Made for Medical

These destinations are just what the doctor ordered

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.

Jacksonville, Fla., has more than 30 medical facilities within its sprawling city limits. The 10 most prominent:

> Baptist Health

> Mayo Clinic

> Memorial Hospital

> Naval Hospital Jacksonville

> Nemours Children’s Clinic

> St. Luke’s Hospital

> St. Vincent’s Medical Center

> Shands Jacksonville

> University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute

> Wolfson Children’s Hospital

Rochester, Minn.

In 1883, a tornado razed Rochester, Minn., prompting the English-born Dr. William Worrall Mayo and his two sons, Drs. William J. Mayo and Charles H. Mayo, together with the Sisters of St. Francis Church, to found St. Mary’s Hospital, the city’s first. This institution would go on to become the world-
famous Mayo Clinic. Since its founding, the Midwestern city of Rochester (population 100,000-plus) has become closely intertwined with the hallowed health facility. Mayo, which employs 31,300 people, takes up a fair bit of acreage, including the campus itself and the Mayo Civic Center (, which offers 125,000 square feet of meeting space plus 25 breakout rooms.

“One-half of the downtown area is the Mayo Clinic,” says Brad Jones, director of the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau. Medical meetings are drawn here, says Jones, to be next to the clinic, which can provide keynote speakers and tours of its facilities, many of which are in historic buildings.

mayo clinicThe Mayo Clinic itself puts on a robust slate of continuing medical and nursing education classes (CME and CNE, respectively), which are open to its own clinicians and the medical public. As a result of these enticements, in 2007, Rochester welcomed about 50,000 medical meeting attendees.

For now, a large meeting of 3,500 to 4,000 attendees is “about our limit,” says Jones, but that will change: By 2012, an expansion of the Mayo Civic Center should be complete, adding 200,000 square feet of space to the existing structure. Also, an additional 800 hotel rooms should be available in the downtown area (plus more outside of it) by 2012.

For now, Rochester has 5,000 hotel rooms. Of those, about 1,700 are in the downtown area and are connected to the Civic Center and Mayo Clinic by a system of skyways and climate-controlled pedestrian subways (good for those Midwestern winters). The largest is the 1921 Kahler Grand Hotel, a 700-room property with 30,000 square feet of event space and an idiosyncratic pricing structure. At the low end of the scale, Kahler’s standard rooms will run $60 a night; at the top -- both literally and figuratively, since the Kahler’s highest floor is a five-diamond “hotel within a hotel,” the International ( -- prices range from $600 to $3,000.

For a more consistent room stock, the Rochester Marriott Mayo Clinic Area offers 193 guest rooms plus 10 suites. Over the past four years the hotel has completed $20 million in renovations and is, according to Jones, Rochester’s “rate-setter.” The Marriott has 10,021 square feet of meeting space.

jacksonvilleJacksonville, Fla.

In Florida’s northeast corner, Jacksonville is, by population (800,000 residents), the Sunshine State’s largest city. By area -- 840 square miles -- it is the biggest city in America. It’s also a growing medical hot spot. In recent years, U.S. News & World Report has thrice ranked its St. Vincent’s Medical Center as having one of the top 50 cardiac care programs in the country and, in 2007, Baptist Health as one of the top 50 U.S. hospitals for digestive disorders.

Along with Scottsdale, Ariz., Jacksonville is home to one of two Mayo Clinic campuses outside of Rochester, Minn. It also has America’s fourth-largest naval hospital and medical companies such as Vistakon (a division of Johnson & Johnson), Medtronic Xomed and Body-Tel Scientific (coming soon). The city is linked to several nearby schools that conduct medical research, including the University of Florida at Gainesville and Jacksonville University.

To capitalize on these assets, the convention and visitors bureau, Visit Jacksonville, and the local government recently launched a medical tourism campaign designed to brand Jacksonville as “America’s Health Center,” and thus attract more medical meetings and conventions. (Over the past five years, Jacksonville has hosted approximately 10,200 room nights’ worth of medical meetings and events.)

The initiative has a web presence at Lyndsay Rossman, Visit Jacksonville’s director of corporate communications, says the city “offers a medical meeting or convention experts skilled in the medical arena to speak or conduct business-to-business activity with attendees.”

Jacksonville’s Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center ( pro-vides 265,000 square feet of space and 78,500 square feet of exhibit space in an atmospheric former railroad station. On either side of the St. Johns River, which divides the city, the most popular hotels for medical gatherings are the 966-room Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront and the 292-room Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront. The 354-room Omni Jacksonville Hotel and the 324-room Wyndham Jacksonville Riverwalk also draw their share of meetings in the medical niche.