Conference Spending Matters: Chicago Gets Dumped as a Convention City of Choice

If I were to practice what I preach here on Spend Matters, I should have probably packed up my bags and left Chicago -- not to mention Illinois -- a long time ago. After all, this is the epicenter of middle-corrupt-spending-America, a place where handouts, graft, and politics go hand in hand. Consider, as I wrote in the past, the $444 per hour it costs to have forklift drivers set up booths and move equipment around at the city's convention facilities. But it gets even worse than this when it comes to the total cost of conventions in Chicago relative to other major conference cities. As a result, companies and convention organizers are beginning to take their money elsewhere because the costs of doing business here, as you’ll see in a minute, are truly something you can swallow only when marketing spend does not matter.

According to the above-linked Chicago Tribune article, "Chicago's well-oiled but expensive system, run by political appointees and weighed down by costly union work rules, has become a much tougher sell" to potential conference organizers and the companies coming along for the ride. The costs of doing business in the Windy Conference City are enough to make anyone in procurement -- let alone anyone concerned about managing costs – cringe. Consider the case of one company that was debating whether to have a booth at an event: it would have had to pay " ... a $22,000 tab to move … [their] equipment from the convention hall's neighboring truck yard to its exhibit booth, and back after the show." This amounted to "more than triple the round-trip expense of shipping it from Baltimore."

But the heavy lifting only tells part of the cost story. Want that booth vacuumed? That will be $800 a night to have the carpet vacuumed and the trash cans emptied. And what about coffee in the morning? Try on $100 a day for a pot of coffee in the booth for size. But that's just a drop in the mug. One organization that moves its annual meeting among different cities found that it generally pays $30,000 to $40,000 for its own electrical needs -- running computers and show-floor navigation systems, and equipping meeting rooms with audiovisual equipment. In Chicago, the cost amounted to $240,000 for the electrical-services bill for the April show.

Procurement and supply-chain practitioners that live in Chicago should be ashamed of what has become of our city, from a conference-cost standpoint. Because of archaic work rules, union influence, and related political malfeasance -- to which any city or state worker who has made a pilgrimage to city hall or Springfield to give a cash holiday gift to politicians will attest -- the city has succeeded in pricing itself out of the market. And as a result, everyone will pay the price in reduced corporate and tourist dollars coming into the region. Perhaps on a micro-level, this is one example that highlights how quickly bad policy and wasteful spending measures can damage business interests when you're competing on a global stage.

Jason Busch

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