In a bid to mimic the success of the Offshore Technology Conference, Houston business and political leaders are launching an annual summit they hope will raise the city's global image as a medical hub.
The leaders announced the effort, a partnership with a German organization that produces the world's largest medical trade show, Thursday at the Texas Medical Center, which will host the conference starting in 2014.
"While we still want to attract top conferences to Houston, we decided we should build our own events, showcasing our strengths," said Mayor Annise Parker. "We want to be the medical conference of the Americas, attracting people from all over the world, and partnering with a franchise will help us achieve that."
Parker said she wants to do the same thing with two other important local economic sectors, aerospace and the Port of Houston. She said the medical conference will give Houston a "second beachhead" in addition to the technology conference.
The German medical conference, begun in the late 1960s, now attracts more than 135,000 visitors and 4,500 exhibitors from 120 countries. By comparison, the OTC 2012 featured 2,500 exhibitors from 46 countries and nearly 90,000 attendees, the most since the oil boom years of 1981 and 1982, when attendance topped 100,000.
Houston leaders acknowledged Thursday that it will take some time to build such a medical conference audience here. They said they're optimistic about the potential because of the coupling of the Medical Center's intellectual firepower and the potential built-in audience from MEDICA, the German event.
"This is not going to be another OTC, at least not until it's had some decades to grow," said Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. "But it is going to be a substantial medical convention and trade show within the United States. We'll see where it goes."
Ortale, who said he's anticipating an attendance of just a few thousand next year, acknowledged that Houston's recent history of attracting medical conferences has been "appallingly inadequate." Eight years ago, the bureau gathered doctors at Trevisio, the posh Medical Center restaurant where Thursday's announcement also was made, to solicit their help in luring medical conferences to Houston. But little came of the initiative.
While MEDICA's focus will be the conference's trade show, Texas Medical Center President Dr. Robert Robbins will head the effort to put together the plenary sessions. The 2014 themes will be cancer, cardiology and emergency medicine, historic strengths of the medical center.
Joachim Schafer, managing director of Messe Dusseldorf, the organization that produces MEDICA, said Houston was an obvious choice for a North American event because of its assets in the Medical Center and because of its geographical reach into Central and South America. The company also has partnerships in Bangkok, Singapore, India and China.
Houston organizers said they'll start rolling out their campaign for the conference Friday, including their website (http://medicalworldamericas.com). They have a contract with MEDICA for five years and automatic renewal for five more.
The conference will be held April 28-30 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.