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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thousands Flock to Events at WCC

  • Conference Services hosted Spring Swing Café 2010, a performance by WCC dance and music students in Towsley Auditorium.
  • The 2010 Ann Arbor Area Earth Day Festival filled WCC’s Morris Lawrence building with everything from hands-on activities to exhibits by local environmental groups.
  • WCC’s Towsley Auditorium serves as a venue for concerts, conferences, lectures, and more.

WCC’s Conference Services, housed in the Morris Lawrence building, might be one of the most popular hosts in Washtenaw County. Each year more than 80,000 people visit the campus to attend activities that it plans and organizes.

Whether they’re kids involved with the Wild Swan Theater, donors partying at the WCC Foundation’s annual Mardi Gras, musicians playing with the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra, or students showcasing their skills at the Southeast Michigan Science Fair, many visitors return year after year, sometimes scheduling next year’s event right on the spot.

Focus on Nonprofits

“Nearly all of our business comes from word of mouth, rather than advertising,” said Patrick Downey, manager of Conference Services. “We’re a tax-supported institution, so we don’t compete with hotels and other commercial facilities. Our main focus is on local nonprofit organizations to whom we can offer prices that allow them to hold high-quality functions without cost constraints. President [Larry] Whitworth has been very clear in this mission: ‘Conference Services opens the door to the community.’”

Downey is proud of the “personalized, top-notch service” his staff offers.  Along with Event Coordinator Lori Courvoisier, he supervises all functions.  The process begins when a client calls either Downey or Courvoisier. One of them then works personally with the client to plan and organize the event.  “First, we meet several times beforehand to nail down the details, such as room selection, media, catering, even speakers,” Downey said. “We’re on site with them the day of the event, then we follow up afterwards for evaluation—and hopefully encourage them to come back.”

Lots of Variety

Conference Services hosts about 30 to 50 events per week, including external functions for the community and meetings for faculty and staff. Courvoisier enjoys the variety. “We see people who are all different ages, from all walks of life, who come from all over the state,” she said.

One of Courvoisier’s favorite gatherings is the annual Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival sponsored by the Dossin Great Lakes Museum and the Ford Seahorses, one of the oldest scuba clubs in Michigan. “About 800 people showed up this year for seminars about the Great Lakes, scuba diving, and finding shipwrecks,” she said. “It’s really neat learning about the maritime history of the Great Lakes.”

Training the Trainers

Three union trade groups use WCC as a base for annual instructor training, and comprise the largest numbers hosted by Conference Services each year. They also have a huge effect on the local economy. Downey said the economic impact for the three groups combined is estimated at $10 million during a one-month span between July and August.

The United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters has been coming to WCC since 1990, with attendance reaching as high as 1,800 for the week, according to Mike Griffith, advisor to the construction trade groups. This summer 200 students from the National Training Institute for the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (electricians), will take classes at both WCC and U-M. In addition, 500 students and staff from the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers will train here.

Conference Services provides major support during these training weeks. It meets with group officials a week early to work out details such as coordinating delivery of the teaching materials, getting the classrooms configured and equipped with the appropriate media, and finalizing plans for meals.

The Governor Visits

Recently WCC was honored by a visit from Gov. Rick Snyder. He spoke to 300 guests at a Washtenaw Economic Club luncheon in the Morris Lawrence building where, at the same time, about 1,000 people were visiting the Business to Business Expo sponsored by annarbor.com.

Getting ready for the governor is no small task, Downey said. “We involve Jacques Desrosiers from Campus Safety, who contacts the governor’s security detail so we know how many parking spaces have to be roped off for the governor’s security officers, the state police, and the media,” he said.

Teamwork Makes It Happen

Although events are held all over campus, most take place in the Morris Lawrence building. It offers plenty of free parking, a variety of barrier-free classrooms and meeting spaces, and a dedicated staff.

“Both Lori and I are here to make sure everything runs smoothly,” Downey said.  “But if there are bumps in the road we have other departments and support services on speed dial, and they always respond with a way to fix the situation.

“We’re a team,” Downey said. “Without the College’s support services— Maintenance, Grounds, Media Services, Custodial Services, Campus Safety and Security—none of these events would happen. We rely on each other.”

To learn more about Conference Services, check out its webpage. To book an event, contact Downey at 734-677-5034 or Courvoisier at 734-677-5035.

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