A 1 a.m. phone call from Prince George’s County, Md. Executive Angela Alsobrooks kicked off a three-month race to accomplish what usually takes three years — assembling a NACo Annual Conference.
That, along with a $64 million renovation of the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel and Conference Center, has allowed the 2021 NACo Annual Conference to serve as a kick-off event for the county. It’s one that officials hope can be a model to others, as they bring back events that can in turn provide the tax revenue that will fund the services counties have been providing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a sense of normalcy for their communities.
“NACo and county governments never did close,” said NACo President Gary Moore, the judge/executive of Boone County, Ky. “Our county officials have been working on the frontlines throughout the pandemic. We don’t have the liberty to be able to close.”
The close proximity to NACo’s Washington, D.C. headquarters allowed NACo staff to prepare for the conference without heavy air travel in the weeks leading up to the July 9-12 conference.
“This was quick, there was a lot of unknowns, but it says a lot about Prince George’s County’s preparedness, a lot about our leadership and Gaylord National’s preparedness to be able to take on such a great opportunity,” said Leslie Whitlow Graves, president and CEO of Experience Prince George’s.
Councilwoman Monique Anderson-Walker, who represents the Prince George’s County district that includes the hotel and conference center, embraced the chance to be a leader.
“This kick-off here at the National Harbor really sets the tone for what we are trying to push forward and that is that we’re open for business and that we can be successful in keeping a safe environment while moving forward with many people being entertained and learning here,” she said.
“The past 16 months have been a reset and awakening, as the COVID-19 shutdown brought undivided attention to social ills as well as systemic issues highlighting disparities in health and economics,” she noted. “This time provided us opportunities to turn inward, to be introspective, and to turn outward, to look for opportunities to make changes in a very meaningful way.”
In addition to committee meetings and workshops, NACo members will approve federal advocacy priorities.
“NACo’s national issues platform reflects many of the challenges Prince George’s County and other counties currently face: the devastating impacts of COVID-19, public health and the economy, the opioid and heroin crisis, criminal justice, mental health reform, transportation infrastructure and economic development,” Anderson-Walker said.
She credited Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice and Baltimore City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton with helping bring the conference to Prince George’s County.
Moore said he hopes the work NACo, Prince George’s County and the Gaylord National have done would not exist in a vacuum.
“If we can be a resource to the private sector in any way, we’re delighted to do this,” he said.