The Northern Kentucky Convention Center is a home away from home for corporate meetings, trade groups and other gatherings.

The convention center at 1 W. Rivercenter Blvd., Covington, hosts an average of 185 events annually and about 60 percent are corporate events, says Gretchen Landrum, executive director for 10 years and director of sales and marketing before that.

“Since we’ve been open we’ve found ourselves as more of a corporate-style convention center,” she says. “The majority of our business is corporate business, followed by state, national and international associations.”

With 110,000 square feet of public space spread over two floors, she says, the facility lends itself to corporate meetings that may have outgrown a hotel ballroom but are not large enough for bigger spaces.

“It’s very easy to find your way around. It’s easy to secure for companies as well. It’s just a nice extension when they need that additional space,” she says.

Eric Summe, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the center has hosted more than 2,500 small to large events since it opened in 1998 with a total economic impact on the region of about $1 billion.

Summe says one of the Convention Center’s biggest selling points is its location near the riverfront and its access to events and attractions on both sides of the Ohio River.

“We have a very unique destination here,” he says. “We’re a river community and a gateway to the South and we’re part of the Cincinnati Metropolitan area with major attractions such as the zoo, major league sports and Kings Island.”

Conventions in Northern Kentucky generate about 37,000 hotel room nights annually for local hotels, he says. Each room night generates about $229 in daily expenditures including room rentals, eating, parking and other expenses.

“If you do the math, that represents about $8.5 million annually,” he says.

Convention center clients think it’s money well spent.

“For us the space is great,” says the Rev. Julie Hager Love, director of connectional ministries for the Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church. “There’s room for all our exhibitors as well as our big gathering and lots of breakout rooms. It’s the perfect size for us, actually.”

The conference, which represents 800 United Methodist Churches in Kentucky, held its annual meeting, drawing more than 1,000 attendees, at the convention center from 2009 to 2014 and will return in 2018 after moving to Bowling Green, Ky., as part of a regular rotation.

“The people are wonderful. They’re the best to work with and we’ve worked all over the state,” says Rev. Love. “They are wonderful about helping us think creatively about things we can do. And when there are last-minute changes, they’re willing to work with you.”

As an example of how the staff will go the extra mile, she says: “We started while there an Afternoon of Service where we go into the community to do service and projects like putting together health kits. They’ve been wonderful in helping us connect with the community to do that and facilitate something completely different that they hadn’t done before.”

The center’s fulltime staff of 24 plus some part-time employees is supported by on-site catering from Masterpiece Creations by Centerplate and in-house audio-visual provider MAC Productions.

Because most of its clients are repeat customers, Landrum says the convention center doesn’t do a lot of advertising, relying instead on word of mouth and referrals from clients.

“We draw a lot of Kentucky state association business,” she says. The center also draws groups from around Greater Cincinnati and Ohio as well as from Washington D.C. and Canada.

“Some meet here because their industry is located in the Greater Cincinnati area and for national groups this is a good location to meet suppliers and clients.”

Landrum says there isn’t a lot of competition among local convention centers for business.

“It doesn’t happen that often. We’re right-sized for the type of business we hold.”

The first floor exhibit space two years ago underwent a $2 million upgrade to convert it to more usable ballroom space with carpeting, new lighting and updated restrooms to better serve its business client base.

“The business draw we had was more finished space business as opposed to a concrete exhibit location,” says Landrum. “Doing that helped us offset the need for additional space.”

To continue to meet clients’ needs, the center will need to expand, Landrum says.

Expansion of the facility has been discussed frequently in the past but is on hold while officials await the federal government’s decision on the adjoining Internal Revenue Service facility.

“We’re landlocked by the IRS next door,” says Landrum. “We want them to make the decisions they need to make here in Covington to be able to stay and have the facility they need. When they’ve made that decision, then we’ll see how the space lays out for us to grow as well.”

Summe says as the corporations and organizations that use the convention center grow in size, they’ll need more space for their events.

“They love us, what we do and the destination, but as they get bigger and more successful, they outgrow us,” he says.

It’s an issue all convention centers have to deal with, he says.

“It’s a very competitive business and you have to make sure you have the room, the technology and certainly the destination has to contribute in terms of vibrancy,” he says. “The City of Covington and Kenton County are trying to improve the vibrancy in the area around the Convention Center right now. That all adds up. Once you have a good center and adequate, competitive hotel space around it. The economic impact can be considerable.”