Is More Business En Route Here

November 14, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Business travel isn't just about leaving town, it's also about getting people to come here.

And Mayor John Logie has a feeling that more business people will be doing exactly that in the near future, and that they'll arrive here from a wider geographic area than ever before.

What makes the mayor feel that way?

Try DeVos Place, the new $212 million convention center that opens its exhibit space in two weeks. Then add the Van Andel Institute, the medical research and educational facility that is rapidly gaining a solid reputation not just across the nation, but also around the globe.

Ultimately, Logie feels that the lure of the tradeshow business and the importance of scientific biological explorations will convince airline executives to add Grand Rapids to their routes, especially those flights that originate from the west.

"I was thinking about how do we expand our market?" said the mayor.

"How do we learn from what we are doing? How do we take advantage of technology that is out there today to help us better understand who the customer is?" said the mayor.

"All of those kinds of questions, to me, seemed to be relevant to being successful at what we're doing to market this new facility," added Logie, who chairs the Convention and Arena Authority, the group responsible for DeVos Place.

The mayor's idea, however, is bigger than solely marketing the convention center. It's about selling Grand Rapids as a business destination, whether that business includes some fun found at a tradeshow or the exhilaration that accompanies a medical discovery.

At a recent CAA meeting, Logie — who leaves office Dec. 31 after a 12-year tenure — revealed that he wants the Convention & Visitors Bureau to note the places whence delegates come.

Then he wants the CVB to create a database containing that information and use it to help market the city to the right people.

"If we know who our customers are geographically, then we're in a better position, it seems to me, to advertise to the target," he said, "so we get these people back here again."

The mayor also wants the CVB to collect the data for the airlines.

Because of the city's location between two major hubs, Detroit and Chicago, he knows it's unlikely that Grand Rapids would ever become one of those. And that doesn't bother him, at least not now with the financial problems that most of the airlines are facing.

"But I do think that once our convention facility gains recognition for what it is and where it is, we can and will become a driver of new airline routes," said Logie, "and even new airlines that are not here now wanting to come here.

"We're not doing that all by ourselves," he said.

"In my opinion, the Van Andel Institute in the years ahead is going to have the same kind of impact. I see it as another driver of airport activity."

Logie told CAA board members that he hoped to have more flights landing here from the western United States in the future, and, conversely, more planes taking off from the Gerald R. Ford runways and heading west.

United Airlines, he said, once flew from Grand Rapids to Denver International Airport, and that's a route he hopes gets added here in the future.

"It's not nearly as convenient if you're going to Denver to fly into DIA as it used to be into Stapleton. But nonetheless, it is a much better springboard to almost everywhere west of there: Phoenix, the southwest, California or Seattle," he said.

For the record, 662,436 passengers had arrived at Gerald R. Ford International through August of this year, an increase of 3.3 percent over the first eight months of last year.

Logie told the Business Journal that the city is already in a new place it has never been in before and never thought it could get to a decade ago, as far as the convention business is concerned.

He said DeVos Place, a larger and more modern facility than the Grand Center, has taken the city there and has done so without moving from the same spot on Monroe Avenue.

He said that four-year journey has opened the city's doors to a whole new customer base. No longer is Grand Rapids just a nice place for local conventions and meetings. The city is now a nice place for regional and national groups, whose delegates and exhibitors will come here from more points on a map. And they are already booked to arrive here through 2013.

"That's incredible to me, that the planners have got the next nine years all taken care of," said Logie, "and are already looking at the tenth year out."

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