Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

June 30, 2020

Fate is unclear for high-profile national governors conference in Portland

Courtesy / NGA Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer discussed government data during a policy talk at the 2017 National Governors Association Summer Meeting, in Providence, R.I.

With barely a month before the scheduled summer meeting of the National Governors Association — originally expected to draw 2,000 politicians and others to Portland and provide an economic boost of over $1 million  — officials are releasing few details on how the high-profile event may occur amid the pandemic.

The annual conference is slated for Aug. 5-7. Last November, Gov. Janet Mills enthusiastically announced the selection of Portland as the meeting site for the nation’s 55 state, territorial and commonwealth governors.

"I am confident by the time they leave they will know why we say Maine is the way life should be," she said at the time.

But today, as Mills’ own public health restrictions limit the size of gatherings across the state to 50 people, it’s doubtful the governors will arrive here to gain that knowledge.

Mills’ press office did not respond to repeated requests from Mainebiz for an update on the meeting plans.

But a National Governors Association spokesman, James Nash, said Monday that this year’s event “will look different from other large NGA annual meetings.”

“We’re still working on details of a summer meeting that puts the health and safety of all participants first, while maximizing opportunities for governors and other attendees to learn from and interact with one another. The exact parameters of that are still being worked out.”

Nash pointed out that the NGA last week hosted an online conference in place of a regional meeting in Phoenix. The virtual version, hosted by NGA Chair Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, included five other governors and “attracted hundreds of viewers on Facebook and YouTube … replicating as closely as possible the dynamic of our in-person meetings,” Nash said.

But that kind of event is a far cry from the NGA’s traditional summer meeting, one of two yearly, national events for the nonpartisan organization, which dates to 1908.

The summer meeting gets as many as 2,000 attendees from throughout the country, according to Nash. The event typically includes discussions with top leaders from business, government and philanthropy, and is a magnet for lobbyists, vendors and the national press corps.

And with this year's meeting taking place on the eve of a presidential election, the country's political spotlight could shine extra-brightly on Portland.

Nash told Mainebiz in November that the last three summer meetings generated an average of $1.5 million in economic activity, including room stays and direct spending by attendees and exhibitors. Those meetings were held in Providence, R.I.; Santa Fe, N.M.; and, most recently, Salt Lake City, Utah.

He also had said that the National Governors Association was negotiating with Portland venues to hold the meeting and other related events. It’s not clear if any spaces were contracted.

Portland last hosted an NGA meeting in 1983.

In November, Visit Portland President and CEO Lynn Tillotson told Mainebiz it's hard to put a price on the exposure that the city and Maine would receive from this year's conference.

But she expected many attendees to extend their trip into a mini-vacation, saying: "Visit Portland is excited to show the U.S. that we can host a world-class conference in our city and state."

Since the meeting’s announcement, Maine’s hospitality industry has been crippled by a temporary business shutdown and plummeting tourist visits as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF