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Jump In Conventions Seen As Harbinger Of Better Times

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Thirteen thousand attendees and exhibitors will descend on the city this weekend for the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. They’re the first of more than 800,000 expected convention-goers in San Diego this year, the most since 2008.

— Thirteen thousand attendees and exhibitors will descend on the city this weekend for the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting.

They’re the first of more than 800,000 expected convention-goers in San Diego this year, the most since 2008.

On-site preparation for this weekend’s meeting started earlier this week. It drew in not only convention center staff, but representative from the fire marshal’s office, FedEx and multiple contractors.

Each of those stakeholders represents the hundreds of people who will work to pull the convention off.

“Those jobs range from construction workers and union decorators who set up the big booths on the floor, to truckers who haul the freight, to security, to events staff, hotels, restaurants, shops,” said Steven Johnson, the center’s vice president for public affairs. “It really circulates throughout the entire economy.”

About half of the 2,000 individual meetings that make up the ALA convention will spill out of the convention center and into nearby hotels and restaurants, a fact Johnson points to as proof the center must expand.

The center’s 2011 forecast estimates conventions will support about 12.500 jobs across the county. But, the real boon for the local economy will come from an expected increase in convention attendees.

“We’re seeing some strength in both the number of attendees coming to events held at the building, as well as spending by exhibitors and shows on things like food and beverage, how much they’re going to spend on their booth,” Johnson said.

That strength helps bolster the cautious optimism local economic analysts are expressing for the coming year.

“I hope that the visitor industry’s outlook is correct,” said Marney Cox, chief economist for the San Diego Association of Governments. “It will set the beginning stages for what we expect will be a better 2011 over 2010. But, it’s little indicators like this that help us believe that it’s probably true.”

While he cautioned that this year’s improvements could be slow and small, Cox said businesses’ renewed willingness to spend money on things like conventions could precede the kind of increased hiring needed to lower the unemployment rate.

Convention center officials are also predicting out-of-town meeting attendees could book as many as 1 million hotel room nights in the county this year.

Nightly room rates in the region’s hotels rose to an average of $85.08 in 2010, from a floor of $81.69 in 2009, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported earlier this week. They are expected to climb to more than $92 by the end of 2011.

More convention goers spending more on hotel rooms would mean a bump for tax revenues across the county.

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