Planners who move their meetings from city to city should compare labor rates in new destinations so they can estimate costs and manage exhibitor expectations. One tried-and-true resource is Tradeshow Week's annual survey of U.S. and Canadian labor rates.

After spiking as much as 5 percent to 10 percent in years past, the average cost of labor at convention centers has plateaued, according to the 2004 survey. “Most top-tier cities are comparable in price,” says Michael Hughes, associate publisher and director of research services for the Los Angeles-based publication. “It's the work rules that impact price, and they vary.”

When comparing costs, be sure to ask which unions perform what services, and when overtime charges apply.

U.S. Convention Center Labor Rates
(regular time/hour)
Average High Low
Carpenter $66.29 $115.55 (New York) $47.67 (Columbus)
Decorator (general labor) $64.83 $105.00 (San Jose) $49.00 (San Antonio)
Drayage (general labor) $65.24 $107.50 (New York) $45.00 (Rosemont)
Forklift w/Operator (highest weight) $155.26 $325.25 (Seattle) $85.00 (Honolulu)
Plumber $65.18 $111.50 (San Jose) $35.00 (Cincinnati)
Source: Tradeshow Week 2004 Survey of U.S. and Canadian Labor Rates