“Our national conference in Detroit was our best ever. It was the pinnacle of my career. I have since retired, and I couldn’t image a better note to go out on!” — Patty Mengel.
Detroit was nowhere on the radar of national conference manager Patty Mengel of EL Education, a non-profit group that works to impact change in public education and raise student achievement. But the persistent follow up of one of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau’s (DMCVB) sales reps finally convinced her to come for a site visit. “I absolutely fell in love with the city and the renaissance that’s happening there. It’s one of the most notable revitalization efforts in the nation,” said Mengel.
The organizational goals of EL Education originally focused on inner city kids with high needs and low resources, so the group was already doing quite a bit of work in Detroit. Mengel decided the 2016 conference belonged there.
“Still, I had a lot of convincing to do. There was a great deal of reluctance. It was a big risk, but our c-level executives eventually got on board with the vision, after getting past some fears and misconceptions,” she said.
The DMCVB and the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center were equally enthusiastic about earning the business and providing attendees with a first rate conference. As a 501c3, costs needed to be kept down, so the constant support and special touches from the Marriott and the CVB made a big difference. They helped promote the conference to potential attendees, building momentum through brochures, regular emails highlighting new developments and a promotional video that was shown on the last day of the previous year’s conference.
Having grown up in the Vietnam era, Mengel herself had a soft spot for Detroit. “The music of Motown and its unifying force during such a turbulent time in our nation had a powerful impact on me as a teenager. Getting to tour Detroit’s Motown Museum and see where it all happened during my site visit was very emotional for me,” she said. “Each week leading up to the conference, I included a link to a different Motown video with the lyrics in an email to our staff and management team to help them understand more about the history of the city and get excited.”
As it turned out, Detroit was the ideal host city. The agenda included presentations from local residents confronting the difficulties of providing a quality education with limited resources. They also heard from city planners and local nonprofits about the area’s resurgence, with discussions around issues, ideas and solutions that were found by working together. “It was very moving and beautiful. It was a fabulous experience,” Mengel added.
During the conference, the DMCVB and Marriott teamed up to be sure things ran smoothly, even providing human signage (volunteers in brightly colored t-shirts) to help attendees to navigate the GM Renaissance Center. “Everyone felt so very welcomed and cared for. We can’t wait to go back!” Mengel said.
Afterward, EL Education received overwhelmingly positive survey results and compliments.