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Energy-related events boost Pittsburgh's convention business

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

A series of energy-related meetings and conferences held in Pittsburgh in recent years has helped not only hotels and restaurants.

Jim Schuster said business at his Crystal River Gems store in Fifth Avenue Place picks up noticeably when groups of engineers and other science professionals stay in hotels Downtown, such as for this week's DUG East Conference and Exhibition with about 3,000 attendees. The conference focuses on the Marcellus shale natural gas industry.

Tourism promotion agency VisitPittsburgh said on Thursday that from the gas industry alone, it has hosted 13 conferences since 2009. Another seven events are booked through 2014, VisitPittsburgh said, estimating direct spending from past and future events at a total of $35.5 million.

At Crystal River, engineers, geologists and mining professionals tend to stop in, particularly on the final day of a conference when there are fewer programs.

“Maybe that's because we sell rocks, fossils and minerals — and those coordinate with the things they like,” said Schuster, who also sells jewelry in the store that has operated in Fifth Avenue Place for almost a decade.

The DoubleTree by Hilton's 335 rooms are full all this week with Hart Energy conference attendees.

“That was a great booking that did really well for all the Downtown hotels,” said Tim Zugger, the general manager and president of the Greater Pittsburgh Hotel Association.

“There have been several really nice, citywide conventions that have focused on the energy business this year,” Zugger said.

They benefit Downtown businesses, he said, although suburban hotels benefit more from extended stays by energy professionals, who want to be closer to drilling sites and other outlying operations.

The current DUG event with more than 300 exhibitors has the highest of eight total meetings that Hart Energy Publishing of Houston has hosted in the city since 2009, and it will generate $1.4 million in direct spending and account for 3,250 room nights at local hotels, VisitPittsburgh said. The tourism agency also said conferences built around technology are drawing more interest because they can feature relevant energy-related programs.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers signed up 5,900 attendees for its annual meeting Oct. 28 to Nov. 2 in the city, exceeding early estimates, although not all showed up because of complications from Hurricane Sandy, VisitPittsburgh spokeswoman Connie George said.

Jeff Wood, the institute's meetings director, said energy-related professionals and resources in the region “allowed us to increase the number of technical sessions offered.”

Other factors are the universities close by, and Pittsburgh's reputation as a convention destination, he said.

The chemical engineers are estimated to have spent more than $8 million, VisitPittsburgh said.

“We expect the energy sector and related industries to continue to be strong convention customers,” VisitPittsburgh CEO Craig Davis said, citing natural gas, coal, green energy and other businesses in the region.

George said VisitPittsburgh has a sales representative whose task is to bring in energy-related conferences.

Seventeen event planners are touring the city this week, including some from fields related to energy, and the agency has an 80 percent success rate of signing events based on such visits.

Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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