The Chicago Tribune editorialized about the need for change at the McCormick Place convention center again yesterday. The column, "A Chicago job crisis," draws heavily from complaints from trade show organizers who met with state legislators this week.
Five organizations testified: the National Restaurant Association, American College of Surgeons, International Housewares Association, Society of Manufacturing Engineers and Graphics Arts Show Co. Their shows brought nearly $300 million worth of economic activity to Chicago last year. They all might leave because of the high costs fueled by special handling fees, surcharges, overtime and general level of difficulty that come from dealing with the various jurisdictions connected to McCormick Place. Some nuggets: "¢ Contracting for electrical service at Orlando's convention facilities costs 40 percent less than in Chicago, said Mary Pat Heftman of the restaurant association: "I can't explain that 40 percent differential to my exhibitors. Exhibitors in other cities can drive up to the dock and unload equipment themselves. Not in Chicago." "¢ Setting up a stage for an opening ceremony (with black drape, logos, flags, lighting, etc.) costs $46,000 in Chicago -- and $32,000 in San Francisco, said Felix Niespodziewanski of the College of Surgeons. Organizers have to deal with a bewildering array of unions with different minimum rates, overtime rules, break times, etc. "¢ Chris Price of the Graphic Arts Show Co. said the quality of work at McCormick Place is top-notch, but the work rules make it uncompetitive. Example: 100 Chicago laborers are being flown to Orlando to help set up the plastics show there. "They will be put up in hotels, fed, and all the rest, and it's still cheaper to do business there than here," he said. "¢ Setting up an ice machine in Orlando costs $720. Setting one up in Chicago costs $1,700, said Eric Holm of Manitowoc Foodservice. Ordering power for the company's booth in Orlando costs $9,200. Chicago? $12,800, plus $5,000 for labor. The cost for 24-hour service for one refrigerator is $48 in Orlando, $400 in Chicago. You get the idea. Everybody's tired of getting fleeced here. They're leaving. That's going to put a lot of Chicagoans out of work.Some of this could be exaggerated. I've written before about how some stories about corruption and unrealistic work rules at McCormick are urban myths. But McCormick still has some pretty big issues to deal with, and many in the plastics industry are watching to see how it all turns out. Some would like Chicago to fix the problems at McCormick so that NPE can eventually come back. Many more plastics companies either attend or exhibit at other shows in Chicago, including Pack Expo International, IMTS, and the International Home + Housewares Show. One thing is clear: Change is coming. And the Society of Plastics Industry Inc. can take some credit for shocking Chicago into dealing with the problem.