CHICAGO (CBS)McCormick Place is expecting to generate $1.2 billion for the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois this coming year – not too shabby at all considering the COVID-19 pandemic.

CBS 2’s Tara Molina took a closer look Thursday at the impact now and moving forward as conventions ramp up.

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The return of conventions, trade shows, and large-scale events are already making a difference in the city right now – especially for our hotel industry, which has been pummeled by the pandemic, Molina learned these events are bridging the gap for them.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority reported this fiscal year – which started in July and ends next June – the will host 122 events that will bring in 2.3 million visitors. More than 700,000 hotel room nights will be involved.

Looking ahead at the fiscal year, with that is how the expected $1.2 billion impact breaks down, according to the MPEA spokeswoman.

“I hear every day the giddiness and excitement when people actually see the lanyards of conventioneers walking down the Mag Mile or State Street,” said Michael Jacobson, President of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association.

The hustle and bustle you may have noticed downtown is already bridging the gap for hotels in the city.

“In a week a convention wasn’t in town? Our occupancy dropped to 46 percent, which is one of the worst occupancy rates this year,” Jacobson said. “But when conventions were back? That number increased to 64 percent of hotel occupancy – one of the best occupancy rates since the start of the pandemic.”

And big shows, forced to cancel when the pandemic hit, are gearing up for big returns.

“We were the first major show that canceled in the United States when COVID first hit,” said Steve Greenspon of the International Housewares Association.

The International Home + Housewares Show is the largest annual trade show the city hosts each year, Greenspon noted. Forced to cancel two years in a row, he said they will be back in March – bringing more than 60,000 with them.

The MPEA spokeswoman reported that from July through September, McCormick Place held 37 events on campus with nearly 240,000 people in attendance and an economic impact of more than $142 million. This only includes events that MPEA defines as “citywide” – meaning that more than 3,000 hotel rooms are being booked. The Chicago Sky playoff games, for example, would not be included.

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MPEA also brought back 1,000 full-time employees, in addition to the hours contractors worked for trade shows. In a normal year, shows contract 3.9 million hours of union labor, the MPEA spokeswoman said.

So far since July, McCormick Place has hosted the following events without any significant COVID-related issues: The NBA Draft Combine, the Nike Tournament of Champions, the Black Women’s Health Expo, the Chicago Auto Show, RetailX, the Advertising Specialty Institute, the National Apartment Association, the National Black MBA Association, Morningstar’s 2021 Investment Conference, and FABTECH – North America’s largest metal forming trade show.

The MPEA spokeswoman emphasized that the impact of this activity this goes far beyond the McCormick Place campus itself. For example, it was estimated that those who attended FABTECH brought in $73 million in spending at Chicago businesses.

So far in October, True Value Hardware hosted its fall trade show for franchisees and vendors, drawing 11,000 people. The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) drew over 22,000 attendees.

Other October events include:

• Urban Land Institute 2021 Fall Meeting
• WEFTEC 2021
• Sweetest Day Comedy Jam
• The OR Manager Conference
• American Society for Radiation and Oncology
• American Society for Radiological Technology
• USA CBD 2021

With the list of events happening this month – and continuing into colder months – expected to keep the comeback going, Jacobson said things are looking up.

“Conventions are bridging a gap – knowing that leisure, even in normal times, falls off during the winter months, particularly in a market like Chicago,” he said.

The Illinois Restaurant Association didn’t have information on impact quite yet. But Molina is told the coming event calendar should be a boost to all business in the area, with just two of the shows hosted here this month bringing in more than 30,000 people.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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Tara Molina