Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 2012

Chicago Means Business

By Molly Brennan, Contributing Editor
(That was the Chicago River, in 1900; a hundred years later, the American Society of Civil Engineers proclaimed the project a “Monument of the Millennium.”) What people might underestimate is the nimble, entrepreneurial mindset that fueled those achievements and drives today’s thriving startup scene.

“Chicago has become one of the nation’s top cities for tech entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs can find everything they need to succeed: world-class talent, a dynamic community, and a natural base of Fortune 500 customers,” said J.B. Pritzker, founder and managing partner of The Pritzker Group, and founder of New World Ventures, one of Chicago’s leading venture-capital firms. “We’re seeing new startups form practically every day, and entrepreneurs are increasingly moving here to build their businesses.”

Chicago’s tech scene garnered big headlines in 2011 when Groupon, the homegrown daily-deal website, raised $700 million in its initial public offering. But Chicago’s tech community is much deeper than Groupon, with city advocates quick to remind people that Orbitz, GrubHub, CareerBuilder, Sitter- City, and Navteq are all Chicago products.

And those are just the old-timers. According to Built In Chicago, a social-networking platform that works to promote and connect the city’s digital entrepreneurs, 128 web-based startups launched in Chicago last year. That’s one every 72 hours. The innovators behind those startups aren’t just slackers living in their parents’ basements, either, as evidenced by the strong venture-capital activity in Chicago. In 2011, 77 digital technology companies raised $1.45 billion - 431 percent more than in 2010. “Chicago has a strong community of digital tech entrepreneurs who are always willing to provide advice and lend a helping hand,” said Matt Moog, founder and CEO of Viewpoints.com and chair of Built In Chicago. “We have a strong eco-system of educational, corporate, and civic institutions who work together to provide talent, ideas, and capital to fuel a growing technology community.”

Chicago Is Breakthrough Discoveries

Medical and scientific meetings have a long tradition in Chicago, which hosts 17 of the 25 largest such conferences in the United States on a regular, rotating schedule. This is no surprise. With a concentration of medical research centers, global pharmaceutical and life-sciences headquarters, and U.S. and international medical societies, the Chicago metropolitan area is home to:
  • More than 250 corporate R&D facilities
  • Three federally funded research centers
  • Six medical schools and more than 20 teaching hospitals
  • The densest concentration of medical research centers in the United States
  • More than 500,000 health-care and life-sciences employees.
“Our leading research universities and national labs, established pharmaceutical industry presence, and emerging biotech community combine for an incredibly deep knowledge base,” said Caralynn Nowinski Chenoweth, M.D., associate vice president for innovation and economic development at the University of Illinois. “Grand challenges in medicine and the life sciences are presented every day - and our experts in the Chicago area are playing significant roles in discovering the solutions.”

Chicago is home to the corporate headquarters of Abbott Laboratories, Baxter International, Takeda, Walgreens, and Hospira. These and other area companies are at the forefront of developments in diagnostics, therapeutics, and medical equipment. Meanwhile, with six area hospitals named to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals, Chicago is a leader in translational research and patient-care breakthroughs. And throughout the Chicago area, business incubators and innovation centers encourage the growth of biotech, nanotechnology, and science startups.

“As a physician, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist, I’ve experienced Chicago’s research and development community from several angles,” Nowinski Chenoweth said. “The federal research dollars that come into the city, the commitment of the private sector, and the scientific talent and genius at our world-renowned institutions and smaller startups make Chicago a hotbed of discovery.”

Sidebar: Within Reach


  • Chicago’s location, Central Time Zone, and nonstop passenger service mean that you can fly from nearly any U.S. city and return on the same business day.
  • Less than 10 hours from the major European business centers.
  • A nonstop global gateway to more than 60 international and 150 domestic business centers. 

SOURCE: World Business Chicago

Sidebar: Labor Reform = Meeting Spaces Like No Other


Chicago boasts the most exhibit and meeting-room space in the Western Hemisphere. McCormick Place, the crown jewel of the city’s meeting facilities, is the largest convention center in the United States, with:
  • 2.6 million square feet of exhibit halls
  • 173 meeting rooms providing nearly 1.2 million square feet of space
  • Assembly seating for 15,000 people
  • 4,249-seat Arie Crown Theater
  • Easy access and more than 5,000 parking spaces.

Privatization of McCormick Place’s operations, followed by settlements between labor organizations and management, have smoothed over work-rule changes at the convention center and made McCormick Place more exhibitor- and customer-friendly than ever. Most recently, a historic agreement between convention center management and labor organizations representing electrical workers and stage employees will allow union stagehands to complete a type of work previously completed by union electricians.

In response to the reforms and new union agreements, a number of major shows are returning to Chicago or going there for the first time. In June 2012, Reed Exhibitions announced it will bring two new shows to the city - AIBTM: The Americas Meetings & Events Exhibition and BookExpo America - representing $56 million in estimated direct expenditures. “Labor reform has resulted in positive results for our annual customers,” said Don Welsh, president and CEO of Choose Chicago, “and continues to resonate well with current and potential customers.”

And just last month, the Chicago-based American Library Association signed an agreement confirming that Chicago will host its Annual Conference in 2020, 2023, and 2026. “This is great news for our convention industry, and shows that Chicago is the place for large, national organizations to come and do business,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The reforms at McCormick Place and Navy Pier have attracted more than $3.25 billion in committed shows, and this number continues to grow.”

Sidebar:Sweet Home

Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Chicago metropolitan area include:
  • Abbott Laboratories
  • Allstate
  • Aon
  • The Boeing Company
  • Exelon
  • Kraft Foods
  • McDonald’s
  • Motorola
  • United Continental Holdings
  • Walgreens

Sidebar: Choose Chicago: At Your Fingertips


Choose Chicago’s website (choosechicago.com) offers everything meeting professionals and business travelers need to plan and promote their business meetings - and more. At choosechicago.com, meeting professionals can access experiential content, search for vendors, submit RFPs, and utilize marketing tools to help promote their events.

A 2011 agreement with travel booking engine Orbitz Worldwide brought robust travel-planning services directly to choosechicago.com. At the site, a customized booking engine incorporates Chicago’s vast hotel inventory and allows business travelers to research and book air, car, and attractions in one place.

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