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Meeting planners in Central Pennsylvania see continued growth in their industry

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During the recession, travel spending for meetings, conventions and professional development activities took a major hit.

It has been a slow recovery — some sectors still haven't seen increased budgets — but several area meeting planners say they have seen a marked reversal in the number of events.

For some, however, the size of those events has changed.

"We're seeing a growth in the number of meetings, but many meetings are smaller in scale," said Lutricia Eberly, director of sales and events at Warrington Township-based Roundtop Mountain Resort.

The result: Planners face greater challenges in managing logistics, which also make it harder on suppliers.

"Each meeting that we plan requires a comprehensive checklist of planning items to address," said Julie Walker, owner of Upper Allen Township-based Choice Meetings. "So, whether we're planning a meeting for 20 people, or a meeting for 200 people, the number of tasks that needs to be managed remains the same."

At Roundtop, which hosts a lot of team-building events at its ropes course, there has been an upswing in corporate bookings in recent years, Eberly said.

"With corporate downsizing which occurred in some businesses due to the economy, facilitated team-building is even more vital for motivating a leaner staff to understand communication principles, how to operate with limited resources toward projection completion and understand each person's role within the larger picture," she said.

Roundtop also has seen an uptick in half-day meetings followed by entertainment, including snow tubing, Eberly said. In the summer, groups also are booking paintball or zip line packages — the latter might be to fulfill a corporate wellness initiative.

Lows and highs

Susan Shermer works with nonprofits and association clients.

The low point for events was in 2009, she said. Attendance levels increased in 2011 and hit pre-2008 levels last year, said Shermer, president of Shermer & Associates Ltd. in Lower Paxton Township.

"My statewide clients have all seen increased numbers as well. I do see an improvement in economic conditions with all my clients," she said. "More people are attending, and companies or agencies who may have sent only one person in the recent past are now sending multiple people. In all cases, these meetings were annual conferences."

Shermer's statewide clients tend to stay in the Harrisburg area, while some try to travel to different parts of Pennsylvania for their events.

"First-tier cities, unbelievably, have seen enough improvement in the economy that they are charging very high room rates during high season," she said. "The incentives from a year or two ago are drying up."

Brian Griffith, director of curriculum services for the Capital Area Intermediate Unit in East Pennsboro Township, said he has seen an increase in requests for new training events.

"Our low points in meeting attendance fell in late 2010 to early 2012," he said. "During that time, funds for attendance at meetings and professional development nearly dried up. We had to limit our session to only those topics of the highest priority."

The uptick began last fall, he said.

The CAIU holds most of its meetings on site or at hotels in Hershey and State College.

"It was almost as if somebody flipped the switch after the holidays and all of a sudden the requests for meeting events and lodging have increased dramatically," Griffith said, citing discussion from a recent industry event.

Other thoughts

Meetings have increased, but they are not as elaborate nor in first-tier cities as much, said Mari Killian, manager of meetings and incentives for Carlisle Construction Materials in Cumberland County.

"We do use Hershey and Carlisle for more meetings than in the past," she said.

North Carolina-based Carlisle Cos. owns Carlisle Construction Materials, its building and construction products segment that includes rubber roofing manufacturer Carlisle SynTec Inc.

Diane Langner, meeting manager for the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, based in Lemoyne, said a few committee meetings have been added to the overall schedule. Attendance has been consistent, she said.

The PAR holds most of its meetings in the Harrisburg area. It also coordinates some regional training throughout the state, she said.

Ongoing budget constraints and travel restrictions have limited meeting attendance, added Linda Rosito, meeting planner for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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