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After N.C. enacted its bathroom law, this $2.5 million event moved to Boise

A law passed in North Carolina last year to restrict access to restrooms based on birth-certificate gender instead of gender identity prompted a large epidemiology conference to move to Boise.
A law passed in North Carolina last year to restrict access to restrooms based on birth-certificate gender instead of gender identity prompted a large epidemiology conference to move to Boise. AP

A few months after North Carolina enacted House Bill 2 last year, the planners of a large national conference reached out to Lisa Edens at the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“They contacted me and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking at Boise. We’re pulling out of North Carolina,’ ” said Edens, the bureau’s senior sales manager. “They didn’t feel comfortable staying there.”

The law required people to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on the gender listed on their birth certificates — and keeping people from using rooms that correspond with their gender identity. It also banned local anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

After the bill’s passage, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists was one of several organizations that pulled events from North Carolina.

Now, the council’s conference is expected to bring at least 1,400 tourists to Boise between June 4 and 8.

The economic impact to Boise is estimated to be $2.54 million, Edens said.

Boise was competing with Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Edens said planners chose Boise after visiting the city. And it didn’t hurt that Idaho Department of Health and Welfare epidemiologists including Christine Hahn, Robert Graff and Kathryn Turner are very involved in the council, she said.

The group has been here before. It held its 2004 conference in Boise. But this year’s conference will be more than twice as large.

“They used about 400 hotel rooms on their peak night” that year, Edens said. “Compared to this year, they are expecting 830 (rooms) on their biggest night.”

The conference has blocks of rooms reserved at 13 hotels, she said.

Large conferences usually take about four years to arrange, so it was a feat for Boise to prepare to host its largest ever in just one year.

Without the Boise Centre expansion, Boise would not have been able to host such a large group. As it is, the conference is going to spill over into meeting rooms at the Grove Hotel.

The Boise Centre and local hotels got to work immediately when they heard the planners were considering Boise. They set up a site visit for planners within three weeks, which is unheard of, Edens said.

The bureau will help with scheduling and paying for enough shuttles, because transportation problems can sour people on a city, Edens said.

“We were lucky there was an opening we could fit them in,” Edens said. “But it took a lot of partners. Everybody has stepped up. We made it easy for them.”

Edens said the Convention and Visitors Bureau, an arm of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, is always looking for new conferences to bring to Boise — large or small. Have a suggestion? Call 208-344-7777 to tell the bureau about it.

The news of epidemiologists bringing their conference to Boise was first reported by Boise Weekly.

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @audreydutton

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