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NASHVILLE, TENN. — One composites show is better than two, said exhibitors at the Composites Institute's conference and exposition in Nashville.

An informal Plastics News poll of exhibitors at the show revealed general support — with some reservations — for a single trade show sponsored by the Composites Institute and Composites Fabricators Association.

Each trade group currently holds its own separate show, but CI and CFA leaders are discussing whether to hold a joint show. In the latest news from the talks, the CFA board voted Jan. 17 to reject CI's proposed contract for a joint show beginning in 2000. The CI board will discuss the issue again when it meets in March.

One show would be a good idea, but it has to make economic sense for both trade associations, stressed James Maass, vice president and team leader for the cast polymers business team at Reichhold Chemicals Inc.

``Both organizations have different goals and cater to different segments of the market,'' Maass said in Nashville. ``That is, this show tends to cater to closed molding and the CFA caters to open molders. This organization's mission is to grow the composites industry. The CFA's goal is the educate its members. Those are compatible goals for one show. They're not competitive goals.''

Maass pointed out both groups already cooperate on emissions regulations and other issues.

Walter Stark, a consultant from Farmington Hills, Mich., favors a single umbrella show to bring all sectors of the industry together.

Not surprisingly, the bottom line is the main reason most exhibitors favor one show.

Attendance hit nearly 2,500 at the Nashville show, held Jan. 27-29 at Opryland Hotel Convention Center. That was a 5 percent increase over 1996, said the New York-based Composites Institute, a unit of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. The conference had 26 sessions and 108 exhibitors filled the show floor.

Isorca Inc. of Granville, Ohio, is a member of both CI and CFA, but traditionally has put up a booth only at the CI shows. Exhibiting at both is expensive, said Andrew Bastone, president and managing director. The research and development firm brought five of its 10 employees to the CI show.

Bastone said Isorca officials are thinking about also exhibiting this year at CFA's show, Oct. 29-Nov. 1 in Orlando, Fla. ``We've had people attending those [CFA] sessions for the past three or four years, and they've come back very excited,'' he said.

Rod Wilkins, development and quality manager of Nicofibers of Shawnee, Ohio, which makes continuous strand glass mats, would like one show.

``Just from a cost standpoint, we could spend three days and exhibit to all our of customers, rather than do two shows,'' he said.

Like many CI show exhibitors in Nashville, Composites By Design, of Kitchener, Ontario, did not have a booth at both shows, although employees do attend the CFA conference. The company is a manufacturers representative for thermoset materials. Peter Falandysz, sales engineer, said a single show ``would save time. It's a week out of your schedule to do this.''

Cost is not the only factor pushing a unified show. Several exhibitors at Opryland said having one big annual show would draw more overseas attendees and more people from automakers, appliance companies and others who buy finished composites goods.

``If we don't do market development, the market will never grow,'' said Robert D. Sweet Jr., president of Creative Pultrusions Inc. The pultruder in Alum Bank, Pa., exhibits at the CI show only.

Amoco Chemical Co. brought about 14 people to Nashville. Ben Bogner, research associate at Amoco's Research Center in Naperville, Ill., served on the conference committee for the Composites Institute's 1996 show.

``If you're going to go international, you have to have one show where everybody wants to come,'' he said.

One strategy could be to make the show a few days longer. One trade association would take the first part of the week for its technical papers and events. The other would take the second part of the week.

Very few attendees go to both shows, more proof the audiences are very different. Catherine Randazzo, executive director of the Composites Institute, said the level of duplication was much lower than expected. ``I believe the numbers are in the hundreds,'' she said.

CFA is in McLean, Va.