Promoting economic growth Officials say conference center boosts tourism

The Bridgeport News
Thursday, August 27, 2009
by Diane Davis

The Bridgeport Conference Center is growing, contributing to the economic growth of the North Central West Virginia region, officials indicate.

“There are a lot of ways to measure growth in our business,” said Scott Duarte.  He is general manager for the Bridgeport Conference Center and director of hospitality of Genesis Partners, the development company for Charles Pointe.

“We can count groups or count events.  We have groups come in for a couple of days and have several events.  We have had 200 different groups at the Bridgeport conference center since January,” Duarte said.

“We average 50 to 80 events per month; over 400 so far this year.  Of these, we have a mix of approximately 60 percent business or government to 40 percent social events such as wedding receptions.”

The Bridgeport Conference Center sees a lot of repeat business.

“We try our best to do a good job to keep them happy,” Duarte said.

“We continue doing better guest services and care.  I have had clients tell me that our food was better than normal ‘conference food,’” Duarte said.

The West Virginia Education Department, the West Virginia Library Commission, the State Treasurer’s office, the Division of Corrections, the Department of Education and Arts, Criminal Justice Services, and the supreme Court are among the sate agencies that have utilized the center during the past few months.

“Location plays a part in drawing these agencies,” Duarte said.  “It is not so much being situated centrally between Charleston and Morgantown, as it is being near the location of the center of the population.  … it is a nice meeting place with great access.”

The Bridgeport Conference Center is one of the premier meeting facilities in this part of the state, if not the entire state, according to Tim Brady, director of the Greater Bridgeport Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“To have something like the center that creates a destination for business and convention business drives a good bit of hotel/motel business in Bridgeport,” Brady said.

“But what people forget is that the economic impact from this business goes two or three layers deep.  It spills over into other businesses in the area,” Brady said.

“People don’t just come and spend money on the conference center and motel room.  They also buy gasoline, patronize retail business.  This is new money that comes into the area, is recycled and creates further economic impact.”

There are also people employed as a result of the economic impact of the travel, tourism and conference business, he said.

“When they built the Bridgeport Conference Center, it was the intent of Bridgeport City Council to create a destination point for this section of Harrison County,” said Keith Boggs, finance director for the city of Bridgeport.

“We wanted to put ‘heads in beds.’  There wasn’t much in this area to bring people here as a destination.  We think we have achieved this objective,” Boggs said.

“There is a Wingate by Wyndham and a Microtel by the center.  Construction will begin on a new Holiday Inn Express next week.

“When they put in the hotel and motel tax and increased it, it was to pay off the conference center,” Boggs said.

Bridgeport collected almost $275,000 in hotel and motel taxes for all the motels and hotels in Bridgeport last year.  Fifty percent is used for the Greater Bridgeport Convention and Visitors Bureau.  And a lot of that money is going to pay down the conference center, Boggs said.

The Bridgeport Conference Center is trying to attract new business to its facility.

“There is a lot of room to grow,” Duarte said.  “We are going after it every day.”

One of the new services being offered to conference guests is video conferencing.

“This is growing in our area for international or national business.  Business and government is cutting back on travel, getting meetings done by video conferencing,” Duarte said.

The Bridgeport Conference Center also has the capacity to offer simultaneous wireless Internet service to 275 people, he said.

The Bridgeport Conference Center is limited on space.  It can accommodate only certain size groups. 

“We can accommodate up to 350 people in a room,” Duarte said.

“Perhaps in the future we can increase that.”