Chicago is a great place to live. But it's also a great place to be a forklift driver working overtime at a convention center. How great? Try $444 an hour great. Now, I'm all for compensating tradesmen fairly for specialized skill sets. But now, it looks like a lack of fiscal discipline on the labor front is hurting the city's overall economic well being. Just yesterday, the Chicago Tribune published a piece that discussed how the city, "which lost its title as trade show king to Las Vegas in the mid-1990s, suffered a fresh indignity Wednesday when it dropped to No. 3 in the national ranking for the first time, behind Orlando .. the city hosted 20 of the nation's 200 largest trade shows last year, six fewer than Orlando and 24 fewer than Las Vegas." For big cities, the economic impact of conventions is very significant. According to the article, "The biggest shows draw 70,000 or more people, filling Chicago's hotel rooms and restaurants, and generating as much $100 million in spending over the course of a few days."
For urban planners, Spend Management discipline is essential when it comes to managing top line growth for the greater region. And central to this discipline is keeping union / trade wages for conferences at a reasonable level from a national perspective to stay competitive. The fact that Chicago is losing ground to Las Vegas and other cities in the fight for convention dollars should come as no surprise given the economics involved in putting on an event in the windy city. In between keeping the well oiled Daley machine on the road, perhaps the policy wonks downtown should turn to the virtual pages of Spend Matters for some sage advice.