Magazine article Government Finance Review

Financial Strategies for Challenging Times: 2009 Annual Conference Recap

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Financial Strategies for Challenging Times: 2009 Annual Conference Recap

Article excerpt

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) held its 103rd Annual Conference, "Financial Strategies for Challenging Times," in the City of Seattle, Washington, on June 28-July 1, 2009. More than 5,500 people attended the conference at the Washington State Convention Center. The weather was one of the stars of the show, with comfortable daytime and evening temperatures, plenty of sunshine, and no rain.

GENERAL SESSIONS

The mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, welcomed delegates. He stressed the vital role of finance officers and the importance of the public finance profession during these tough economic times. He encouraged participants to work hard during the conference but jokingly suggested that everyone also "spend like there's no tomorrow" while touring the city.

GFOA President Kenneth L. Rust reflected on his term as president and the need for government to be "transparent, accountable, and accessible" in order to be successful, given the current economic state. He urged delegates to be "good public stewards" and concluded that "what we do as government finance officers matters and has always mattered, and, now, it will matter more than ever."

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS

John Mitchell, a renowned economist, addressed delegates as the keynote speaker at Monday's general session. Mitchell, currently with M&H Economic Consultants, makes frequent economic presentations around the country and is a fellow at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon.

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In his speech, "2008-2009: Your Grandfather's Recession--Your Children's Great Depression," he focused on the global economy: the factors that caused the downturn, a forecast for the future, anal the recession's effect on state, provincial, and local governments. Mitchell highlighted that people who are younger than 46 years old have lived in a period of significant economic stability, which is uncommon, looking at the broader history of the United States. He noted that there have been 32 recessions in American history and that all 32 came to an end. Mitchell stated that education, health, and government are currently the only fields with increasing job rates. He advised that as a result of the current recession, people need to look at the long term and focus on consumption patterns, risk acceptance, lending standards, and baby boomers in the workforce to decide collectively "What will we do differently?" in business, government, and everyday life.

Christopher Liddell, chief financial officer (CFO) for Microsoft Corporation, spoke to GFOA members on Tuesday. Before joining Microsoft, Liddell was CFO at International Paper Co.; chief executive officer (CEO) of Carter Holt Harvey Ltd.; and managing director and joint CEO for CS First Boston NZ Ltd. He was also a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission's Advisory Committee on Improvements to Financial Reporting.

In Liddell's speech, "Implications of the Current Crisis--Evolving the Finance Function," he focused on how to pursue excellence in the face of the recession, and particularly on how to use technology to drive better performance. Liddell advised that companies must excel at both cost control and innovation to thrive in a crisis. This means evaluating how they implement cost controls and prioritize investments, and looking again at their information technology-enabled efficiencies. He iterated the importance of working with a trusted advisor to make decisions during these tough economic times and to think of the broad future when thinking of business imperatives. Liddell closed by saying it is a "tough time for the world, but a wonderful time for finance people."

CONCURRENT SESSIONS AND NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES

The GFOA held 79 concurrent sessions that covered all major public finance disciplines: accounting, auditing, and financial reporting; budgeting and financial planning; debt management; management and policy; pensions and retirement benefits; technology and digital government; and treasury and investment management. …

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