National Conference Center is feeling some pain

August 19, 2012

Kurt Krause, general manager of the 917-room National Conference Center in Leesburg, is upset that his business is getting whacked by the federal government’s newfound skittishness over off-site meetings.

Federal agencies have pulled back sharply following the uproar over a Las Vegas confab that cost the then-chief of the General Services Administration her job.

“Our government business is down and ... the monthly bookings that we historically have contracted have slowed to a trickle,” said Krause, who employs 300 at the facility. “Our year-end total revenue for [the government] segment is now projected to be down 10.5 percent [or $1.2 million] from last year.”

That’s a big hit to the center, which was built as a training facility for Xerox Corp. in the mid-1970s and is now owned by investors. The center — one of the largest of its kind in the country — is used by private and public sector industries as a place to train employees.

“The problem is everybody’s scared to death,” Krause said. “What was supposed to be a very good year because of government business ... has turned into disappointment.”

Krause said the conference center is trying to make up the lost business with corporate clients such as Food Lion and law firm DLA Piper.

“But with government 65 percent of your business, I can’t replace it all.”

The FBI came to the rescue, re-signing for a training contract that rents about 25,000 room nights and brings in $3.7 million in revenue.

“The FBI has been our saving grace,” said Krause, adding that the FBI agreement received more scrutiny than any government contract that has come his way in years.

The talk at Terk Tech

Ralph Terkowitz, a general partner with Baltimore-based venture capital firm ABS Capital Partners, held his summertime Terk Tech gathering of 20 or so local entrepreneurs at his hilltop estate in McLean last week.

Movers and shakers dined on London broil, roasted Alaskan salmon and an assortment of interesting wines introduced by Doug and Meg House of Chain Bridge Cellars.

Attendees included Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski; Michael Scissons, founder and chief executive of New York-based Syncapse, a social media marketing firm; David Aidekman, founder of thetriptribe.com, a travel Web site; local entrepreneur Cal Simmons, who is also chairman of the D.C. chapter of Tiger 21, a peer-to-peer group of high net worth individuals; Chase Weir of D.C.-based solar company Distributed Sun; Jock Friedly of LegiStorm (former senior editor of The Hill), and a bunch of other companies.

As is usual for these affairs, much of the conversation centered on start-ups. Simmons said he was interested to hear about progress being made at mid-size companies such as Taxi Magic, an online taxi booking service, and the Vienna-based home security firm Alarm.com.

“No one seemed very enthusiastic about the group-buying sites, but that could have just been the crowd,” he said, marking a change from a couple years ago, when everyone was chattering about Groupon and LivingSocial.

One positive note all could agree on:

“Everyone seemed to be high on the Nationals,” Simmons said.

The Buzz hears:

Luke’s Lobster is opening its third Washington area location with the debut of its Georgetown eatery at 1211 Potomac Street NW on Thursday. It opens at 6 p.m. It is the eighth in the chainlet: five in New York City, three here in Washington. There’s also a mobile truck roaming the Big Apple.

Owner Luke Holden is a Georgetown University graduate (2007) and said he has been looking forward to opening in Georgetown ever since he opened his first in the East Village in New York in 2009. Luke had been eying the old Philly Pizza space, and when it went on the market this year, he jumped.

Fina BioSolutions, a Rockville-based biotechnology company, has licensed its vaccine technology to the Chengdu Institute of China. The technology will be used to develop affordable vaccines against childhood pneumonia, a leading killer of children under age five. The company’s technology, developed by Dr. Andrew Lees, is currently used by GlaxoSmithKline and the Serum Institute of India, among others.

Factoid of the Week

29 That’s the percentage of D.C. area large businesses that said they plan to hire additional employees in the next six months. The percentage is down from 46 percent in the first quarter of 2012. Ten percent currently have positions they are unable to fill, compared with 31 percent last quarter. Source: Capital One Bank Market Pulse survey of Greater Washington area businesses.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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