HR Conferences in Chicago? You Might as Well Shoot Me Now

I cringed when I heard that SHRM’s 2013 Annual Conference and Exhibition (from June 16-19) was going to be held in Chicago.

Yes, I have a love/hate relationship with the Windy City. I love the people, the restaurants, the vibrancy, the Bears, but I hate the weather, the airport, the convention center, and most of all, how Chicago seems to enjoy funding its civic excesses by sticking it to out-of-town visitors.

I griped about all of this last fall when the HR Technology conference was held in Chicago one last time (before heading to Vegas for the foreseeable future) in a post titled HR Tech 2012: Why I’m Glad It’s Finally Moving Out of Chicago.

My main gripes were about the hotel room rates that seem to be approaching New York levels, and the highest tax burden on visitors of ANY city in the country, but it’s more than that.

Why I hate conferences in Chicago

  • McCormick Place, the city’s convention center, is a hulking, cavernous building that seems to swallow up events. More importantly, it’s not near anything and a pain to get to. There’s only one hotel by the convention center (the Hyatt McCormick Place), so just about no one stays near the conference, meaning attendees get a lot of rides in buses or cabs. Cities with more functional convention centers (like San Diego or Atlanta) have enough lodging nearby so that savvy conference goers can stay within walking distance of the event. Unless you have a death wish, this is not an option in Chicago.
  • The taxes on visitors are off-the-board excessive. Politicians everywhere seem to think that they can stick it to tourists and visitors with taxes that the local populace don’t have to pay. Just as Florida has made an art out of taxing rental cars, Chicago has done this to the average visitor with the highest taxes in the country on travelers at $40.31 per day. Yeah, the cynical view is that somebody else — probably your company or organization — is paying for all of this, so why should you really care about how high the taxes are? Well, try making that argument to your boss and see how far you get — or how many more conferences they let you attend.
  • Parties outside the conference get spread all around town. The lack of a central convention center/hotel hub in Chicago means that all the parties and events surrounding the conference are here, there, and everywhere. It’s not like Vegas where you can hit two or three parties in an evening. No, the way such things get spread out in Chicago makes it a challenge to attend even one, and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to at Chicago conferences who want to go to some vendor party but throw in the towel when they decide it’s just too much effort.
  • Chicago weather. Need I say more? It’s terrible a great deal of time, and even the warmer summer season gets torrential rains and the famous winds. No wonder Randy Newman once sang, Let’s leave Chicago to the Eskimos.
  • O’Hare International Airport. Yeah, I know that there are a lot of bad airports, but Chicago O’Hare is in a league of its own. I’ve gotten to the point where I avoid it in my travels at all costs. The one thing I used to like most at the airport — the memorial to Lt. Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, a naval aviator, combat ace, and the first Navy recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II — has been moved somewhere nobody can seem to find it anymore. That speaks volumes about the priorities of the politicians and people running the place,

Other views about SHRM and Chicago

Add to this to fact that I am going to Chicago to attend a SHRM conference where the big, opening session keynote speaker — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — has decided to stiff the media and ban them from her talk, well, you can pretty much just shoot me now and put me out of my misery.

By the way, did I mention that Hillary Clinton is from Chicago, and that President Obama picked up all of his political skills (insert your own quip if you wish) there? Yes, welcome to the Chicago Way.

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Of course, there are other views about SHRM 2013 and Chicago. Matt Stollak gives you Eight Things NOT to Do at #SHRM13 over at his True Faith HR blog, and TLNT contributor (and former SHRM COO) China Gorman has some great tips on How to maximize your SHRM 2013 experience.

And there’s more: Jessica Miller-Merrell has written about her Top 10 Must-Sees In Chicago During #SHRM13, while Trish McFarlane brought back her 10 Conference Commandments in case you missed them the first time.

My point: There’s lots of good information out there if you want to get prepped to attend SHRM 2013 in Chicago even if you DON”T agree with my views about Chicago. And, know that TLNT will be there again this year as we were last year in Atlanta (and in Las Vegas and San Diego before that), and we’ll provide coverage from beginning to end.

We may even have some sharp HR pros providing their insights on Hillary Clinton’s secret speech (as secret as a speech can be in front of 12,000-15,000 people) since the ban on coverage only applies to credentialed media and not regular SHRM members who will be there.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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