Stage is set, area is star Meeting of powerful real estate executives comes to Baltimore; 1,700 visitors expected; Gathering is chance to showcase region as good place for business


When Baltimore plays host to the world's most powerful real estate executives this week, the goal will be to translate that visit into 20 deals, 2,000 new jobs and $150 million in capital investment within three years for the state of Maryland.

The idea is that while showing a good time to 1,700 members of the International Development Research Council -- a professional association of corporate real estate executives -- the message that Baltimore and Maryland are good places to do business will stick.

"We expect to feel the repercussions of this Super Bowl of corporate real estate for five to 10 years," said Darlene Frank, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. "There are people from foreign countries who may never have been to Baltimore before; it wasn't even in their consciousness. Hopefully they'll think of Baltimore as they're looking for expansion or site location opportunities."

Nearly $1 million is being spent to promote the 75th annual IDRC World Congress to be held at the Baltimore Convention Center -- about a third of it from the city and state and two-thirds from the private sector. About 75 organizations from across Maryland have played a role in making the event happen. The state bid to bring the group here back in 1991.

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association predicts an economic impact of more than $4 million based on attendance by 1,700 guests for three to 3 1/2 days. That calculation assumes spending of $1,200 per person during their stay.

As an example, Carroll R. Armstrong, president of BACVA, said those attending the San Diego IDRC conference last fall spent more than $800,000 in food and beverage bills alone at the headquarters hotel.

Beyond the immediate impact, there are significant long-term aspirations.

"The ultimate goal is to put us on the map, put us in their thinking," Armstrong said. "Our goal is to stay there until the final decision and hopefully win it."

Such gatherings show off the attributes of an area, but also offer communities the chance to show how local and state government and the private sector can work together, he said.

"Not only is it a nice place, but there's a camaraderie there, there's a spirit, and that's what corporations are looking for," Armstrong said. "You can't buy that."

Richard Kadzis, director of marketing and membership for IDRC in Atlanta, says the networking value of the conference is well established.

"That group comes in to network," he said. "There's plenty of deal-making going on behind the scenes."

Business goals

These days, its members are not so much interested in tax breaks and land giveaways as they are in an available and trainable work force and a favorable attitude toward business development from state and local government, Kadzis said.

"I would rate Baltimore very highly for recognizing the value of this audience and the potential return on investment," Kadzis said.

For the past four years, Maryland economic development officials have tracked the number of prospects that are converted to businesses after they attend an IDRC conference. Out of about 100 prospects, about eight become live prospects and then three become actual investments, according to Jim Fielder, Maryland's acting economic development secretary.

Fielder says he expects the numbers to be comparable when Baltimore plays host to the event, but there will be significant advantages.

"You'll be able to show them actual sites, put them in touch immediately with CEOs to tell them about the quality of life," he said. "Typically, when you buy a car, you don't do it over the phone. You go see it."

The IDRC Congress officially begins tomorrow with a gala to be held in tents outside the Maryland Science Center -- although many conference-goers will have arrived earlier to take in activities ranging from a VIP dinner at the Walters Art Gallery on Friday and viewing of the Monets, to golf and boating trips.

The stated purpose of the IDRC gathering is educational, featuring programs on strategic planning, site selection and location analysis.

The average IDRC member company has 42,000 employees, assets of $6.1 billion and annual sales of $6.8 billion, according to IDRC statistics.

Tourism to business

"It's a great opportunity for us to get in front of people who really count in terms of corporate locations and to let them know about the business attributes our region has to offer," said Ioanna Morfessis, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Alliance. "We have an extremely positive image as a tourist destination, but our business image is not projected as well."

Shifting the focus from a tourism to a business image worked for San Diego, which played host to the IDRC for the first time last fall, according to San Diego officials.

"I think a lot of people viewed San Diego as a sleepy tourist town next to Tijuana and didn't realize that it's the sixth largest city in the United States," said Mike Jenkins, community development coordinator for the city of San Diego. "We were able to get out the message about San Diego as a high-tech business location that has led to recent negotiations and discussions with several high-tech firms. We feel there are going to be some results."

Jenkins declined to provide details, citing the preliminary and competitive nature of these projects, but he said the city is talking with several Fortune 500 companies in the wake of the recent IDRC meeting. He said he expects at least one deal to come through within the year.

Making it memorable

It will be up to Maryland's economic development experts to make sure that when the IDRC members leave the state, they don't forget their visit and the attributes of the area, said Kendl Philbrick, executive vice president of LMC Properties Inc., a past president of IDRC, who is overseeing some conference activities.

"The state has the best opportunity it's had in a long time to influence either the decision-makers or the people who can affect the CEOs' decision on where to locate business in the future," Philbrick said. "We have these guys in captivity for three days."

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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