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City Doesn't Take Anything for Granted

Putting Their Best Feet Forward: While Las Vegas grabs an increasing share of convention and trade show dollars, other cities aren't standing still. A look at what several of them are doing to attract business.

September 23, 2003|Robert Cross

Chicago has long been attractive to business travelers, meeting planners and organizers of the biggest trade shows.

But as competition from Sun Belt locales heats up, Chicago has slipped to No. 2 after Las Vegas in luring top trade shows. After being No. 1 for so long, city officials evidently believe it's time to try harder.

Because of its advantages, Chicago has been spinning its wheels less than many other cities during the sluggish economy, said Deborah Sexton, president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau.

"On the heels of 9/11 and even on the heels of spring 2001, when the bad economy started to kick in and business travel started to dry up a little bit, Chicago was affected less than many other cities," Sexton said.

Still, the city wants to ingratiate itself. One such effort is called "Chicago: We're Glad You're Here." That expression of gratitude begins with signage at O'Hare and Midway airports and extends to banners and signs posted wherever business travelers might see them.

This spring, Mayor Richard M. Daley initiated the "Make it Chicago" campaign, urging the 500-odd corporations in the Chicago area to hold conventions in their headquarters city.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau advises planners that the McCormick Place convention center is undergoing an $800-million expansion. When finished in 2007, McCormick will have 2.8 million square feet of exhibition space -- an addition of 600,000 square feet. An additional 200,000 square feet of meeting space is also in the works as the hall spreads farther west from its annex across Lake Shore Drive.

As everyone in the business community knows, construction cranes signal optimism. And Sexton doesn't hesitate to proclaim, "Chicago is the Midwest attraction."

-- Robert Cross

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