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CHICAGO—Because of the massive new South Hall, even veteran NPE showgoers may need some help finding their way around McCormick Place this year. Here is some information to help make the trip productive.

Q. What is NPE?

A. NPE, formerly called the National Plastics Exposition, is held every three years in Chicago's McCormick Place convention center. The 1997 show will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 16-20. The show's sponsor is the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., based in Washington.

Q. Is NPE worth attending?

A. NPE is the largest plastics industry exposition in the Western Hemisphere. This year more than 1,500 companies will sponsor exhibits. According to an SPI survey, more than 1,000 companies plan to introduce new products at the show.

Q. Is it too late to register?

A. Attendees can register on-site at McCormick Place for $50, or $55 including a show directory. SPI expects about 75,000 visitors from 100 countries to attend.

Q. Where can I stay?

A. If you don't have reservations already, don't expect to walk up and register for a room. All the downtown hotels are sold out, and there is a substantial waiting list, according to the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau Inc. NPE is a boon to local hotels and restaurants, bringing in an estimated $17 million, according to the tourism bureau.

Q. How do I get there?

A. Traffic will be heavy, so public transportation may help you keep your sanity. Shuttle buses will be available to and from some downtown hotels, and from McCormick Place to O'Hare and Midway airports. Taxis usually are plentiful.

In addition, the Metra electric commuter rail runs from the Randolph Street Terminal in the Loop directly to McCormick Place North. Several public Chicago Transit Authority buses also serve McCormick Place. For information, call the Regional Transit Authority Travel Information hotline at (312) 836-7000.

Q. Where can I park?

A. The four McCormick Place lots, with space for about 8,000 vehicles, are always crowded. For the locations, see the map on Page 25.

Q. How can I find the companies I want to see?

A. The new, $675 million South Hall, completed in December 1996, makes show planning a necessity this year. Attendees will be hard-pressed to walk the entire show floor casually, expecting to see everything in just a few days.

Many companies that traditionally have bought space in the North or East buildings will be in the new hall, so regular showgoers may have a hard time finding key exhibitors. To find those you want to see, use the McCormick Place map on Page 41, and the exhibitor list starting on Page 37.

Q. How about seminars and conferences?

A. The Society of Plastics Engineers sponsors conference sessions on a variety of topics. For details on topics and times see the list starting on Page 30. SPE also offers one- and two-day seminars for a fee. For information on fees and reservations, tel. (203) 740-5454.

Q. Is there anything special about this NPE?

A. The 1997 show marks the 50th year since the first show, held in 1947 in New York. It is also the last NPE of the 1900s.