NCCI just wrapped up their annual AIS Conference in Orlando Wednesday, and it is a pleasure to report that, after two years of virtual existence, they have not lost their touch for presenting a well-choreographed and impeccably timed event. In fact, NCCI AIS, which is the technical equivalent of Disneyland for workers’ compensation conferences, didn’t miss a beat. 

We will offer a couple of posts over the next few days regarding the content covered this year. Our own Nancy Grover attended the event and will be giving detailed reporting on it, along with news articles already published on our site regarding the conference. For today, however, we will discuss a couple of changes that were introduced with this year’s event. 

First, the conference was given a name change. AIS has traditionally stood for “Annual Issues Symposium.” This year it was changed to “Annual Insights Symposium,” with the reasonable logic that people were more interested in forward-looking insight than they were dealing with “Issues.” Given the nature of NCCI’s mission and purpose of the AIS Event, it is a change that makes perfect sense. 

The other big change was that, for the first time in memory, NCCI did not offer a “word” that symbolized a theme for the year. In the past, it has been a tradition during opening remarks to identify the “Word” for the year, and then build around that as a consistent theme for the two-day event. It might have been a word like “resilience,” or “persistence,” or “growth,” or some similar themed descriptive that is generally positive in nature around which a platform could be designed (we will note that words like “sucks” and “disaster” were never featured as a conference Word). 

During a media update, NCCI representatives were asked about the omission of “the Word” this year. It turns out that the organization felt with the adoption of the forward-looking “Insights” moniker, that “the Word” would not be a needed feature going forward. My open postulation that they simply ran out of words was flatly rejected by NCCI spokespeople. 

However, we should note that one presentation definitely offered a term that resonated, and it very well could have been “the Word.” Dr. Robert Hartwig, a consistent favorite at AIS, gave a highly energized and informative four-hour presentation, bundled conveniently into a 45-minute time slot (Hartwig is a very fast talker, and his presentations cover a tremendous amount of ground. Listening to him is like drinking from a firehose – your thirst is definitely quenched but there is a tremendous amount of water coming your way). His topic this year was “Top 5 Ways COVID Changed the Economics of Workers Compensation – For Better or Worse.” 

Making a long story short (or as short as you can make a 4-hour show compressed into three-quarters of an hour), Hartwig gave an extensive historical review of past recessionary periods and summarized for the audience that, despite the current climate of inflation, labor issues, and supply chain problems, we are statistically much better off than we were during the mid-1970s to 1980s, a period to which our current situation is often compared. Inflation is lower, interest rates are lower, and unemployment is dramatically lower than that period 50 years ago. When adjusted for inflation, the metrics today are not nearly as daunting, and while Hartwig says a recession is certainly possible, it is not an absolute certainty. 

In discussing these points, Hartwig repeatedly used the word “grumpy” in describing employee and consumer attitudes these days. Discussing the trend of resignations and turnover, as well as citing low consumer confidence studies, Hartwig explained numerous times that people were simply “grumpy” surrounding our current state of affairs when in his view their mood didn’t match the reality of the situation. 

By the way, you can watch Hartwig’s presentation on the NCCI website. It is located here.

Regardless of whether you agree or not with Dr. Bob’s assessment, the word “grumpy” really stood out; so much so that NCCI could have easily made it “the Word” for 2022. I certainly would have considered that if I was in charge of things.

Of course, that is probably why I am not in charge of things. I’m sure that is a big relief to the people responsible for marketing AIS. If that had been the word, they would have probably been the grumpiest people of all.

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