States Enlist Celebrities to Attract Firms : Others Use Barbecue, Beer, Bands as Part of Pitch for Industry

Times Staff Writer

Killeen, Tex., hosted a down-home barbecue with 100 pounds of beef and 30 cases of Lone Star Beer.

California turned a spotlight on Toni Tennille and Diahann Carroll along with a 32-member song and dance company, the Ray Anthony orchestra, a surf-music band and a Mexican mariachi band.

And New York settled on entertainer Ben Vereen, but only because Carol Channing was recuperating from an operation.


All this frenetic show-and-tell activity, which began Saturday with golf and tennis tournaments hosted by the San Diego Economic Development Corp., is being staged to impress 200 corporate members of the Industrial Development Research Council, meeting at the Hotel del Coronado through Tuesday.

Attract Development

The goal is to attract new industrial development. By midweek, government and economic development agencies will have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to woo the corporate decision-makers. Among the top spenders:

- San Diego’s Economic Development Corp., which is acting as host for the meeting, will spend about $150,000, with the whale’s portion going toward tonight’s dinner and reception at Sea World, which includes a private show by Shamu, a performing whale.

- The state of California spent more than $100,000 for Sunday night’s musical extravaganza and a hospitality suite at the Hotel del Coronado.

- New York state will spend more than $20,000 to staff and stock a hospitality suite and pay for Vereen’s 90-minute performance on Tuesday night.

Why spend so much on so few?

“The answer is pretty simple,” said Richard Harrington, deputy commissioner of the New York State Department of Commerce. “This is a group of corporate real estate and facility planners that has a lot to say about where new company investments are made.”


“It’s a way of taking the pulse of the industrial development community nationwide,” said Dan Carlsson, public relations manager for the Irvine Co., an Orange County-based development firm that is helping to foot the bill for Sunday night’s performance. “You might lose opportunities to bring in new companies, and you never know what you’ll miss by not being there.”

Consequently, states and organizations such as San Diego’s private, nonprofit Economic Development Corp. turn to celebrity representatives who will be heard amid the parties, meetings and social hours that fill the IDRC’s busy schedule.

Last year, Utah lured actor/film maker Robert Redford, who, speaking to an IDRC session staged at his Sundance Institute outside of Salt Lake City, pitched the benefits of companies relocating in the state.

“He turned out to be a very good spokesman,” acknowledged Al Gianini, director of the office of local development in the California Department of Commerce.

Although California has hosted hospitality suites at past IDRC meetings, Sunday’s extravaganza was the first time it had gone “Hollywood” in its approach.

“You only get (the IDRC) on your home turf once in a while,” said Gianini. “We won’t have them back until 1989 in San Francisco.”


To keep California fresh in delegate’s minds, the state turned to Robert F. Jani Inc., the Palos Verdes Estates-based show producer who directed the opening of Disneyland in Tokyo, created Disney’s Electric Parades, staged the second Reagan Inaugural and created several Christmas shows that graced the stage of Radio City Music Hall in New York.

“We’re going to make a statement that will live on for years,” Jani said late last week as his 32-member Great American Entertainment Co. song and dance troupe ran through final rehearsals and stage hands readied sets that were moved to an InterContinental Hotel ballroom during the early morning hours on Sunday.

Aware that taxpayers might object to the lavish stage program, Gianini quickly added that “it’s all being paid for through donations, so there will be no state money footing the bill for booze or Swedish meatballs.”

The schedule for Sunday’s extravaganza included music by the Ray Anthony band, appearances by Toni Tennille and Diahann Carroll and music by PapaDoRunRun, a surf band, and Mariachi Guadalajara, a Mexican band.

Although Tennille and Carroll appeared on behalf of the state of California, it wasn’t their job to pitch the state’s industrial benefits.

‘Soft Sell’

That pitch took place during the grand finale, when Tennille and Carroll--along with Jani’s Great American Entertainment Co.--presented “our soft sell for the evening,” said Gianini.


That “soft sell” was built around the premiere performance of the state’s newest tourism jingle, which includes lyrics such as “You’ll come alive in the Californias” and “Where others stop, we’ve just begun.”

While the performers sang and danced their way into delegates’ hearts and minds, Gianini said, a “multimedia” show exploded onto a background screen.

Californians and non-residents who missed Sunday night’s show, however, will still have a chance to hear the jingle, Gianini said. “The theme will carry on in our future advertising, so this isn’t a one-time thing . . . for the IDRC meeting.”

Vereen’s Tuesday night appearance on behalf of New York state will be equally tasteful, Harrington said, adding that “the worst thing you can do is to take the hard sell.”

“We’re trying to get across the message that Ben Vereen is a class act and so is New York state,” Harrington said. “Hopefully, we’ll get the (200) active corporate people, not people like ourselves who are hustling for business.”

That distinction between active members and fellow hustlers is important, he added, because just 200 of the 1,100 people attending the IDRC meeting have the clout to select new plant locations.


That’s why Killeen, with a population of 50,000, sent its barbecue delegation to several recent IDRC meetings.

“This gives our people the chance to meet (industrial) representatives on a first-hand basis, said Chamber of Commerce spokesman Newt Walter. Although Walter did not detail the cost involved in shipping the beef and beer, hosting a hospitality suite or staging an evening reception can be an expensive proposition.

“We’re now estimating that, with invitations, the room rentals and all, we’ll probably spend about $10,000 to $15,000,” the spokeswoman for Utah said.

“A hospitality suite typically costs between $5,000 and $10,000 for three evenings,” said another development officer. “But that’s not a real super-expensive item. A major reception for 1,000 people can run from $50,000 to $100,000. That’s $50 to $100 a person.”

San Diego’s Economic Development Corp., which has invited the 1,100 IDRC members and their spouses to tonight’s reception, dinner and Sea World show, will spend more than $150,000 during the IDRC meeting.

“You can settle for chips and dip or you can razzle-dazzle the people, which can be quite costly,” said EDC Vice President Jane Signiago-Cox, who added that EDC relied on corporate donations to fund the IDRC-related events.


In all, there will be more than 20 hospitality suites open for business at the Hotel del Coronado and other San Diego hotels.

In lieu of hosting their own hospitality suites and receptions, several California economic development corporations contributed either funding for the state effort or a variety of products that were stuffed into tote bags given to delegates.

Top-Heavy With Parties

IDRC officials concede that their meetings--especially the fall sessions which are held in warmer climates--are top-heavy with parties.

Consequently, IDRC’s morning and afternoons are dedicated strictly to business, and those organizations wishing to stage breakfasts, lunches, suppers and other events must clear their plans with the IDRC.

Delegates will spend the three days in workshops that focus on the developing Pacific Rim, the emerging field of ocean sciences and building plants in Mexico.

According to Gianini, wining and dining the IDRC members works. Earlier this year, the state convinced Herman Miller Inc., a Michigan-based office furniture manufacturer, to build what could grow to a 1 million-square-foot facility in the Sacramento area that will create at least 500 jobs.


“We know for a fact that our first contact (with Miller) was with the IDRC folks,” Gianini said. “And we know that, after the meeting in Salt Lake City, we almost lost them to Utah. They said they took a very serious look at Utah after the spring program (in Salt Lake City).”