In spite of a down economy, officials at the National Plasterers Council expect a strong turnout at the group’s annual conference.

“We anticipate that we’ll be at least where we were last year at around 400,” said Mitch Brooks, NPC’s executive director. “We also think we’ll either meet or beat last year’s number of exhibitors, which was 52.”

The event is slated for Feb. 2-5 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New Orleans; for some, it may be a case of deja vu.

In 2005, the conference was scheduled to be held in New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina created an unexpected change of plans. Today, NPC officials are pleased the Big Easy is back on the roster.

“New Orleans is a popular location. It’s in a warmer climate, and people say they want to go there,” Brooks said, adding that the cost for attendees to stay at the Ritz-Carlton is actually less than it was in 2005.

New this year are a number of seminars geared specifically for today’s business environment. These include “Effective Collections Techniques”; “How to Stay out of Court and Stay in Business”; and “The Baker Act and ANSI 7 — Everything You Need to Know,” presented by Ken Gregory of the Florida Building Commission.

“Ken is going to talk in plain language about VGB liability and ANSI 7,” Brooks said. “It’s going to be really important and informative.”

Also new this year is a $1,000 prize drawing open to all attendees who bring more than two participants to the conference. The raffle was designed to honor companies that place a priority on the event.

“In these challenging economic times, the way to advance your company is by taking every opportunity to learn,” said Alan Smith, outgoing NPC chairman and owner of Alan Smith Pool Plastering in Orange, Calif. “Some people shrivel up in these times, while others invest in expanding their knowledge base.”

David Cooke, owner of David Cooke Plaster in South Windsor, Conn., will be introduced as the new chairman.

The conference also features a keynote luncheon on Feb. 4 with Bruce Wilkinson, a leadership consultant. He has delivered keynote speeches to clients such as Burger King, the Department of Defense, NASA and Anheuser-Busch.

A second speaker, Mario Rossetti, is slated for Feb. 5. With more than 25 years’ experience in the pool industry, Rossetti has directed sales and marketing at a number of firms, including Caretaker Systems and A&A Manufacturing.

“Last year we decided to include a speaker who has been in the industry, and it went over really well,” Brooks said. “So this year our committee wanted to continue that trend.”

One of the conference’s traditional events, the Annual NPC Golf Classic Tournament, also will be back. The tournament is set for Feb. 3 at the Stonebridge Golf Club, a facility that caters to golfers of all skill levels.

Online registration is available for the conference and the golf tournament at