Budget Cuts Force Layoffs at Choose Chicago

Chicagos lakefront

A budget impasse in Illinois has forced one of the nation's largest convention and visitors bureaus, Choose Chicago, to close its offices in Canada and Mexico, and to eliminate 28 people from its staff, local business publication Crain's Chicago Business reported earlier this month.

The cuts, which took effect Oct. 15, include layoffs of 15 full-time employees, nine part-time employees, and four temporary employees, representing a 26 percent reduction in the organization's size and a $2.5 million reduction in its operating costs.

"Based on our current cash flow projections and where we expect to be at the end of the year, we couldn't wait any longer to make these staffing cuts," Choose Chicago CEO Don Welsh told Crain's. "We're hopeful that reinstating our funds will take place as soon as possible."

Choose Chicago's funding woes stem from a feud between Illinois' Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, and its Democratic House speaker, Michael Madigan, over the state's FY2016 budget. Democrats want Rauner to address a $4 billion budget shortfall with a tax increase that would fill the budget gap without sacrificing critical government services, such as Medicaid. The governor, however, won't do so without concessions from Democrats allowing him to weaken the influence of labor unions in Illinois. Until an agreement is reached, Choose Chicago's state appropriations are frozen; to date, it's received only $2.1 million of the $9.3 million owed it. 

The cuts are "bad timing," according to Crain's, which said Chicago faces a slow year for meetings and conventions; as of April, it reported, the city had obtained only 31 citywide conventions for 2016, down from 41 in 2015 and 35 in 2014. Meanwhile, Chicago faces a glut of supply, with approximately 1,400 new hotel rooms opening downtown next year.

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