OTTUMWA — You could forgive Sharon Stroh for being a bit excited about the announcement this week that Professional Developers of Iowa will have its fall 2020 conference in Ottumwa. It’s not every day you have your home city hosting your own professional conference.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” Stroh said.
The original plan between Stroh, director of the Ottumwa Area Development Corp., and Andy Wartenburg, the Convention and Visitors Bureau director, was to aim for the 2021 conference. Stroh said they figured that, with a little luck, the hotel at Bridge View Center would be up and running by that point.
But, when PDI officials asked about 2020, Stroh said they didn’t hesitate to accept. The spring conference is always in Des Moines, but the fall one moves from one community to another. More than 150 people participate each fall.
For Wartenberg, multi-day conferences are ideal. A one-day meeting brings people in. They see a bit of the community, maybe eat a meal or put gas in their cars before heading home. But when they stay a night or two the effect on the community is multiplied.
“We wear a lot of hats. This is our most important function,” Wartenburg said of the CVB. “There are a couple effects. These 150 folks are going to need hotel rooms for two nights. We also suggested that there be some activities and events off of Bridge View Center. We wanted to showcase some of the economic development efforts we have here.”
The conference goal is to give people at all levels of experience the chance to meet and get up-to-date information on what works for communities. It has visited southeast Iowa before, most recently at Honey Creek Resort in 2014.
“The fall conference varies across the state. They wanted to know what amenities we have, where the conference sessions could be held, how close the hotels are,” Stroh said. “Obviously everything is very accessible.”
There’s no guarantee that landing this conference would lead to a return, but Wartenberg said events like this play to another CVB goal: developing informal advocates for Ottumwa. If a room full of economic development professionals like what’s happening in Ottumwa, they’re going to talk about that with others in the profession. That helps build the city’s reputation.
It’s also why Wartenberg said recruiting conferences is a major goal.
“We are working hard to get other conferences coming here,” he said.