McCormick Place – Too Little, Too Late?

So, I just had a chance to read a post over at IAEE and it details the changes that are being made to labor and work rules at McCormick Place in Chicago. These new rules are being enacted in order to attract shows and keep existing shows in the city as it seems most big shows are looking for other venues because of the highway robbery that has been taking place for years.

I have to say, all of this may be too little, too late, although I hope that is not the case because Chicago is an amazing place to host a convention. Attendees love the city, it is easy to get to and the people of Chicago are some of the hardest working in the nation.

The biggest question is this and it should be a lesson to all Cities facing the same sort of dilemma, why did they wait? Why did they sit on their hands until things got to crisis proportions?

Should anyone say that this was the right time, the right whatever, I will say….be quiet. I worked for the National Restaurant Association YEARS ago (and I mean years, like almost 15 years ago) and we used to talk about the issue all the time. We used to have exhibitors tell us flat no they would not exhibit in Chicago because the costs were through the roof. At the time, there were more exhibitors than space, so no one cared.

So, here is a list of changes that are being made (this is from the IAEE post) and I think that they are really strong. (I am adding my thoughts to each if it requires!).

  • State-imposed new work rules permitting exhibitors to set up a booth of any size using hand tools and ladders. (Good, this is something that should have been done a long time ago. There should be no fear of big booths being set up by amateurs; they don’t want to. This rule only penalized the little guy with his 10×20 pop-up or panel system).
  • Straight-time hours begin at 6:00 a.m. and end at 6:00 p.m. and are in play 6 days a week. (Sounds fair. The rest of the world is on this schedule)
  • The size of work crews is reduced as will the number of stewards working the floor.
  • Exhibitors can unload their freight and get it to their exhibits so long as they do not use power equipment to do so. Separate loading dock space for non-union unloading will be provided. (This is a nice touch).
  • General service contractors will be subject to twice annual audits to ensure that savings are being passed on to end users. (Who is doing the auditing and will it really make a difference)
  • A new trustee, industry veteran Jim Reilly, assumes leadership of the MPEA, and Juan Ochoa is gone. (Wait and see)
  • Among the first tasks Reilly will tackle — hiring a private management firm to run McCormick and Navy Pier. (Probably a good thing, I will wait and see)
  • The bill allows for naming rights on both buildings as a means to secure new funding and the debt on both facilities will be restructured. (No one cares what the place is named, although, changing the name is a bad idea because it is a brand already…..).
  • Focus One remains in place but its profit margin on food service will be significantly reduced. (See my notes about Focus One below, but I will say, Focus One should be done, out, see ya).
  • Exhibitors are able to bring in food and beverage for their personal consumption. (HUH?)
  • Also changed is the exclusive that Focus One had on electrical services. Shows may now select their own electrical contractors including Focus One if they wish. (Yiiiiipeeeeeeeeee)

These new rules will make exhibitors breathe a sigh of relief and I am particularly happy to see that Focus One no longer has a Monopoly on the electric. Their name stands for Focusing On Customer Understanding and Satisfaction and that is the biggest tale ever told. Now, the guys on the floor are fine, it is their office folk that overbill, yell at you, and accuse you of not paying your bill (even when you have). Maybe this will be the thing that is needed to help them clean house and clean up their act.

All in all, I think that this is pretty strong stuff, I am just sorry that it took us so long to get to here.

Everyone should remember that it is not the Unions that make the cost of doing business at McCormick Place so high, it is the companies that have the monopolies that make the cost through the roof. In addition, the association that is hosting the conference usually gets a kickback as well. The Union Guys make $40.00 an hour and the company that bills you charges $110 or $150 an hour, you tell me who the bad guy is. These companies simply blame the union so that you don’t yell at them. See my in-depth post about this hidden industry fact.

I hope that the fortunes at McCormick Place turn around for the sake of all of the hard working, honest people that are there.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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