VOL. 117 | NO. 162 | Thursday, September 11, 2003
County Seeks Major Government Conference
The Daily News
In the end, John Fowlkes Jr. believes all it will take is
one visit, maybe aided by a slab or two of ribs and a filet of catfish.
Fowlkes, chief administrative officer for Shelby County
Mayor A C Wharton, is focused on gaining the attention of officials with the
National Association of Counties, who he hopes will visit Memphis next month.
If all goes as planned, the visit could determine whether
Shelby County is up to the task of hosting the organizations 2008 or 2009
annual conference and exposition.
I think if we can just get them to come and take a look
Sometimes people have misconceptions about Memphis, and I think a visit could
change those, Fowlkes said.
County officials applied last month to host the annual NACo
event. After a visit from representatives in October or early November, a
recommendation will be made in December, said Kim Struble, the organizations
director of conferences and meetings.
Were going through the bids now, she said. Well narrow
it down most likely to two for each year, then make a recommendation.
Green with envy. When Fowlkes returned to Memphis in
July from attending this years conference in Milwaukee, he knew he badly
wanted to bring the event to Shelby County.
We really liked the concept, he said. (County Trustee)
Bob Patterson and I got to talking about it when we got back. I asked
(assistant chief administrative officer Earnest) Gunn to find out about it.
Gunn made the initial contact with NACo about the
application process. But an immediate problem presented itself.
The dates for submitting had passed, he said with a laugh.
I begged for a reprieve. Fortunately, they gave it to us. We got two weeks.
The application deadline was July 31. Memphis extended
deadline was set for Aug. 25, the same day the Shelby County Commission passed
a resolution approving the NACo application.
Forced to hurry. During their two-week application
period, Gunn and Fowlkes scrambled to rally support of local officials. They
sought the involvement of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, as
well as the Memphis Cook Convention Center, which would host the five-day
Despite having such a short time frame to compile a
top-notch application, Gunn feels confident about what was submitted.
I trust the convention bureau in doing this, Gunn said.
They are the ones with the experience in getting things like this together.
The next step is in NACos hands. They might or might not
choose to visit Memphis in October.
If were among the people they consider, they will visit in
October, but they could visit all of the counties, anyway, Gunn said. Were
just waiting on a phone call, like an athlete is waiting to hear if hes been
Local impact. If Shelby County is chosen, Fowlkes
believes it will have a significant impact on the area, for multiple reasons.
NACo, created in 1935 to give county officials across the
country a voice in the nations capital, attracts more than 4,000 people
annually to its conference. That would mean booked hotel rooms and busy
restaurants and attractions for five days, and maybe more.
For many attending, its a summer vacation for their
family, Struble said. Some will come in early or stay late.
And, its also good national publicity.
The event also would benefit both elected and appointed
NACos membership includes more than 2,000 counties,
representing more than 80 percent of the nations population.
The full-service organization provides services including
legislative, research, technical and public affairs assistance to its members.
Headquartered on Capitol Hill, the association works as an advocate for
counties on the national level.
Bringing that type of organization to Memphis has Fowlkes
already visualizing the difference it could make.
Of course there is the short-term (benefit) it will fill
hotel rooms, restaurants will be busy, transportation will be used, Fowlkes
said. But there are long-term benefits. There are coalitions, discussions of
issues and solutions to problems.
Any time you have the opportunity to encounter other
government officials, its a benefit. Thats the biggest.
And of course, we get to showcase ourselves. We have a lot
NACo will not reveal communities that have applied to host
the event, but Struble said eight to 12 typically apply.
If upcoming host cities are any indication, competition will
be steep. Next summers conference will be in Phoenix, and the following year,
Honolulu. Denver will host in 2006 and Richmond, Va., in 2007.
New Orleans hosted the event last year.
This must be a pretty good thing, considering how far in
advance they are planning it, Gunn said. Maybe Im prejudiced, but I think we
have an excellent shot.
Built in the nick of time. That might not have been
the case, though, if not for the new Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, as
well as the growing number of Downtown hotel rooms.
Prior to the Cannon Center, I doubt wed be able to do
this, Fowlkes said. They need a convention center with a large room for the
expo, as well as breakout rooms for meetings. And, 75 percent of the hotel
rooms have to be within a mile. Fortunately, Union Avenue just fell within
Milwaukee hosted just over 3,400 attendees during this
years conference, but Gunn has been told to expect more than 4,000.
With that many people in town, event organizers would have a
wealth of extracurricular activities planned. At this years event, a Habitat
for Humanity house was built for a Milwaukee family. Golf outings, tennis
events and a 5K race are activities that could accompany the event.
Gunn said the county has received no indication, good or
bad, from NACo. But he believes Shelby County has as good a shot as other
We submitted what I thought was a good package, he said.
And, they were impressed with how quickly we did it.