New Research Provides Benchmarks for Trade Show Labor and Materials Handling Costs in 16 Cities

February 1, 2023

What is the average cost of trade show labor in Las Vegas? What is the average cost of electrical labor in Orlando? What is the average cost for materials handling in New York? How do these averages by city compare to the national average? 

The 2022 Material Handling & Labor Rate Survey — a new report by The Exhibitor Advocate, a non-profit organization dedicated to amplifying the voice of exhibitors — provides some benchmarks to review high-level exhibitor costs in 16 U.S. cities, from Las Vegas and Orlando to Chicago and Atlanta.  

“We believe this data is a valuable and important benchmarking tool,” said Jessica Sibila, executive director of The Exhibitor Advocate. “Every show is different but having a tool like the Material Handling and Labor Rate Survey allows exhibitors to better estimate their expenses prior to participating in an event.” 

She continued, “It allows show organizers to evaluate how their show compares to city averages and how their negotiated rates may impact exhibitors. And it allows facilities to understand how their costs compare to other destinations. All of this is important information for all stakeholders in the industry to have.” 

TSNN takes a deeper dive into the report to provide analysis of the survey, which was prepared by Tradeshow Logic, an independent show management and event solutions company, and certified by EVOLIO Marketing, an independent third-party research agency. To paint the full picture, we asked leading service contractors including Freeman, GES and Fern, and Exhibition Services Contractors Association (ESCA) to provide their take on the report. Here’s what we found. 

The Back Story

The Annual Survey of U.S. and Canadian Labor Rates was first published by Tradeshow Week magazine beginning in 1980. After Tradeshow Week ceased publication in 2010, various groups produced the survey intermittently. The most recent version was prepared in 2017 by EDPA, the Experiential Designers and Producers Association. EDPA has officially turned over the production of this annual analysis to The Exhibitor Advocate.

“The pandemic caused many shows to skip one, two or even three show cycles. In the process of building back, the exhibition industry has faced rising inflation, staffing shortages, added health and safety costs, and supply chain issues,” according to the 2022 Material Handling & Labor Rate Survey.

The Methodology

The data included in this study is based on secondary research sourced from 160 publicly available convention and exhibition exhibitor manuals and rate forms. The events, manuals and forms have been selected by market, based on availability of data (rates and services) across a representative sample of events and major industry sectors and sizes (net square footage and number of attendees).

What It Means

When evaluating the data, it’s important to understand: “Many variables beyond just the cost of labor factor into the determination of labor and material handling rates, including: size and complexity of the show; depth of attendee services and show management requirements; show schedule; required equipment; distance to deliver equipment; dock accessibility; and ease of moving into and out of a facility,” according to the report. 

The result: It’s extremely difficult to come up with year-over-year percentage changes unless you have an apples-to-apples comparison with the same show data, as well as a significant sample size. “It should be noted that the rates are averages and should serve only as a benchmark. Every show is unique,” according to the report.

“It is apples to apples in that the same cities were used for both 2017 and 2022; however, a random sample of shows was utilized,” Sibila said. “This is not meant to be a study of particular shows from year to year.” 

That being said, the 2022 Material Handling & Labor Rate Survey provides a starting point for budgeting and a baseline for future years (especially if the same shows and cities are used).  

Key Data Points

The averages are compiled from data that represents events held during January through Nov. 2022, at 16 major U.S. convention centers and facilities in Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

The report provides cost ranges from high to low:

  • The lowest average straight time installation and dismantle rate was in Atlanta ($99.66), and the highest rate was in New York City ($235.05).
  • The lowest average straight time electrical rates were in Nashville and New Orleans ($77.00), and the highest rate was in Philadelphia ($187.60).
  • The lowest average Per LB material handling rate (before deadline) was in Atlanta ($1.02 Per LB), and the highest rate was in Philadelphia ($2.86 Per LB).

Outpacing Inflation

It probably comes as no surprise to show organizers, exhibitors or suppliers that trade show labor and materials handling costs outpaced the rate of inflation in 16 cities from 2017 to 2022, according to the report. But by how much? The answer depends a complex set of factors, which some industry leaders contend makes it nearly impossible to prove.

Based on the report’s analysis over the period from 2017 to 2022:

  • The average exhibitor kit installation and dismantle rates outpaced the rate of inflation by 3-6%.
  • The average exhibitor kit electrical labor rates outpaced the rate of inflation by 8-12%. 
  • The exhibitor kit material handling rates outpaced the rate of inflation by 18-31%.

“I would not be surprised to see that anything labor related reflects the general economy and as a result significantly outpaces general inflation,” said Aaron Bludworth, president and CEO of Fern. “This would especially be the case in an industry like ours that had a rapid decline and a rapid recovery. As to the percentage, that would require a very complex analysis that is unlikely sufficiently done in this report.” 

He continued, “Most importantly, Fern works very hard to keep costs to our clients, both exhibitors and organizers, in check and pacing with our costs of operating our business. We are also very transparent in the process, which is why we created the first in the industry fully transparent, no added charges, material handling pricing model Fern’s 1Rate.”

In response, Sibila added that all industry stakeholders have a vested interest in the viability of conventions and trade shows. 

“The current economics are creating an existential challenge and resulting in reduced participation in exhibitions,” she said. “It’s important we work together to address this issue with all stakeholders in the industry.” 

Big Picture

“Generally, I look to industry media and organizations like CEIR for industry data and reporting that are not focused on a specific outcome that could tend to sway the way data is interpreted and portrayed,” Bludworth said. “So, I look at these types of reports with skepticism, regardless of the characterizing done.” 

TSNN asked ESCA to weigh in. 

“Our current economic landscape has driven inflation rates to a recent high,” said ESCA Director of Operations Julie Kagy. “Our members are not immune to these same cost pressures and are working diligently to manage the impact on their organizations. Data shared by our members confirm they have incurred significant cost increases in direct labor, indirect labor, supply chain, equipment rental and petroleum-driven costs that far outpace average inflationary rates.”

She added, “We have requested the raw data utilized to compile this survey. We look forward to thoroughly analyzing that data and providing an insightful reply.”

Freeman and GES declined to comment on the results of the study. 

"Under the methodology section, it cites that the information was retrieved from 160 shows (~5%) which we believe is too small of a sampling size to form an opinion,” according to GES officials. “We also don’t have any info on the show profile to agree or disagree on this claim.” 

Sibila added that as stated in the report, and validated by two independent third parties, the sample size constitutes a representative sample for the research. 

“There is a margin of error of +/- 10% and does not account for variables such as net square footage, industry segment or attendance,” she said.

For a full list of costs by city (and to make your own determination about how to use the data), download a free copy of the survey here.

Don’t miss any event-related news: Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter HERE, listen to our latest podcast HERE and engage with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram!

Add new comment

Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.