As Hargrove employees toil in their Lanham headquarters to fabricate essential pieces for the parades and official celebrations that will surround the inauguration of President Barack Obama this month, Gray Graphics in Capitol Heights is busy filling another request for 86,000 inauguration program packages. Both companies shifted into overdrive for their projects around Christmas time.
“It’s not our biggest contract, but it’s our most important,” said Hargrove CEO Tim McGill.
Gray Graphics’ 60 employees must hand-assemble packages of engraved invitation cards, booklets and photos of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden within three weeks. This year’s order is down 24,000 from Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.
“It’s intense. Not many companies want to take the challenge,” said Rhonda Helal, daughter of the owner, Amal Helal.
With 10 days until the inauguration, these and many Maryland businesses are doing their best to seize a piece of its economic impact, though most predict it will be significantly smaller than four years ago, when Obama made history as the nation’s first biracial president. The inauguration committee will be hosting only two official balls, compared with 10 in 2009. More than $170 million was spent on that inauguration.
Meanwhile, Heller Electric of Brandywine just finished installing more than 1,400 amps for three structures involved in the inauguration. Employees worked 10-hour days since the week before Thanksgiving to have the work finished this week, a change from the usual due date of the Friday before the inauguration, said owner Brian Heller.
“It’s rare to be awarded too many jobs in the dead of winter, so this does help,” Heller said. Heller did electric work on the Presidential Reviewing Stand, where the Obama family will watch the parade, the three-story Media Stand and the Mayoral Parade Stand.
These and other privately held companies declined to disclose the value of these contracts.
Despite the smaller impact this year, the hospitality industry always benefits from the four-day boost in revenues, particularly because January is such a “lousy” time of the year for the industry, said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Inauguration activities such as the Texas State Society’s Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball, which will be held at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, can be “huge windfalls” for county jurisdictions because they bring money that would not be spent otherwise, Fuller said.
The Texas ball drew more than 12,000 people to the National Harbor hotel in 2009, and Gaylord is confident that number will be the same or higher this year, said spokeswoman Amie Gorrell.
Although the hotel hosted two inaugural events in 2009, the 2,000-room Gaylord, now operated by Marriott International of Bethesda, was already fully booked for inauguration weekend far in advance with an unrelated convention, she said.
“It’s definitely a boost, no question about that,” said Bob Daley, general manager at the 450-room Marriott hotel in North Bethesda, which will host guests related to the inauguration, including high school students attending the ceremonies.
The inauguration’s primary impact on the region’s hospitality industry will come from visitors who normally travel to Washington, D.C., for business and other purposes. They will find local hotels booked and have to look outside Washington, Daley said. He called that “compression,” saying people will probably follow the Metrorail system in their search, filling hotels in Chevy Chase and Bethesda before reaching the area near his hotel, farther north.
But he added that most people see almost no comparison between this inauguration and 2009’s.
“The last time, there were outrageous crowds. If someone new was being elected, we would see more occupancy,” Daley said. “It’s like comparing the Superbowl to a sandlot baseball game.”
Washington-area hotels pulled in more than $94.8 million over the four days around the 2009 inauguration, according to Destination D.C., the district’s tourism office. In the Maryland, Virginia and Washington market, average hotel revenues per available room jumped from $68.90 per day to as high as $302.71 around that time, with total revenue per available room for the month spiking to $94.72 per day in January from $62.91 in December.
This year, room rates are up about $100 for inauguration weekend, compared with the following week.
Colony South Hotel in Clinton also has booked its 200 rooms — it usually books about 100 this time of the year — and is hosting a few unofficial conferences, said Michael Chiaramonte, whose family owns the hotel.
“They’re all big events,” he said of the inauguration. “We’re always busy. You can’t get any fuller than full.”
McGill said the inauguration’s high profile is more important to Hargrove than its size. Hargrove has been working on presidential inaugurations since 1949. The special events planner has been in charge of planning and overseeing all official inaugural balls and other events since 1993.
“The requirements are the same, no matter which inauguration we’re working on,” McGill said. This year, Hargrove has been tasked with delivering “simple elegance” at the balls, along with preparing an unannounced theme for its floats, he said.
Hargrove typically starts the design process for inauguration work in early fall and moves into construction a week before Christmas so it can deliver pieces as early as a week before the inauguration, he said. The work enlists many of Hargrove’s 250 full-time employees, up to 75 part-time employees and as many as 400 on-site workers.
“We’re pleased to have received the contract again this year. It’s not a guarantee, since we have to bid like everyone else,” McGill said.
Another event planner, though on a much smaller scale is Martin’s Camelot in Upper Marlboro. This inauguration season has lacked the fervor of 2009, with Camelot booking only half of the eight events it had four years ago, said manager Tom Yockel. He said more people were holding private events related to the inauguration then. Camelot’s largest event will be the 350-attendee Black Diamond Reunion Inaugural Ball. The venue has space for more than 2,500 people.
Fuller said Obama’s broad appeal to the working class and minorities also means fewer “high-rollers” than a Republican inauguration would draw.
“There’s still people coming into town to spend money, but it’s not as publicized,” said J. Matthew Neitzey, executive director for the Prince George’s County Conference & Visitor’s Bureau. “It definitely seems to have a different feel” from 2009.
The county also has organized a planning committee for coordinating inauguration activities this year, which should improve coordination over four years ago, he said. The bureau’s website, www.visitprincegeorges.com, lists several inauguration activities.
“It does give us a bump in January every four years. We wish would could have one every year,” he said.
In 2009, county and state governments poured $11 million into inaugural activities such as public transit and crowd security.
“From the information we gathered, the inauguration will have a good impact on our hotel and overall hospitality community,” wrote Kelly Groff, executive director of the Conference and Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County, in an email to The Gazette. “Some hotels are sold out and some have availability. Overall the room nights generated will be a great uptick in business for this time of year.”
On the transportation side, drivers are anticipating fewer local fares than four years ago, while others are enjoying government contracts.
All About Town in Clinton contracted with the Coast Guard to provide 10 buses for the inauguration for $43,200, a service it has been providing since 1985, said manager John Paris.
“We’re hoping for something similar to four years ago, but most people will probably go to D.C.,” said Calvin Warren, general manager of Silver Cab Co. in Landover. “It was very good last time.” Silver Cab has 900 cabs.
He said people are being careful about what they spend.
The timing of this year’s inauguration falling on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend might also draw people away from local spending, said Lee Barnes, CEO of Barwood Taxi in Kensington. Barwood has partnered with the Montgomery County visitors bureau to advertise its inauguration packages, which drew some interest in 2009.
“It’s going to be a minimal impact compared to 2009,” said Michael Greene, CEO of A Platinum Plus Limousines in Jessup and vice president of the Maryland Limousine Association.
Greene said 15 percent of his limos have been booked for the weekend, compared with solid bookings in 2009.
“The limo industry was fully prepared,” Greene said. “Unfortunately, we’re just not seeing as much business as we anticipated.”
Fuller said Maryland, as a whole, will likely experience a modest economic impact, with most people just substituting spending from one area of the state to another.
Meanwhile, two Maryland companies landed Secret Service contracts to provide security equipment and services for the Jan. 21 events: Showcall in Halethorpe, which won $3.6 million, and Protective Logistics in Olney, which won $896,786.