Brand Story - Pendleton’s “can do” ethos and abundant amenities lead to distinctly memorable.
A convention center is really just a box,” said Steve Chrisman, Pendleton economic development manager. “When it boils down, everyone’s just selling some four-walled room. It’s not sexy nor exciting. But what [the Pendleton Convention Center] does is different. They’re able to take something ordinary and make it truly memorable.”
Most convention centers consist of one large banquet room, several breakout rooms, sophisticated A/V system, on-site catering, etc. And though the Pendleton Convention Center offers those amenities—along with the fastest Internet in Oregon (provided for free), a 500-car parking lot and an adjacent amphitheater and stadium—it’s truly found a way to differentiate itself: by dreaming big and delivering beyond expectations.
“Pendleton’s a place where you’re supposed to have fun,” said Pat Beard, manager of the Pendleton Convention Center (PCC). “Making sure people enjoy themselves.…that’s what this business is about.” Beard noted that the 40,000 square-foot convention center—formerly the Oregon National Guard armory—is “hard to hurt.” Meaning: “Sky’s the limit here,” he said. “As long as we can do it safely, we’ll make it happen.”
For example, in 2016, Travel Oregon held the Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Pendleton. Part of the three-day convention is the “Night Out,” an evening dedicated to fun, entertainment and experiencing local culture.
The night started with Happy Canyon, a full-scale production depicting the settling of the American West. After the show, doors within the set opened up and led directly into the Convention Center. Inside, the main room was transformed into a full-service saloon—the floor covered in sawdust and the bar lined with glasses of whisky. Once the 500 attendants made their way inside, a flat bed truck drove in and folded down the sides, where a live band played music to kick off the evening.
“We’ll never have a Night Out that’ll top that,” said Carole Astley, director of industry services for Travel Oregon, who noted the event exceeded its expected attendance. “I can’t believe Pat not only pulled off such an event, but stayed within an amazingly tight budget. After that, our team is always asking: When can we go back to Pendleton?”
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Astley has hosted hundreds of events throughout Oregon. She noted the PCC stands out for two reasons. “First, that team is the real deal—by the time you start, they’ve thought of everything,” she said. Experience helps: The PCC has hosted more than 2,500 events in the past 25 years, from company events, regional trade shows, motorcycle rallies and weddings. She added: “Pendleton is also an amazing draw. Every single time we host there, we have an unbelievable turnout.”
A trip to Pendleton is a dip into another era (hence it’s motto, “The Real West”). Rated amongst Smithsonian Magazine’s “Top 20 Small Towns in America,” Pendleton boasts an especially rich history—the training ground of the Triple Nickels and Doolittle’s Raiders, a stopping point on the Oregon Trail, and home to the 10,000 year history of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes. “Coming here is a pure, non-commercialized experience,” said Chrisman. “Deep down, that really appeals to people.”
Attractions include its infamous Underground Tour (one of the largest in the Northwest), a vibrant nightlife, 20 miles of mountain biking trails, two 18-hole golf courses, a nearby casino, and world-famous western gear, including Pendleton woolen mills and Hamley Western Store’s saddles, boots, and hats.
On top of the activities, Pendleton has built a reputation for legendary hospitality. Most famous is the annual Pendleton Round-Up, a week-long rodeo in September that draws more than 80,000 people and has won “Best Rodeo in North America” for four straight years (“If they can put on an event like the Round-Up, they can do your conference with their eyes closed,” said Astley).
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Similar in scope, the annual Pendleton Whisky Music Fest has attracted music acts like Maroon 5, Pitbull and Blake Shelton.
One could say Pendleton is literally built to host. For one, it’s the geographical center of the Pacific Northwest—nearly equidistant from Portland, Boise, and Seattle (Boutique Air also offers flights as low as $59 from Portland). Many of the city’s hotels are within a 10-minute walk from the Convention Center, with affordable transportation options. Travel Pendleton also provides hotel rebates based on the number of room nights and event planners can apply for grants from the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce.
Yet beneath the amenities and activities lies a deeper benefit: the spirit of Pendleton’s people. Embedded within every conference, trade show, or event is the city’s “can do” attitude, along with a commitment to doing things right and going above and beyond for its guests. Hosting is hardly a burden but a part of the city’s DNA, and the people see it as their duty that every visitor leaves with a smile, a story, and a night to remember.
Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues. The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.