show might move.
The high cost and Byzantine rules of unionized
labor at Chicago’s McCormick Place appear to have driven away some
of the Windy City’s biggest and longest-running events, while other
shows seem to be eyeing the door.
“A lot of other cities are just less expensive to move a show
into and out of,” said Steve Drew, assistant director for
scientific assembly and informatics with the Oak Brook, Ill.-based
Radiological Society of North America, which puts on the nation’s
largest medical convention at McCormick Place each year, but might
not for much longer. “The labor rules and jurisdictions are the
problem,” Drew added. “With so many different unions’ rules and pay
scales, it’s confusing and expensive.”
“It’s harder and harder to justify the cost difference between
Chicago and other cities,” said Mary Pat Heftman, senior vice
president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant
Association, Chicago convention holders for the past 56 years but
now considering moving to Las Vegas or Orlando.
Last June, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Governor
Rod Blagojevich called together convention industry and labor
representatives, challenging them to keep Chicago’s convention
industry viable. “We just can’t compete with other cities if we
retain outdated work rules that result in soaring costs,” Daley
said at the time. Since then, though, the effort seems to have
stalled, and recent months have seen some major defections.
This past January, Norwalk, Conn.-based Reed Exhibitions said
it was moving the mega National Manufacturing Week, after decades
spent at McCormick, to the Donald E. Stephen Center in nearby
Rosemont, Ill. And
in March, New York City-based industrial manufacturer CMM
International said it too would move to Rosemont, citing high labor
Chicago convention officials are not panicking yet. Citing a
desire to make shows at McCormick a “more cost-effective
experience,” Billy Weinberg, spokesperson for Chicago’s
Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, said any losses in
business would be offset by new customers, such as Supercomm.
Meanwhile, a $1.14 billion expansion of McCormick Place is in
the works, to open in 2008 with 470,000 square feet of exhibit
space and 250,000 square feet of meeting space.