500 best hotels in the world by Travel & Leisure magazine. It features 450 landscaped acres that include lagoons, two 18-hole golf courses and gondola rides. It recently underwent a multiyear, $30 million renovation.