While many Americans observed the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks last week, others were congregating in Augusta to keep us safe in years to come.
The city’s new convention center played host to TechNet Augusta, a conference that brings the public and private sectors of the defense industry together to share information, inspiration and communications strategies in the battle to keep U.S. forces at the top of their game.
Talking to some of the three-day convention’s key players afterward, it’s abundantly clear Augusta has again done its part for homeland security.
“It was off the charts. Everyone wants it here again,” reports Bob Damen, a past president of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association that put it on, as well as a local manager for Raytheon, the event’s title sponsor.
“This conference was a huge success,” added retired Lt. Gen. John A. Dubia, an executive vice president of AFCEA International. “Universally, (the feedback) was very, very positive.”
One measure of its success, besides rave reviews from those who were there, was the participation level: Conference organizers knew they needed 1,000 attendees to make it work. They were hoping for 1,500. They ended up with some 2,100.
Fittingly, AFCEA was actually born in Augusta, at then-Camp Gordon, in 1946. Fort Gordon hosted similar gatherings of the association’s defense-industry communications experts and vendors through the years, but not for several years. It wasn’t until January’s opening of the Augusta Convention Center that the association had the space and amenities to bring this event back and do it up right.
Indeed, Gen. Dubia said organizers were so pleased with the convention center that they were already securing dates for next year.
That will mean a return here by some of the world’s leaders in defense-industry communications technology. But it’s even bigger than that. Word of TechNet’s success will get around the convention industry, announcing that Augusta is
now a major player – and other convention organizers will want to consider coming here.
This was an important event for Augusta and its still-new convention center. It was an audition for regional and national audiences, played out in front of a very discerning group: The military folks, the internationally renowned sponsors, and the 125 high-tech exhibitors involved in TechNet were a tough customer.
And they said it was “off the charts” good.
So are the benefits – including more than half a million in direct spending, according to the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Then there are benefits masquerading as problems: One local businessman wondered Saturday to Barry White why it was impossible to get a rental car last week in Augusta. The president/CEO of the CVB smiled and explained about TechNet – and they both agreed it was a great “problem” to have.
“This is an example of exactly why that facility was built,” White says of the convention center.
We better be careful. Many more events like this could change our “conventional” thinking in this town.