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Hurry up and wait

“The whole world is watching” was the chant that arose from demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. Chicago was the focal point of change back then and it is today as well. However, today it’s the tradeshow industry which is looking at the direction Chicago is taking and that could very well set the pattern for the entire industry.

As we speak, legislation is being considered which will have a lasting impact on how our industry operates for the next few years and beyond. Whatever happens here in Illinois, you can bet other cities are sure to follow.

The legislative action currently under consideration is a groundbreaking attempt to establish state control of a very lucrative private industry. It would basically give the state of Illinois complete and total control over operation of McCormick Place. Right now it owns the facilities and deals with certain administrative issues, but for the most part, the actual logistical end of the shows is in hands of private industry. This will all change if this legislation becomes law.

Let me get this straight, I’m not one of those tea baggers who views any type of government involvement as a plot to rule the world. Quite the contrary, government does certain things very well. For example, they provide police and fire protection that keeps us safe and secure. Our military is an example of something, which couldn’t be achieved without the authority of a strong central government. The regulation of foods and drugs allows us to go about our life without much thought about their safety or purity.

However, some things are better left to private enterprise. Efficiency and the reward of private initiative are characteristic of the free enterprise system and can’t be duplicated with government control. Even those in power realize the limitations of ill-advised legislation and hopefully common sense will prevail.

Chicago’s tradeshow industry is having troubles – that’s no secret. Most of the problems we face are due to a slow down in our economy and this has affected every area of the country. Every city in the tradeshow business is having troubles, and some of Chicago’s main competitors are experiencing even greater problems, yet they aren’t beginning to panic.

This is not the time to point fingers, which up to this point has been the preferred method of addressing these issues. This strategy has yielded nothing, which is both predictable and frustrating. Every interested party will have to face some difficult options because our economy has changed and it’s not going back to the way things were for a long time. Those with the power to establish pricing and policies will have to accommodate the necessities of the exhibitors without descending into a death spiral of a price war. A price war won’t help anyone, even those who think it might.

I wish I had all of the answers. I don’t. However, nobody else does either. The most productive strategy will involve balancing the needs of everyone while confronting the realities of the economic conditions of today. Certainly, passing legislation which dismantles the very thing which made this industry worth fighting over, isn’t the way to achieve a long term sustainable business model for the future.

The whole world is truly watching Chicago and what is does. Let’s do it right, and putting this lucrative industry in the hands of clueless bureaucrats only interested in the election cycle isn’t the way to do it. While this legislation may not happen, you can never completely rule out the possibility of people in power to do incredible stupid things.

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