by Kaylee Hultgren | April 07, 2010

The first meeting of the Joint Committee on the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority, recently appointed to examine and reform the trade show business in Chicago, was held last Thursday. Several industry representatives were present, including Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of PCMA; David Brull, vice president of marketing and membership for the Trade Show Exhibitors Association; and Tim Roby, president and CEO of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau. Five key Chicago customers also were present, including the International Housewares Association and the National Restaurant Association. According to the Chicago Tribune, at the hearing John Cullerton, president of the Illinois state senate, suggested that the state subsidize operations at McCormick Place, after the customers in attendance threatened to take their business elsewhere unless exhibitor costs were reduced. Cullerton said that diverting hotel tax revenues to pay for operations, as other bureaus do, was one possibility, and that the state also needs to streamline MPEA operations and examine labor rules. In a statement, CTB president Roby said, "As good as we are -- even with all the tools we have and the best product in the country -- I can't sell Chicago unless we address costs. Here's the bottom line: Our competitors are using our costs as their lead marketing tactic. I can tell you -- without a doubt -- that every single one of our current and potential customers is evaluating whether their next convention will be in Chicago or elsewhere. If we don't fix this before the legislative session adjourns...come July 1 you can be sure that at least five and as many as 20 more shows will leave Chicago." Later today, a second meeting will be held with union representatives, show contractors and exposition authority officials, who will have the opportunity to address the panel of industry representatives and show managers.