Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 2012

Chicago Means Business

By Molly Brennan, Contributing Editor

With a world-class business and cultural infrastructure - including major industries, premier academic and research institutions, and internationally renowned restaurants - Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Choose Chicago are out to show the world that the Second City is second to none.

With all due respect to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Chicago has never burned hotter than right now. Locals have long heralded the city’s many powerhouse industries, educational institutions, cultural attractions, diverse neighborhoods, and sophisticated dining and entertainment options. Now, it seems the rest of the world is waking up to Chicago’s many virtues.

Thanks to a new public-relations strategy initiated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and spearheaded by Choose Chicago, the city’s newly reorganized tourism bureau, Chicago is gaining in visibility as a global destination. Through regional, national, and international campaigns, the world is getting a second look - and in some cases a first glimpse - at the so-called Second City. Designed to drive the annual number of visitors to 50 million by 2020, the new campaign is promoting Chicago as a leading global destination.

“Chicago is a global city with worldwide appeal,” Emanuel said, “and I am committed to ensuring that people around the world have a chance to experience our magnificent city firsthand.”

Chicago Is a City That Works

With its 26 miles of uninterrupted lakefront, towering skyscrapers, world-renowned museums, and award-winning public spaces and parks, Chicago tops Forbes magazine’s list of America’s Best Downtowns. It is home to more Five-Diamond–rated restaurants than any other city in the United States, and foodies from around the globe make regular pilgrimages to experience this epicurean epicenter. The only U.S. city with five Regional Tony Award–winning theater companies, Chicago delivers show-stopping performances every day of the week.

Beyond the shopping, dining, and entertainment, Chicago is - and always has been - the city that works. With one of the world’s most robust and diversified economies, and a gross regional product of $496 billion (larger than Sweden’s), Chicago is a financial ecosystem all its own. In fact, Chicago was rated “#1 Large U.S. Metro for Economic Diversity” by Moody’s Investor Services. Chicago is home to more than 400 major corporate headquarters, including 29 Fortune 500 companies, and a thriving startup scene. From manufacturing to digital media, derivatives trading to biotech, and transportation to green energy, Chicago integrates mature and emerging industries into one vibrant, uniquely diverse business environment.

Mix in the world-renowned academic and research institutions located there - more than 130 higher-education institutions, including Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and Illinois Institute of Technology - and the city fairly buzzes with brainpower.

But what truly differentiates Chicago from other global players is its Midwestern accessibility. Emanuel likes to call Chicago the most American of American cities. Because while Chicago has big-city smarts, it’s got a small-town heart; and visitors reap the rewards of a metropolis with an international perspective and a local mindset. Perhaps most important is the chance for a meeting or convention to capture and capitalize on the energy of one of the most vibrant knowledge centers in the world. “Chicago is in a league of its own,” said Don Welsh, president and CEO of Choose Chicago. “There is not a larger stage than this world-class city, and we embrace the mayor’s challenge to spread that message to visitors from every corner of the globe.”

The combination of Chicago’s sophisticated business infrastructure, convenience, and approachability distinguishes the city as an unparalleled setting for business meetings and conventions. Chicago offers access to influential thought leaders and speakers from nearly every industry. Meeting- goers can take off-site visits to leading-edge research facilities and entrepreneurial hotspots, all downtown or within close proximity. The city also provides a built-in attendance base: More than four million people make up its highly skilled and diversified workforce, and of that working population, 2.4 million are within a 50-minute commute of downtown. More than 20 percent of the U.S. population is within a day’s drive.

“The business community here is very involved in the life and fabric of the city,” said Rita Athas, president of World Business Chicago, Chicago’s not-for-profit economic development corporation. “It’s expected when you come into the city that you will be involved.”

“The benefits of hosting an event in Chicago go well beyond the capacity and amenities of the nation’s largest convention center,” said David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place. “Our customers also have the benefit of tapping into a diverse urban infrastructure that spans many industries, including health care, technology, and manufacturing. Coupled with a central location and a major media market, McCormick Place offers an impressive industry reach that extends to a regional, national, and international audience.”

Chicago Is Global

For a metropolis that’s smack in the middle of the country, Chicago has a broad international reach and pull. That’s no coincidence, because the city has made a concerted effort to attract global business and travelers. In 2011, the city welcomed 1.2 million international visitors, and more than 1,500 foreign-based companies currently do business in Chicago. Meanwhile, Chicago-based companies maintain more than 4,500 locations in more than 150 countries.

Chicago is truly a world marketplace, with global exports - led by medical and optical instruments, industrial machinery, and pharmaceutical products - totaling $37 billion in 2011. And imports, including electric machinery, industrial machinery, and mineral fuel, totaled $140 billion.

The city maintains its draw as a top global destination because it’s so easy for international visitors to get there. With two international airports and 2,900 daily nonstop or direct flights to more than 200 cities worldwide, overseas visitors can get to Chicago with minimal hassles and layovers. And once they arrive, the city helps make the experience as enjoyable as possible with a variety of international resources, including 79 consulates or consuls general, more than 40 international/ethnic chambers of commerce, and more than 90 foreign-based trade organizations.

To cement Chicago’s reputation as the premier destination for international visitors, Choose Chicago launched an aggressive global marketing campaign. The city opened representation offices in several international cities as part of the mayor’s goal of ranking among the top five cities in the United States for volume of international visitors. “I am dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of visitors to Chicago,” Emanuel said, “and fostering economic development and job growth throughout the city as a result of these efforts.”

The mayor is far from alone in that campaign. “Chicago’s continued expansion of international offices will bring the necessary forces to bear to reach Mayor Emanuel’s ambitious goal of 50 million visitors by 2020,” Welsh said. “The overwhelming positive response to our global effort clearly shows that a well-developed and flawlessly executed strategy drives increased visitor spending and the new tax revenues.”

Chicago Is Innovation

When people think of Chicago, they often think of a solid city that gets the job done. Chicago built the first skyscraper - the Home Insurance Building, in 1884 - and reversed the flow of a river, after all.

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