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June 29, 2017

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Building a tech hub: Why conventions mean more to Las Vegas than just a tourist draw

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L.E. Baskow

The nation’s first completely autonomous, fully electric shuttle was deployed in the Innovation District in downtown Las Vegas on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017.

Las Vegas, one of the top convention destinations in the world, has been cited as the best example of how a city has used those meetings to make itself a technology-innovation hub.

A study, Defining Conventions as Urban Innovation and Economic Accelerators, found that medical- and technology-based conventions and meetings are changing Las Vegas’ image. The Meetings Mean Business Coalition, a program created by the U.S. Travel Association, commissioned Skift to carry out the study.

The study looked at the long-term impacts of face-to-face meetings and conventions on various cities and how the cities used them to push economic development by drawing outside corporate investment and talent.

“Las Vegas was a shining star in this area and really a leader among giants when it comes to that,” said Meetings Mean Business co-chairman Richard Harper said.

According to the report, Las Vegas was among the leaders because of the impacts of the annual Consumer Electronics Show and other tech gatherings. The impact of the nascent UNLV School of Medicine was also addressed.

“This report showed that the meetings industry is evolving into a global innovation distribution channel,” Harper said. “State and local governments are getting behind it, they’re seeing the benefits of the interaction of the attendees when they come to town. It’s drawing business, it’s drawing residents, it’s drawing intellectual capital.”

Most just see conventions and meetings as multiday events that draw people who spend money in casinos, restaurants and shops. But Harper said that Las Vegas knows that conventions are more than that.

“They are realizing the extended benefits of drafting up the talent from the meetings that take place, luring business from outside Nevada to relocate,” he said. “Sometimes those conversations are born from conventions that are held in town.”

After the economic downturn of 2008, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the city of Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance looked to diversify tourism to be able to handle market disruptions. The entities brought in universities, private business and other organizations to talk about boosting the tech and medical sectors in Las Vegas.

Among the events that industry leaders envisioned when spearheading the tech push: Navya testing its self-driving shuttle in downtown Las Vegas; Audi testing its vehicle-to infrastructure technology in the Las Vegas Innovation District; and the valley hosting tech events by large companies such as HP Inc. and Amazon.

“When you look at things like the Audi test, they could have done that anywhere, but they chose Las Vegas,” said Cathy Tull, senior vice president of marketing for the LVCVA. “They understand how we work together. They see things are linked here. It’s another opportunity to expose business leaders who are here during conferences to what the Las Vegas environment has to offer.”

The report also found that UNLV School of Medicine, scheduled to host its first classes in July on Charleston Boulevard, is projected to have a $1.2 billion impact by 2030, citing a 2013 report by the consulting firm Tripp Umbach.

The long-term impacts of both the Innovation District and the medical school are what leaders want to get out of conventions in addition to the short-term economic impacts of the events themselves.

“We need to continue to align ourselves with economic development and really explain the benefits to local politicians, by showing that not only is there economic impact in regards to bringing more conventions to Las Vegas, there’s economic impact that trickles throughout the community here,” Tull said.

Additionally, smaller meetings that spawn from the larger ones can lead to major breakthroughs in various sectors.

“There could be a 10-room meeting in Las Vegas that could change the world forever,” Harper said. “They could be a group of scientists, a group of doctors, a group of entrepreneurs that are meeting face-to-face about ideas that could change the world.”

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