Montgomery County, already the location of a Neiman-Marcus branch, the home of the National Institutes of Health, a wartime refuge for James Madison and a retreat at Sugarloaf Mountain, wants to become the conference capital, too.
This month the county has printed and circulated its first conference and visitors guide, a 14-page color portrait of the county's best features meant to convince revenue-producing business groups to meet there.
Recently the county embarked on a campaign to persuade other revenue-generating firms to locate there permanently. Montgomery County's activities mirror those of other local governments. All are eager to broaden their tax bases, bring in more jobs for their citizens and attract more white collar residents into their neighborhoods.
Although boasting a proud historical heritage, Montgomery County is a relative newcomer to business seduction. Just this year the county budgeted $100,000 to attract businesses, and the new glossy booklet is part of that.
Although the county now is focusing on hopes that if a firm can be lured there for a short meeting, perhaps it can be convinced to stay permanently, according to county economic development specialist Duc Duong.
Even during an overnight stay, a conference participant will spend about $60, Duong said. The county is not necessarily after sightseeing tourist business. "Business people spend more money then the pleasure tourist," Duong said. "They have more bucks to spend."
Last March County Executive Charles Gilchrist said that more conference business is one of his 10 economic goals, Duong said. Although Duong said he didn't know how much conference business wad done in the county last year, he said a survey showed that only 60 percent of the county's conference space was used last year compared with about 100 percent use of other hotel rooms.
Duong sees Washington rather than neighboring counties as Montgomery County's main rival for conference business. For instance, the largest facility in the county can hold only 700 persons whereas one in the District can seat 5,000.
Last year the District chalked up a 6 percent increase in overnight visitors, and the economic value of the tourist business passed the billion-dollar mark. A record 850 conventions brought more than 750,000 delegates here and contributed $265 million to the total tourist business in the District.
The District last year published its first 80-page color self-promotion magazine for distribution to about 15,000 trade and travel associations.
According to Montgomery County's 14-page booklet being distributed to 5,000 groups, the county's 14 hotels can provide nearly 3,000 rooms and accommodate a total of 10,000 persons in conference rooms.
Despite its neighborly rivalry, the county's campaign lists as its amenities its proximity to the District.
"Only moments away is the largest concentration of government and government-oriented health, research and development facilities in the nation," the booklet said. "Leading universities and professional trade associations are also nearby and it's only a short trip to downtown Washington for visits with congressmen, other government officials or just sightseeing."
Just in case a conference visitor is interested in relocating his or her business, the conference guide includes a description of the county's housing: "Peaceful suburbs with a blend of the old and the new -- Victorian mansions, smart contemporaries, new colonials, high-rise apartments and condominiums . . . Open countryside with a mix of old farmhouses and lovely states, white fences and a covered bridge."