The curtain rang down June 23 on the triennial, week-long NPE trade show in Chicago to resounding applause from all quarters. For once, an event lived up to its hype as "the best ever," with this NPE being the biggest and most international in the show's 54-year history.
It certainly qualified as the first "dot-com" NPE, with an estimated 30-plus exhibitors hawking Web sites and e-business-related services, while also fighting for media attention via a plethora of press conferences and news releases. With a few notable exceptions, many of those companies didn't exist even a year ago, much less at NPE 1997.
The final NPE 2000 tally: 2,014 exhibiting companies (up 16.7 percent from NPE 1997); 1.14 million square feet of booth space (up 12.6 percent); 17,117 international attendees (up 42.6 percent); 4,300 attendees at the concurrent Society of Plastics Engineers-organized conference (up 13.1 percent); 90,142 total attendees (up 9.1 percent from the last show, and a booming 30 percent more than in 1994).
Even the notorious McCormick Place unions were, for the most part, easier to work with than at past NPEs.
Nearly all exhibitors seemed very pleased, and spoke of hordes of customers who actually came prepared to buy. A sneak peak at results of a soon-to-be-published, on-site DuPont survey of 94 NPE exhibitors taken Thursday morning of show week reveals that 83 percent found the "quality and quantity" of visitors to their booths to be excellent or good, with just 3.2 percent judging them fair; none rated them as poor.
A remarkable 93.3 percent of 217 processor attendees surveyed that day rated the overall level of innovation and technical advancement demonstrated at this year's show to be excellent or good, vs. just 4.6 percent who deemed it fair or poor.
More than 30 percent of 454 surveyed found NPE 2000 more interesting and useful than the show three years ago, vs. just 2 percent who found it less compelling.
This year's plastics mega-event clearly shone brightly. Still, a careful reading of industry opinion and events also points to increasing signs of caution.
Another DuPont poll taken on-site Monday at NPE revealed nearly half of 269 respondents expect the U.S. economy to grow only slowly in the next 12 months. This no doubt is a function of the "soft landing" that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is trying to maneuver, as he aims to tap the brakes on the red-hot U.S. economy without spinning it into recession.
Additionally, rising interest rates and higher resin prices are prompting some public companies — including processors like Crown Cork & Seal Co. Inc. and Applied Extrusion Technologies Inc. — to damp down profit expectations.
Few expect the current prosperity to continue unchecked — but then, many have been saying that for the past few years. Predictions are tricky, especially those about the future, to paraphrase baseball philosopher Yogi Berra.
But this much is known: NPE 2000 provided a buoyant snapshot of a healthy, growing plastics industry that continues to ride the crest of a huge economic wave, even as it quietly — and wisely — prepares for slightly more treacherous waters.