by Tom Isler | August 01, 2008

Christopher IlitchIn May, Christopher Ilitch, a powerful Detroit businessman and chairman of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, announced a two-year initiative called “Let’s Meet in the D,” which implores local companies to relocate at least one of their out-of-town meetings back to the Detroit area.

“It’s so simple, but it has really caught on and is building momentum,” said Larry Alexander, the CVB’s president and CEO.

As of press time, 18 companies had joined the cause, including Bank of America, the Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Northwest Airlines and Verizon Wireless. The relocated events range from small board meetings to major conferences, according to Alexander.

Ilitch, who oversees the operations of several family owned businesses, including Little Caesars Pizza, took the lead by booking next spring’s Little Caesars’ worldwide conference in Detroit. That meeting should draw 1,500 attendees and generate $1.4 million in direct spending.

Alexander doesn’t know how much business the program will net for Detroit, but he thinks it will give the city a major boost in economically hard times. He also hopes the campaign will reintroduce meeting planners to the local hospitality product -- including several new hotels, expanded casinos, renovated cultural venues and a revamped airport -- and keep planners coming back.

“We want corporate CEOs and meeting planners to think first about metropolitan Detroit,” Alexander said.

The Ilitch family has invested more than $350 million in the city of Detroit over the past three decades and operates the Fox Theatre as well as several sports venues and arenas.