Originally created 02/13/01

Augusta markets to VIPs



Local economic developers trying to drum up new business have invited more than a dozen biotechnology industry VIPs to this year's Masters Tournament.

The visiting biotech executives and consultants will be in addition to the 40 or so corporate bigwigs in town for the state's annual Red Carpet Tour.

Officials from the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, who coordinate the local leg of the Red Carpet Tour, said the separate economic development programs will not compete with each other.

"This will by no means be taking away from what we're doing with the Red Carpet Tour," chamber Chairman Ed Tarver said.

The chamber decided to create its own tour group last year to target more closely companies with potential to locate operations in Augusta. Those attending the special three-day Augusta Showcase are from pharmaceutical companies identified as prime candidates by a recent Deloitte & Touche study.

The all-expense-paid junket will take the guests on tours of high-tech facilities, such as Medical College of Georgia, in between trips to the Masters.

Chamber officials plan to underwrite the cost of the event with membership donations. A budget is not yet known because coordinators are still soliciting in-kind donations for lodging, catering and in-town transportation services.

Chamber officials are also asking for help in underwriting the expanding Augusta portion of the Red Carpet Tour. This year, the chamber plans to step up marketing efforts outside the tournament to distinguish Augusta from Savannah, Columbus and other Red Carpet Tour destinations.

"We have learned over the years that the attention that (the tournament) gets somewhat overshadows the economic opportunities Augusta has to offer," said Phil Wahl, the chamber's Red Carpet Tour chairman.

Chamber officials will play host at a dinner presentation at the Augusta Country Club after the end of first-round tournament play April 5. The guest speaker will be retired Gen. Perry Smith, an Augusta resident often cited by national media as a military analyst.

Local Red Carpet Tour hosts also will create a Web site accessible through the chamber's home page that will post information on the tour and its visiting executives.

The site is designed to promote the event to the community and give the tour guests the ability to access photos and information on Augusta before and after the tour.

Also for the first time, chamber officials will mail tour guests a set of commemorative Masters cocktail glasses as a thank-you gift. The glasses, paid for by volunteer companies, give local business leaders another chance to contact tour guests.

The strategy behind the gifts and Web site is to create a relationship between Augusta and the tour guests, said Woody Merry, marketing committee chairman.

"Studies have shown people are more apt to do business with people they know," he said. "The main thing we want (tour guests) to know when they leave is that we want their business."

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or bized@augustachronicle.com.