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VOL. 117 | NO. 162 | Thursday, September 11, 2003

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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 event.

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 drafted.

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 government officials.

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 to offer.

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 that.

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 applicants.

We submitted what I thought was a good package, he said. And, they were impressed with how quickly we did it.


PROPERTY SALES 56 295 6,392
MORTGAGES 26 180 4,035
BUILDING PERMITS 128 840 15,361
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