It’s back to Chicago, one of the country’s most populous cities and popular tourist destinations, for the 2007 Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI) Convention and Trade Show. This year’s show runs Friday, April 13 through Tuesday, April 17, and will be held at McCormick Place.

This year’s theme, “Winds of Change,” couldn’t be more fitting. Chicago is also the new home of BSCAI itself, which is now under the management of SmithBucklin, the largest manager of industry associations. A pick-up in attendance over past years is anticipated for this event thanks to that new partnership, says Stan Doobin, president of Harvard Maintenance, New York City, and also convention and trade show co-chairman.

“We are extremely impressed with their knowledge, experience and depth of the bench,” Doobin says. “Many building service contractors have expressed renewed interest in BSCAI and are promising to send people to the annual convention and trade show.”

Several former large contractors rejoined the organization in early 2007, and the recent CEO Seminar in Curacao attracted the largest crowd in more than a decade, Doobin says.

This year’s opening keynote speaker is Christopher Gardner, whose autobiography, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” was adapted to a recently released film starring Will Smith. Gardner leads Saturday’s opening general session with “Breaking Cycles — A Rags To Riches Story: From Homelessness to Wall Street.” (For more on Gardner, see sidebar.)

New seminars and sessions are featured this year (pdf). For the first time, the CEO Track is separate, split into two half-day seminars. Shannon Waller of Strategic Coach returns to show owners how they can make more money, take more time off and better focus on their business and personal lives. Monday’s general session opener, “What Do Your Customers Really Want?” features representatives from customer organizations. Green cleaning expert Stephen Ashkin, president and founder of the Ashkin Group in Bloomington, Ind., will speak at Monday’s general session on the current state of green cleaning, as well as at the following concurrent session, “Green Standards That Can Affect Contractors.”

A number of roundtable discussion sessions have also been scheduled, enabling BSCs to ask and answer each other’s questions.

“We all have issues we do not know how to resolve, and many of our peers have faced the same issues and have found creative solutions,” Doobin says.

The roundtables will kick off Sunday’s general session, and will be held again on Tuesday. Topics include legislative issues, immigration, green cleaning, hiring, profit improvement, succession planning and mergers and acquisition trends.

Organizers have again chosen to hold a reception on the trade show floor, following suggestions from exhibitors to enhance the experience for all.

“It is our goal to provide exhibitors with a forum that is more relaxed to meet attendees,” Doobin says .

Keynote Speaker: Chris Gardner

Christopher P. Gardner has come a long way from the many months in the early ‘80s he and his young son spent homeless in San Francisco as he struggled to start a stockbroking career. The single dad went on to open his own stockbrokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co., based in Chicago, and the president and CEO is now a millionaire. The journey there, however, was not forgotten — and the story of that rags-to-riches journey has inspired those who have read his book of memoirs, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” as well as seen the movie of the same name.

Born and raised in a poor Milwaukee neighborhood, Gardner’s childhood was troubled. With a father who wasn’t in his life, and an abusive stepfather, he lived at times with relatives and even in foster homes. His mother, however, created a sense of worth in Gardner, teaching him that his mind and ability to reason would lead him great places.

Gardner became a Navy medic after high school. Years later, when he was a medical supply salesman in San Francisco, Gardner asked a nicely dressed stockbroker exiting his car, a Ferrari, what he did for a living and how it’s done. From that point on, it was Gardner’s goal to become a stockbroker. As soon as he was accepted into a brokerage training program, he quit his job — but that training position fell through. He was then put in jail for unpaid parking tickets and his girlfriend left with their son, Chris Jr. Soon after, Gardner was accepted into a training program at Dean Witter Reynolds, which paid only a meager stipend. Then Chris Jr.’s mother left the toddler with his father, and because the boarding house Gardner was staying at didn’t allow children, the two became homeless.

So begins a remarkable transformation of strength and perseverance in the face of incredible adversity, of two singular goals that shaped what Gardner’s life would become: to be a father to his son, and to become a successful stockbroker. The memoir’s message is that by valuing learning and hard work, anyone can reach unlimited heights.

Gardner now travels around the country as a motivational speaker. He will be signing copies of his book following the keynote address from 10-11 a.m. Saturday at BSCAI Booth No. 622.

Out on the town
When hunger drives you out of the convention center and on the town, a number of dining hot spots might tickle your fancy.

A metropolitan hub such as Chicago is the home of a diverse population of residents and cultures offering delightful cuisine to please any palate. The Windy City also has its own distinctive food. One Chicago mainstay is deep-dish pizza, the authentic variety of which can be found at Gino’s East (633 N. Wells St.), Pizzeria Uno (29 E. Ohio St.) or Giordano’s Pizzeria (130 E. Randolph St.).

When delectable small-plate dining is in order, go for authentic Spanish tapas and Paella at Café Ba-Ba-Reeba in the heart of Lincoln Park (2024 N. Halsted St.). An extensive wine list can be found at Bin 36 (339 N. Dearborn St.), which serves a contemporary American breakfast, lunch and dinner featuring seasonal ingredients and wine pairings. The restaurant offers a choice of casual or upscale dining, as well as a cheese bar for sampling.

For more upscale eats, Charlie Trotter’s (816 W. Armitage) is considered one of Chicago’s best fine-dining restaurants. Adventurous diners might like unique and upscale Moto (945 W. Fulton Market St.), where they can get a taste of “Post Modern Cuisine.” Reservations are recommended.

There’s more than enough entertainment and arts culture to fill up anyone’s free time while in Chicago. Popular attractions include The Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Drive), home to world-famous Tyrannasaurus rex, Sue; The Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.), where the “Stories from the Silk Road” exhibit features illustrations from Chinese and Indian folktales; the Museum of Science and Industry (57th Street and Lake Shore Drive), featuring whole-body plastinates and other human specimens in the fascinating “Body Worlds 2” exhibit; the Shedd Aquarium (1200 S. Lake Shore Drive); and the Adler Planetarium (1300 S. Lake Shore Drive).

If the weather’s nice, a sightseeing tour of Chicago — by foot, bus or boat — is a wonderful way to get to know the city’s historic and architectural roots. For something a little more off the beaten path, catch any number of downtown carriage rides on Michigan (at Huron, Pearson or Chestnut Streets).

If a night at the theatre is your thing, there is much to choose from. The acclaimed and Tony-award-winning Broadway musical “Wicked” continues its popular run at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theater (24 W. Randolph St.). The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier (800 E. Grasnd Ave.) presents “Troilus and Cressida” beginning April 13 as well as an Aesop’s Fables Musical, “How Can You Run With a Shell On Your Back?”

The trade show and convention will keep BSCs busy, but there’s always room for a little fun while in Chicago.

To register for the convention, or visit to access the registration form (pdf). The form can be faxed to (905) 479-9297, mailed to BSCAI, 2841 Paysphere Circle, Chicago, IL 60674, or sent electronically. To contact BSCAI, call (800) 368-3414 or e-mail.

Click here for a PDF of our seminar schedule or exhibitor list.