Ever since the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. announced in November 2009 that it was moving its big, triennial NPE trade show from its longtime home in Chicago south to Orlando, many questions have been hanging in the air.
* Would the all-important processor and OEM buyers, who are heavily concentrated in the Midwest, be willing to make the journey to Florida?
* Would the South location really help to pull in more Latin American visitors — and how much might that matter?
* Would the promised cost savings, especially for exhibitors, truly be realized?
* Would the Orange County Convention Center be able to handle the most heavy machinery it has ever seen in one show?
* How would a shortened, Monday-Thursday show (with some opening activities on Sunday) be received?
With, at the time of this writing, the April 1-5 show having just closed, it's still too early to fully answer all these questions. But some things are coming into better focus.
The vibe at the convention center was extremely positive. Registration through the first three days totaled 54,820, up some 27 percent over the 43,000 at the entire five-day Chicago show during the recession-hampered NPE2009. We don't yet know the demographic makeup of those attendees, though many exhibitors suggested that Latin Americans were indeed out in full force — fulfilling one of SPI's predictions.
The organizers tried a lot of new things, and not all worked. Some of the Sunday sessions and activities attracted few participants. The International Product Design Competition, with 32 entries, has yet to fulfill its potential and unfortunately was buried at the back of the North/South Building. But we still credit SPI for experimenting with different concepts.
The cost savings will take time to calculate and assess, but many exhibitors seemed thrilled with how friendly and helpful the convention hall workers were. Move-in, setup and breakdown appeared to be much less tedious than at the Windy City's union-dominated McCormick Place.
The city of Orlando — which had a lot riding on the success of this major event — went to great lengths to welcome and impress all attendees. SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux provided one such anecdote: Several international flights arrived Sunday morning at Orlando airport, leading to a crush of people at the immigration checkpoint in the arrivals hall. A British couple coming to NPE told him they expected a 90-minute wait once they saw the crowds. Instead, a uniformed official came through the hall, asking who was coming to attend the plastics show. Those who were, were suddenly whisked to a special, separate line and quickly ushered through immigration. Carteaux said he had no idea the city was going to do that.
No one will ever know how much of the event's success was attributable to an improving economy, to SPI's sales and marketing efforts, or to the new venue. But after the past few lean years, let's all just pause to celebrate the victory of NPE2012.
Grace is associate publisher and editorial director of Plastics News.