Knowledge Hubs Add Value to a Destination

Tapping clusters of local expertise offers benefits, including low-cost local speakers and sponsors

Knowledge Hubs opener

There's more to selecting a destination for your meeting, event, or trade show than just rates, dates, and space.

Yes, the city's hotels and event venues have to meet your budget, not be booked on the dates you need, and have the facilities you require. But's that's just the table stakes. To deal your meeting, trade show, or conference a winning hand you need a destination that entices potential attendees and adds value to your offerings.

Particularly when it comes to conferences and conventions, one of the most effective ways to choose a destination that will add value to your event is to look for a knowledge hub -- a cluster of academics, researchers, and businesses in your event's field that a smart planner can leverage in various ways, such as finding good speakers who are local and thus cost-effective; having universities or corporate facilities that are willing and even eager to take attendees off-site for a tour; and of course offering a pool of potential local attendees or sponsors.

Some are obvious: Silicon Valley for tech, New York and London for finance, Detroit and Stuttgart (home of Daimler and Porsche) for automotive. But many can be found in second- and third-tier cities, and it's not always immediately obvious to the planner where knowledge hubs are located.

Knoxville, TN, for example, can claim deep knowledge and manufacturing experience in the carbon fiber and 3D printing fields, thanks to nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the country's largest and most important science research facilities, which has its roots in the Second World War's Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. That knowledge hub helped the Knoxville Convention Center attract CompositesWorld's Carbon Fiber 2015 show in December. Attendees toured the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, and saw a 3D-printed car made there roll onto the show floor.

Finding those hubs is exactly why a planner should use the local convention bureau's resources, says Aileen Crawford, head of conventions at the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau. "A planner can go to the city's conventions team, explain how they see the conference working, what is their vision, what do they want to achieve," she says. "The convention bureau is that partner to be able to leverage the local community."


Knowledge Beats Size
When the organizers of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers' (IEEE) Vehicular Technology Conference (VTC) were looking for a 2015 spring conference host city, Beijing was the odds-on favorite.

 

"The conference had never been to China, lots of [scholarly] papers are sent in from China, and there was lots of interest in that," says Dr. James Irvine, a Reader [professor] at the Institute of Sensors, Signals, and Communications, Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, and a former Vehicular Technology Society (VTS) president.

Irvine is also part of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau's (GCMB) Conference Ambassador program, which offers coaching, bid assistance, and a great deal of back-end support to local luminaries who might be able to help bring an association or meeting in their field to the city. It was through this role that he eventually became general co-chair of the IEEE VTC2015-Spring conference in Glasgow.

The VTS, Irvine explains, is a special interest group of the IEEE focused on the use of wireless and mobile technology in all types of vehicles, a field in which the universities and corporations in and around Glasgow -- and indeed throughout Scotland -- have more than a little expertise. The VTS Fall conference alternates between Canada and U.S., while the Spring conference jumps from Asia to Europe and back. In all, the IEEE runs about 1,650 events, including conferences and trade shows, annually, Irvine added.

While the Ambassadors program is obviously good for Glasgow, it is of just as much benefit to show organizers by helping them find the local expertise that suits their needs, says Crawford.

"The conference will be excited to have a local person because it helps them on the ground," she says. "They know that there is a community and a group that will attend the conference, which helps with delegate numbers. They know there is an industry base that will open up new networks of exhibitors or sponsorship for them -- people and companies that wouldn't necessarily go to the conference or financially support the conference if it was elsewhere."

That is what Irvine did. "I know my colleagues in Scotland and the companies that are important," he says. "I can say NXP Semiconductors has a center of automotive electronics research [and chip manufacturing], and is based 20 miles outside of Glasgow."

While NXP (then Freescale) is a huge, global company with $6.1 billion in revenues in 2015, its growing automotive division didn't have great name recognition in the particular area the VTC specializes in, Irvine notes. "I could go and talk to them," Irvine says. "So they sponsored us. The sponsorship was really important, because the society had this effort to drive down conference fees."

The firm provided a keynote speaker, exhibited, and encouraged staff to work on various committees. "Once you have local companies, they can talk to their customers, to their suppliers, encourage them to get involved in the conference. A lot of smaller companies came along to the conference, some exhibited at the conference. It provided networking opportunities, and opportunities for local companies to show off their wares."

 

Dr. James Irvine,
Vehicular Technology Society Conference
Dr. James Irvine, Vehicular Technology Society Conference

That type of local involvement is expected by VTS, which generally draws about 10 percent of its speakers from the host destination, Irvine adds. His own university was also a sponsor, and its new Technology & Innovation Centre was the conference venue.

Of course, local involvement beyond the knowledge hub is also key. "The GCMB produced a really strong package, then provided backup to show that the city was behind it," Irvine says, pointing to a city-funded reception thrown for attendees at the historic Glasgow City Chambers, as well as welcome banners in the airport and city center. "That really helped," he adds. "Glasgow won against Beijing because it had the enthusiasm from the city, from the community -- not just the City Marketing Bureau, but the community."


Planned Knowledge Hubs
Many, if not most, knowledge hubs bloom naturally over years and decades, if not centuries. New York was well on its way to becoming a center of advertising when J. Walter Thompson opened his agency in 1879, and Detroit's auto industry was established in part because Henry Ford lived in Michigan.

But in the last few decades, state and even local governments have worked to deliberately establish knowledge hubs for the long-term economic benefits they bring. Among the most successful and best-known of these is North Carolina's high-tech Research Triangle in the Raleigh-Durham area, but there are plenty of smaller ones ranging from Albany, NY's nanotech research center to the burgeoning drone hub in Nevada's Reno area.

While Orlando is one of the top convention cities in America, and has long pursued medical and life sciences conferences, the establishment of the Medical City in nearby Lake Nona is adding a new knowledge hub that planners are taking advantage of, says Fred Shea, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Visit Orlando, the destination's tourism authority.

 


"This is an emerging medical market," says Shea. "A lot of places have medical communities, but ours is so unique. It was built from the ground up, has tremendous new research hospitals, a brand-new VA hospital that is doing incredible things, and a medical school. But it's about more than just hospitals, it's about research -- the Medical City is a center for simulation [in medical education], for robotics. The research that is going on here, that is unique."

The Medical City is becoming the core of Orlando's Medical knowledge hub, but like other planned hubs -- such as North Carolina's, which grew out of the Research Triangle Park -- there are other facilities involved. The University of Florida's Nicholson Center for Surgical Advancement, some 20 minutes away in Celebration, FL, is an example. It specializes in simulation technology and techniques for training and education.

The U.S. Veterans Health Administration's new Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona is the home of its Simulation Learning, Education, and Research Network (SimLEARN) National Simulation Center.

One association group attracted by this knowledge hub is the Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSH), which is bringing its 2017 International Meeting for Simulation in Healthcare (IMSH) to Orlando in late January. IMSH attendees, who in past years have seen presentations from the Nicholson Center, will now be able to visit it and see its new da Vinci surgical robots in action.

Just because a medical group is considering Orlando doesn't mean it will necessarily want to send people out to Lake Nona. The question is, according to Shea, "Are there facilities here that might encourage and develop more attendees to come in because they are not only going to have an opportunity to attend the meeting, but do something that's unique?"

Attendees can walk and talk with their peers, meet people they might not have been able to work with at any conference, he says. "And that's all great, but they will remember that one experience they had when a group of 25 doctors went to the Nicholson Center and saw something that was actually unique and that they could be hands on [with]."

He adds, "It's like kids going to Disney World. These are doctors, but they're the same as everybody else -- everybody really likes that life experience, that hands-on experience. People remember the unexpected. It enhances their experience at the meeting."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the September 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.

Digging Deep
Of course, knowledge hubs come in many different forms. The mathematical expertise available in Seattle's universities was a factor in the decision by the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America to hold the 2016 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Seattle.

"It is important that we choose cities that have connections to universities, that have strong local universities," notes Penny Pina, CMP, director of meetings and conferences for the American Mathematical Society. "History has shown that our attendance is higher."

There are also more local sources of support for the convention, she adds, pointing to the many local universities, among them the University of Washington, whose graduate mathematics program is ranked in the top 25 by U.S. News and World Reports.

But the organizers weren't looking only at the institutions of higher education. One annual activity at the Joint Mathematics Meetings -- which the organizations call the largest mathematics meeting in the world -- is a game show-style event, called "Who Wants to be a Mathematician," for 10 high school students selected by their performance on multiple choice math tests, Pina says. "They compete for cash prizes up to $5,000 for the student and $5,000 for his or her school," she says. "We take advantage of whatever is within the community, and our people reach out to them."

 


That said, all the usual reasons beyond rates, dates, and space for choosing a city apply to the Joint Mathematics Meetings' planning, Pina adds. "The convention and visitors bureau, Visit Seattle, is just remarkable," she says. "They work with you from beginning to end, from the time you choose the city until the time you get there, they have so many resources. We used off-site venues for dinners and receptions, and local restaurants -- there's nothing like the restaurants in Seattle. If you talk about the tourist stuff, the sightseeing, Seattle is off the charts. You can't get bored in Seattle. Our attendees were all over the city in the evenings."

Finding a Knowledge Hub
It's not always immediately obvious to the planner where knowledge hubs are located. Beyond leaning on an association's elected board, here are some tips for finding a knowledge hub in your group's field.


1) Start at the University
According to Dr. James Irvine, a Reader in Electronic and Electrical Engineering at University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, as well as a participant in the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau's Conference Ambassador program, "universities are really key players" in finding a knowledge hub.

"The universities themselves are at the center of these hubs, because universities know the local businesses," he says. Aside from a school's own experts, "they have to have good links with the local businesses to get their graduates employed, so that's something they're working with anyway. So once you tie into the universities and the people in the universities, you get the university's experience."


2) Don't forget the CVB
When you're looking for some special factor that will set one location under consideration above the others, "that's exactly when an international planner should use their convention bureau," says Aileen Crawford, head of conventions at the GCMB. For one thing, she says, convention bureaus like hers have links to local economic development agencies, a good source for finding less obvious knowledge hubs.

"A planner can go to the city's conventions team, explain how they see the conference working, what is their vision, what do they want to achieve," she adds. "The convention bureau is that partner to be able to leverage the local community."


Digging Deep
Of course, knowledge hubs come in many different forms. The mathematical expertise available in Seattle's universities was a factor in the decision by the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America to hold the 2016 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Seattle.

"It is important that we choose cities that have connections to universities, that have strong local universities," notes Penny Pina, CMP, director of meetings and conferences for the American Mathematical Society. "History has shown that our attendance is higher."

There are also more local sources of support for the convention, she adds, pointing to the many local universities, among them the University of Washington, whose graduate mathematics program is ranked in the top 25 by U.S. News and World Reports.

But the organizers weren't looking only at the institutions of higher education. One annual activity at the Joint Mathematics Meetings -- which the organizations call the largest mathematics meeting in the world -- is a game show-style event, called "Who Wants to be a Mathematician," for 10 high school students selected by their performance on multiple choice math tests, Pina says. "They compete for cash prizes up to $5,000 for the student and $5,000 for his or her school," she says. "We take advantage of whatever is within the community, and our people reach out to them."

 

sunflowers
Seattle boasts knowledge hubs for tech and mathematics -- and plenty of other attractions


That said, all the usual reasons beyond rates, dates, and space for choosing a city apply to the Joint Mathematics Meetings' planning, Pina adds. "The convention and visitors bureau, Visit Seattle, is just remarkable," she says. "They work with you from beginning to end, from the time you choose the city until the time you get there, they have so many resources. We used off-site venues for dinners and receptions, and local restaurants -- there's nothing like the restaurants in Seattle. If you talk about the tourist stuff, the sightseeing, Seattle is off the charts. You can't get bored in Seattle. Our attendees were all over the city in the evenings."
Planned Knowledge Hubs
Many, if not most, knowledge hubs bloom naturally over years and decades, if not centuries. New York was well on its way to becoming a center of advertising when J. Walter Thompson opened his agency in 1879, and Detroit's auto industry was established in part because Henry Ford lived in Michigan.

But in the last few decades, state and even local governments have worked to deliberately establish knowledge hubs for the long-term economic benefits they bring. Among the most successful and best-known of these is North Carolina's high-tech Research Triangle in the Raleigh-Durham area, but there are plenty of smaller ones ranging from Albany, NY's nanotech research center to the burgeoning drone hub in Nevada's Reno area.

While Orlando is one of the top convention cities in America, and has long pursued medical and life sciences conferences, the establishment of the Medical City in nearby Lake Nona is adding a new knowledge hub that planners are taking advantage of, says Fred Shea, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Visit Orlando, the destination's tourism authority.

 

Freescale (now NXP), with a major research
facility nearby, sponsored the VTC conference
Freescale (now NXP), with a major research facility nearby, sponsored the VTC conference


"This is an emerging medical market," says Shea. "A lot of places have medical communities, but ours is so unique. It was built from the ground up, has tremendous new research hospitals, a brand-new VA hospital that is doing incredible things, and a medical school. But it's about more than just hospitals, it's about research -- the Medical City is a center for simulation [in medical education], for robotics. The research that is going on here, that is unique."

The Medical City is becoming the core of Orlando's Medical knowledge hub, but like other planned hubs -- such as North Carolina's, which grew out of the Research Triangle Park -- there are other facilities involved. The University of Florida's Nicholson Center for Surgical Advancement, some 20 minutes away in Celebration, FL, is an example. It specializes in simulation technology and techniques for training and education.

The U.S. Veterans Health Administration's new Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona is the home of its Simulation Learning, Education, and Research Network (SimLEARN) National Simulation Center.

One association group attracted by this knowledge hub is the Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSH), which is bringing its 2017 International Meeting for Simulation in Healthcare (IMSH) to Orlando in late January. IMSH attendees, who in past years have seen presentations from the Nicholson Center, will now be able to visit it and see its new da Vinci surgical robots in action.

Just because a medical group is considering Orlando doesn't mean it will necessarily want to send people out to Lake Nona. The question is, according to Shea, "Are there facilities here that might encourage and develop more attendees to come in because they are not only going to have an opportunity to attend the meeting, but do something that's unique?"

Attendees can walk and talk with their peers, meet people they might not have been able to work with at any conference, he says. "And that's all great, but they will remember that one experience they had when a group of 25 doctors went to the Nicholson Center and saw something that was actually unique and that they could be hands on [with]."

He adds, "It's like kids going to Disney World. These are doctors, but they're the same as everybody else -- everybody really likes that life experience, that hands-on experience. People remember the unexpected. It enhances their experience at the meeting."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the September 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.