COLLIER COUNTY — Imagine Solutions Conference 2012, the third incarnation of Naples' answer to popular West Coast ideas conferences, won't happen next year.
Organizers called it off Friday saying participation and sponsorship had suffered from the intense partisanship of the campaign season and economic uncertainty.
"There was a lot of interest, but there were very few early commitments" from sponsors, said Dolly Roberts, executive director of Searching for Solutions Institute, Inc., the event's nonprofit.
In 2007, a founding group of Naples executives hatched the Searching for Solutions Institute and its main activity, Imagine Solutions, a two-day series of presentations from practitioners at the cutting edge of fields ranging from music to medicine. They hoped to offer the same ideas conferences to the East Coast that TED (technology, entertainment, design) and the Aspen Institute offer the West Coast.
The conference outgrew its 2010 and 2011 venue, the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Performing Arts, and was scheduled to move to the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort on March 12 and 13 next year. The theme, "America at the Tipping Point," would have drawn top economic and political figures, including former National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, Roberts said.
In its first two years, the conference drew more than 400 attendees. Organizers were expecting to sell out all 500 spots next year, with guests paying $2,300 or more for a seat and membership.
"If the probability is that political and economic factors weren't going to make it a 100 percent success, then we decided that we were going to be prudent," Roberts said.
Corporate sponsors, which in the past had included Chevrolet, General Electric Co. and the Knight Foundation, were timid, she said. And with elections commanding the attention of the types of people who attend so-called "thought-leader conferences," organizers were not sure participation was reliable.
"We will use this time to refine and customize our conference and initiatives, and intend to reach an even larger audience and to do even more to focus this area's leadership on the critical issues of our times," Tom Everist, chairman of Searching for Solutions Institute, said in a statement Monday.
Journalist Eric Pianin was a speaker at Imagine Solutions Conference 2011. The former Washington Post reporter used the platform to talk about the new online-only, fiscal-policy news source, The Fiscal Times, where he is now the Washington editor.
Despite a handful of positive national economic indicators, Pianin said the decision to cancel next year's conference speaks to the reluctance of anyone to spend extra.
"It sort of stands to reason; we're going into the teeth of a terrible economy," he said. "Businesses are cutting back. People are being very careful about how they spend their money."
Roberts said she hopes to corral interest in the conference for a bigger conference in 2013, but she said they have not settled on any details.