ORLANDO, FLA. — A record 791 people registered for the three-day Space Draw for NPE 2015 in Orlando, and by the end of the event, their companies will claim about 800,000 square feet of booth space.
That's 160,000 square feet more than the draw before the last NPE, in 2012, said Gene Sanders, who heads trade shows at the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
SPI leaders kicked off the Space Draw with an upbeat report on the show next year, and the overall manufacturing economy. The Washington-based trade group held the Space draw Feb. 19-21, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel and Conference Center, next to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, where the NPE is now held. SPI moved the trade show to Orlando for NPE 2012, after years at Chicago's McCormick Place.
NPE2015 will run March 23-27, 2015.
At the Space Draw, representatives from exhibitors pick booth space for the show. Attendees spend the three days studying maps of the show floor, calling the home office, and adjusting strategies as booth space gets claimed. It's like the NFL draft, but instead of star athletes, participants vie for the best booth space available. In between they drink coffee, snack and socialize.
Jim Murphy, chairman of NPE 2015, said SPI's surveys show that people come to an NPE to see technology and network with their peers. He encouraged exhibitors to promote the show to their customers well before the actual NPE, so more key customers attend North America's biggest trade show.
"This is really the place where we start the process," Murphy said of the Space Draw. "Today's when we really start the action."
William Carteaux, SPI's president and CEO, said plastics is the United States' third-largest manufacturing sector, employing 892,000 people. The industry invested more than $9.6 billion in equipment in 2012, he said.
Looking ahead, Carteaux said the global economy has grown, coming out of the recession. "And all the economists that we talk to think this is going to continue" in 2014 and 2015, he said. "Manufacturing is on the rise around the world."
And he said U.S. manufacturing economy has been strong, despite some ups and downs. The Institute of Supply Management's Purchasing Managers Index has stayed above 50 since 2010 — readings higher than 50 indicate manufacturing is expanding.
Carteaux said the U.S. plastics industry continues to have a big overall trade surplus. One big change is that the United States, once a net importer of resin, is poised to become a major exporter, thanks the boom in shale gas. Natural gas is a key source of resin, and lower-priced gas gives the United States a major competitive advantage.
As a result, some molding work is returning to the United States, from China, Carteaux said.
New features at NPE 2015 will include a three-dimensional printing exhibition and the first-ever pavilion showcasing product designers, hosted by the Industrial Designers Society of America, said Sanders, SPI's senior vice president of trade shows and conferences.