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Downtown Phoenix transformed into a mature, first-tier U.S. convention destination during the last decade thanks to more than $5 billion invested in new infrastructure serving both business and leisure travelers. That evolution has helped Phoenix consistently rank among the top 10 cities in Cvent’s annual Top 50 U.S. Meeting Destinations survey.
Most importantly, the growth of the urban core has been highly strategic to ensure easy mobility and connectivity for visitors and locals.
The Phoenix Convention Center, Phoenix Biomedical Campus and the Warehouse District tech-industry scene are all located in close proximity to the varied hotel inventory, cultural venues, and restaurants and nightlife throughout Downtown Phoenix. For convention delegates, everything is accessible within close walking distance, or via a short hop on the modern Valley Metro Rail system.
Furthermore, the tech and medical industries in the urban core have grown exponentially as well, providing convention planners in advanced industries with a wide range of potential collaborators.
For planners working in tech-related industries, the number of startup companies in Downtown Phoenix has almost quadrupled since 2012, jumping from 67 to more than 280 today. Most of those are located in the fast-growing Warehouse District, which provides a wealth of new expertise in high-growth industries that tech conference planners can plug into their event programming.
For medical industry planners, the University of Arizona is continually expanding its footprint in the 30-acre Phoenix Biomedical Campus, located just blocks from the convention center. In February, the Phoenix City Council approved funding to build an “InnoVention” accelerator at the school to help companies and medical researchers commercialize breakthroughs in healthcare more effectively.
With that infrastructure and knowledge base in place, the public and private sectors are now focusing on positioning Downtown Phoenix as a business development incubator for visiting convention groups. In other words, Phoenix is promoting its local industry and entrepreneurial brainpower as much as its buildings.
Today, the City of Phoenix, Visit Phoenix and Downtown Phoenix Inc. are collaborating more intentionally with organizations in the Biomedical Campus and Warehouse District to connect the dots across the region’s diverse innovation economy. The overarching goal is to provide convention decision-makers more targeted access to networks of local technology and healthcare sector leaders.
“There’s a lot of cross-pollination in Downtown Phoenix where we’re finding those commonalities across our innovation ecosystem,” says Lorne Edwards VP of Sales & Services at Visit Phoenix. “We’re weaving everything that’s driving our local economy into a convention delegate experience to provide greater connectivity with our industry sectors in the city.”
For example, Visit Phoenix co-hosted a CyberMed Summit with Association Forum in March focusing on the digitization of healthcare, combining leading innovations in tech and medicine to improve patient outcomes. The organizations brought in CEOs and directors from various healthcare trade organizations around the country, such as the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, to experience all Downtown Phoenix has to offer.
“We’re creating an opportunity to showcase the local innovation taking place here that’s important to these CEOs, as well as their stakeholder organizations,” explains Edwards. “We have a strong incubation economy today. It’s a great ecosystem with our Biomedical Campus, a rich startup environment, and a lot of entrepreneurial expertise. That’s one of the key reasons why American Telemedicine is coming in 2019 with 6,000 attendees, because we have the country’s largest telemedicine facility in Downtown Phoenix.”
Redefining The Convention Center Campus
The close proximity of the Phoenix Convention Center and Biomedical Campus provides medical conference planners with a wide range of learning and networking environments. For example, the 33,000-square-foot Center for Simulation & Innovation at the University of Arizona College of Medicine is one of the largest simulation facilities housed within a U.S. university.
“We’ve always been across the street from each other, but in just the last six months we’ve been much more intentional in how we’re partnering with Visit Phoenix and the convention center,” says Allison Otu, Senior Director, Marketing & Communications at University of Arizona Health Sciences.
“As a relatively new school that’s only 11 years old, we’ve passed that decade mark and we’re really ready to expand beyond a regional presence and start sharing what we’re doing on a national scale. So partnering more closely with Visit Phoenix aligns perfectly with our strategic goals because they’re bringing physicians around the country to us.”
Conference planners benefit because they have access to a modern venue designed around the latest trends for advanced learning spaces. The open interior design, flexible research facilities, and recycled copper cladding have won international recognition for innovation in academic architectural design.
Planners also have access to 890 medical faculty on staff for speakers and continuing education programming.
“We have renowned faculty members who lecture and present on very specific health-related topics around the world,” says Otu. “If you need an expert in stroke therapy and rehabilitation, or cancer drug therapies being developed right here in our clinical trials, those experts are all here in one place.”
Visit Phoenix, therefore, is creating more direct pathways to those experts who present a strong value proposition for hosting medical meetings and conventions in the city.
As such, the organization is having more elevated conversations with planners and decision-makers about healthcare industry innovation during the early stages of the destination sourcing process. Discussions now revolve around content strategy, research development, knowledge sharing, desired business outcomes, and how Phoenix is an accelerator for knowledge and business development.
“We’re trying to get to the root of the hot topics that are driving their audience, their exhibitors, their constituents,” explains Edwards. “We’re asking them questions they really haven’t been asked before, and their C-suite folks are very receptive to the idea of our integrated local assets, experts, and resources to inform programming and course content.”
With that insight, Visit Phoenix can then reach out to the local innovation economy to introduce the right thought leaders to planners and C-suite executives during the convention sales and development stages. It’s a systemic change in how a destination sales and marketing organization can enrich the convention experience and drive higher business returns for meetings.
“We’re introducing our folks in core industries much earlier to meeting planners and their related stakeholders when they’re coming in for pre-planning visits,” Edwards says. “More often now trade association executives are looking to the destination as a go-to resource for insight on local knowledge-based industries and the expertise they can bring to a convention program. So that’s something we’re exploring on a much higher plane.”
Community Drives Innovation
Downtown Phoenix Inc. is a community development group that coordinates activities between the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, Phoenix Community Alliance and the Downtown Phoenix Community Development Corporation.
These organizations provide Visit Phoenix and conference planners direct access to the people responsible for driving the future of industry innovation in Downtown Phoenix.
“We work very closely with Downtown Phoenix Inc.,” says Edwards. “Our President has a seat on their board, and their President has a seat on ours, so there’s constant collaboration to bring the full force of our industry and academic expertise to the table when we’re speaking with conference planners and senior executives.”
Sara Scoville-Weaver, Business Development Manager for Downtown Phoenix Inc., says the fierce community spirit among the companies making up the local innovation economy is what sets Downtown Phoenix apart. As an example, she explains how the #yesphx community platform crowdsources and shares information about the local tech industry in the urban core. Anyone can access it to learn about new developments and events showcasing tech culture in the city.
“Their goal is to make Downtown Phoenix the world’s most generous community for entrepreneurs, and I think that has echoed its way down the chain,” says Scoville-Weaver. “Because time and time again with people that I talk to, whether they’re CEOs who’ve exited or they are new entrepreneurs coming in, they all say that they feel a spirit of community and cooperation in Phoenix that they don’t feel in other cities.”
She adds that Downtown Phoenix fosters a culture that embraces inclusivity and community building with both locals and visitors. For example, the ChickTech ACT-W National Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center is dedicated to supporting young women with career aspirations in technology
The local tech community also hosts a wealth of meetups that Scoville-Weaver says conference delegates are encouraged to join for networking and knowledge-sharing. Just some of those include: HackerNest Phoenix, #Phx-starters – Phoenix Technology Round Table, Women Who Startup, Startup Grind Phoenix and Phoenix Design Thinking and Innovation Collective.
“We recently had a HackerNest social with about 70 developers at Spaces, which is our newest co-working company in downtown,” Scoville-Weaver explains. “I ran into two people from Montana who said they were in town for the FENCETECH conference, and they just wanted to come because they thought it would be cool. That was really exciting for us to see how locals and people from out of town are engaging organically thanks to our tech community.”