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Dakotas: Bismarck beats big guys

Courtesy Bismark-Mandan CVB

The National Association of County Engineers has met in San Diego; Orlando, Fla.; and Bismarck-Mandan, N.D.

Bismarck, the North Dakota capital, and neighboring Mandan have stood shoulder to shoulder with sizable cities, winning bids by offering “a change of pace” as well as a central location and considerable cost savings, said Sheri Grossman, director of sales for the Bismarck-Mandan CVB.

Among the city’s latest coups is the booking of the National State Treasurers Association (NSTA), which will meet in Bismarck later this year. NSTA had previously met in resort locations, but leadership decided that given the economy, it was time to “find a more reasonable place to meet,” said Grossman. Seattle was also vying for the 300-person convention.

When meeting planners do choose Bismarck, they are often concerned about off-site entertainment. But Bismarck-Mandan’s lack of big-name attractions can work in a group’s favor, Grossman has found.

“In all honesty, Mickey Mouse is not here dragging your attendees off in another direction,” said Grossman.

Planners find that turnout for the special events they plan in Bismarck-Mandan tends to be high, partly because there is little competition for attendees’ attention and partly because attendees are interested in learning more about an area that is unfamiliar to most.

The county engineers association, for example, had a steak cookout at Fort Mandan. “That evening, the meeting planner had someone running to get more steaks, because there were way more people on the bus attending the event than she had expected,” Grossman said.

Fort Abraham Lincoln is also used often for cookouts and pitchfork fondues. Groups sometimes take a trolley to the fort and ride a steamboat back to town. At the fort, planners can arrange for cavalry re-enactments, Native American hoop dancers or other entertainment that fits the historic site.

Because Bismarck is the capital, government and association meetings are top markets for the city. Groups can book Memorial Hall in the state Capitol for a reception that includes forays to the building’s 18th-floor observation deck.

Within the next few years, the North Dakota Heritage Center, next door to the Capitol, will double in size, creating several new off-site venues. The $52 million expansion, scheduled to begin soon, will add an atrium, a large theater and outdoor meeting spaces, as well as more exhibit space. The expanded museum, predicted to become the “Smithsonian of the Plains,” will allow the state to tell more about its modern history with focuses on coal, gas, wind power, agriculture processing, manufacturing and technology.


For more on the Dakotas:

Discovering the Dakotas
Sioux Falls makes a splash
Lodge at Deadwood will bring meetings to town
Bismarck beats big guys
Rapid City touts varied venues