Virginia Bets on Big World Congress Return
Virginia Gov. George Allen's decision to chip in $1 million for the 1998 World Congress on Information Technology is a boon to the Netplex, as well as residents of the Old Dominion.
Preliminary studies show that organizers of the biennial global event will get a return of five times their investment. Indeed, the four-day event is expected to pluck $17.5 million from its 1,500 attendees, and that's a conservative estimate.
Roger Stough, a researcher at the Center for Analysis at George Mason University - the venue for the June 21-24 event - predicts actual spending will hit around $50 million. Said Stough, "This will put us on the map in ways we have never been able to do before."
Stough's survey on the economic impact of the 1998 World Congress took into account such things as how much the 1,500 attendees would shell out for hotel rooms, restaurants, recreation, sightseeing, gas and other expenses.
But as Stough and Allen know, it's the long-term revenues that are often hard to put a dollar figure on that really count. The gathering of the world's high-tech elite is certain to spur business connections and deals, spelling even more business and jobs for the region.
There has already been a ripple effect. Preparations for the World Congress have showcased the region's pull and served as a magnet for future events.
The Northern Virginia Roundtable is planning an investors conference to coincide with the World Congress that could generate another $2 million.
And the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority is planning a high-tech happening of its own to show off Virginia's cutting-edge companies.
Allen's gesture, which was somewhat surprising because of the tight budget environment, should bolster the growing recognition of the region as a premiere U.S. technology center.
A recent GMU study, touted as the most comprehensive of its kind, officially crowned the region the fastest growing major science and technology center in the country.
Between 1988 and 1992, technology employment in the Washington area grew by more than 36 percent, compared to the Route 128 corridor in Massachusetts, which saw less than 10 percent growth. Employment dipped in the Silicon Valley region by nearly 8 percent, according to the study.
Indeed, the same study found that there were 2,331 technology firms in the region that directly employ 262,337 people - accounting for a whopping $9.3 billion in total earnings.
"The people of Virginia should be proud to be recognized as the Silicon Dominion," Allen told a press gathering last week announcing the state's contribution. "In the area of economic development, this investment will generate a good return."
A good return and possibly a heavy dose of long-overdue recognition.
Such recognition will be fleeting, however, without a solid commitment from the governor to pay more attention to higher education.
Virginia's leadership in university-level education, which is critical to a knowledge-based economy, has been put at risk by the failure of the Virginia governor and the legislature to adequately support higher-level education.
A disturbing fact is that a nationwide survey shows that Virginia ranks near the bottom in university funding.
Industry should also play a stronger role in arguing for greater technology funding, forging more partnerships with academia and raising money for technology-focused university courses.
Sponsors of the World Congress have suggested it could do for Virginia what the 1996 Olympics did for Atlanta. We'll see.
Like Gov. Allen, Virginia business leaders and residents want a good return on their investment, not just in 1998, but over the long term.
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