Trade Show Managers Blast McCormick Place

Organizers of five shows typically held at McCormick Place in Chicago—including a representative from the Graphic Arts Show Co. (GASC), which manages Graph Expo and PRINT—appeared before an Illinois legislative committee hearing this month to voice their frustration in holding events there, including the union labor costs/work rules and the sky-high markups they pay for electrical and food service. In response, some lawmakers are calling for the Illinois General Assembly to divert some of its hotel tax revenues to help subsidize the operations at the convention facility.

“Orlando and Las Vegas both provide subsidies for their operations,” said Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who chaired the hearing on how to make McCormick Place more competitive with other venues. Cullerton pointed out, for example, that McCormick Place has been overcharging for electrical and food service as a way to make ends meet, according to a Chicago Tribune article.

“We’ve gone from complaints about labor costs to anger and demand for change,” the Tribune reported Chris Price, vice president of GASC, as testifying. Vince Lapinski, CEO of manroland North America, also spoke on behalf of the GASC to present the perspective of a trade show exhibitor.

Tim Roby, head of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, added that failure by the General Assembly to address the problem before July 1 will see five, to as many as 20, more trade shows follow the lead of plastics and healthcare industry events that opted to relocate away from Chicago last year.

A similar Sun-Times column about the hearings said some labor leaders place the blame on the biggest show contractors, Freeman Co. and Global Experience Specialists. “Speakers at the hearing said the markups are usually 30 percent, but some from labor said the increases can be more than 40 percent,” wrote Sun-Times columnist David Roeder. Price and Ralph Nappi, GASC president, noted to me in a later phone call that the unions have always been quick to point the blame elsewhere. And, the biggest issue isn’t union wages and labor rates, it’s outdated union work rules that make it so expensive and frustrating for exhibitors, they contend.

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  • http://ChrisKauffman Chris Kauffman

    Why in the world do we have to have this show every year? Other industries have made similar changes, like the NPE, which is every three (3) years. When will Graph Expo get with the times and make some seriously needed changes for an industry in crisis?

    There are not that many new things in the industry each year to make this show worthwhile.

    Please, someone get in touch with reality and make some much needed to changes, and soon!

  • http://HankBrandtjen Hank Brandtjen

    An interesting situation is being addressed here; the answer to which will be decided by the ROI exhibitors experience by participating in trade shows.

    A trade show every year? Exhibitors would participate in one every month if there was a positive return on the investment (ROI).

    I believe there is an element of greed on all fronts; that no one is without blame as to the high costs of exhibiting. That being said, the powers that be (GASC, the unions, the show providers) can continue to charge what they want to. In the end, exhibitors will be forced to just not participate, or, not participate to the level of past years. The, the result will be a downward cycle and the demise of the shows as we experience them today.

  • http://DavidSpiel David Spiel

    How about the fact that Internet service at the show costs over $1,000? This makes it too costly for all but the biggest of companies. I told show management about this and they said that they were working on setting up wireless at McCormick Place. How hard are they working at it? Internet service at On Demand was free. If they don’t stop gouging their customers they will have more Komori’s and Heidelberg’s to worry about.

  • http://JoeWetzel Joe Wetzel

    How do other costs compare with Graph Expo or Graphics of the Americas? Isn’t the cost per sq ft higher at On Demand? I’ve never done Graphics of Americas, but I would assume other costs are cheaper, especially with their move to Orlando.
    Is it GASC or McCormick that is the cause of the high costs?

  • http://NoelWard Noel Ward

    It’s about time! McCormick, much like the Javits Center in NYC, has long had a totally rapacious approach to pricing, service and everything else related to show support and operations. I don’t know whether its unions, facility management or both, but it hurts business and actually encourages companies NOT to sign up for space at a show.

    Cheers to the companies like GASC who are standing against these usurious practices. The facility operators and unions have to know there are other cities… and that shows are very portable and can go away.

  • http://MarkMichelson Mark Michelson

    It appears that the threats by several trade show organizers to relocate their events if McCormick Place doesn’t make changes is resulting in progress.

    Check out the recent Chicago Sun-Times newspaper article:,CST-NWS-mcpier06.article

  • http://BillFarquharson Bill Farquharson

    As an attendee, I find the worst thing about McCormick Place is the sensory overload caused by the lights and the noise. They need more bars or less distractions.