The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. has signed contracts to keep NPE at the Orange County Convention Center in 2018 and 2021, and the trade association also has reserved dates for NPE 2024 in Orlando.
The news comes as NPE 2015 kicks off in Orlando this week, bringing an expected 60,000 visitors and more than 2,000 exhibitors to the Sunshine State — and according to SPI, pumping $151 million into the Orlando economy through hotels, meals and entertainment, cab rides and other spending.
“NPE 2015 is expected to be the largest, most successful international plastics showcase in our 69-year history,” said Bill Carteaux, SPI president and CEO.
This is the second NPE in Orlando; the first was in 2012.
In addition to revealing the NPE schedule through 2024, Carteaux also disclosed a previously unreported story: SPI and Chicago government and union leaders held talks in 2013 on alternating NPE locations between Orlando and Chicago.
Those talks were not successful.
“There was negotiation back and forth for several months, and the bottom line was we couldn't reach a mutually agreeable understanding to start a rotation,” Carteaux said. “In the fall of 2013 we went back to Chicago and said, ‘We'd like to talk to you about starting a rotation of NPE between Chicago and Orlando, in 2021.'”
At the time, SPI already had locked into Orlando for 2015 and 2018.
“We had in-depth discussions,” Carteaux said.
SPI was committed to making a decision by Jan. 1, 2014.
In the fall and early winter of 2013, SPI leaders, including Carteaux and Gene Sanders, SPI's vice president of trade shows and conferences, met with officials from Chicago including David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place; Don Welsh, president and CEO of Choose Chicago; and representatives from all the unions at McCormick Place.
Carteaux also said he talked to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel about the show.
“I have met with him several times since he's been mayor,” he said.
The last NPE in Chicago was in June 2009, ending a streak of 14 straight shows there. SPI moved the show because of complaints from exhibitors about high costs and rigid union work rules at the McCormick Place convention center.
Since then, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) and the unions have worked to reform McCormick Place, as outlined in Illinois state legislation passed in 2010.
But Carteaux said it wasn't enough. The cost to exhibit at McCormick Place is still 20 to 25 percent higher than Orlando, he said.
One reason: Orlando allows exhibitors to do much more of their setup and teardown work, faster and with less expense, he said.
“So we ran the exercise, and the prices changed, but the cost has not. … They can lower the price, then it takes them twice as long to do the work. So the cost hasn't changed,” Carteaux said.
He added that members of the SPI committee responsible for NPE have heard no complaints about Orlando, even from naysayers who had questioned the 2012 move.
Contacted for this story, MPEA and Choose Chicago did not directly address their negotiations with SPI or whether they would try to get NPE back. Instead, they highlighted a survey by Cvent, an online event management company, that indicates a rebound in Chicago's convention business.
Their joint statement said: “The events calendar at McCormick Place continues to be robust as the historic reforms are working providing our customers with significant savings across the board and flexibility on the show floor. The convention and meetings business in Chicago is well positioned for the future with more than $6 billion in new, recommitted or extended shows secured since the reforms were put in place. Chicago has also been recognized by Cvent as the No. 1 U.S. destination for meetings and events.”
Chicago moved up to first place in the Cvent ranking for 2014 — surpassing Orlando, which moved down from No. 1 in the 2013 ranking, to second place.
Convention planners say Orlando and Chicago are the only two U.S. cities with convention centers that could host an NPE, because of large amount of power needed to run all the machinery.
Change of venue
Back in November 2009, when SPI announced that it was moving its 2012 and 2015 shows to Orlando, NPE became a symbol of the trade show industry's economic power.
NPE's leaving stung Chicago. The NPE 2009 — held in the recession — generated $95.3 million in direct spending, according to Chicago convention figures. The number was $157 million for the 2006 show, held in a stronger economy.
NPE's defection played a big role in efforts to push reforms at McCormick Place. The plastics industry's move was specifically mentioned in an Illinois state law approved in 2010.
The law spelled it out: “Because union labor work rules and electric and food-service costs make it uneconomical for the show managers and exhibitors to use McCormick Place as a convention venue as compared to convention facilities in Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas, Nev.”
Organizers of other trade shows paid attention. The International Home + Housewares Show threatened to find a new location, but ended up staying at McCormick Place after the reforms were passed.
Some other shows moved away from the Windy City. The International Converting Exhibition moved to Orlando, citing high costs in Chicago. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society departed for Las Vegas, but it has since returned to Chicago for the 2015 and 2019 shows. Likewise, the International Dairy Show, which took off for Dallas because of the cost issue, is back in Chicago this fall.
Price of Pepsi
Back in 2009, when NPE left for the sunnier locale, the news made headlines in Chicago. Television and newspapers grabbed onto the $345.39 for four cases of Pepsi cited in a letter to the editor in Plastics News from Tim Hanrahan, CEO of NPE exhibitor Erema North America Inc.
“Now, a nice man in a tuxedo delivered the Pepsi, along with a couple of buckets of ice and a few cups,” Hanrahan wrote. “Good service? Sure, but not worth $345.39.”
It became the Overpriced Case of Pepsi Heard Around the World.
But NPE didn't move because of the price of Pepsi.
For years, exhibitors had complained about rigid work rules at McCormick Place and steep union charges for everything from vacuuming the carpet to plugging in an extension cord. All the complaints came to a head at the 2009 show, when companies were under a financial crunch. Many were laying off workers and imposing pay cuts as they made the tough decision to continue to exhibit at the big trade show.
Interestingly, in his letter, Hanrahan said he had not experienced problems with the unions.
“However, one issue that continues to cause concern is the amount of money required to exhibit in NPE,” he wrote.
The move to Florida offered NPE exhibitors both lower costs and a more flexible setup process. SPI claimed exhibitors would save a total of $10 million because of lower costs for moving in and out, utilities and travel.
Luring NPE was big news in Orlando. To meet power demand, the Orange County Convention Center invested $4 million to upgrade the electrical system. The local electrical supplier beefed up its transformers. Based on electrical consumption, NPE 2012 was the largest-ever trade show held in Orlando.
The Orlando convention hall does have unions, the Stagehands (IATSE) and the Teamsters. In a right-to-work state, dues-paying union membership is optional.
NPE's general contractor, Freeman Co., brought union riggers down from Chicago to help local riggers handle the large industrial machinery. Florida did not have enough people with those skills.
At the last NPE, people in charge of setup at several machinery suppliers said they had the same riggers as at past shows at McCormick Place.
With more than 1.1 million square feet of exhibition space, more such reunions are sure to happen this month in Orlando, as the Chicago riggers — and throngs at NPE — soak up the Florida sun.