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South Bend Readies for Small Market Meetings Conference

The 2017 Small Market Meetings Conference will be held September 26-28 in one of America’s iconic college towns: South Bend, Indiana, home of the legendary University of Notre Dame.

The home of the Fighting Irish is respected worldwide for its outstanding academics and research capabilities and has a devoted alumni and sports fan base, especially when it comes to football. South Bend will happily roll out the red carpet to several hundred meeting planners and industry representatives who will gather for two important marketplaces and numerous networking opportunities while enjoying all the city offers.

This year’s conference will be held in South Bend’s reliable Century Center, located downtown along the St. Joseph River. The center has 75,000 square feet of distinct and flexible meeting and event space. One of the highlights of the center is the fabulous Great Hall, which features an eye-catching 38-foot-tall glass window that overlooks the river and its man-made rapids. Conference attendees will get to step outside for a close-up experience along that portion of the riverfront.

Taking care of meeting attendees is top priority for the center’s staff. “The best thing that we offer is our customer service,” said Julie Nowak, senior sales manager at the Century Center. “We are graded on every event that comes here by the people who have used it.” Nowak said the Century Center’s grades are consistently high.

The official hotel for the conference is the DoubleTree by Hilton, with 291 guest rooms. The hotel is attached to the Century Center by a convenient skywalk, so conference attendees can easily move between sites.

Conference Benefits

Influential meeting planners spanning the country from California to Florida will be attending the conference. For example, Rita Zager of Perry Consulting, an event planning company in Litchfield Park, Arizona, told Small Market Meetings magazine at last year’s conference that she was fact finding. “I’m learning a lot. I gather information about the CVBs and towns around the country,” she said.

Ed Prokopik of EJP Event Planners in Branchburg, New Jersey, was seeking meeting destinations for his specialty clients. “We handle meetings, sporting events, medical gatherings and so on,” he said.

Destination pro Karen Harris of the Akron/Summit County Convention and Visitors Bureau told the magazine that she wanted to “find out what these meeting groups are looking for so I can match them up exactly with what we have available.”

The conference is also a fantastic place for the South Bend Mishawaka Convention and Visitors Bureau to make a lasting impression on attendees. “It’s a perfect opportunity for us to showcase what we have to offer, especially for meeting planners who are looking at second- and third-tier cities,” said Lindsay Ference, the sales director for the CVB. “We are right up their alley. We plan to show them the prime conference facilities we have and the many area attractions, along with our own special touches.”


This year’s conference will take place midweek and will begin at noon on Tuesday, September 26, with registration. It will be a good time for attendees to meet the staff that will be taking care of them for the next three days and for delegates to meet and greet colleagues and renew old personal and professional friendships.

A keynote address serves as the official conference kickoff later that afternoon. That evening, the South Bend Mishawaka CVB will host a banquet dinner on the island just outside the Century Center and along the river and its rapids. “There will be a light band playing out there, a delicious buffet and an open bar,” said Ference. “It should be a beautiful scene when the interactive light show starts and the colored lights splash onto the rapids.”

On Wednesday afternoon, September 27, all delegates will have a chance to experience some of South Bend up close on three sightseeing tours. “They include the University of Notre Dame campus, a history sightseeing tour, or a whiskey tour and tasting,” said the CVB’s Ference.

The University of Notre Dame will host that evening’s dinner and entertainment. The event will be held in the refurbished Notre Dame football stadium ballroom. It is part of a massive renovation project called Campus Crossroads that attempts to bring together around the stadium academics, athletics and student life. It will be game week — Notre Dame plays Miami of Ohio on the following Saturday — and the entire campus will be preparing for the home game. The dinner will also feature a loud but enthusiastic visit by the Notre Dame Marching Band and some of the school’s cheerleaders. It should be a colorful and exciting event.

Techie, Storyteller, Magician

The conference will also present its usual roundup of interesting speakers and entertainers. Back by popular demand will be technology expert James Spellos, who teaches college students and trains corporate leaders through his company, Meeting U. Spellos says such innovations as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robots and such are gaining traction in the meetings world and that any new technology is only as good as the convenience it brings to the user. Having cool tech tools is not enough for planners, according to Spellos; they must also be able to help support the company’s bottom line.

A man with a fascinating story to share will also address the Small Market Meetings Conference. John Howell’s career path took him through public accounting and finance. That may sound a bit mundane. But the heart-stopping event in 2009 of which Howell was a part will keep conference attendees on the edge of their seats. From that experience, Howell now urges people to invest in the things that matter most in life to secure a happy and rewarding future.

The conference will get magical, too. Alans Live, a husband-and-wife performing duo, will bring their high-energy illusions and mentalist act to the Small Market Meetings Conference. The team combines Las Vegas-style magic and sleight of hand, as performed by Jason, while Stacy delves into mind reading. The couple loves audience interaction, so expect to see them bring a few delegates up on stage to assist them and have some good-natured fun. You might also see them pop up during a cocktail hour, strolling from table to table performing tricks and playing some mind games.

The conference wraps up with a luncheon on Thursday, September 28. It will be one last chance to exchange business cards and cement business relationships. It will also include a welcome and presentation by the 2018 Small Market Meetings Conference host city: Ontario, California.

FAMs Before, During, After

Any meeting planner who wants to learn even more about South Bend and Mishawaka, Indiana, beyond what everyone else will see at the Small Market Meetings Conference can either come early or stay late to do some extra sightseeing. The local CVB hopes these conference delegates will be impressed enough to book some new business with the city.

A preconference FAM will take place Sunday, September 24, through Tuesday, September 26. When the conference concludes, there is another one from Thursday, September 28, through Sunday, October 1. The tours include overall sightseeing in the city plus a look at the outstanding meetings and conference facilities and hotels in both South Bend and Mishawaka. A Notre Dame football game is also part of the postconference FAM tour. Meeting planners who are interested in attending either the preconference or postconference FAM tours should reach out to Lindsay Ference, director of sales at Visit South Bend Mishawaka. Her email address is Ference said space is limited and applicants must meet certain criteria to be included in the groups.

FAMs will include numerous South Bend museums that detail interesting elements of the area’s history. Many have heard of the great Studebaker automobiles or that company’s famous carriages and wagons from the frontier days. The Studebaker National Museum is dedicated to this fascinating history, and it is full of classic Studebaker cars and much more.

Another institution, the History Museum, depicts the area’s rich early manufacturing industry and the rise of the University of Notre Dame. South Bend also fielded a baseball team in the All-American Girls Professional League, made famous in the movie “A League of Their Own.” The History Museum has fascinating and touching memorabilia from the league’s many Midwest teams that played in the 1940s and 1950s. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the film.