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Work-rule changes help snag convention from Indianapolis



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Updated: November 4, 2013 12:05PM

Boasting that he’s “taken the politics out of McCormick Place,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday touted Chicago as the nation’s No. 2 convention city “nipping at Orlando’s heels,” thanks to cost-saving work-rule changes and a recruiting partnership with organized labor.

The occasion for Emanuel’s chest-pounding was another major convention lured to Chicago, this time at the expense of Indianapolis.

The Dealernews International Powersports Dealer Expo has signed a three-year deal to bring its 10,000 attendees to McCormick Place, beginning in December, 2014.

Dealer Expo is the annual gathering for the powersports industry. It gives dealers, exhibitors and members of the power sports community a chance to eyeball the latest models of watercraft and all-terrain vehicles. The show, currently held in Indianapolis, is not open to the public.

The move to Chicago is expected to give the three-day show the space it needs to showcase more products. The first show will be held Dec. 5-7, 2014. That’s expected to provide a $15 million boost to the local economy during a time when conventions slow to a trickle.

The power sports industry show is the latest benefit to stem from a series of work-rule changes with McCormick Place unions that Emanuel helped to broker after a judge overturned concessions mandated by the General Assembly.

Among other things, the concessions allow the McPier Authority to create an “exhibitors bill of rights” that lets show managers and exhibitors set up their own booths with simple tools.

Exhibitors also can drive and unload their own vehicles at McCormick Place, and union work can be done by two-person crews instead of the told three-person minimum.

According to the mayor’s office, more than $6 billion in new, renewed or extended shows have committed to the city since those changes were made. That has allowed Chicago to blow past Las Vegas and move to No. 2 in the nation for conventions.

After the work rule changes were hammered out, a so-called “Trade Show Promotion Fund Committee” was formed to promote those cost-savings. It includes four representatives each from the mayor’s office and the Carpenters Union.

With a $2 million budget and a pledge of union help going forward, the eight members have worked together to identify new trade shows that can be lured to Chicago.

“We took the politics out of McCormick Place, stopped treating McCormick Place as a political football in a political sandbox. We professionalized it, approached it like a serious business, created a partnership between management and labor, rather than being at odds at the expense of business,” Emanuel said at a news conference at Carpenters Hall, 12 East Erie.

“In fact, the lead person approaching the new client here and new customer was [Chicago Federation of Labor President] Jorge Ramirez. That had never been done in the history of Chicago.”

In the two years since the work-rule changes were made and the partnership with labor was forged, Chicago moved from fifth to second on the list of the nation’s top convention cities, Emanuel said.

“And we’re nipping now at Orlando’s heels. We’ve replaced Vegas for the first time in about a decade,” the mayor said, adding that he won’t be satisfied until Chicago is No. 1.

Ramirez said the recruiting committee was the brainchild of Carpenters Union President Frank Libby.

“This is two sides sitting down that, at the time, had some very acrimonious circumstances surrounding them, hunkered down, got themselves in the room and said, `Let’s figure this thing out. There’s so much work riding on it. Our industry is at a crossroads.’ And we decided to walk down a certain road together,” Ramirez said.


Twitter: @fspielman

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