We write this summer with renewed optimism – after the extraordinary, pandemic-influenced year of 2020. As discussed in our previous report, the unexpected end to so many in-person group gatherings (monthly meetings, quarterly meets, regional and national conventions, ops sessions, and train shows) changed almost everything about our social hobby experience. Still, this wasn’t all bad, as many members enjoyed more modeling at home, some joined or upped their participation to provide a needed life distraction, and still others kept (or grew) their social connections through new online pathways like NMRAx, SIG group sessions, and division zooms. We’ve survived – and in some regards have even thrived in this tumultuous year.
Many of the NER’s divisions have held at least one or two online events (like zooms) – and some have had regularly scheduled online sessions for many months. These meetings tend to draw beyond the local and usual suspects, to across the region, nation, and world. Similarly, recorded virtual layout tours of NER railroads have brought global exposure to many fine NER modelers – some of which we likely wouldn’t have seen without the pandemic.
Finally, and as I’ve mentioned before, the lock down has reminded us (quite pointedly) of the critical importance of an online presence for divisions, regions, and the national association. Still – websites, email software, zoom accounts – these all require both time and money ($500-1000 per year for some divisions, and a real financial challenge).
Other Initiatives and Happenings:
This is an election year in the NER (our cycle is every three years). Up for the vote in 2021 are the positions of President, Vice President, and four Area, At Large Directors. (All of our Division Presidents also service on the NER BoD as well). Only one of these six positions is contested – the others each have just one candidate standing. We will again (as in 2018) conduct our election mostly online through a secure website (though members without an email address are able to vote by mail if desired).
Note: The NER election period will end on July 1, but the new President will not be officially installed until our Fall convention in October. Since I will be assuming the role of (National) Eastern District Director on July 2 (and thus cannot continue as NER President) these duties will be assumed then by current NER Vice President Bob Dennis.
The Northeastern Region conducts all its BoD meetings online – via Zoom web conferencing – and has done this now for many years (well before the Covid pandemic). These regular, consistent meetings have resulted in better communication, region-division connection, and more forward progress for both the Region and its divisions.
We postponed last year’s NER Annual Convention and will now host the event Mill City 2021 Convention in Westford/Lowell, MA, in October 2021. Plans are well underway, registration has opened, and we are expecting a mostly ‘normal’ event to occur – barring any unforeseen changes or new restrictions. Beyond this, we’ve pushed out all our future convention plans one year: Nutmeg Division in CT in 2022, and on Long Island with the Sunrise Trail Division in 2023. Additionally, we have early interest from two additional divisions, for events in 2024 and 2025.
In lieu of the 2020 in-person convention, the NER (with considerable leadership, effort, and support from the host HUB division, other Region members, and the talented NMRAx team) –hosted our first NERx online video-based convention in December 2020. Our convention was modeled in part after other NMRAx events (but with our own NER spin), and it was, we think, a great success. NERx 1 was held over a four-night period early in the holiday season and included sixteen clinics (all from NER modelers), nine video-based home or club layout tours, a model and photo contest with 25 and 28 entries (respectively) – and rolling recognition of AP participant and merit award winners. Also, it was a lot of fun! The NER Convention team then successfully hosted a second NERx 2 event earlier this Spring (much like the first) and again it was a nice success for the Region and the NMRA.
The NER publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Coupler – to positive acclaim from membership and others. Color print subscriptions are available for an extra $10 per year cost, and though the print demand is declining, it is still today near 800 per issue. We have recently transitioned to a new newsletter editor. Additionally, we regularly reach our membership using a Constant Contact based e-newsletter for ongoing communications and announcements.
We have just this month revealed our new, updated NER website (www.nernmra.org) – with most phase one tasks now complete. We still have a good deal to do here and hope to have a phase two roll out in the next several months.
Other potential activities for 2021 (pending the direction and decision of new NER leadership) include:
Conducting another survey of our members (our last one was 2015) to engage and learn more about what NMRA members really see and want;
Updating our strategic plan – last one designed in 2015/6 – and in need of new vision and new leadership;
New ideas for engaging members in a Region wide program – for example, module building with T-Trak, Golden Spike challenge, or lock-step (group) pursuit of an AP certificate;
Regional zoom meets, video content, podcasts – other ways and activities to connect with members and prospective members to continue to grow the NER;
I see recruitment and retention of new and existing members as a primary challenge for the NER. Most of our divisions are financially healthy, but half of them have small membership rolls, and limited ability to raise additional funds. We have discussed some options for generating revenue (train shows, museum displays, member sales, donations receipts), and we’ve also talked about creative ideas for managing or reducing costs (for example, where to hold less expensive or even free meetings). However, at the core – finding and keeping members is central to the business model, financial health, and future sustainability of the Association.
The NMRA’s Northeastern Region has survived the 2020 Covid pandemic, and our divisions have (at least in part) adapted and shifted to meet the new reality. And while new, online, and social media paths for connecting, sharing, and learning have been good for some (and great for others) – missing the in-person connection of local division meetings and other activities has certainly impacted the NMRA. We expect that as things open, revived, and new in-person activities will further reinvigorate many in the hobby and in our Association – and help us to again provide greater value to our membership and the model railroading community.
President, NMRA Northeastern Region