COLUMBUS (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — The Greater Columbus Convention Center is slowly bringing back staff as it looks forward to increased business in 2021.

The convention center laid off more than 140 employees last summer that it had previously furloughed as the pandemic caused devastating impacts on the tourism industry.

It was left with a staff of 45 full-time workers.

Starting this month, it has brought back six more full-time positions. An additional six full-time staff members are budgeted to return in the second quarter, and nine more will return in the fall.

“The plan is fluid,” General Manager John Page said at a recent Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority meeting, and it depends on the center bringing back events.

Page said he wants to have certainty when he brings staff members back that they won’t get laid off again.

“We don’t want to put our family members back in this position twice,” Page said. “If we bring you back and can’t sustain that, that’s not the right thing to do.”

One challenge in rehiring workers is that nearly a year later from when they were originally furloughed, “many have moved on,” Page said.

“We may have to tear town to build it back up,” Page said. “We know losing some of that awareness of the organization, that institutional knowledge, is going to be tough. We’ll build it back and still have that best-in-class service here.”

While the convention center is “performing better than expected” during the early months of 2021, he said, there is still a long way to go.

The convention center budgeted for a net operating loss of more than $600,000 in January, but experienced an actual net operating loss of $325,699.

“That variance makes me happy,” Page said.

Operating losses in February and March are expected to reach a combined $520,000, compared to budgeted losses of nearly $875,000.

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