by Hunter R. Slaton | July 01, 2008

The Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club in Durham, N.C.Just as one might bring a tech meeting to Silicon Valley, a political convention to the Beltway or a manufacturing association gathering to a Rust Belt state, a planner placing a medical meeting should consider one of several U.S. destinations with a rich concentration of medical companies, facilities and history. Places like Durham, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Rochester, Minn., offer targeted support for medical and pharmaceutical groups, from expert speakers in the field to world-class facilities and hotels that are accustomed to the nuances of serving this important market niche.

Durham, N.C.

This city is headquarters to two medical heavy hitters. The first, Research Triangle Park (, was founded in 1959; it occupies 6,971 acres and is home to 160 companies, 48 of which are in the life sciences sector. The two largest such employers in RTP are pharmaceutical manufacturer Glaxo-SmithKline (with 6,400 employees) and Biogen Idec (720 employees), which develops therapies for the treatment of diseases such as lymphoma and multiple sclerosis.

Number two is the world-famous Duke University (, which has schools of medicine, nursing and continuing medical education, as well as the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Institute and the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, among others.

According to Reyn Bowman, president and CEO of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, these two medical giants “have people who are at the very top of their fields” and thereby give Durham credibility. Indeed, planners often turn to resident experts as resources, he adds.

But the proof is in the meetings: Since the start of 2007, Durham has hosted gatherings of the American Board of Pediatrics, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co. and the Alzheimer Disease Conference, among many others.

Downtown, the Marriott-managed Durham Civic Center has a large ballroom (14,080 square feet) and exhibit hall (18,120 square feet) and is connected to the 189-room Durham Marriott at the Civic Center. The three campuses of Duke University surround the Civic Center, which is just four miles from Research Triangle Park.

Within RTP itself is the 198-room Radisson Hotel Research Triangle Park, the sole property on the grounds. RTP does have another great meeting space, however: the NC Biotech Center’s Hamner Conference Center with 19,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 170-seat auditorium, a 40-seat boardroom and a 100-seat banquet room. The center can host 175 people for an outdoor reception in its marble sculpture-dotted Ciba-Geigy Garden.

For a bit of luxury, 20 minutes away from RTP is the 271-room Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, which has hosted medical-minded companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Merck. For local groups or those staying elsewhere, the Washington Duke also has its Executive Conference Center, a member of the International Association of Conference Centers, which can host groups of up to 600.