While waiting for meetings and events to fully return, Minneapolis Convention Center workers have brought their experience in hospitality and customer service to continue serving the community in new roles across the city
February 24, 2021
Colin Brereton never thought he would have a hand in the 2020 election. In a typical year, the senior supervisor in Technology Services at the Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC) would be assisting meeting planners and exhibitors with their technology needs, from sound and lighting to internet and video signage.
However, 2020 was anything but typical. So, in August, Brereton found himself standing outside the Minneapolis Elections & Voter Services (EVS) building in Northeast Minneapolis. He was collecting absentee and mail-in ballots as part of a voter drive-thru for Minnesota’s primary election. Brereton also has worked with the Communications Department, assisting in the production and livestreaming of the city’s public meetings.
“At the MCC, we say that we’re not just at convention center, we are a relationship builder, and I think I took that mindset to my work in other areas of the city,” Brereton said. “I have used my skills in customer service to help provide the best experience for Minneapolis residents.”
Brereton was one of numerous MCC workers who transitioned to serving the community in roles outside of their typical work at the convention center. Like the venue itself, MCC staff members were adapting while the pandemic limited the size and scope of events that could be held.
Also working in a new position during election season was Dan Smoliak, a senior supervisor in Guest & Security Services. Smoliak took a lead role with the city in operating ballot drop-off and drive-in sites, and helped hire many furloughed hospitality workers, including those who worked at the MCC.
“During normal times, I work with clients around the logistics of safety and security during events at the MCC,” Smoliak said. “Given my knowledge of planning and operating large events, I was able to assist the election effort and help provide a smooth absentee voting process.”
Because the MCC is a City of Minneapolis-owned venue, furloughed workers were tapped to transition into new roles in departments across the city. From serving as contact tracers to assisting in the production and live streaming of the city’s public meetings, MCC workers were utilized in a variety of positions, all with a goal of providing the exceptional customer service that has been a hallmark of the MCC.
“Hospitality is all about service, and our team found other ways to serve in 2020,” MCC Executive Director Jeff Johnson said. “This past year has proven how well our staff can adapt their skillset to help throughout our city and community.”
One MCC team member took both her customer service skills and her ability to speak Spanish to a role in the city’s department of Community Planning & Economic Development (CPED). An administrative analyst at the MCC, Sarah González Blanco worked with the CPED Housing program in leading Spanish-speaking residents through the process of receiving needed funds for past due rent and utility bills. She was one of several MCC workers who took their talents and experiences to a position at the CPED.
“I truly missed the day-to-day work of the convention center, but I learned a lot about another department and had the rewarding opportunity to serve the community in a different way,” González Blanco said.
Although Johnson would have preferred to keep his staff employed within the walls of the MCC, he is grateful they have had opportunities to serve in other areas of the city’s operations.
“Hospitality workers are innovative and like to think of ways to help,” Johnson concluded. “We’re extremely proud of what our staff accomplished over the past year while serving in different roles around the city. With that said, we cannot wait to bring them back when our building is once again filled with convention attendees, public shows and sporting events.”