CHICAGO (Updated Sept. 21, 2:15 p.m. EDT) — With an accent on the USA in Plastics USA, organizers are stressing that the largest North American show this year will go on Oct. 2-4 at Chicago's McCormick Place, even as they field questions from attendees and exhibitors in the wake of the terrorist attacks that shook the country.
“In view of what's happening, to show that we're in a weak position would be to look this whole situation in the face and say maybe it's time to cancel,” said Plastics USA spokesman Robert Martino. “It's a good sign that the show is going forward and that SPI intends to go ahead with the show.”
More than 6,000 people are believed to have died in the Sept. 11 disaster. Going to a trade show — like every other human activity — has changed since hijackers used commercial planes as bombs. A few significant exhibitors have pulled out, but they said the reason is this year's economic slump.
The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. last week said it still expects more than 450 companies to exhibit machinery, materials and other products: “Overall, few have dropped out,” Martino said.
Washington-based SPI also gave attendees another reason to visit Chicago, by announcing a deal linking Plastics USA with another show on the same dates at the Rosemont Convention Center. The Assembly Technology Expo is billed as the world's largest “all-assembly” trade event. Tickets will be good for both shows, and SPI plans a shuttle bus.
Martino said the crossover audience will make both shows stronger. About 14,000 people have preregistered to attend the Rosemont exhibit.
As of Sept. 18, Plastics USA had 11,933 people preregistered, including both exhibitor personnel and attendees. SPI earlier had predicted attendance of 12,000. The last Plastics USA, in 1998, drew a total of 16,319.
The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau said the city has stepped up security measures at convention centers, hotels, downtown buildings and airports, including McCormick Place and the Navy Pier.
For many people, conquering fear will be the biggest part of going to Plastics USA. But even as history is being made every day, leaders are urging people to continue their lives.
“Freedom and fear are at war,” said President Bush, speaking before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20. “We'll go back to our lives and routines, and that is good,” he said.
On Sept. 18, SPI issued a statement that Plastics USA indeed would take place.
“President George W. Bush has encouraged Americans to conduct business as usual, and in accordance with his request, we confirm our intention to carry on with Plastics USA 2001 on Oct. 2 in Chicago. We have questioned the appropriateness of doing so, but as men and women in the business world, we know that 'carrying on' means resuming what we do best: conduct business,” SPI said.
Barbara Voss, Plastics USA show manager, said SPI has been taking calls from people wanting to know if the show was really going to happen and asking about security and other issues.
In the middle of last week, Voss said that only one firm canceled its booth since the terrorist attack: the U.S. Saudia Arabian Business Council. The Washington-based group promotes trade and investment between the two countries.
“It's a very sensitive situation right now,” a council spokeswoman said. “We're taking extra precautions until things cool off a bit.”
Voss said 453 exhibitors are scheduled to have booths at the show; the projection was 500 booths. The 1998 show had nearly 600 exhibitors.
Meanwhile, the already-poor economy — not the terrorist disaster — led one of the biggest potential exhibitors, Milacron Inc., to drop out of the show. Milacron, the largest U.S. plastics machinery maker, has laid off workers this year as equipment sales stagnated. Spokesman Tom Jarrold said the decision not to exhibit at Plastics USA was made in late July and early August — well before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
“It had really nothing to do with the terrorist action,” Jarrold said. He said the Cincinnati-based company made the move “based on the current markets and budgets and possible orders, and all those things wrapped into one.” Milacron is going to exhibit at the K 2001 show in Germany a few weeks after Plastics USA.
Injection press supplier JSW Plastics Machinery Inc. also made its decision to pull out well before Sept. 11.
“In June of this year, when I was finalizing my plans and budget for this show, our Tokyo headquarters asked me what type of results I could guarantee by spending this money,” said Jerry Johnson, vice president. “Sadly to say, this is the first time in my 24-year career in the plastics industry that I could not give any guarantee for any results.”
JSW of Elk Grove Village, Ill., walked away from $19,400 it paid for its booth space. But the company is saving about $30,000 in costs for people and machines, Johnson said.
“We cut our losses, is what we did.”
Battenfeld of America Inc. “pulled out three or four weeks ago already,” said Thomas Lenz, president of the West Warwick, R.I., company. “That's mostly depending on the economic situation in the U.S.,” he said.
Battenfeld's German parent decided to focus on K 2001.
The story is different for Strongsville, Ohio-based Van Dorn Demag Corp. With its first-ever all-electric press to show, and no K show presence, Plastics USA is critical.
“We felt this is the place we needed to introduce it,” said Bill Carteaux, vice president of sales and marketing. “We're also having an event with key customers and prospects Wednesday evening of the show.”
Carteaux said business was picking up in recent months.
“Obviously, since [the attack] last week, things have dropped off a bit. But the territory we're talking about for Plastics USA is a key target market in this country.”
Van Dorn Demag also has signed up a new Chicago manufacturers' representative firm.
“Business and commerce must continue, and we can't let the terrorists stop it,” Carteaux said.
For many exhibitors, getting machines to the show will not be a problem since they are shipped on trucks. SPI said McCormick Place has promised flexibility for exhibitors, as Chicago imposes tighter access to loading docks and buildings during move-in and move-out.
Engel Machinery Inc. still will show its three injection presses in Chicago, said Joann Cathcart, marketing coordinator at the company in Guelph, Ontario.
“None of the equipment goes by air. All of it goes by truck,” she said.
“We all have flights scheduled,” she added.
Overnight, flying has evolved from a routine of business to a profound act.
“We're all flying,” said Joann McGovern, who coordinates trade shows for Merritt Davis Corp., an extruder maker in Hamden, Conn. “Business has to go on. We're very confident about the show. We're bringing equipment and are going to sell it there.”
McGovern said Merritt is optimistic about the show, after contacting people who have preregistered.
“The bulk of the people are coming from the area,” she said. “I don't think, originally, you were getting people from outside of the Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin area … and those people are driving.”
Less optimistic is Richard McGranahan of Nissei America Inc., an injection press supplier in Anaheim, Calif. Nissei planned to ship its machines Sept. 21. Nissei personnel will fly, but he thinks attendance will be very light, maybe only a fourth of the expected total. “The economy's bad, and the terrorists …” he said.
Toshiba Machine Co. America is based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., near Chicago.
“We are planning on being at the show. We've made some cost-effective changes, so instead of staying at a hotel downtown, we're going to take the train down,” said Tim Glassburn, vice president.
The terrorist acts delayed a new-model press coming by boat coming from Japan into the port of Los Angeles.
Plastics USA will make a statement, Glassburn said. “I frankly do think that's important, to attend the show and display at the show.”
Tom Rajkovich said his firm, Comet Automation Systems Inc., will be there — even though it has display machines stuck in Mexico and Taiwan, where earlier shows were held. The poor economy gives Dayton, Ohio-based Comet a chance to recruit sales representatives.
“There's a lot of reshuffling of agents in the United States right now,” he said.
The economy. Terrorism. The big question now is: How many visitors actually will show up?
“The terrorist attack is just the icing on the cake,” said Johnson of JSW. “People are truly afraid today. Even though we have heightening security, people want to stay near their home areas.”
In other event-related news, Injection Molding Magazine canceled its Oct. 1-2 Molding Technology 2001 conference in Chicago. Travel moratoriums caused several speakers to cancel their appearances, and some others with obligations to the military reserve have been called to active duty.
Also, the Society of Plastics Engineers' Rochester, N.Y., section has canceled its regional technical conference that had been scheduled for Sept. 23-25. The event has been tentatively rescheduled for April 22-24.
Too many speakers were canceling because of travel restrictions, said Susan Daly, conference chairwoman and president of Teknecoat Corp., an electrodeposition coating firm in Rochester.
Plastics News correspondent Roger Renstrom and staff reporter Steve Toloken contributed to this story.