Lavish welcome awaits corporate chiefs


In Annapolis, the gift bags are stuffed, the brass is polished, the helicopters are cleared for landing and the flowers are gilded.

Bring on the millionaires.

Annapolis is ready for the friendliest of invasions -- the arrival of scores of corporate leaders today for a three-day conference sponsored by Forbes, the business magazine.

"This is just so exciting -- I can't believe I get to do this," said local florist Jan Ferguson, shortly after spray-painting 200 carnation leaves gold for an arrangement that will spell "Forbes" in front of Loews Annapolis Hotel, where the guests will stay.

At Loews, workers scattered in all directions, some of them literally ringing with the sounds of cellular phones, beepers and walkie-talkies.

Tom Negri, the hotel's general manager, wants everything to be just right. No, make that perfect. On his office door, he stuck a large piece of paper with 16 "ACTION ITEMS" for yesterday, ranging from giving the guest list to Annapolis city police to planting new grass in the pet park area. No mention of red carpets, although Action Item No. 10 instructs staff to polish the brass (door handles, that is).

Meanwhile, city government is in spit-shine mode. Street cleaners were assigned to scrub the routes that will be traveled by the corporate leaders. Today, the city is sponsoring a contest to see which business owners can display the biggest, most elaborate spray of flowers.

And organizers have made sure that no guest will swelter in traffic. Once in town, the corporate chiefs will travel in a motorcade of vans with police escorts.

That's not all. Executives who arrive at Dulles, National and Baltimore-Washington International airports will be offered free helicopter rides to the city, landing a few blocks from the hotel at the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.

L Some local folks were a bit stunned by all the preparations.

"Limousines, helicopters, private jets," mused one Annapolis city police officer. "These guys are bigger than presidents."

But Robert W. Hess, director of business development and government relations for Aerospatiale Inc., said the royal treatment makes perfect sense at an event where the guest list ranges from John F. Welch of General Electric and Richard Hazleton of Dow Corning Corp. to Frank V. Cahouet of Mellon Bank and Albert J. Dunlap of Scott Paper Co.

"These guys are making an incredible amount of money per hour, so if you can save them an hour or two, you're doing something really significant," Mr. Hess said.

The French aviation company was among six big businesses that each paid $150,000 to sponsor the conference. More than 40 people are accepting the free lift on three of the corporate helicopters today, including legendary frequent flier, former White House chief of staff and Forbes guest speaker John H. Sununu.

There will be plenty of handouts. Forbes is giving a different gift each night, starting with monogrammed leather cases for each chief executive. Anyone unaccustomed to the swampy summertime air in Annapolis can dip into a bright blue gift bag filled with an atomizer spray, a towel and chilled, bottled water.

Annapolis, Anne Arundel and state officials chipped in to give each participant a box made of cherry wood with an engraving of an Annapolis scene on the lid.

"These CEOs are going to be flooded with gifts," said Mary Burkholder, the Annapolis economic development director.

The guest rooms will be chockablock with freebies. So many, in fact, that Loews Hotel staffers stowed shipping boxes in the closets of each room so that the corporate chiefs can mail their presents home instead of cramming them in their suitcases.

"Everyone is just so excited to have such powerful guests in town," said Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Penny Chandler.

"We're all very proud that they've selected Annapolis."

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