N.O. Concerns Shift National Show to Atlanta

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Even after witnessing the destruction and death caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, organizers of the cable industry’s annual National Show had hoped to host the convention in the beleaguered city next May.

Instead, concerns about the city’s labor force prompted the National Cable & Telecommunications Association last week to move the show to Atlanta, even though officials at the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center said the venue and surrounding hotels would be back in action in time.

The 2006 National Show will run April 9 to 11 at the Georgia World Congress Center — more than one month earlier than the dates that were scheduled for New Orleans.

“The reason we chose to move is not because [of] the convention center not being ready or the hotels not being ready, but because our show is such a technologically demanding show,” NCTA chief administration officer Barbara York said last week, explaining that a large contingent of local electricians would be needed to wire the exhibits, including for broadband and wireless hookups.

“The electricians are going to be busy building New Orleans, building homes for people to live in. Just trying to get that labor force to do a show was what we were worried about,” York said.

The Atlanta convention center isn’t available May 21 to 24, the dates when New Orleans was scheduled to host the National Show; the American Urological Association has the Congress Center booked that week.

York said NCTA officials weren’t able to reach their counterparts at the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau for more than a week after Katrina hit New Orleans, on Aug. 29.

NCTA won’t pay the New Orleans convention center any cancellation fees, according to York. Instead, the NCTA agreed to hold the 2008 National Show in the Big Easy. The 2007 convention is scheduled for Las Vegas.

York said concerns from prospective National Show attendees who may not have wanted to return to New Orleans so soon after the disaster — and the impact it could have had on attendance — didn’t play a role in the move to shift the convention to Atlanta.

“This was a business decision that was really focused on what kind of show we could put together. We started to realize that the labor pool was going to be so challenged, and said, 'We better move,’ because the last thing we could do is do a show and have nothing work.”

York said NCTA also considered moving the National Show to Chicago, Boston or Washington, D.C. Convention organizers looked at dates ranging from January through September for holding the confab in other cities, she added.

One of the advantages of the Atlanta convention center is its size. While this year’s National Show in San Francisco forced attendees to shuttle between two buildings in order to walk from the exhibit floor to panel sessions, the NCTA will be able to place the general sessions at the April convention in Atlanta on the actual convention floor, York said.

The NCTA last held the National Show in Atlanta in 1998. Since then, the Georgia World Congress Center has constructed an additional wing.

York said the NCTA will turn to Comcast Corp., the incumbent cable operator in Atlanta, to help the group wire the convention center for technology exhibits.

Atlanta will be a convenient locale for some large industry companies, including Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and Scientific-Atlanta Inc., which are both headquartered in the city.

“From our perspective, having it [the convention] in Atlanta gives us an opportunity to host our international customers, and have them out to the S-A campus,” said S-A vice president of strategic communications Peggy Ballard.

Attendees will be able to begin registering for the April convention in November. York said exhibit space for the show will be assigned during the last week of October.