The Silicon Valley Voice

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Milestones (OPINION)

Santa Clara is fortunate to have Annette Manhart as Manager of our Convention and Visitors  Bureau.

Petite, feisty and charming all in the same package, describes this lady dynamo. It would just seem that such a talent would be more prominent in our City. Her small office and staff of 13 people, which is managed by the Chamber of Commerce, has generated an average of $132 million in economic activity for Santa Clara annually over the past five years.

What is amazing is Manhart and her staff have done this on a shoe string budget.

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When Manhart arrived in December of 2002, from the San Jose CVB, her budget for marketing the entire City of Santa Clara was $1.4 million.

Hard to believe it is 15 years later and the CVB budget is only $1.5 million. Considering inflation, it is $670,000 less money than 15 years ago. While City budgets and payrolls have grown by millions, this economic marketing engine for our City has been placed on severe gas rationing.

The Chamber of Commerce, which oversees both the Convention Center and the Convention Visitors Bureau, has voiced concern over lack of City funding for the CVB.

“Reduction in CVB funding will affect long term revenue growth for Santa Clara,” says Nick Kaspar, Acting Executive Director of the Santa Clara Chamber. “When you look at cities like Oakland, advertising everywhere, you have to wonder why not Santa Clara? Even a little town like Paso Robles has a CVB budget of $1.2 million. Santa Clara is still stuck in the last decade. Our Council has to increase CVB funding.”

Perhaps part of the problem is that our City Council doesn’t really understand the functions of every department in the City. Every department has a purpose and each department fights for more funding each year. Some departments present a more needy picture than the CVB. However, short changing our CVB is like taking funds out of our retirement account.

It is the CVB that is generally the first contact by meeting planners representing conferences, conventions and large corporate meetings. Meeting planners know that CVBs in most cities are equipped to answer questions and provide information on meeting space, hotel room availability, transportation and a host of other services. It is the CVB that holds the master calendar for major visitor events in our City.

The Chamber of Commerce has been the management entity that oversees both the Convention Center and the CVB. While convention centers in most cities have not been known for making money, Santa Clara’s Convention Center does and has every year since 2009.

It is Manhart and her small staff that make our hospitality industry boom, averaging $13 million a year in hotel bookings alone over the last five years. When asked about the recent rumors coming out of City Hall that the CVB was not doing a great job, she laughed.

“We do more than our job with about the same financial support from the City as when I started 15 years ago. In 2002 our budget for marketing and advertising the City of Santa Clara was $1.4 million. We should now be approaching a budget of $2.5 million. Instead, this year, our budget is just $1.5 million.”

When asked, “Does the City Council of Santa Clara really expect more results with less resources?” She didn’t answer.

While the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce management has gone through some turbulent times in the past two years, they have transitioned into a more powerful and influencial organization. Their Board of Directors now includes a number of Santa Clara’s largest companies and employers including Kaiser Permanente, Owens Corning, along with the Hyatt and Marriott Hotels.

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