Aerial view of NPGA Southeastern Expo 2021
Attendance down, spirits up at first NPGA Southeastern Expo since the COVID-19 pandemic began

“To say I’m humbled by you and proud to be a part of this industry would be an understatement.” In his opening speech at the NPGA 2021 Southeastern Convention and International Propane Expo, Steve Kaminski, president and CEO of the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA), shared a sentiment echoed over the course of the three-day event. The Atlanta, Georgia, show may have drawn a smaller crowd than the association’s norms, but exhibitors and attendees alike shared their pride in the industry and how thrilled they were to be back in person.

From a United States Army veteran and U.S. Paralympic bronze medalist as a keynote speaker, to meaningful and useful education sessions, to an exhibit hall filled with new products and equipment, industry leadership echoed that the first Southeastern Expo since the start of the pandemic felt like a return to form.

‘NPGA Welcomes You’

Major General Thomas M. Carden Jr. of the National Guard welcomed attendees to Atlanta in the opening general session. He spent time thanking those in attendance for the jobs the industry provides for veterans. On veterans in the propane industry, Major General Carden said, “You will not be sorry. They will not let you down.”


Kaminski took the stage, sharing about NPGA and the industry’s proactive stance on the future of propane. “Collectively, we are not just playing defense; we are playing offense.” He also touched on NPGA’s work with PERC on several initiatives to help the industry, including the upcoming entry-level driver training (ELDT) program to help businesses meet the requirements coming into effect Feb. 7, 2022.

Melissa Stockwell
Melissa Stockwell
Photo by Chris Savas via NPGA

Tucker Perkins, president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), was up next, recognizing that Oct. 11 marked the 25th anniversary of the act that created PERC. Kaminski presented Perkins with a multicolor glass flame, from NPGA to PERC, commemorating the anniversary. Perkins explained the meaning behind the new “Energy for Everyone” industry-wide logo, which represents earth, sky, wind and water — everything PERC, NPGA and the industry are working to protect.

“It’s not about electric versus propane,” Perkins told the audience. “It’s about reducing the impact on the climate. It’s about clean versus not.”

Executive vice president of Energy Distribution Partners, David Stroupe, introduced the Expo’s keynote speaker, Melissa Stockwell. Stockwell is an Army veteran who lost her leg in an IED explosion in Iraq. Her journey following that traumatic event led her to the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, the Rio Paralympics in 2016, and the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. She won bronze in a U.S. sweep of the triathlon in Rio, and now runs a prosthetics business.

‘Deep Sigh of Relief’

The repeated refrain at the Expo was delight at being back in person. With the cancellation of the April 2020 show and the shifting of the April 2021 show to October, this marked the first NPGA Southeastern Expo since 2019. Stand-ins like Zoom meetings and emails kept the industry connected throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but according to attendees, those couldn’t beat the real thing.

“Wow, how refreshing to meet face to face with the wonderful people in our industry!” said Bill Stomp, president and founder of Tank Spotter.

First-time exhibitor Abby Golub, business development representative for Tank Utility, felt similarly and mentioned it’s “always a pleasure” to see people in person. “I felt it was more comfortable than meeting by phone or video, and so it allowed for longer conversations and more new connections,” she said.

In an industry that values personal connections, the chance to move away from virtual interactions leant a refreshed air to the event.

“People are excited to be back in person, back at a massive show, back meeting with their peers, going to social events, going to education sessions, going to get drinks with folks and having those conversations,” said Kaminski at the NPGA booth. “There are a lot of people in this industry — and I’m one of them — that like to talk to people in person. It’s hard to do business with someone that you’ve never met in person before because you haven’t developed that relationship.”

Kaminski went on to describe the feelings throughout the show as a “deep sigh of relief.” The excitement and relief at a return to consistency and as much normalcy as possible permeated any stroll across the exhibit hall floor.

“The Southeastern Expo is a big piece of solid ground that everyone can say, ‘OK. We’re here; we’re back,’” said Kaminski.

Light Attendance No Match for High Spirits

Exhibitors chat at the NPGA 2021 Southeast Expo
Photo by Chris Savas via NPGA

The low turnout for attendance was a hot topic of conversation among exhibitors, who hoped for interactions with more attendees at the first in-person Expo since the start of the pandemic.

However, an unexpected benefit arose in their ability to have longer, more concentrated face time with attendees without the pressure of talking to the next person walking up to the booth.

“I was very happy with the number of people I was able to meet, and I look forward to a larger turnout in April,” said Golub.

“We have had a lot of quality conversations vendor to vendor, attendee to vendor, attendee to staff and with the terrific state executives and PERC staff who are here as well,” said Kaminski. “I think that’s been a really good thing and a good positive about the show. … They can have these quality conversations. There’s not a line of people behind them waiting to talk to someone; they can spend as much time as they need.”

Kaminski said he had no regrets in NPGA deciding to move forward with the show. He mentioned being encouraged by the fact that so many still came despite the supply challenges faced by all and the upcoming busy time of year as the winter heating season begins. Kaminski and the NPGA were pleased with the success of the show and how well it went despite the lighter attendance.

Supply, Supply, Supply

The key industry challenge on everyone’s mind? Supply. While the threat of the pro-electrification movement was still on everyone’s minds, the worries over supply heading into winter took precedence at the Expo. Supply chain issues, backups and price spikes and delays in material costs have created a significant problem to solve as fall temperatures begin quickly dropping to winter levels.

The price spikes are also causing some nervousness in the industry.

“We’re seeing the highest prices right now that we’ve seen in many years,” said Kaminski. “Since the pandemic started, the industry has faced the repercussions of less drilling of oil and natural gas, rising demand for global exports due to OPEC+ crude oil production cuts and high global demand for propane as a petrochemical feedstock, two new marine terminals opening in Canada reducing transport by rail to the U.S., and economic ‘backwardation’ that does not incentivize midstream companies to hold large amounts of product.”

“By far the biggest challenge over the next several months is making sure everyone who wants to heat their home with propane can heat their home with propane, that the heat does not go off this winter for anyone,” said Kaminski. “We expect this winter could be the most challenging since 2013-2014.”

Expo Sessions Highlight the Value of Continuing Education

While steel tanks may be hard to come by in the coming months, educational sessions at the Southeastern Expo were not. Attendees were treated to a plethora of educational content in the breakout session.

Christina Armentano leads the Women in Propane Roundtable discussion
Christina Armentano
Photo by Chris Savas via NPGA

Leslie Anderson, president and CEO of PGANE, led “Positioning Propane in the Renewable Energy Revolution,” speaking to attendees about what resonates with state legislators and policy makers in the battle for propane. Nancy Coop, director of marketing at Cetane Associates, facilitated a panel discussion on the “Benefits of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in 2022,” with panelists stressing the importance of D&I to the industry’s future. In “Trends in Propane Delivery to Retain Drivers,” Chad Furuseth, sales territory manager for Westmor Industries, explored methods for speeding up and slowing down delivery rates.

A big hit at the show was the ninth annual Women in Propane Roundtable, led this year by Christina Armentano, executive vice president of Paraco Gas. Armentano shared about her journey to her position at Paraco while engaging attendees in discussions about developing and adapting leadership skills.

The Young Gassers Reception at der Biergarten saw a sizeable turnout to celebrate the two 30-under-30 classes recognized at this year’s expo. After the induction, attendees enjoyed time blowing off steam and building camaraderie with industry peers.

Nashville, Here We Come

Aerial view of NPGA 2021 Southeast Expo exhibit hall floor
Photo by Chris Savas via NPGA

With the ups and downs associated with the lower turnout, all eyes are on Nashville, Tennessee, as the NGPA Southeastern Expo heads there in April 2022.

Golub is excited to see what Nashville will bring. “It will be great to see familiar faces and make new connections in another environment. I’m grateful for the shared time and experiences that help me continue to learn about the industry. I think meeting helps everyone build new partnerships to propel the industry forward,” she said.

Stomp is also looking ahead to April 2022. “[I’m looking forward to] an even larger turnout with even more energy. Our propane industry is special, as it is full of people who are dedicated to serve their neighbors with clean American energy.”

Kaminski expressed his sincere thanks to all who came out to the show and to all who support the National Propane Gas Association. “I think it’s been a great show. … Everyone who attended I believe has seen great value in being here.”

Kaminski shared his challenge to the NPGA team for the Nashville Expo: “I challenged my colleagues at NPGA, and I’m challenging the industry to set a record for attendance by reaching 5,000 people between attendees and exhibitors,” he said. “I’d love to see 6,000. I think it’s going to blow every other show out of the water in terms of attendance.”

See you in Nashville on April 24-26 for the NPGA 2022 Southeastern Convention and International Propane Expo!

Jessica Graham is associate editor of Butane-Propane News.