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Officials look at Greenbrier Classic as business opportunity for West Virginia

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Photo by Jim Workman Photo by Jim Workman

Greenbrier County is always a good destination for vacationers, as far as tourism in West Virginia goes.

But the week of The Greenbrier Classic offers significant opportunities to grow business and invite investments to the Mountain State, according to Keith Burdette, executive director of the West Virginia Development Office.

The West Virginia Legislature must certainly agree about the opportunity presented the state by the PGA TOUR FedExCup event in White Sulphur Springs. It has appropriated funds for sponsorship of The Greenbrier Classic since 2011. The appropriation for this year is $1.7 million.

The Greenbrier Classic kicked off its 2014 events on June 30, and runs through July 6.

“The state is one of two presenting sponsors (of The Greenbrier Classic),” Burdette explained, with EATON Corporation being the other. “We use the sponsorship packages for the West Virginia Development Office and the West Virginia Tourism Office. 

"Tourism has an operation at the 17th green and they use it to promote tourism activities across the state. They see visitors from all over the country, and really, all over the world."

Burdette explained that the state tries to leverage its involvement with The Greenbrier Classic to advance investments and bring jobs to West Virginia.

“The development office uses it as part of our business outreach,” he said. “We invite customers and clients that we are trying to recruit to the state. We have used it for four years.

“It’s a two-fer, for both offices to be involved,” Burdette said, adding that the investment, "pays for itself every day" — because of the relationships being built that week that lead to businesses investing in the state.

Though specific clients that the development office is currently pursuing cannot be discussed, results can be immediate, Burdette reports.

“This year we’ll have 40 international companies that will send representatives that will spend at least a day or two with us,” said Burdette. “It’s a pretty aggressive effort we make. We think we should use (the event) to our advantage. In the past several years, we feel that we’ve been able to do that.”

In April, Antero Resources announced an agreement to become the anchor ethane supplier for Odebrecht’s proposed ASCENT petrochemical complex in Wood County. The cracker plant and supporting suppliers could mean hundreds if not thousands of well-paying jobs for West Virginians, as well as tax revenues for the state.

Relationships are at the top of the list when luring business and furthering development.

“Make no mistake about it, it’s all about relationships,” Burdette said. “Companies like to know who they’re dealing with and like to know them at arms length. They like to look at you in the eye.

“Last year, we invited several companies, including Antero to the Greenbrier,” Burdette recalled. “We knew that it was an opportunity to get to know each other and build some relationships. On more than a couple of times, we have heard that it was that week last year (at The Greenbrier Classic) that they got to know and meet the folks from West Virginia and realize how important the project was to our state.”

Burdette said the state has had other companies come to the Greenbrier Classic that ultimately make announcements. 

"I’m not saying that it’s just because of the Greenbrier Classic that it happened," he said. "It’s an overall effort.”

Efficiency is another benefit of hosting guests this week. The process of business development can be grueling.

A 20-plus year veteran of the development office told Burdette that he accomplishes “more in the one week of The Greenbrier Classic than he could in 4-5 years.”

“If you’re trying to get in front of a company, it’s usually a series of phone calls and setting up a meeting here and there,” Burdette explained. “But if we can get them to come to The Greenbrier… and we get to spend breakfast, lunch and dinner with them. We’re with them and learn about each other’s families and their company’s future plans. It’s been a great vehicle for us, to do our job.

“A lot of people don’t know much about West Virginia, so it’s a perfect setting.

Visibility of West Virginia to the rest of the world hits a peak this week, boasting of the tourism opportunities in the Mountain State.

“(The Greenbrier Classic) is televised to something like 270 countries across the world, on the Golf Channel and CBS,” Burdette said. “You really can't buy that kind of publicity ..." and (CBS announcer) Jim Nantz is a walking commercial that weekend for West Virginia. ... It’s the type of event that produces results. 

"It’s a great advertisement for us. And not just for The Greenbrier. They’ll talk about whitewater rafting and the other amenities in the state.”

The state has two venues on the tournament site for hosting its events and guests. The development office has a box on the 18th green and the tourism office is on the 17th green.

When companies invest in the state, the potential return on the annual $1.7 million appropriation is significant, according to Burdette.

“People see that number and think that it is a lot of money," he said. "But it takes a lot of money to put these things on.

“There’s been multiple deals made, some not even structured through us, but we’ve matched partners up. It’s paying for itself every day in business investments in West Virginia. It’s paying dividends for us."

He stressed that the Greenbrier Classic is the only national sporting event that takes place in West Virginia.

“We have great college football and basketball programs," Burdette said. "But as far as professional sports, this is the only one we do that gets this type of covering.

“Plus it’s a good thing to promote West Virginia."