Capitol Hill Weekly Roundup: The Economic Impact of Political Conventions

By David Berman | May 5, 2023

Major conventions of any kind typically have a beneficial economic impact on cities. The events especially bolster business for hotels and restaurants. Chicago and Milwaukee, two cities hit hard by the pandemic-created economic downturn, are expected to get a boost by hosting prominent political conventions in 2024. 

Recently, Chicago learned it would be the site of the Democratic National Convention from August 19 to August 22.

Last year, it was announced that Milwaukee would host the Republican National Convention from July 15 to July 18.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is hopeful that holding the convention in Chicago will help their party in 2024 election. Democrats have won Illinois in the last eight presidential elections. By holding its convention in Chicago, the DNC hopes to reach voters in the nearby battleground states of Wisconsin and Michigan.

Chicago officials are hopeful that the event helps the region continue its rebound in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

The Chicago Loop Alliance reported that hotel and retail traffic is 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

A University of Toronto study indicated that Chicago’s downtown ranked 39th among 63 U.S. cities in terms of recovery from the pandemic.

Less heralded communities like Cincinnati (32nd), Pittsburgh (28th), and Wichita, Kansas (19th) are faring better, according to the report. Milwaukee is 16th. Salt Lake City tops the list, which was updated in February 2023 to reflect the winter season.

The 2020 DNC convention was significantly scaled back because of the pandemic, so the 2016 event in Philadelphia is the most relevant recent comparison. 

Philadelphia’s tourism bureau estimated that the economic impact was around $230 million.

Michael Jacobson, the president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, told reporters that “the economic benefits of hosting this convention will extend beyond Chicago’s city limits and will last for years to come.” 

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce released a statement saying that “the DNC will energize Chicago’s economy with jobs and millions of dollars pouring into our local businesses.

“The unparalleled number of visitors will serve as a major boon to our city’s hotel, restaurant, and hospitality industry, and a critical element to the overall economic recovery of our entire region, and the positive long-term economic development impact that will be felt by businesses across the city,” the statement also noted. 

Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jack Lavin told a Chicago TV news outlet that the event will have an estimated $150 million impact on the region and attract around 50,000 visitors.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we need conventions back,” Lavin said. “We are going to show off Chicago to the world for three days in August.

“It will be a commercial to millions of people around the country and the world,” Lavin  added. “We are a world class city and know how to throw a good party.” 

Conventions are international events that require tens of thousands of hotel rooms along with dozens of local, state, and federal agencies related to law enforcement and transportation.

The country’s third-largest city has hosted the Democratic convention 11 previous times. The event was last held in Chicago in 1996 when then President Bill Clinton was nominated for a second term.

With 132 hotels and 43,462 hotel rooms in the business district and hundreds of hotels in the Chicagoland region, the area is an ideal destination for major events.

The most prominent Democratic Convention events will take place at the United Center, home of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. It has 1.7 million square feet of arena and convention venue space.

Other convention events are scheduled at McCormick Place, which has hosted almost every American president since John F. Kennedy. McCormick Place also took part in the 2012 NATO Summit.

When he took office in January 2021, President Joe Biden vowed to be “the most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history.” Pundits speculate that was likely a key reason why the DNC chose Chicago over Atlanta, which is a right-to-work state with few unionized hotels.

Congress passed legislation in 2014 that banned the use of public money for presidential conventions, except for security grants.

Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is a billionaire and a prominent Democratic party fundraiser, pledged to provide money for the convention.

“We have a very generous local bunch of corporate leaders and corporations in the Fortune 500,” Pritzker told reporters in April. “I’m, of course, personally committed to engage in the fund-raising that’s necessary.”

The Republican convention, which was announced last year, will take place at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. The expanded Wisconsin Center will also serve as a major venue.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, a Democrat, believes the event will generate long-term benefits for the city.

“We are looking forward to hosting not just a great convention in 2024 for the Republicans, but we’re looking forward to hosting a number of world-class events with the eyes and attention on our city in the years to come,” Johnson said 

“There are a wide range of very positive signs for Milwaukee and for its future and the opportunity to host a major political convention is just one of those positive signs,” Johnson added.


David Berman

David joined Hotel Interactive at the start of 2023. He previously worked as a page editor for Gannett’s Design Center and the editor-in-chief of The Daily Nebraskan. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with degrees in journalism, marketing and advertising/public relations in 2022.

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