Black meeting planners next for CVB recruiters

June 14, 2009
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Before he introduced Joseph McMillan, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, at a press conference last week, Doug Small noted that having the group meet here in 2014 didn’t just mean another convention for the city. He said the prestigious booking also marked a milestone for the city’s meeting business.

“This is the type of convention that we’re trying to attract,” said Small, president and CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Small told the Business Journal the bureau plans to direct much of its marketing effort in 2010 toward the multicultural market, in the same manner the CVB went after the religious market a year ago.

That pursuit resulted in the Religious Conference Management Association spending four days here in January, a single meeting that could bring more religious conventions to DeVos Place. CVB Executive Vice President George Helmstead said the outcome of having RCMA here could mean an infusion of $15 million to the local economy in the next few years from more meetings involving other religious groups.

And Small hopes the NOBLE convention helps affect the multicultural market like the RCMA meeting has influenced the religious market.

“We felt there were some opportunities in the multicultural market,” he said. “The reason being is this city has a strong base of young African-American professionals that I think are willing to make a commitment to embrace diversity and increase cultural awareness. And we thought there was an advantage to work with them to bring a focus to that market. What better way than to bring conventions in?”

Small said the bureau is putting together a committee that will turn its attention solely to the multicultural market and develop a three-year strategic plan to draw those meetings to the convention center. A portion of that plan will try to create support among local groups for the bureau’s new direction.

To that end, Small said the CVB would become more involved over the next few months with local diversity efforts, like the ongoing effort by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. He said the bureau’s ultimate goal is to host the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners convention.

“We all know about the RCMA for the religious market; this would be its equivalency for the African-American market. It’s an organization that is very strong. We have made overtures toward the hosting of that. They’re open to it,” said Small of the NCBMP.

And Small felt that having landed NOBLE would help to bring NCBMP here.

“I think this victory right here is going to open their eyes today and say that we need to seriously consider Grand Rapids.”

An NCBMP board member was part of the site visit NOBLE made to Grand Rapids in April. Small said he met with her and will invite her here this summer for a personal tour.

“If we can make a commitment to them, I think we can bid and get them here within two years. So my goal is, by 2012, we would host the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners association,” he said.

NOBLE is a national group of high-ranking current and retired law-enforcement officers with 3,000 members. About 2,000 of them will be at DeVos Place in July 2014, along with roughly 100 exhibitors and vendors. The convention means about 5,000 room nights for the local lodging industry and an estimated $3.8 million going into the local economy.

“Grand Rapids will be identified as the place to be in 2014. We’re looking forward to coming to Grand Rapids in 2014,” said McMillan, a special agent who once investigated high-profile white-collar crime.

“This speaks to how forward-thinking Grand Rapids is. You’re so far ahead of the curve,” said Ralph Godbee Jr., president of the Detroit NOBLE chapter, of the cultural diversity the city is working to attain.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk said the department would start the process this summer to create a NOBLE chapter in the city. He said Godbee, a retired assistant chief of the Detroit Police Department, would help GR Deputy Chief James Ferris with that task.

“For us, it is quite an honor for them to come here. It is one of the premiere law enforcement agencies in the world,” said Belk.

Small had lots of praise for lots of groups, like the local Urban League, and individuals, like Britt and DeVos Place Assistant GM Eddie Tadlock, for helping to convince NOBLE to meet here. But he spotlighted the efforts of Joyce Flowers, the CVB’s director of national accounts, for her dogged contribution.

“She took the lead in September of 2008 and she didn’t slow down,” said Small. “We beat Philadelphia, folks, and I feel really good about that.”

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