CVB lures NOBLE event to core of Grand Rapids

June 7, 2009
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Vice President George Helmstead said if his agency happened to book this convention, it would mark a prestigious entry for the bureau and the city into the multicultural market.

Well, bureau, welcome to the multicultural meetings market.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officials informed the CVB last week that it will hold its annual meeting at DeVos Place in July 2014. The NOBLE board of directors selected Grand Rapids over Philadelphia for the symposium. Executives from NOBLE will come here to make the announcement official.

“I’m ecstatic. This is probably the proudest moment of my career. This is a group that we as an organization made a commitment, along with SMG, to really start to position this destination to attract more multicultural convention groups. It will be a big part of our 2010 marketing plan,” said Doug Small, bureau president.

“This is really the first of what I would consider to be a high-profile African-American convention group that we aggressively pursued on the national level and, fortunately, have been successful,” he added.

NOBLE is a national organization of current and retired high-ranking African-American law enforcement officials. The group has 47 chapters in six regions across the nation, and one region that represents Caribbean countries. NOBLE offers training in many aspects of policing, safety programs for communities, and professional development for its members.

The organization was started in 1976 and has its headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Michigan is in Region IV of NOBLE, which sent representatives here for a three-day site visit in April.

“In the short time we have been trying to bring our conference here, we have met with any and every official: state, local and business. They have made themselves personally available, and a lot of times that doesn’t happen,” said Ernest McCowen Jr., Region IV vice president.

“So Grand Rapids should be proud of their officials and their willingness to bring this conference here,” he added.

NOBLE delegates will spend about 10 hours of every day here working on their training and safety programs, followed by networking and socializing.

But the NOBLE convention has a feature event that is unlike any other organization that has met here. On the final day of the meeting, delegates will march through the streets of a Grand Rapids neighborhood in a memorial parade to honor fellow law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty.

“We’re talking about executives from all over the country, in their full uniform, marching in a parade. Just the interaction with young people (makes it worthwhile); they take pictures and ask a lot of questions about law enforcement,” said Ralph Godbee Jr., president and CEO of the Michigan NOBLE chapter, owner of Godbee Consulting Services LLC, and a retired assistant police chief for the city of Detroit. 

“They’re used to seeing us sometimes in an adversarial position. To see us in very peaceful and engaging regalia is a very impressive and impacting mark for NOBLE to leave on a community,” added Godbee.

A memorial service at a local church will follow the parade; a keynote speaker will address the assembly.

The CVB has estimated the NOBLE meeting will bring about 2,000 delegates to the city, reserve 5,000 room nights at hotels and spend roughly $3.8 million over the four-day stay. Godbee told the Business Journal that the city made him and other members feel welcome throughout their stay here.

“One thing that we appreciated from all levels of the city of Grand Rapids, whether it be civic, philanthropic or the Convention and Visitors Bureau, is the fact that they have made it known to us that they wanted us here,” said Godbee.

“And as a group, that is a very, very positive message to receive when considering the site for a major conference, because we literally infuse millions of dollars into that local economy when we go to our conferences. There is a great economic impact that we plan on leaving in the city.”

But as Godbee emphasized, the NOBLE meeting is about much more than leaving a trail of economic gain for the city. More importantly, he felt the convention would help further develop the city’s cultural future in the coming decade.

“Growth brings about diversity. And to appreciate it on the front end and embrace it on the front end, and to welcome a group like NOBLE and engage a group like NOBLE on the front end really speaks to the dynamic growth of Grand Rapids and to some very insightful leaders who understand that cultural diversity is going to be a major part of the growth of Grand Rapids,” he said.

“Grand Rapids is a great, great little secret,” he added. “But the secret is starting to get out.”

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