All prayers are answered for convention ringleaders

February 2, 2009
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The RCMA-zing convention held at DeVos Place last week got off to a rousing start as the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau warmed up the 2009 Religious Conference Management Association group visiting this freezing city with a carnival that had a ferris wheel and was dotted by a bunch of pink flamingos. “There were a lot of oohs and aahs as they walked into the exhibit hall,” said Jim Watt, SMG assistant general manager, of the close to 1,300 conferees, including 400 visiting religious meeting planners, attending the four-day event.

SMG Regional General Manager Rich MacKeigan said one of those planners told him that the bureau put together a great package for him, which included a room at the JW Marriott, and that he rented a car and then discovered he didn’t need it because of all the restaurants within walking distance of the convention center. “They come in with such low expectations it’s easy to wow them, and they are wowed,” he said.

CAA board member Lew Chamberlin noticed that there was a lot of blue sprinkled throughout the sea of pink flamingos. The blue was the color of the vests that volunteers who assisted the delegates wore. “What is fairly remarkable is the number of volunteers the CVB got together for the convention,” he said.

CVB Executive Vice President George Helmstead figured the RCMA meeting added roughly $1.3 million to the local economy last week. But the meeting’s big payout could happen in coming years when a number of those meeting planners book the city for their organizations’ conferences. Helmstead said that payout could reach $15 million.

In the midst of the convention, CVB president Doug Small took time out from the glad-handing to speak to a gathering of locals lunching across the street from the convention center at the Press Club of Grand Rapids. The relative newbie to the local convention scene said the long-planned RCMA event is an example of “how we can use our great infrastructure” to attract top-notch gatherings, in this case event planners from a segment of the trade — religious organizations — who are a perfect fit for conservative West Michigan.

Small joined his staff and the large cadre of volunteers —  largely from the local college community — to reach out to the attendees from the time they landed at the airport, where they were presented with mittens and other warm-hearted goodies.

“It’s time we start acting like a great city,” Small said, passing along antidotal evidence shared with impressed conference attendees who found great value in what Grand Rapids has to offer. “It’s an example of smart selling. We need to tout our strengths in a much more aggressive manner. Maybe we’ve been too shy. We need to show some swagger.”

Small also recognizes local marketing challenges, including the potential impact of a proposed Wayland casino just down the road. His prior experience in Syracuse, where a glittering new casino opened at his conventionering doorstep, tells him it “will make the pieces of the pie smaller, but it’s not going to attract any new business. There may be a short-term sting,” but nothing serious and long-lasting.

Benefiting in the end

Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio made his annual appearance before the county’s Legislative Committee last week to discuss his department’s performance over the past year and its goals for the current year.

Delabbio got the committee’s attention by announcing that his office “makes widgets.” A few minutes later he qualified his statement by saying the department “makes informational widgets” that are distributed internally to county folks and externally to places like this place.

He also said one of his widget goals is to keep the resolutions that commissioners vote on clear enough so few are tabled at meetings. Well, his widget record speaks for itself as only one resolution of the 226 that made county agendas last year was tabled  — putting his department way up there in the Ivory Snow category of having 99.5 percent get voted on.

Delabbio also said that his customers are the citizens of Kent County, whom he called the “end user.”

And the winner is …

This year’s Ad Club of West Michigan’s Addy Awards drew 518 entries, the organization’s Web site reports. Hanon McKendry filed the most, at 45 entries, and Extra Credit Project entered 32.

 The annual Addy soiree is planned for 6-11 p.m. Feb. 26 at Noto’s on 28th Street SE as the grand finale event of the Second Annual Ad Fair. Winners will be awarded with gold and silver, and guests are requested to be “blinged, iced or tricked out.”

 The Ad Fair, which is designed to showcase local talent, kicks off with a “Media & More” auction and introduction of the West Michigan Advertising & Design Hall of Fame at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at The B.O.B.’s Eve Lounge. At 4:30 p.m. Feb. 24 is the Creative Crawl, when local creative firms throw open the doors for wandering advertising afficianados and college students (find a map at www.theadfair.com). At 7:30 a.m. Wednesday is a seminar in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, at Kent Country Club. Jen Crowley of Highland Group will talk about social networking on the Web.

A matter of preservation

The city of Wyoming has joined the Mayors & Municipalities Automotive Coalition, a newly formed national advocacy organization, in an attempt to preserve the remaining auto industry-related jobs there.

Wyoming is one of several Michigan cities, including Sterling Heights, Dearborn, Warren and Livonia, which have joined MMAC. Mayors and local officials from communities in Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Louisiana have also joined MMAC.

The coalition was organized recently by The Fergusen Group, a Washington, D.C.-based government affairs consulting firm that represents local governments across the country. According to Kelli VandenBerg of the Wyoming city manager's office, Wyoming will pay $7,500 to join the coalition.

Wyoming is already scheduled to lose one of its major employers this year, the 73-year-old General Motors stamping plant on 36th Street, which will mean the loss of about 1,520 jobs by December. However, there are still other manufacturing companies in Wyoming involved in automotive-related production.

"Although we have enjoyed a diverse economic base, many suppliers to the automotive industry have chosen to locate facilities here, and for good reason," said City Manager Curtis Holt. "We remain committed to helping sustain their economic viability, as well as that of the entire city, and look forward to working with MMAC to do so."

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