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Power Up Your Meeting at One of These High-Tech Destinations

Apple, Google, Oracle. NASA, FBI, IBM: From space exploration to mobile gaming, technology has evolved beyond being a part of our daily lives to being intrinsic to every part our lives. And the same is true for these destinations where high-tech industry is no longer simply part of the local economy — it has shaped these cities and defined their communities.

Groups that require specialized technology at their events or that would simply enjoy meeting in high-tech hubs should consider meeting in these “scientific” cities.

Austin, Texas

In addition to homegrown behemoths like Dell Inc., which Michael Dell started in his dorm room at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, Austin has become something of a Texas outpost for West Coast tech companies.

Apple just announced a new $1 billion campus in North Austin. Google just leased out a second building. Oracle established offices in Austin a couple of years ago. Some 6,500 employers in the Austin metro area are in high-tech industries.

“There’s not many major tech companies that don’t have an office here,” said Steve Genovesi, executive vice president of Visit Austin.

UT helps feed Austin’s tech industry, as do the city’s many tech incubators. And many young entrepreneurs have chosen Austin after being introduced to the city through the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference.

Austin is expanding beyond information technology (IT) to biotech and medical sciences. UT’s Dell Medical School opened in the summer of 2016, and Athenahealth and Merck’s tech division have also relocated there.

Because of SXSW, the Austin Convention Center has kept up with cutting-edge offerings, making it attractive for high-tech conferences. And with a surge in recent hotel development, the convention center will soon have nearly 2,700 hotels rooms connected or located within two blocks. Planners can also mimic SXSW by setting up sponsored or branded meet-ups at off-site locations just steps from the convention center.

Groups can use event space at the Capital Factory incubator or at the IBM research lab that houses a Watson supercomputer. Visit Austin can help arrange for local tech leaders or UT professors to speak at events, and some planners also set up campus tours.

Raleigh, North Carolina

North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park (RTP), the country’s largest research park, was established in 1959 in the heart of the triangle formed by Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

IBM helped put Raleigh on the map when the company chose RTP for its 600,000-square-foot research facility in the 1960s. Today, RTP is home to 250 companies that span the tech gamut, but the area’s four target industries are IT, clean tech, life sciences and advanced manufacturing, said Loren Gold, executive vice president of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Big names in high-tech help draw events to Raleigh, either by companies’ own conferences or by nonprofits that focus on related industries. For example, after several years in Orlando, Florida, Lenovo relocated its North American sales conference to its Raleigh-area headquarters, where they showcase the company’s hometown with local bands, brews and barbecue. SAS Institute recently held its U.S. sales conference at the 500,000-square-foot, LEED-certified Raleigh Convention Center, which opened in 2008. RTP also offers event space for 150 to 200 people, and groups can arrange tours of the park through the Research Triangle Foundation.

North Carolina State University has its own R&D park, Centennial Campus, and the on-site StateView Hotel offers 8,400 square feet of meeting space for up to 400 attendees. Also at NC State, groups can tour the fully automated, state-of-the-art James B. Hunt Jr. Library or use the McKimmon Conference and Training Center, where the largest space can seat 720 for banquets.

Eugene, Oregon

Like most high-tech destinations, Eugene, Oregon, is a college town, home to the University of Oregon (UO), “which is a big driver for tech,” said Janis Ross, vice president of convention and sports marketing for Eugene, Cascades and Coast/Travel Lane County.

Nicknamed the Silicon Shire, the Eugene-Springfield area is home to more than 400 tech companies, and nearly two dozen new tech companies have established roots in the metropolitan area in the past year, according to the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO).

Though several larger tech companies have over 100 employees, much of Eugene’s tech industry is tucked away in small startups that employ fewer than 10 people. Eugene’s video game sector has exploded alongside the growth of mobile gaming, and the city is home to studios such as Pipeworks and Zynga.

EUGNet is an open-access fiber network the city built through downtown that serves as a backbone for tech companies. Eugene’s largest conference hotel, Hotel Eugene, connects to EUGNet, providing planners with “great connectivity and speed,” Ross said. The 275-room hotel is being renovated as the new owners transform the former Hilton to a Graduate property.

Hotel Eugene sits next to the Hult Center for the Performing Arts and is within walking distance of the UO campus, which offers planners over 120 meeting and event spaces. TAO’s local chapter has also organized some fun events that planners can re-create for their groups — like human foosball and King Pong — that “create and enhance an overall sense that this is a quirky, fun place to be,” Ross said.

Akron, Ohio

During its heyday as the Rubber Capital of the World, Akron, Ohio, was the headquarters of Goodyear, BFGoodrich, Bridgestone/Firestone and General Tire. And although that industry has mostly faded away, it paved the way for Akron’s future as a high-tech city.

“It’s not rubber anymore; it’s polymers,” said Jim Mahon, vice president of marketing and brand management for the Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The number of polymercentric businesses in Greater Akron is in the hundreds.”

Bridgestone Americas Center for Research and Technology provides advanced materials technology for tire and nontire applications. The University of Akron is a hub for polymer science with the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, the National Polymer Innovation Center and Akron Polymer Technology Services.

Nearly 90 companies are located at Canal Place, a modern, mixed-use redevelopment of BFGoodrich’s first rubber plant. There, Bounce Innovation Hub is an incubator for a range of tech companies in life sciences, biomedical, software, manufacturing and, of course, polymers.

Groups may be able to hold events or arrange tours at the Bridgestone research center or Goodyear’s new Global Headquarters, or tour the university’s polymer research center.

The John S. Knight Center also just upgraded its fiber optics to become a 1-GB facility, which provides “tremendous opportunities” for meetings and trade shows such as the International Tire Exhibition and Conference held there in September or to “stay ahead of the curve” with markets like esports and gaming, Mahon said.

Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama, aka Rocket City, is home to NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, as well as the country’s second-largest research park.

“It helps explain Huntsville as a city, and it helps put us on a map,” said Jamie Koshofer, vice president of conventions for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The space center first developed Saturn launch vehicles for the Apollo moon program in the 1960s, but more recent missions have included the International Space Station, the Curiosity Mars Rover and the Hubble Space Telescope. The FBI is also moving many operations to Redstone Arsenal, the U.S. Army base where the space center is located.

In addition to aerospace and defense, those institutions have expanded Huntsville’s industry into cybersecurity as well as bioscience, manufacturing and more.

Cummings Research Park is the nation’s second-largest research park and is home to Fortune 500 companies, defense contractors and other high-tech enterprises.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is the official visitor center for the Marshall Space Flight Center and is one of the city’s “most unique venues,” Koshofer said. There, up to 1,000 guests can mingle below a massive Saturn 5 rocket. The neighboring Huntsville Marriott offers nearly 16,000 square feet of meeting space.

In downtown, the Von Braun Center is undergoing an expansion and renovation that will add a 1,200-person music hall, a 35,000-square-foot ballroom, 14,000 square feet of breakout space and a 15,000-square-foot prefunction lobby as well as renovate the convention center’s existing space.