Just as business conferences and travel have begun to rebound from the recession, the Fairplex in Pomona is branching out from carnival rides and pig races with the opening of an 85,000-square-foot conference center.
The $28-million Fairplex Conference Center, built with federal and local government money, is projected to generate $30 million in economic impact annually, plus $1.4 million a year in local and federal tax revenue, and to support nearly 280 full-time jobs.
The conference center already has about $3 million in reservations over the next three or four years, and the adjoining Sheraton Fairplex Hotel & Conference Center has picked up nearly 5,000 additional overnight bookings for 2012 as a result, according to hotel officials.
"It's going to fill a niche," Pomona Mayor Elliott Rothman said. "The bottom line is that we are going to make a lot of money for the city of Pomona with this."
Representatives of the Fairplex, which is home to the Los Angeles County Fair each fall, said they hope the facility will help spur business during the weekdays in addition to the weekends, when the Fairplex is typically bustling with festivals and concerts.
The new conference center was announced two years ago, when many of the nation's corporations were cutting funding for business travel and conferences because of the lingering effects of the economic meltdown.
In 2009, nearly 75% of managers who plan travel for large corporations said they cut spending by as much as 30%, according to a survey by the Global Business Travel Assn., a trade group.
But with a rebounding economy, spending on business travel reached $251.9 billion in 2011, up 7.6% from the previous year, the association said. The group forecasts that business travel spending will jump 4.6% in 2012.
Workers built the conference center by remodeling an existing 1930s-era 35,620-square-foot exhibit hall and attaching a new 50,000-square-foot building.
During Wednesday's grand opening ceremony, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk) said she was frustrated that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration declined to contribute state money for construction of the project.
"The fact that we couldn't get the state to support us was disheartening," she said.
Southern California boasts more than a dozen facilities with 85,000 square feet or more of exhibit and conference space. That includes the Ontario Convention Center — with 225,000 square feet — only 10 miles away from the Fairplex, according to Cvent, an online firm that provides management software for meetings and conferences.
Still, the Fairplex Conference Center, which has been open unofficially since January, has already hosted gatherings for Southern California Edison and a training session for doctors for Kaiser Permanente. Armstrong Garden Centers and Anheuser-Busch also held trade shows and other events there recently.