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Civil war or self destruction in Chicago

There is a war going in Chicago and like most wars, nobody truly wins. Chicago isn’t in a life or death conflict against a merciless enemy. Quite the contrary. It’s in an all-out war against itself.


Chicago has lost a couple of high profile shows lately, which is not surprising, considering every major tradeshow city in the country has struggled to maintain its position in the industry. There were a glut of tradeshow venues built over the past decade in direct competition with Chicago and this has created a buyers’ market for associations shopping around for potential show sites.

When you factor in the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, it’s not surprising there is a significant drop off in the show schedule. While all cities have been forced to make financial accommodations to retain shows, the people responsible for establishing the price that exhibitors pay in Chicago have been unwilling to decrease their garish profit margins.

Instead of going after the root causes of the problem, legislation was proposed which would drastically reorganize the way tradeshows operate in Chicago and not in a good way. In essence, this legislation would make the state of Illinois the employer for all tradeshow workers. It would shift control of the administration and operation of the tradeshows from private industry to one controlled by a state run entity.

This organization would be controlled by politicians whose motivation would be political in nature, rather than one motivated by the demands and constraints of the free market system. It is a classic example of how out of touch politicians really are. Their solution to a crisis is to see an opportunity for a power grab, which would only make a difficult situation into a full-blown catastrophe.

This war is unfortunate in the sense that it distracts us from the opportunity to craft long-term solutions, which will rectify obvious problems. These problems have existed for decades, both in Chicago and in every other major city in the tradeshow business.

Politicians aren’t the only ones at fault, however. Everyone is trying to find a convenient scapegoat to keep the heat off them while they continue with the same policies and procedures that led to the problem in the first place.

Instead of and engaging in a cooperative effort to fix the situation, they are quibbling and finger pointing like a bunch of spoiled children, who are having temper tantrums because they aren’t getting what they want. Other cites have their own problems as well but are watching with glee as Chicago’s major players claw each other’s eyes out.

The most important change to be made is one of attitude. Everybody has to abandon the idea that everybody else will have to make accommodations but they will to keep everything they have. This self-delusion has permeated every level of discourse so far.

Tough times call for decisive actions, not empty slogans. The sad thing is conditions could be turned around with limited changes by targeting the underlying causes of the problem. When exhibitors see the intent to become more responsive to their needs, they will become less reluctant to part with their money. Exhibitors aren’t just our customers, they are the sole reason we have jobs. Your customers will teach you how to sell to them as long as you are smart enough to listen to what they have to say.

Posted in View from the Floor
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