|By Arlinda Smith Broady, Savannah Morning
News, Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 04, 2010--Any surges in the number of tourists in the city can be attributed to many factors: a special time of year such as St. Patrick's Day, arts-related affairs such as the Savannah Film Festival or the Savannah Music Festival, traditional draws such as the Tour of Homes, sporting events such as the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf or just to see the azaleas in bloom.
But chances are some of the largest crowds come for events that aren't open to the general public.
Savannah has emerged as a premiere convention destination thanks mostly to the International Trade and Convention Center.
Check out the Data Central section of Business in Savannah, the weekly business news publication for this area, and you'll see a slew of conventions scheduled for any given week.
From family reunions and weddings to annual association gatherings to sales meetings to product expositions, more and more groups are convening in the Hostess City.
And though the benefits are obvious to the tourism industry, the ripple effects are far-reaching. You'd be hard-pressed to find a local business that doesn't benefit somehow.
"When you get into economic analysis, we generally talk about visitor spending, earnings by tourism employees and tax revenue," said Pat Monahan, assistant Chatham County manager.
A 1995 study of Hutchinson Island showed $8.4 million in development that generated $101,000 in tax revenue. The most recent study done in 2000 showed $48 million in development that generated $1.7 million in tax revenue. Additionally 1,700 jobs were created with visitor spending around $150 million annually.
"But there's a whole other level of data that's hard to pinpoint but reveals the tremendous effect the trade center has on the economy," Monahan added.
A chunk of business
An excellent example is the trade center's largest repeat event, the Georgia Municipal Association's annual summer meeting. The group of government officials has brought thousands of visitors to the Hostess City since the 1950s.
"It rotated for 20 years with Jekyll Island, but in the '80s it outgrew Jekyll, and now we come to Savannah every year," said Janice Eidson, GMA's director of conferences and training. "We've asked attendees if they want to change the location -- the overwhelming response is to leave it in Savannah."
Although it saw a decrease in numbers last year, the association was back on track for 2010. There were about 3,000 attendees and vendors spending nearly $1.5 million, according to estimates from the Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"A big convention like GMA has such a great ripple effect in the community," said CVB President Joseph Marinelli. "With it being a state-wide event, you have people driving in, so gas stations see additional business. Drug stores see business from people filling prescriptions and buying sunblock. Tourists spend money all over town."
Without the big events at the trade center, 1st Choice Staffing would have a lot less business, said manager Teresea Story.
"About 80 percent of our business on the hospitality side comes from the trade center," she said. "And GMA is one of the biggest. We had about 170 people a day working there."
That included 62 cooks, 55 dishwashers and 15 people in operations.
"And they're really good about working with schedules," Story said. "A good 75 percent of our workers don't have cars, so they ride the bus and use the water ferry to get to work."
She said duty at the trade center is considered a plum assignment.
"People are always calling, asking if there's any work at the trade center. They like that they're treated well and paid well."
And many of the temps are hired on full-time.
"It's a great opportunity for these young people, especially the ones with children, to work their way through the industry," Story said.
Al Lang, owner of Baker's Pride Bakery, said he also benefits greatly from tourism business.
"It's a big chunk of our business -- about 5 percent," he said. "We work with a lot of hotels and restaurants, but we can have one order from the trade center for as many as 5,000 donuts or 300 cakes."
And though most attendees don't know where the pastries come from, every now and then someone wanders into his DeRenne Avenue shop because they've been steered there from a convention.
"It's a great addition to the local economy," Lang said. "And the plans to add on will only make it better."
With notable clients such as IBM, AT&T, Gulfstream, Southern Co., General Motors, Yamaha and the Antiques Road Show, Savannah has solidified its position as a national and international convention and meeting destination, Monahan said.
And the plans in the works for another convention-level hotel as well as retail and amusement space on Hutchinson Island can only make that status stronger.
"When more private development comes on line, the total development will be around $600 million with $10.8 million in tax revenue," he said. "The initial project was envisioned to enable the community to compete for 80 percent to 90 percent of all meeting business in the United States. We are well on our way."
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