Chicago wins back lost trade show

By Kathy Bergen
Posted Jan. 10 at 11:12 a.m.

A key health-care technology trade show whose departure helped trigger the overhaul of McCormick Place operations announced this morning that it is returning to the Chicago convention hall in 2015 and 2019.

The state-mandated reforms at McCormick Place were cited by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society as key factors in deciding to put Chicago back in its meeting schedule.

The changes could translate into cost savings of at least 25 percent, said H. Stephen Lieber, the group’s president and CEO. The estimate was based on talks with representatives from other trade shows that have taken place at the complex since the overhaul began last summer, he said.

“The city has made outstanding progress in a very short time, with improvements in labor rates, work rules and other factors impacting show organizers and exhibitors,” he said at a press conference Monday morning at McCormick Place.

The announcement is an important symbolic win for Chicago, which is in the throes of remaking its convention business to be less costly and less aggravating for exhibitors. It is the first show to recommit to Chicago after previously pulling out.

“If it wasn’t for the changes, this [convention center] would be completely empty,” Mayor Richard Daley said. “There would not be anybody working here, not only directly but indirectly…Because we have a global recession, things have to change. Our competition is coming from other cities, coming from around the world.”

The show, which focuses on health-care information technology, attracts 30,000 attendees and is expected to generate $33.6 million in direct expenditures during each show it holds in the city.

The Chicago-based trade group held its annual meeting at McCormick Place for the first time in 2009. Its arrival was touted as a sign the city was on the way to establishing itself as a headquarters for health care-related meetings.

The annual meeting rotates between several cities, and 2012 had been the next window for Chicago. Instead, the show opted for Las Vegas, citing exorbitant costs for electrical services at McCormick Place.

The group’s decision was followed by the exit of the triennial plastics industry trade show, a staple for the city since 1971. It opted for Orlando in 2012 and 2015, also citing high costs in Chicago.

Those losses rocked the city’s convention industry, and were among the factors leading to a new state law mandating an overhaul of convention center operations, which began last summer.

Electrical and food service costs have been slashed, exhibitors have been given the chance to further cut costs by doing more of their own booth set-up and management of McCormick Place is expected to be turned over to a private company later this year.

Jim Reilly, the trustee overseeing the changes at McCormick Place, said Monday that the city is in discussions with the plastics show. “Hopefully that will result in them coming back, but we’re not there yet,” he said.

When asked if he would make a personal pitch, Daley said, “Whatever Jim Reilly wants me to do. I will call somebody, talk to somebody about that, because these are significant changes where business can be done for the participants at their shows.”



  1. HeyNow Jan. 10 at 8:42 a.m.

    Going to Orlando or Vegas for trade shows and conferences definitely makes it a better experience for the attendees, due to all the activities they can take part in outside of the conference.

    But that is also the problem with having these shows in those locales. There is a perception issue with employers that you are just there partying, or using it as a vacation on the company dime.

    I tend to stick with conferences in Chicago, NYC, Boston. They may actually be more expensive, but at least I don’t have to fight the perception with my company that I am taking a free vacation.

  2. JoeyB Jan. 10 at 9:22 a.m.

    What activities can you partake in in Orlando that are so special? other than nice weather, are you heading to Downtown disney at night, or the strip clubs in Casselberry? That town is a snooze.

  3. Matt Jan. 10 at 10:14 a.m.

    Yup, absolutely nothing to do in Chicago. Nothing at all. City of 3+ million. Dead year round.

    Please, stay in Vegas and Orlando. You can have them.

  4. Erik Jan. 10 at 10:26 a.m.

    These conventions want to come here…..they just don’t want to be raped in the process.
    Glad to see the changes being made are helping people come back.

  5. Scott Jan. 10 at 10:43 a.m.

    Right on Joey. I had an event in Orlando and there wasn’t much adult fun to be had at night. Yeah, the food was good, but that was about it.

  6. Chris Jan. 10 at 10:45 a.m.

    This reporting is a bit misleading. “Chicago Wins Back Lost Trade Show” makes it sound like HIMSS has been held in Chicago on some sort of regular basis. It has been here only once in the last 18 years. And refering to it as a “medical trade show” is also misleading. This show is about technology in the healthcare industry.

  7. Chicago 20 Jan. 10 at 12:12 pm

    Does it make anyone wonder, what has changed so much since Steve Lieber went on CBS2 and told his story of a mysterious booth whose electrical charges went from $4,000 to $40,000?

    The Restaurant show and the SPI-NPE Plastics Show claimed that McCormick Place’s electrical prices were 48% more than Orlando’s.

    This booth at HiMSS was 1000% more.

    Analysis of the SPI-NPE Savings Summary showed the electrical rates were virtually the same in Orlando and McCormick Place, with all the reported “savings” coming in the total omission of all labor charges in Orlando.

    The HiMSS show is managed by Freeman.

    Current MPEA Trustee Jim Reilly, is a former paid consultant for Freeman. Jim Reilly advised the legislature and help to craft the SB 28 legislation.

    SB 28 now allows outside electrical contractors at McCormick Place.
    Freeman is the electrical contractor for the upcoming Housewares show with prices that are 53% to 148% more than the in-house McCormick Place electrical contractor. This will cost exhibitors at the Housewares show over $2,000,000 in additional charges.
    Since this legislation was passed, wages at McCormick Place have been slashed.
    Yet after the legislation, exhibitors are now being charged more for drayage, floor space and rentals.

    Who is making all of these additional profits, while the State of Illinois is providing $25,000,000 in taxpayer subsidies?
    Does anyone think there may be a profit motive here?

  8. JACK Jan. 10 at 1:12 pm

    FREAMAN and GES have a monopoly over the MCpier fiasco, they pay off anyone the want to get whatever they want.

  9. Betsy Jan. 13 at 7:37 pm

    This is going to be great for Chicago, of course, I am glad that the trade show leaving encouraged the renovations that it did, but this is great news for the Chicago events industry!