Ever since it was announced in February that the Democratic National Convention was coming to Charlotte, the business communities in York and Lancaster counties have wondered: “What is our piece of the convention pie going to be?”
Last week at the “DNC and Me” meeting with members of the host committee business leaders got the answer: a modest piece, about what you would expect when there is a major event in the Queen City.
So hotel rooms will fill -- although we won’t be housing delegates. All of the delegates are staying in North Carolina hotels, even the South Carolina delegation. Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols invited the South Carolina delegation to stay locally but it took its assigned hotel in Charlotte.
Restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations should see a slight increase in business. Even the sale of beer, wine and other spirits will rise. Local merchants report a 10 to 15 percent increase in those sales when the CIAA basketball tournament comes to Charlotte or race fans flock to Concord.
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There were some encouraging words from the host committee. They were impressed that it was an easy drive from Charlotte to Rock Hill -- an advantage local organizers seeking convention business have been touting since March.
The host committee also told organizers how impressed they were with York County’s efforts. Officially, they would not comment on how those efforts compare with other communities, but it seemed clear York County was among, if not the leader, of those organizing to get convention business.
The host committee also talked about the opportunities beyond the host committee and the Democratic National Committee. While those two groups will have the most dollars spend, there are countless of parties -- 1,200 total over four days -- meetings and needs associated with the convention. The projected economic impact of the convention is between $150 and $200 million and some say those are conservative numbers.
To fill their and the DNC needs, the host committee has created a vendors database. The host committee hopes those with other functions will turn to that list to fill their needs.
So far 216 South Carolina vendors have registered at www.convention2012. About half of those registered are from York and Lancaster counties.
Some of the registered companies were at last week’s meeting. As they listened to the host committee talk about opportunities, they realized they would need to go back and redo their registration, adding the sizzle needed to attract interest.
Perhaps the most telling moment of last week’s event was when moderator Manning Kimmel asked if there were any caterers in the room. Four people raised their hands. Kimmel asked if they knew each other. The blank stares and shrugs of shoulders gave the answer, as well as the lesson and the opportunity.
Businesses need to know their competitors, not only to compare prices and services, but to understand how they could collaborate to get jobs.
The host committee said it hopes the business vendor list can continue past the convention, to be used when there are other large event in Charlotte. That’s another reason to sign up.
Could that idea work locally? Could their be a York County vendor’s list, accessible by those in the tourism and hospitality business?
Bennish Brown, the soon-to-depart executive director of the York County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said lists of possible vendors are provided to people holding large events in York County, such as the upcoming national youth soccer tournament or cycling championship at the velodrome.
The convention and visitor’s bureau also provides information to help front-desk clerks at the local hotels.
The idea of a vendor’s list intrigued Brown. It could be a place where hotels could turn to help guest with emergency needs on the weekend. It deserves consideration.
But for now, the task is for businesses to think to creatively in marketing themselves and for others to step up and volunteer. The host committee hopes to have a convention help desk at each hotel where delegate, staff and visitors are staying. The local York County committee hopes do the same thing at other hotels throughout the county. The goal is obvious, promote our businesses.
So maybe the piece of the convention pie doesn’t have to be so modest after all. Stand up and say, like Oliver Twist, “Please, sir, I want some more.”