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Legislation would redefine relationships

Next month, action will be taken on legislation in Illinois, which will have a major impact on the tradeshow industry across the country. All prominent tradeshow cities are watching with great interest as this could set a new standard for the way things are done in our industry.


Without going into excruciating detail about every element of a legislative bill which is over 200 pages long, it’s no hyperbole to suggest if passed, this would redefine the relationship between the providers of tradeshow services and those who use them.

This bill would transfer control of the tradeshow business in Chicago from a private enterprise into one controlled by the state. The reason given by supporters is to reverse a decline in tradeshow revenues as well as adjust costs and improve services.
Most insiders recognize the real motivation behind this bill is more nefarious in nature. It’s seen as an attempt to use the nationwide economic slowdown as a excuse to make a power grab of a very lucrative industry.

The bill now under consideration would make all tradeshow workers state employees with all hiring and firing under state control. There is concern that experienced workers would be replaced by patronage flunkies loyal only to the political machine which spawned them. In addition, many believe this bill would effectively eliminate any meaningful dissent from employees still remaining for fear of reprisal.

Furthermore, all contracts would be subject to the approval by entities created by this legislation and tremendous power would reside in the hands of those who handed these out. Many fear political considerations would be behind the selection process, rather than the most effective use of resources. There are some lesser components also included in this bill but for purposes of this discussion, they are all but irrelevant.

Right now the tradeshow business in Chicago is operated on principles governed by the free enterprise system, with profit and loss determining prices and wages. An industry as large and lucrative as this one constantly changes and adapts to economic realities. Prices are influenced by factors which will keep customers coming back and ensure that providers of services make a reasonable profit for their efforts.

Capitalism is the fuel that motivates through reward commensurate with the level of commitment. If the direct correlation between effort and reward is removed, the results are predictable. When you add the obsession of people in power to stay in power, to an industry dependent on the free market system, a decline is inevitable.

Chicago has always been the standard of the tradeshow industry and among the very first to recognize the importance of modern convention facilities devoted solely to tradeshows. Furthermore, many of the top people in competitor cities received their training in Chicago.

Chicago has a colorful political history which began during the frontier days as a swampy crossroads at the edge of western expansion, where graft and corruption was the rule rather than the exception. Later, this continued during the roaring ‘20s when the town was controlled by politicians on the payroll of gangsters like Al Capone. Little has changed in the present day where the political machine has produced a culture where four of the last six governors have either served prison time or are currently under indictment for corruption. Many would question the wisdom of relinquishing control of our industry to a political system with a such a sordid history.

Chicago is truly a world-class city, and its strength lies in the determination of its people. The magnificence of the city wasn’t accomplished by the politicians who often took credit for it but in spite of them. This legislation isn’t a question of right and wrong, as almost nobody who is knowledgeable about this industry thinks it’s a good idea.

Instead, it’s a question of whether they can pull it off by manipulating public opinion to transfer control of our industry to those who would accelerate its decline. If you value your chickens, it’s a not a good idea to let the wolves guard them for you.

Posted in View from the Floor
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