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Economic forum to be held in New York

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Although Whistler was shortlisted as a potential candidate to host the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in 2002, WEF organizers announced on Nov. 7 that they would hold the meeting in New York City, in light of the recent events there.

"In these extraordinary times, greater international co-operation is needed to reverse the global economic downturn, eradicate poverty, promote security and enhance cultural understanding," said Professor Klaus Schwab, the president of the WEF. "We will be looking to participants from business, government and a wide range of other stakeholders in global society to make a special effort to find solutions for the new world in which we are living. As the world’s financial capital and the site of the recent terrorist attacks, there could be no better place than New York City to confront these issues."

According to Focus, a German business magazine, Whistler, New York City and Salzburg, Austria were all being considered as possible venues for the meeting, which attracts thousand of business leaders, political leaders and financial ministers.

Incorporated in 1971 as a non-profit foundation, the WEF is funded by the contribution of more than 1,000 corporations to foster entrepreneurship, economic growth and social progress. It’s been called a United Nations of business, and includes various non-profit organizations and governments.

The group has met in Davos, Switzerland, a mountainous community in the Alps, every year since it was created, and the principals of the organization decided it was time for a change.

Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly says the organizers of the conference did visit, and were interested in holding the event in Whistler, but Whistler would have needed more before committing to host the event – 2002 would have been too soon to make such a commitment.

"They’ve been here and they’ve talked to us. They’ve looked at the community and they were intrigued by what we had and they said Whistler would be a wonderful location," says O’Reilly.

"It’s a compliment to Whistler, really. This is a thousand of the world’s largest corporations, it’s heads of state. It’s a phenomenal group and the activities are very consistent with a lot of things Whistler is interested in, because they’re not like a G8. They include NGO’s (non-government organizations) and government, and they talk about a variety of issues and really delve into them."

Whistler’s main concern was providing security for the meeting and the town. "We said at this point in time we couldn’t make any sort of serious commitments to have them come here," says O’Reilly.

The mayor will be attending the conference in New York as part of the B.C. delegation, where he will have the opportunity to see what the conference is all about and recommend whether it’s in Whistler’s best interest to hold a future WEF meeting.

"In that sense, it would have been better to hold the meeting in Davos because that’s more characteristic of our community, and the value for us was to see the meeting situated in that kind of setting. I’m going to attend but I’m not sure it’s going to have the same relevance for our situation as being a potential host."

O’Reilly also wanted to see what effect the meeting had on the community, as far as disrupting business with security measures and potential protests.

"We wanted to see how it worked, how the community operated, what the situation was last year, and the year before because these kinds of events, up to Sept. 11, were becoming more and more violent and that was a real concern," he says.

"Some people believe there will be less of that now, and the protest will be more moderate. People will want to protest, but given Sept. 11, there’s not going to be the appetite to protest in a violent way. We’re still interested, and keeping our options open."

Some businesses in Davos had become fed up with the escalating protests and asked conference organizers to seek an alternate location for the annual meeting.

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