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The following opinionated guest column was written in response to the ongoing frustration felt by living in a small town with less-than-visionary government decisionmakers in charge of tourism and economy. It was published in the 08/27/02 edition of the Eureka Times Standard Newspaper.

A Wired Convention Center for Cowboy Poets

Even Cowboy Poets Have a Wired Convention Center

Recently I bought some stuff at a yard sale that had been wrapped with old newspapers. Curiosity got the best of me, so I unwrapped a November 2, 1987 edition of the Times-Standard.

One headline caught my eye; “Push continues for Convention Center.” The story went on; “It has been 11 years since the idea was born; the backers of the Humboldt Community Conference Center have not let their dream die.”

Apparently, in 1976, a group of local businesspeople tried in vain to get a 40,000 sq. ft. conference center and 2,000 seat Amphitheater built downtown. But the powers that be were skeptical. Although the Convention Center backers pointed out how a conference center would help businesses and boost tourism, key decision makers shook their heads in disbelief. One politico commented, “About 10 years ago, it was really the buzzword, the thing to do, but they (convention centers) typically don’t pay for themselves.” Finally, it seemed the biggest obstacle to building one was that the City of Eureka had higher priorities, like building a $4.4 million dollar parking facility.

I couldn’t believe it. That was 15 years ago! We still argue about the perceived downtown parking problem downtown, and we still don’t have a state-of-the-art convention center!

Every year since 1997, the RTC has held our annual Technology Expo event. Since 2000, College of the Redwoods has graciously allowed us to host Tech Expo on campus, which has been a major leap but not the success we hoped for, due to the fact that C.R. is relatively far from our county’s business hub, downtown Eureka. Attendance remains low. Each year we’ve sought a better location, and each year we bemoan the fact that this region doesn’t have a convention center that meets the needs of modern businesses.

“Decent,” meaning; wired with Internet access for classroom sessions, ample vendor space, and at least a 500 person capacity. It’s embarrassing to tell Tech Expo vendors from out of town that we don’t have a real conference center.

Recently I found myself in Elko, Nevada, home of the world famous Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Elko has demographics similar to ours. With just 34,000 residents, an average income of $38,000, a declining resource-based economy, and, unlike the North Coast, little to lure tourists there other than the Gathering.

Yet, while driving through town I was shocked to see a new Elko Convention Center. It seems that after a decade or so of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering growing in popularity, “we had to build the Convention Center, or (it) would die,” said a woman working at the Western Folklife Center, which organizes the Gathering.

A decade or so ago, the people of Elko rallied, and a 50,000 sq. ft. convention center was built, with state of the art Internet wiring, a theater holding almost 1,000 people, and full service banquet facilities. Now, cowboy poets can have readings in person, or virtually via the Internet and broadcast over large screen projectors; all smack dab in the middle of Nowheresville, Nevada.

Like Elko, there are plenty of rural communities that have faced the fact that unless their government officials don’t step up to the plate, their quality of life will diminish as they get left behind in the information age. These towns wired their communities and readied them for businesses seeking cheap rent and a talented employment pool (see “Working Class Communities Build Next Frontier of High Speed Connectivity,” at www.siteselection.com).

Fiber optic connectivity is just one step. Building business-friendly facilities is another. To get involved with issues like this, we welcome you to contact the Redwood Technology Consortium, which will wholeheartedly assist anyone who wishes to lead another campaign to build a real conference center!

Rene Agredano is a Board Member of the Redwood Technology Consortium, and co-owner of Agreda Communications, a worldwide marketing communications, digital imaging and large format printing firm based in Eureka.

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