Allen Wager's Cool Million


Allen Wager's Cool Million

Tom Horan photo

By Tania Anderson

Staff Writer

Virginia Gov. George Allen's pledge to contribute $1 million in state funds to the 1998 World Congress on Information Technology is just the first wave of good news for organizers of the event.

Preliminary results from a study on regional economic benefits of the event found that sponsors can expect a return of five times their investment, said Roger Stough, a researcher at George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis, and co-author of the study.

The study commissioned by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority estimates the four-day event will generate $17.5 million from about 1,500 attendees. But Stough said that he expects actual spending to reach about $50 million.

"This will put us on the map in ways we have never been able to do before," said Stough.

Allen hailed the event as further evidence of the state's rising reputation as a high-tech center.

"The people of Virginia should be proud to be recognized as the Silicon Dominion," Allen told business leaders and reporters Jan. 14 at GMU. "In the area of economic development, this investment will generate a good return."

Stough's study examined how much the 1,500 attendees would spend on hotel rooms, restaurants, recreation, sightseeing, gas and other expenses. But, he said, the event will also generate long-term revenue that is difficult to put a dollar figure on. For example, the convergence of 1,500 technology executives will spawn business deals, which in turn generates business and jobs for the region.

"Short term, the event raises awareness of the region and it attracts people to the area, so I can hire them," said Ed Bersoff, president and chief executive of BTG Inc., Vienna, Va. For the long term, he said, "it gives me the opportunity to forge relationships with international executives."

"The state's investment is another indication that Virginia and Northern Virginia are beginning to take a leadership role into the 21st century," said Mike Daniels, a senior vice president at Science Applications International Corp. in McLean, Va. "This is a major opportunity for all technology business in the Washington area."

Dan Bannister, president and chief executive of DynCorp in Reston, Va., a sponsor of the event, said Virginia's visibility could rival that of Atlanta, host of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

"The state should be making this kind of investment," said BTG's Bersoff. "A significant input was necessary and called for."

Jim Poisant, executive director of the World Congress, went in front of Virginia's finance committee Jan. 13 seeking a contribution of $1 million. The next day, the governor held the press conference announcing the state's donation. According to Poisant, the governor had already been planning to make a donation.

"The major point of the governor's contribution is his recognition of this as a unique event that will draw attention to the resources of Virginia," said Poisant.

The state's donation brings total contributions from sponsors to $3 million, Poisant said. Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology, a state-funded organization in Herndon, Va., that provides businesses with access to the state's intellectual resources, contributed $100,000 last year. The private sector has provided funding as well as in-kind contributions, said Poisant, who is looking for an additional $500,000.

The World Congress in Bilbao, Spain, last June cost $3.5 million, Poisant said. That event attracted 1,500 CEOs from top technology companies worldwide and generated new business contacts for the region, organizers said.

Poisant has been traveling the world for the past four months, marketing the event to potential attendees, speakers and business leaders. Recently, he went to Taiwan and Japan and he plans to visit London, Australia and India.

He is pitching the event to senior-level, high-tech executives, who will pay between $950 and $1,250 per ticket to attend the event. Tickets are distributed on a first come, first served basis and are limited to 1,200 to 1,500 slots.

Striving for a different focus from previous themes of the World Congress, Poisant has attracted speakers from Boeing, Steven Spielberg's Starbright Foundation and most recently the chief technology officer of Eli Lilly & Co., a global research-based pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis.

Stough also found that the 1998 World Congress on Information Technology is having a spin-off effect. An investor conference being planned by the Northern Virginia Roundtable, a direct result of the World Congress taking place in Fairfax County, could generate another $2 million, he said.

Also, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority is planning an event to follow the World Congress that will showcase Virginia's high-tech companies. This event could pour several hundred thousand dollars into the region's economy, Stough said.

Also, numerous regional, national and international articles have been written discussing the upcoming event, publicizing the region as a U.S. technology center to national and international readers.

Bob Laurence, president of Novadyne, Reston, Va., and chairman of World Information Technology Services Alliance, the organization in charge of the World Congress, said some regions have failed in the past to keep up the momentum.

"Organizers of the 1998 World Congress will be working on ways to continue the legacy of the event," said Laurence.

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