Weekend mayors’ conference a ‘coup’ for Indianapolis, leaders say

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Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s first sign that Indianapolis’ hosting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors was off to a good start came in the form of a Tweet.

West Sacramento, California Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, one of more than 200 mayors in town for the event, reached out to the mayor on the social media platform after a 9.3-mile downtown bike ride on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

“Biked/ate your city to support neighborhoods & small biz,” Cabaldon tweeted, including a heart emoji to signify his feelings about the trail.

“That type of Goodwill is invaluable to Indianapolis as we continue to aspire to be an even better city,” Hogsett said. “You can’t put a price tag on that word of mouth.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual summer gathering, which runs Friday through Monday, will be in Indianapolis for the first time in its 84-year history.

Mayors, their staffs and policy experts from across the country—about 1,200 conference attendees in all—will be at the meeting to talk through issues facing their communities, try to form consensus around national policy and learn about what’s working elsewhere.

And in their spare time, will be presented a rare opportunity to present a version of Indianapolis that’s wrapped up in a bow for a captive audience of influencers.

“I think it’s quite a coup for Indianapolis to have this,” said former Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, who ran the group in the 1990s. “Not many Midwestern cities have hosted this thing. It’s a chance to show off what you’ve been doing. Mayors like to go to other cities to see what’s working. “

It isn’t necessarily the size of the conference that is important, though it is expected to generate up to $1.5 million in economic impact, according to Visit Indy.

“It’s about the quality of visitors,” Gahl said. “These are high-profile, public figures who have the ability to shape policy nationwide and can be stronger Indianapolis advocates once they have a positive experience here.”

That brings with it a flurry of press and media. Gahl said Visit Indy is expecting 150 national media members to descend on the city. (That might have something to do with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s address to the group, along with appearances by the Dalai Lama and Lady Gaga.)

“They’ll cover the x’s and o’s of what the mayors’ discussions are, but also the city,” Gahl said. “They’ll talk about dining and seeing the sites. Having that third party endorsement has been effective for Indianapolis.”

The conference is important to the city from a talent development perspective—as major companies will be around to showcase what working here is all about, possibly leading to some job recruitment.

“The ability of Eli Lilly and Co. to showcase its work on Alzheimer’s research, or the ability of Interactive Intelligence and Salesforce to deliver their message to a captive audience of 220 city leaders is invaluable to those entities, and to the city,” Hogsett said.

Plus, Helmke said, the attendees “aren’t always going to be mayors.”

“They’ll be in business, politics and other things down the road,” Helmke said. “It’s a chance to impress them. These are folks advising people on making relocation or expansion decisions, and they’re looking at places that are on the move and vibrant.”

But it’s also just an unabashed chance to show off the region’s gems.

Among the sites visitors will be shepherded to are the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the NCAA Hall of Champions, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and on the first night, they’ll also take a trip up to Carmel’s Palladium.

There will also be “foodie tour” of Indianapolis for attendees, as well as tours of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Crown Hill Cemetery, Connor Prairie and other destinations.

The credit for landing the conference goes to former Mayor Greg Ballard, Gahl said, because he lobbied strongly back in 2013 for the group to choose Indianapolis.

“What was so appealing to us was we knew this would be a presidential election year and it would be arguably a higher-profile gathering,” Gahl said. “It has an overall higher impact and buzz.”

Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said the decision to choose Indianapolis was “certainly deserved.”

“A lot of the mayors are impressed by a number of things that have been happening here,” Cochran said, specifically mentioning the 2012 hosting of the Super Bowl and public-private partnerships throughout the city. “Everybody is really excited about being here.”

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