Chicago ranked as second most desirable convention destination - Los Angeles Local News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Chicago ranked as second most desirable convention destination

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

After a long slow decline, Chicago had slipped to fifth place in a business where it was once the American leader, but a new national survey finds the city has jumped ahead of Las Vegas -- and is behind only Orlando -- as a convention destination.

Double-digit unemployment is one reason Chicago is at the tipping point, but the big surge in visitors is translating into a surge in jobs.

The boom is easiest to see downtown, where a couple thousand construction workers have built hundreds of new hotel rooms, with hundreds more under construction. It's hard to count all the new restaurants. What's called the "hospitality industry" is, in fact, now Chicago's number one employer.

Harry Caray's at Dearborn & Kinzie was busy Thursday night, likely to put good tips into the pockets of waiters, waitresses, bartenders and busboys. Business is so good, in fact, that the chain is already working on its seventh and largest restaurant, yet: in 22,000 square feet at Water Tower Place scheduled to open next March 1 on what would have been the now-deceased Harry's 100th birthday.

"All the hotels are having record occupancy, stuff you haven't seen in like a decade. That's why you're seeing hotels pop up left and right overnight," the general manager of Harry Caray's restaurants, Grant DePorter, says. "Way too many restaurants. It's like, ‘Oh, my God, there's another restaurant.' Every corner, there's another restaurant opening."

Many of their customers have come to town for business conferences and conventions. McCormick Place, Chicago's premier site for such meetings, has seen an explosion of new bookings since Mayor Emanuel negotiated a series of work rule changes with local labor unions. Once notoriously Inefficient, McCormick Place has transformed its image

"There's a lot of things that are taking place here," Don Welsh, President & CEO of Choose Chicago says. "And all of a sudden they're sort of getting to the top of the heap and everybody saying, ‘Wow! Chicago's pretty serious about its business.'"

Make no mistake, conventions and tourism are now Chicago's number one business, responsible for 130,000 jobs; revenue of about $14 billion a year for local business; and taxes of about $700 million.

A very pleasant surprise for the hospitality industry has been a record surge in leisure visitors, up more than 10% last year it appears headed for another big increase this year. Downtown Chicago's 4.1% economic growth rate last year, ranked it third in the country, behind only LA and Atlanta.

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