After a hiatus in Reno, the Northwest Mining Association is back in Spokane next week for its 113th annual meeting.
The event brings together CEOs of hard-rock mining firms, exploration geologists and investors for five days of technical programs, networking and deal-making.
Last year, the longstanding event took place in a Reno hotel – the conference’s first time away from its headquarters’ city. Organizers hoped to revive flagging attendance by moving the conference to Nevada.
The change of venue worked. Last year, nearly 2,000 people attended the conference, up from 1,200 in 2005.
“Reno is right in the heart of the U.S. mining industry,” said Laura Skaer, NWMA’s executive director. “Twelve thousand people work in the mining industry within a four-hour drive of Reno.”
Skaer is projecting that 1,800 people will attend this year’s conference at the Spokane Convention Center, which takes place Monday through Dec. 7. In the future, the association plans to alternate the event between the two cities.
“It’s a great piece of business. We would love to keep it in Spokane, but we realize they have to look at what’s healthy for their organization,” said Keith Backsen, vice president of convention sales at the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Since the conference takes place in early December – a time when other convention sales are slow – the influx of miners has provided a critical boost to the downtown business district. Backsen estimates that this year’s attendees will spend $1.85 million on lodging and food.
“It’s encouraging to see that the show’s in a rebound,” he said.
A century ago, when the Northwest Mining Association was founded in Spokane, the city was the heart of a thriving mining region. But many of those jobs have since shifted overseas or to other states, such as Nevada and Utah.
Low metals prices and poor business cycles, which also took a toll on past conference attendance, aren’t a problem this year. From gold to lead, metals prices are climbing again – gold as a result of economic jitters and the U.S. dollar’s fall, and base metals as a result of rapid industrialization in China and India.
“The mining industry is booming,” Skaer said. “Metals prices are up, and that attracted a lot of investment to the industry and created work for drilling contractors, suppliers and vendors.”
Some of the larger firms, such a Newmont Mining Corp., Barrick Gold and Rio-Tinto, have booths in the trade show for recruiting purposes. The association is also providing $5,000 in scholarships to bring mine engineering and geology students to the conference.
For many attendees, deal-making takes precedence over the conference’s formal programs, Skaer said.
“People tell me, ‘Every time I tried to get to a presentation, I bumped into someone that I wanted to do business with,’ ” she said.