Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 07 2014

A Planner’s Perspective On Philadelphia

By David McMillin

There have been plenty of recent headlines about what’s happening outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Union members of the Carpenters Local 8 and Teamsters Local 7 are working to stir up noise after failing to sign a new labor agreement. However, it’s important for meeting professionals to listen to their peers to find out what’s going on inside the walls of the 14th largest facility in the country.

I recently caught up with Pam Ballinger, CMP, Senior Director of Meetings and Conferences at the American Association for Cancer Research, to get her take on hosting meetings in Philadelphia. Ballinger is more than a meeting professional who has occasionally brought her group to Philadelphia, too. She lives and works in the City of Brotherly Love.

“It’s my hometown, and I love it,” Ballinger says. “I’m proud of it.”

Still, she recognizes the past problems of doing the business there.

“Both the CVB and the Convention Center staff members are fantastic people, but they’ve had to work harder than many other cities in the industry,” Ballinger says. “They’ve had to overcome some negativity for the past 20 years.”

In 2011, Ballinger brought a group to Philadelphia and the labor costs clocked in at 30 percent higher than other cities around the country.

“The hourly labor rates weren’t any higher,” Ballinger says. “It just came down to some inefficiencies.”

A New Day With A New Management Team

Today, though, it’s a different story. Ballinger has a whole new outlook on her hometown convention center and the current promise of doing business there. SMG is now at the helm, and four labor unions signed on to a new Customer Satisfaction Agreement designed to address key customer concerns. Ballinger believes the city is on the right track toward overcoming those past obstacles.

“SMG looked at what’s working in other cities,” Ballinger says. “They understand the complexities of running a big convention center, and they went through the right process to put this agreement in place.”

The process was enough to inspire Ballinger to bring the 18,000+ attendees of the AACR Annual Meeting back to Philadelphia for the first time in 16 years. Philadelphia will serve as the host city for AACR in 2015. Ballinger adds that the organization has already agreed to return in 2019 and 2024.

“I’m very, very hopeful,” Ballinger says. “Philadelphia has made the extra effort. They’ve really changed their way of doing business, and I think it’s going to pay off for everyone.”

Interested in discovering more about all the progress in Philadelphia for yourself? Click here to learn how the new labor rules worked at the 2014 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology.

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