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Convention brings thousands of visitors, economic impact

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Attendees at the second Jehovah’s Witnesses convention at the Santa Ana Star Center this year gather Friday. This weekend’s convention and the previous one in June were conducted in Spanish. (Rio Rancho Observer—GARY HERRON photo)

Attendees at the second Jehovah’s Witnesses convention at the Santa Ana Star Center this year gather Friday. This weekend’s convention and the previous one in June were conducted in Spanish. (Rio Rancho Observer—GARY HERRON photo)

Thousands of people have come to Rio Rancho for a regional Jehovah’s Witnesses convention for the second time this year, creating an economic boost for hotels and restaurants.

The regional convention started Friday and ends today at Santa Ana Star Center. The assemblies were conducted mainly in Spanish, as was the June convention here.

Convention spokesman Gerardo Arambula said almost 6,000 people attended in June.

“This time, we’re expecting very similar numbers, if not a little more,” he said Thursday.

Arambula said participants come from New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle.

City of Rio Rancho Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Matt Geisel said the Jehovah’s Witnesses have held seven annual conventions at the Star Center since 2007.

“It generates a significant economic impact in our community,” he said.

The impact is particularly strong for hotels and restaurants, Geisel added.

Also, since the Star Center is busiest in colder months, he said, the conventions provide good business during the off-peak season.

“It enables us to have a venue utilization in a time of the year when we don’t necessarily have concerts or monster trucks or events of that sort,” Geisel said.

Arambula said the public is invited to attend the convention. There is no admission fee or other collection.

The theme for this year is “Keep Seeking First God’s Kingdom.” According to a Watch Tower news release, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus Christ began to rule as the king of God’s kingdom in 1914, and the 2014 program marks the centennial of that event.

Before and after the convention, volunteers clean the facility to “show appreciation and also show that we serve a clean God as part of our worship,” Arambula said.

Both 2014 conventions in Rio Rancho were conducted in Spanish to bring more people to the same facility at the same time and allow them to view video feeds from assemblies in other states or nations, Arambula said. In the past, one convention in Rio Rancho was in Spanish and one was in English, but the English event was in Phoenix this year.

Arambula said Jehovah’s Witnesses also hold smaller one-day special conventions, drawing people from around New Mexico at Santa Ana Star Center.

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