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WANT BUCKS TO HEAD THIS WAY? THEN STOP THE LOCAL BASHING OF THE OLD HOMETOWN

When conventions come to Buffalo, money comes with them. Last year $135 million came into the local economy through the convention industry. This isn't just money recycled from one local enterprise to another -- it comes from outside. The Greater Buffalo Convention & Visitors Bureau and the hospitality industry call these dollars "new dollars" -- and indeed they are.

With so many traditional industries gone, Buffalo needs the new dollars -- and needs to attract more of them every year. Getting conventions booked for Buffalo is a job my staff and I are charged with doing. But attracting conventions is a competitive battle. Even in a go-go tourist city, there's work involved. And the image an area's own residents portray for their area can make a big difference.

Convincing a convention group, organization or association to select Greater Buffalo is a lengthy process. Every group that might come here has to be approached differently, with attention to its unique needs. In many instances the CVB has a built-in disadvantage because our 18-year-old Convention Center doesn't offer what newer, state-of-the-art, facilities do elsewhere.

But one very clear advantage we have is the positive impact a local individual can have in influencing a group to choose Buffalo. The CVB knows that tapping into Buffalo's "people asset" can be a big help.

Local people and their contacts help us identify associations or groups that might hold events here. They've helped Buffalo garner a good share of national and state association conventions, military reunions, swimming events and medical meetings. The Buffalonians who help are doing important work to boost the local economy and showcase their community.

A great example was the meeting of the Women's International Bowling Congress here last April to June.

Local Buffalonians representing the Buffalo Women's Bowling Association, along with the CVB and hotel community, spent a long time trying to convince the bowling association to come to Buffalo. After several years and many hours of hard work, we landed it, and it became the largest and longest-running convention and event Buffalo ever held.

The bowling congress brought more than 50,000 people into this community over the months it was here, filling more than 33,000 hotel rooms. When it departed, the group left behind more than $40 million in benefit to our local economy.

That $40 million spread widely throughout the community -- hotels, restaurants, shops, retail outlets, transportation companies, area attractions, all benefited. Employees, too, reaped the benefits, many gaining overtime pay in their paychecks. The net result was more dollars for Buffalonians to spend right here at home.

On the flip side, lack of local support and -- worse -- negative comments can seriously harm the CVB's efforts.

In recent months, two New York State associations' conventions were swayed away from selecting Buffalo because of lack of support by the organizations' local representatives and negative comments about the Greater Buffalo community. The two groups selected alternate New York State cities, causing Greater Buffalo to lose more than $3 million.

All of us have heard the negative talk that Buffalonians sometimes engage in -- self-deprecating comments about the weather, the sports teams, the downtown, the political leaders. But any city's residents can complain -- there are disadvantages everywhere. Why not emphasize the community's high points when a group is considering where to take its dollars?

The convention industry nationwide is a $75 billion annual industry, and that's billion with a "b." Nationwide, the convention industry creates almost 2 million jobs throughout the country and is the 17th largest contributor to the gross national product.

The average convention delegate spending in this community is close to $200 a day. Given that dollar figure, it's easy to see how the hospitality industry can have an incredible positive impact on Greater Buffalo's economic vitality. The more local Buffalonians who assist in bringing conventions and events to our community, the bigger Greater Buffalo's share of that $75 billion will become.

Individuals who create roadblocks and oppose Buffalo's efforts to secure conventions do a real disservice to this community, to you and me and our families.

The Bethlehem Steels of yesterday are not coming back. Conventions and tourism are a key growth industry for this community, generating those "new dollars" the community needs. Buffalo bashing by our own citizens is yet another challenge we could all do without.

RICHARD GEIGER is president/CEO of the Greater Buffalo Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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