McCormick Place Ready for Events Again

Peter Eelman, vice president and CXO at AMT — The Association For Manufacturing Technology, strode up to the stage at Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place. “We are coming back,” he said. “Let that soak in for a moment.”

While he was specifically referring to the International Manufacturing Technology Show powered by AMT, occurring Sept. 12-17, Eelman may as well have been speaking for Chicago’s trade show industry.

Shut for 14 months due to COVID, McCormick Place officials and several returning organizers gathered in May to celebrate the return of business. The event was also a showcase of new offerings the convention center has installed to prepare for the brave new world. The highlight is a 4,000-seat hybrid studio powered by Freeman that served as the setting for the press conference. There are two other virtual studios available on-campus.

“We need to continue to be flexible and see what is on the horizon,” said David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place.

What’s on the horizon?

What’s on the horizon is a substantial number of events, including the famed Chicago Auto Show, to fill out the 2021 calendar before a packed schedule in 2022 and 2023, featuring many returning events like the Sweet and Snacks Expo that were forced to relocate this year.

Citing what she described as “Hollywood-grade technology,” Larita Clark, CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority that oversees Chicago’s vast convention and expo properties, said the site is capable for all needs. That includes pumping money and momentum into the Second City’s economy.

“We didn’t take a single day of the past 14 months and let it go to waste,” she said. “We are returning to business as usual”

With the reopening of McCormick Place, entirely GBAC Star certified, and the adjacent Marriott Marquis Chicago, the task of hiring staff is ramping up. Clark said 970 full-time employees will be back to work by June. Within a year, that number will nearly double. And each hire at McCormick Place represents another five job opportunities in the local hospitality industry, she added.

More than 120 events are on the books between July 2021 and December 2022, 47 of which are considered major. Economic impact is estimated to be $2.35 billion with nearly 2 million attendees coming to town.

FABTECH added to the good news. Recently plans were announced for a return Sept. 13-16. This making it the first large-scale manufacturing event at McCormick Place since the pandemic. It brings in $73 million delegation spending to Chicago, according to Ed Youdell, president and CEO of the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International. More than 30,000 attendees are expected.

Other key events coming to Chicago include:

Nike Invitational Tournament, July 10-12
Chicago Auto Show, July 15-19
SharePoint Fest, July 26-30
True Value 2021 Fall Reunion, Sept. 30-Oct. 2
International Manufacturing Technology Show, Sept. 12-17
National Black MBA Association 43rd Annual Conference and Exposition, Sept. 14-18
True Value 2021 Fall Reunion, Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, Nov. 13-17
Radiological Society of North America, Nov. 28-Dec. 2

RSNA Vice President Steven Drew said 10,400 abstracts have already been submitted for the late fall event. “That’s testimony to the interest in the meeting,” he said.

Likewise, IMTS is looking bullish for September. Eelman reported that more than 1 million square feet of exhibition space has already been sold and they are expecting 130,000 attendees.

“It’s been a struggle, but we can see light at the end of the tunnel and the light is coming soon,” Eelman said

Matt Swenson