MARINE CORPS BASE BUTLER, OKINAWA, Japan (NNS) -- Without the ability to meet face to face due to COVID-19 and physical distancing requirements and travel restrictions, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Far East held the first virtual streaming Industry Day event May 20 at Marine Corps Base Butler, Okinawa, Japan.
The bilingual event, streamed live on Facebook, outlined information in English and Japanese regarding bulk waste removal requirements for a potential future contracting opportunity on Navy and Marine Corps installations in Okinawa.
“Industry days give us the opportunity to accelerate our learning through direct dialogue with our contracting partners,” said Lt. Cmdr. Steven Bischak, NAVFAC Far East Facilities Engineering and Acquisition Division director of Camp Butler. “This leads to more appealing contracting opportunities and, ultimately, improved performance and value in the products and services we deliver to our supported commands.”
The social media platform enabled NAVFAC Far East leaders and private contractors attending the event virtually to meet physical distancing requirements and navigated around current travel restrictions.
The event drew about 50 contractors watching remotely, which is a wider audience than a typical in-person event would have reached, according to Bischak, who said he piloted the idea out of necessity amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“Social media allows us to reach a much larger audience than a traditional in-person event,” said Bischak. “It also makes it easier for contractors who are curious, and maybe hesitant about coming to base, to learn about our opportunities. It is simple for them to log in and participate.”
Traditionally industry days consist of military leaders presenting a variety of information in a large room to a group of interested contractors who have signed up in advance to attend. A livestream event offers anyone with internet access from anywhere in the world without advance registration.
“Being able to stream our events expands our opportunity for participation since all that is needed as an electronic device and internet connection,” said Bischak who also said it eliminated the need to coordinate complicated and potentially intimidating base access processing. “We are using a communication method that private industry uses, which reinforces our message of support and willingness to work together as a team.”
The pandemic has presented challenges to both contractors and government agencies, he said.
“Our partners share the need to reduce face-to-face interactions through physical distancing,” he said. “However, our supported commands still rely on us to deliver essential services regardless of these challenges. Employing innovative ideas such as this virtual industry day allows us to maintain this critical support while practicing proactive health protection measures.”
Even though it is not one of the many tangible products NAVFAC Far East provides like bus services, road repair, or building maintenance, educating and enticing contractors with opportunities who provide those goods and services still needs to be done, according to Kathryn Balonek, NAVFAC Far East Acquisition Support Line leader.
“Industry days are critical to building the relationships we need to deliver quality products and services,” said Balonek. “The COVID-19 environment has forced us to rethink how we engage with industry and embrace communication methods once thought unsuitable for a professional business environment. Virtual events are here to stay as we lean forward during this challenge, and we are finding it can be an opportune time to innovate and thrive.”
A primary goal of an industry day is to increase opportunities for new businesses to join the NAVFAC Far East team, said Bischak.
“Beginning a relationship with us may at first be overwhelming due to the novelty of working for the U.S. government,” he said. “Maximizing participation in industry days is an easy way to remove the ‘mystic’ of working with us. Industry days are also a great opportunity for the government to learn the latest technology and private industry approaches. This is a team approach to solving our challenges.”
Despite some drawbacks such as losing "sidebar" discussions and relationship-building, typical at in-person events, Bischak said this is something he thinks can benefit the command in the future.
“This event proved that we have the capabilities to successfully execute a live-stream industry day,” he said. “The interaction from local contractors was very encouraging.”