The VOICE Summit, which put Newark and NJIT on the map as a place to host tech conferences, will be held in the Washington, D.C. metro area in 2020, founder and organizer Pete Erickson confirmed.
VOICE highlights advances in voice and voice-first technology. It was launched in Newark and ran for two years at the Wellness and Events Center at NJIT.
The summit generated over $4 million in economic impact for the city, Karin Aaron president and CEO of the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau told us. It also opened the Newark community and Newark students to think about a career they probably hadn’t thought of before, Aaron said. “They may have access to computers, but they weren’t thinking about how voice technology relates to an industry.”
In an interview, Erickson noted that the VOICE community is growing so rapidly, that “it was time to move the conference to a larger city.” When we finished the 2019 event, “a lot of our sponsors wanted us to go to a larger city because they wanted to invest more and were looking for a higher return on investment.”
“Back in 2017 when we started VOICE and launched it as a conference, and we were looking for our first home, we selected Newark based on its merits,” he noted. Some of those merits included the Newark community, and “we felt that we had good partners and a good location. Newark is a dynamic city that is on the rise.” He added “it is very cost effective to hold an event in Newark. Hotels are reasonable and there is an airport nearby.”
” I believe we proved to the world that you can do a conference in Newark. “Pete Erickson founder of the VOICE Summit
The summit went well enough in 2018 that VOICE came back for 2019, he said, and even then “we looked at our options. I believe we proved to the world that you can do a conference in Newark.”
Erickson stated that the conference brought people from all over the world to Newark, and it brought people there who had maybe driven through or flew into the airport and never stepped foot into the city proper. These VOICE attendees had an opportunity to find out what a great town Newark is, he said. He lauded Newark’s restaurants, the unique boutique hotels and the wonderful universities. Aaron agreed saying, “We had people here from 15 different countries.”
Ericson continued, “I think the NJIT Wellness and Events Center was an ideal place to have when we launched our event. It is a very nice facility. It brought a lot to the conference in terms of easing the flow of people and the ebb and flow of the conference, and we were able to convert a practice basketball court for our showcase. It showed a lot of positive attributes of NJIT.”
“The city is saddened that he [Erickson] needed to move on, but we are thrilled that the VOICE conference, which was his baby, grew out of Newark.”Karin Aaron president and CEO of the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau
Aaron told NJTechWeekly.com “The city is saddened that he [Erickson] needed to move on, but we are thrilled that the VOICE conference, which was his baby, grew out of Newark. He took a chance on Newark, when many people wouldn’t. She added that the Bureau understand” that Modev (Erickson’s conference company] is growing exponentially and is starting to see more demand.
The conference gave Newark the opportunity to see what the Brick City can do “from the tech side, from the community side, from the economic development side – all the things it takes to host a major conference. Now we know what we need to do and we’ve proven to ourselves that we can handle a major event like this,” she continued.
The VOICE Summit “showed off the capacity of NJIT to handle something like this, as well.” She recalled that when the initial VOICE Summit launched, it was the first time the Wellness Center was available for use. “They opened the doors and the VOICE Summit walked in. This was the test of all tests. That was done well, and it was good for the city,” she said.
“This opens the door to other things, and NJIT will reap the benefits of hosting more tech conferences,” Aaron predicted. “They are talking to Google and Microsoft for some of those smaller conferences that we can do well.”
Asked whether Newark tried to make an offer to keep the VOICE conference, Erickson said, “we never got into that conversation…I don’t think there is any one body that holds the responsibility for negotiating that with us. While there are a lot of really good organizations out there, like NJIT, the City and Choose New Jersey, I could be wrong but I don’t think there is anybody set up to take that role to be able to craft an offer to say, ‘If we could keep you, we would do this.’”
During the interview, Erickson continually emphasized that his experience in Newark was a good one. “I’m so grateful to get to know Newark, the great people of Newark and the leadership in Newark,” he told us.
Nevertheless, NJTechWeekly.com asked him what he thought Newark could do to enhance the city’s ability to bring in more conferences like his. “I think it needs a point person dedicated to attracting conferences.” He said that like Newark, many small cities don’t have such a point person. Also, he suggested that Newark “launch a marketing campaign with a cohesive marketing message that would cater to event organizers to show off the positive things about Newark.”
Aaron recalled that when VOICE first came into Newark the Bureau went out to try to leverage the stakeholders to convince them to support “a concept they had never heard of.” It took two years to get everyone on board because Newark wasn’t used to hosting things like this. “I think we did pretty well, but it was our stakeholders who needed some convincing and sometimes we got a lot of pushback because they didn’t understand how important this was to the community and the city.”
Now these stakeholders know how important hosting conferences like this is, she said. “I think it strengthened relationships between us and or corporate and tech community and potential clients who may be looking at Newark for the first time.”