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City Lines Up New Trade Shows for Chicago's McCormick Place
as Work Rules Ease Further

Latest Changes Improve Outlook for Future Bookings

By Kathy Bergen, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 19, 2012--Three more trade shows have committed to dates at McCormick Place on the heels of a labor pact that officials predict will open doors for major corporate shows that have shunned the city.

The three show signings are with Reed Exhibitions, one of the largest private show management companies in the world.

"They had abandoned Chicago, basically, because they weren't getting the product they needed or the services they needed here," said Jim Reilly, chief executive of the state-city agency that owns McCormick Place and Navy Pier. Now, "a very big, very prominent show company is back."

The show dates announced Tuesday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn are solid pieces of business, though hardly blockbuster. They run the gamut from a growing comics show to a book expo and a small business-travel show.

But the labor break-through -- allowing stagehands, rather than show-floor electricians, to do audio-visual production work for presentations held outside the exhibit area -- should open the door to potential mega-clients, such as Microsoft Corp. as well as mid-size corporate gatherings, officials said.

In fact, the city has been in talks with Microsoft.

Many of these companies work with production houses that are accustomed to using stagehands in other cities. In some cases, the corporate clients travel with their own crews. Use of stagehand crews can cut production costs by as much as 25 percent, said David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place.

With the new pact, "they know the moment they turn the microphone on ... that they've had total control of the process," he said, noting this can be viewed as essential, particularly when the speaker is an iconic tech leader, such as Bill Gates.

Choose Chicago, the city's convention bureau, now "listens to what our customers are looking for and delivers on that promise," said Nancy Walsh, executive vice president of Reed Exhibitions.

The deal between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 134, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 2, known as stagehands, is the latest chapter in labor changes at the convention center, after a broader easing for labor rules last year.

Stagehands will be permitted to install, operate and remove the audio/visual, sound and lighting equipment in areas used for presentations and performances and to plug in the equipment to permanent outlets or temporary electrical services provided by electricians. This would also include lighting and sound equipment suspended from the ceiling.

Electricians will continue to complete the work they have historically done in exhibit booths and other areas not used for presentations or performances.

The moves cut into the electrical union's jurisdiction -- a touchy point for its members. But Terry Allen, business manager for the local, said he expects the changes to draw new business to the city, which will put his members to work.

"I believe within the first six months to a year, you'll see our manhours actually go up," he said.

One new piece of business is AIBTM: American Incentive & Business Travel Market, a meetings and event industry show, confirmed for June 2013, 2015 and 2017, alternating with Orlando. The three-day show is small, expected to attract 1,500 buyers from the meeting planning industry.

Book Expo America will return to Chicago after a long absence, booking for May 2016. It expects to attract 30,000 attendees, a mid-size show for the city.

And C2E2: Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, held here annually since 2010, decided to stay here at least two more years. It drew 41,000 attendees this year, up 21 percent, according to Choose Chicago. -- twitter@kathy_bergen


(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune

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