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More associations holding meetings, conventions at Mississippi locations

Mississippi locations have a lot to offer state associations for their annual conferences. Although many associations never left the state, some did and are now returning for their meetings and conventions.

For the past 14 years, the Mississippi Manufacturing Association has held its yearly convention in Destin, Fla. Next year, it returns to the state for a change of venue and a different time of the year, according to spokeswoman Sheila Skipper. The MMA 2009 convention will be held June 3-4 at the Hilton Jackson and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2010.

“Next year’s convention will be an abbreviated version as we change to a summer date,” Skipper said. “The board voted to move back to the Coast in 2010, basing its decision on declining attendance in Destin and the desire to support the rebuilding of the Coast following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The board also voted to hold the convention in June rather than October to avoid the greater threat of hurricanes in the fall and conflicts with football games.”

Other state groups are choosing to remain or return to the Coast for conventions, according to Crystal Johnson, sales director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). Those associations include the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, Mississippi Press Association, Mississippi Municipal League, Mississippi Department of Education and Mississippi Association of Planning and Development Districts.

“We see an increasing trend in the number of state associations that are meeting on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Johnson said. “If I had to guess, I’d say Mississippi associations are our number one meeting and convention clients right now.”

On the western side of the Coast, Hancock County is also having a resurgence of associations holding annual meetings there. A few of those who are booked through 2010 include the Mississippi Main Street Association, Association of Professional Surveyors, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, Mississippi Tax Collectors Association, Mississippi Society of Professional Foresters and the Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

“State associations waited until we were up and going after Hurricane Katrina and now we’re booking daily,” says Hancock County CVB executive director Beth Carriere. “We’re seeing groups come back who met out of state. They’re telling us they like it here and many have said they want to contribute to the economy here.”

Referring to her county as a meeting planner’s dream with all it has to offer, Carriere is working with groups who will come there in 2010 and 2011. The new Visitors Center in the historic Old Depot in Bay St. Louis is a must-stop for visitors. There they can find information for the whole Coast, a dine-around desk, art exhibits and a museum.

“We don’t know what gas will cost as we look ahead, but a lot of people will bring their families with them to combine business and pleasure, taking advantage of one trip,” she said.

State associations also like meeting in the Capital City. “Associations are one of our largest markets, and we have more booking for the new convention center,” says Gina Aswell, communications and public relations manager of the Jackson CVB. “Some are booking due to the new building, which opens January 9, 2009, earlier than planned.”

She added that Jackson’s new associations business includes the Mississippi School Nutrition Association, which is having its 40th-annual conference there in February.”

“We are very excited to have this conference which will bring in more than 600 attendees,” she said. “The Mississippi Private School Association Cheer and Dance Competition will be coming to Jackson this month bringing 2,600 attendees. The last time they were in Jackson was 2003, and we are happy to have them back in the ‘City with Soul.’”

The Mississippi Educational Computing Association annual convention is returning to Jackson next February with an estimated attendance of 1,200 and packing an economic punch estimated at $503,172 over three days. Another big one is the Mississippi Men’s & Boys Apparel Club with 2,800 attendees and an estimated economic impact of $39,000.

Tunica expects to see more groups who typically have their meetings other places as they consider this Delta county with its central location and built-in gaming industry attractions, says Bill Canter, director of marketing and sales for the Tunica CVB.

“We are seeing a money-saving trend of holding meetings closer to their membership base here in Mississippi,” he said. “In contrast, we have been losing some out-of-state business due to travel expenses and a downturn in the economy.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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