BY COURTENAY EDELHART, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bakersfield Business Conference, which until four years ago drew internationally known luminaries in business and government, is returning Oct. 9, 2010.
Organizer and local attorney George Martin said it was time to bring back the prestigious conference, but it will take place every five years, not annually.
Conference highlights through the years
Over the years some big names have visited Bakersfield for the conference. Here are just a few:
• Dick Cheney (1995)
• Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish President Lech Walesa (1996)
• Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell (1997)
• Columnist Dave Barry (1997)
• Five Nobel Peace Prize winners on one stage — F.W. de Klerk, Lech Walesa, Shimon Peres, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger (1998)
• Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden (1999)
• Comedian Bob Newhart (2000)
• Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young (2001)
• Former British Prime Minister John Major (2001)
• Oliver North (2002)
• Rudolph Giuliani (2002)
• Neil Armstrong (2003)
• Author Tom Wolfe (2003)
• Cal Ripken Jr. (2003)
• Nancy Reagan (2003)
• “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams (2004)
• Monty Python funnyman John Cleese (2004)
• William Bennett (2005)
• John Ashcroft (2005)
• Started in 1985. The first year featured Pulitzer-prize winner Jack Nelson and comedian Pat Paulsen. They entertained a crowd of 250 at Stockdale Country Club.
• Held at Cal State Bakersfield from 1992 to 2003.
• Food and decorations have always been a big part of the conference. In 1993, for example, five tons of tri-tip beef were served; more than 800 shrubs and trees and 10,000 potted flowers were used as temporary landscaping. There were 10,000 balloons and 1,500 American flags flying.
• In 1998, a giant eagle was the centerpiece on the conference grounds.
• In 2002, organizers spent $450,000 just to pitch the conference’s 380-foot-long main tent.
• Attendance crested in the mid-to-late 1990s, when the conference attracted 11,000 to 12,000 attendees. Those years it cost about $3.8 million to put on, organizer George Martin said at the time.
• Moved to Centennial Garden (now Rabobank Arena) for 2004, when attendance was about 6,500 and 2005, when it was expected to be about 4,300. The move downtown saved about $750,000. Full-priced tickets at that conference cost $425.
Source: Californian archives
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“It was a tremendous amount of work to do that every year,” he said.
Martin declined to identify anyone in the speaker lineup, but said some big names are confirmed already. Pressed to offer at least a hint, he said coyly, “Secret Service will be there.”
Past speakers in the political realm included Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, as well as former first lady Barbara Bush, former vice president Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Past speakers in entertainment included the likes of Jay Leno, Dick Clark, Buck Owens, Tim Conway, Dana Carvey and Phyllis Diller.
The 1998 conference featured five Nobel Laureates on the same stage.
Registration for the daylong series of speeches, debates and performances will be $425 per ticket, but as in the past, previous attendees will get a $100 discount, Martin said.
The event ceased after 21 years because it was in danger of becoming stale, Martin said.
“Toward the end we were having the same speakers over and over, which is less of a draw,” he said. “It had to change up.”
In the years since the event stopped, Martin said, a whole new crop of speakers has sprouted with fresh ideas, and the need for a conference is as strong as ever.
“People are having a very hard time figuring out how to invest and what they should invest in,” Martin said.
City leaders were thrilled to hear of the conference’s return.
“That's great news,” said Bakersfield City Councilman David Couch. “That is a marquee event that any city in the world would love to have, and we’re very fortunate to have it here.”
Mayor Harvey Hall said the conference was once “the highlight of the year for our community. I think that’s terrific. Tremendous.”
Hall also said he’s excited about the potential impact on the local economy, which local tourism officials estimated was $6 million at the conference’s zenith.
“Remember that 80 percent of the people who used to come to this were from out of town, and they spent money while they were here,” Hall said.
At its peak, the conference drew about 12,000 people, and it cost about $3.8 million for sponsor Borton Petrini LLP to put on.
It’s not clear yet where next year’s conference will take place. Over the years it was staged at Stockdale County Club, under a vast tent on the campus of Cal State Bakersfield and at Rabobank Arena.
Martin said he’ll be asking visitors to the conference’s Web site (http://www.bpcbakbusconf.com) for feedback on the appropriate venue. The site is sparse now, but Martin said to expect regular updates there starting Sept. 27.
Martin added that he’s happily surprised by the indelible imprint the event has left on attendees.
“All these years later, I was still getting emails and phone calls from people asking when we were going to do it again,” he said.