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 And, the biggest issue isn't union wages and labor rates, it's outdated union work rules that make it so expensive and frustrating for exhibitors, they contend.