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Sunday, 27 October 2013 22:00

West Michigan offers scale many conventions seek

Written by  Tricia Woolfenden
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Corporate conventions and industry meetings used to be about getting as many professionals in one high-profile city as possible, exposing them to multi-day events and other resource-heavy endeavors.

But in a post-recession economy, West Michigan’s convention and event planners are well positioned to attract business leaders looking to trim the fat.

“There’s an attractiveness to our meetings package,” said Janet Korn, vice president of marketing for Experience Grand Rapids, Kent County’s convention and visitors bureau. “There’s a lot of value and it’s a great region with lots of things to do.”

In 2013, Grand Rapids snagged a number of new industries looking to take advantage of the lower price points offered by West Michigan venues and planners. This May, the city welcomed the five-day American Jail Association’s annual Training Conference and Jail Expo.

In August, the International Association of Assessing Officers hosted its international conference “Navigating the Rapids in Turbulent Times: A Grand Vision” over the course of five days in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and DeVos Place. The event attracted hundreds of professionals from the Netherlands to China. The American Quilter’s Society, meanwhile, held its second AQS QuiltWeek in Grand Rapids, with plans for the next four consecutive shows to return to the city.

As of August, the greater Grand Rapids area had attracted 217,000 meeting attendees. Korn said the total for 2012 was a little more than 240,000 in Kent County, putting this year’s numbers about on track with last year. In fact, hotels in Kent County are having “another record year” Korn said, with revenue 9 percent ahead of 2012.

Korn projects 2014 will be even busier, with groups such as the Governors Highway Safety Association, National Alliance for Medicaid in Education, Michigan Osteopathic Association, Michigan Music Conference, Michigan Bankers Association and the Michigan Council of the Society for Human Resource Management already on the docket.

Part of Grand Rapids’ appeal for state, national and international conferences is the scale of the city, Korn said. Experience Grand Rapids and other organizations can play to the small city factor, selling it as a way to keep conference attendees bonded together even when outside the convention halls and meeting rooms.

“A conference will feel like a bigger fish in a smaller pond,” Korn said of choosing Grand Rapids, versus popular destinations such as Chicago, Las Vegas and New York. “You go to Chicago, (attendees) would be hard pressed to find or see each other when they’re out.”

The bloated national conference gets a slim down

Nationally speaking, corporations and industry groups are looking to slim down, even when opting for larger host cities. ACTIVE Network Business Solutions, which provides event management software for more than 1,000 associations, recently conducted a study on event trends from 2008-2012 in five major convention cities — Chicago among them. The data showed a movement toward smaller, shorter meetings as a means to manage costs.

The smaller scale doesn’t mean the convention isn’t making a comeback. Active’s study showed U.S. business travel spending returning to nearly pre-recession levels. A market survey by the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convene echoed those findings, reporting a comeback in convention and meetings, but emphasizing a desire to continue to do “more with less” as became standard during the downturn.  

Thrifty West Michigan may be the answer for corporations on the hunt for an affordable destination with entertainment and cultural appeal. High-profile events like ArtPrize especially paint the picture of a flourishing city, Korn said.

CEOs for Cities hosted its national meeting in Grand Rapids, with the city serving as a case study for the group, which intentionally planned its visit to coincide with ArtPrize. The meeting exceeded attendance records for the group, with attendees focused on studying the city’s “private, public, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors” in relation to the city’s success.

The region’s robust craft beer scene also serves as a draw.

“It denotes community, entrepreneurialism, energy, fun, nightlife,” Korn said of the microbrew industry. “That’s having a positive spillover. We’re leveraging beer tourism and the strong local brew industry as a way to introduce people to Grand Rapids.”

In fact, the American Homebrewers Association will host its next annual national conference in June 2014 in Grand Rapids. This year’s conference was hosted in Philadelphia.

“They would not be coming here without the craft beer industry,” Korn said. “It should be good word-of-mouth for the region.”

It’s not just the out-of-state business Grand Rapids is looking to snag. Korn said more and more Michigan-based corporations are bringing their national and international attendees home to their own “backyard.”

“There’s a lot of pride right now by our corporate citizens,” Korn said. “There’s a vibrant city here — a vibrant scene here. There’s an interest in inviting people here to see it.”

Read 2859 times Last modified on Friday, 25 October 2013 15:14

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