FOR ITS UPCOMING World Education Congress at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Meeting Professionals International has designed an educational track for the fastest-growing segment of its ranks: independent planners and business owners.

The Independent Business Owners Summit, which will take place July 11 and 12, was created “to provide business skills for owning and running a business,” says Marsha Flanagan, vice president of professional development and strategic events at MPI. Independent planners number about 1,400 within MPI's ranks, while third-party planners total about 2,400, according to Flanagan.

The number of independents and third-party planners is only expected to continue growing as more corporations outsource meeting logistics. According to MPI's FutureWatch survey, the average budget for independent planners is expected to nearly double to $11.8 million in 2005, from $6.1 million in 2004. By comparison, the average corporate planner budget is anticipated to reach $7.1 million this year, up from $5.3 million last year.

Seminar topics at the Independent Business Owners Summit will include: branding and marketing; strategic alliances; human resources; financial matters; legal, contract, and liability issues; and mentoring staff and successors. Many independents and small business owners say this type of education is not readily available in other forums, says Flanagan.

The track is part of an effort by MPI to customize educational offerings for the different segments of its membership. Later this year, MPI will take it a step further with the launch of its Career Pathways program, which will establish core competencies for meeting professionals and offer personalized career guidance and professional development to members.