Big downtown Asheville conference could be turning point for city officials

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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A conference of 1,100 human resource managers doesn’t sound very exciting, but there’s a lot riding on the line. Officials at the U.S. Cellular Center, as well as hotel owners and local tourism officials will be eyeing an event that could a turning point for them all.

The Western North Carolina Human Resource Association and the North Carolina Society for Human Resource Management (State) are working together on the conference. It’s the largest conference to date at the Cellular Center, which has seen significant renovations over the past several years following extensive studies and debates about the future of the building, which is more than 70 years old.

The conference starts Wednesday and continues through Friday afternoon, and includes sessions that are open to the ticket-buying public. The general public can purchase tickets to four keynote sessions. Proceeds from individual speaker sales will benefit four local non-profits: the WNC Diversity Engagement Coalition, Eblen Charities, Leadership Asheville and Green Opportunities.

The event, which will draw more than 1,100 attendees and vendors to downtown, is expected to have a $500,000 economic impact. That estimate doesn’t include money attendees are expected to spend shopping and eating around down, say organizers. It also doesn’t include money spent on hotel rooms in Asheville.

U.S. Cellular Center officials have been preparing for the event since spring, and earlier renovations were specifically tailored around hosting larger trade shows and events. Conference vendors often have specific (and often standard) requirements for everything from the size of a display area to access to power and Internet access. Other logistics include catering food for attendees.

Chris Corl, the center’s general manager, said in a written news release that preparations for this week’s conference “will act as a model for more professional organizations and encourage them to choose Asheville for their conferences and conventions.”

That’s a critical issue for local tourism officials and hotel owners, who have struggled in recent years to attract a steady stream of coveted conference attendees. Conferences are often scheduled at mid-week, a time when hotels are empty of vacationing weekend travelers. (The mid-week business traveler was identified as a key target of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority at the board’s annual retreat earlier this year.)

Also, downtown Asheville (and Buncombe County) is in the midst of a hotel building boom that will dramatically increase the number of hotel rooms available for rent over the next three years. In the near term, that increase will likely drive down hotel occupancy rates and the room rates that hotels charge, so tourism officials are looking attract more conferences and trade shows to fill those rooms.

Image link for U.S. Cellular Center.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1


  1. Deplorable Infidel September 29, 2016

    STOP this nonsense NOW! We still have HB 2 blocking all gatherings !!!

    Where is the MAYOR to STOP this BS now ?

    1. Barry Summers September 29, 2016

      STOP this nonsense NOW!

      WHICH “nonsense” are you referring TO, Fred Caudle?

    2. hauntedheadnc September 29, 2016

      Plagues don’t kill all their victims either; do you get het up about that as well?

  2. Big Al September 29, 2016

    “…and encourage them to choose Asheville for their conferences and conventions.”

    What about HB2? I thought we were morally obligated to encourage a boycott of NC? How DARE these local groups stand against the transgendered!!!


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