Collaboration and community

Collaboration and community

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Contributors:

Erin Elaine Casey

Carrie Cussons is excited. The transition to the new Halifax Convention Centre that began 18 months ago is paying off in ways even she didn’t expect. “I think what’s been most amazing for me, our shareholders, the city, the province, the business community and the tourism sector is how the Centre is really living up to and exceeding expectations. And all those people who put in their time and energy — they accomplished exactly what the Centre was envisioned to do: bring exciting events and visitors to Halifax and create community and economic impact, in addition to building networks, partnerships and business opportunities.”

As President and CEO of Events East Group, Cussons and her team manage the 120,000-square foot Halifax Convention Centre, the 10,000 plus-seat Scotiabank Centre and Ticket Atlantic, the region’s primary ticket provider. Cussons joined the organization in 2009 and has led its transition to the new downtown Halifax Convention Centre, including operational preparations, corporate restructuring and human resources strategy. She is a member of the Women’s Leadership Collaborative and the International Women’s Forum of Canada and chairs the Host Committee for 2020 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship.

“Traditionally, you think people would come here for a convention or meeting, do some sightseeing and go home,” Cussons explains. “But what I’m finding is that visitors are so impressed by what’s going on in this city and this province that they’re thinking about how they can do business here, send their kids to school here and come up with business and research partnerships here.”

Last year, the Halifax Convention Centre hosted 163 events with 102,000 visitors, generating an estimated $65 million in economic impact. “At Events East, we’ve been in the event business for a long time, but this is the best year we’ve had in terms of groups wanting to come to Halifax, because of the Halifax Convention Centre and because of how interesting Halifax has become as a destination,” says Cussons.

The coming year promises to be just as good. The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association Annual Meeting and Exhibition took place in mid-September, with 650 delegates from around the world in attendance and Steve Snider, General Manager and CEO of Halifax Harbour Bridges, hosting. “This event has not been able to come back here for 20 years,” says Cussons. “So Steve was excited for his team to show off what they’ve done around the Big Lift. A lot of delegates are saying they can’t believe the difference from 20 years ago. Halifax shows up as such an interesting and cosmopolitan city.”

Other key events for 2019 include the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) Annual Conference, the Canadian Society of Internal Medicine (CSIM) Annual Meeting, the 69th Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference, the Sable Island Conference and the Festival of Trees. There are more than 50 events scheduled for this fall alone.

“When this facility was created, we wanted to host the best and largest local events,” says Cussons. “Hal-Con, Halifax Chamber events including the Fall Dinner and Efficiency Nova Scotia’s Bright Business Conference and Awards — but also to bring those national events and visitors.”

Cussons and her team take a one-to-five year outlook when planning the Halifax Convention Centre calendar and are always looking at business trends and growth sectors to maximize benefits and opportunities.

“We’ve been focused on three big ‘buckets’,” she explains, “sectors of comparative advantage for Halifax and Nova Scotia.”

One area is the oceans and life sciences sectors, driven primarily by our universities, hospitals and businesses. “We’re emerging as a destination for events focused on these kinds of topics. This year alone, we have over 25 health-related events. We just hosted the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, the Operating Room Nurses Association of Canada and the Canadian Association of Critical Care Nurses.” In each case, the group has not been in Halifax for a long time or it was their first time here.

“There’s also a convergence of research events wanting to come here and businesses wanting to commercialize that research. We’re going to keep working with local experts to bring in these events and collaborating with COVE, the Creative Destruction Lab, Ocean Supercluster members and others. We want to own the ocean sector event arena and we’re already getting a lot of great feedback about wanting to come to Halifax.”

The second area is social or community issues. “The government, our mayor and the Chamber continue to focus on inclusive and welcoming environments for new Canadians. We hosted the 21st Metropolis Canada Conference on Immigration. Strategies for attracting and retaining new Canadians are being developed and these events become the backdrop for important conversations and policies across the country.”

“The African Nova Scotian community is really important to us,” adds Cussons. A thousand delegates will come to Halifax Convention Centre for the National Black Canadian Summit during African Heritage Month in February. “The Summit is led by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation and they are excited to be in Halifax.”

“In July of 2020, we will be the proud host of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Annual General Assembly,” says Cussons. Six hundred chiefs and 1,600 delegates from across Canada will attend and the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) will take place right after at the Scotiabank Centre. “This is the first time the AFN and the NAIG have been hosted in the same city. Chiefs often have to make a choice about which event to go to and now they can go to both! We’re excited to be part of inspiring Indigenous youth through sport,” adds Cussons, who also serves as secretary of the NAIG 2020. “There will also be a celebratory festival attached to these events.”

In December, the Convention Centre will also host the ArcticNet Annual Scientific Meeting, the largest Arctic and Northern research gathering in Canada. Up to 1,300 delegates will gather to discuss climate change and modernization in the North and the protection of important ecological and cultural spaces.

The third area is national corporate events and meetings, proving that Halifax and Atlantic Canada can compete on a national scale. “Halifax is emerging as a global business destination,” says Cussons. “We’re now getting national corporate sector events, including the RBC and CIBC national AGMs. We hosted the Emera AGM in May and the national event for Honda. They were absolutely amazed by the business vibrancy in Halifax.”

“We’ll continue to work with local business champions to attract events like that. We’ve proven that there’s more than just a good time in Halifax — there’s corporate, national business. These events create a real buzz, delegates spend a lot of money and it shows we’re emerging as a hub for business activity and growth.”

“It’s about more than having a productive conference,” adds Cussons. “We go after events where we have an advantage and where we can become the international platform for showcasing what’s going on in that sector.” This leads to national and international media coverage and helps Halifax get exposure on the world stage.

Businesses in the downtown core have already rallied behind the Convention Centre and become an integral part of the amazing experience Halifax is offering visitors. “They’ve all gotten on board and are showing up in their very best way, demonstrating our Halifax and Nova Scotia hospitality. Some of our other business partners
have really stepped up as well, including the airport and hotels.”

How can you get your business or organization involved? The Halifax Convention Centre publishes a schedule so you can find out well in advance which events are coming.

Plus, Cussons wants to hear from you.

“We are always looking for great local business suppliers to partner with on our events. If you’re not engaged with us right now, come have a conversation about it. We need partners who are willing to show up with great products and services.”

There are also important opportunities for the private sector to help attract regional, national and international events that showcase their sector or industry. “Local champions who are motivated and take the time to talk to us about attracting events can then leverage those events for connections and investment opportunities.”

Cussons takes a moment to reflect on what makes Halifax and Nova Scotia special. “I think that as Nova Scotians, we take that modest Canadian outlook even farther than most. We’ve proven to ourselves now that we’re worth it as a city and province. It’s starting to instill a sense of confidence and swagger in our people. Our city is becoming much more optimistic.”

The 18 months since the Convention Centre opened have been a whirlwind and Cussons is deeply grateful for the “true Maritime hospitality” that visitors enjoy. “We love to host people here and it’s a real differentiator from our competitors. There’s something special we have to offer in welcoming people.”

“I feel such pride in Halifax and I love how the Centre can be a backdrop and showcase for the wonderful things going on here in this new, inclusive, diverse, vibrant Halifax. I’m absolutely thrilled that the Halifax Convention Centre is part of Halifax’s evolving story.”

Learn more and find out what’s
happening at the Halifax
Convention Centre here:
www.halifaxconventioncentre.com

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