NPE2018 organizers say bigger is better — this year's NPE is the largest edition of the show yet in terms of exhibit space.
At a press breakfast May 7 to open the show, Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association, said the show will top the exhibit space used in the last edition, in 2015.
"With 1.2 million square feet of exhibit space, this is the largest NPE ever," he said, noting that 2,200 companies requested exhibit space and that for the first time, the show had a waiting list of potential exhibitors.
Organizers expect 65,000 people to attend the event and noted a variety of educational programs, as well an effort to divert 100 percent of the show's waste to recycling, up from 87 percent diverted in 2015.
And they used the news conference to launch a new educational effort, This Is Plastics and ThisisPlastics.com, as a tool to address the environmental and image challenges facing the industry by providing the 965,000 employees in U.S. plastics companies tools to talk about the issues with their communities.
But most of the prepared remarks dealt with the size of the show. Organizers said they expected buyers from more than 20,000 companies to attend the event.
Glenn Anderson, chair of NPE2018 and president of strategic account development at Milacron LLC, said that at one point the association had a list of 220 companies that wanted space in the exhibit halls.
"When we came into the 2015 show, it was the largest show, and I'm very excited to be able to three years later say once again this is the largest show," he said. "I didn't think it would be that way when we started three years ago. But I'm very excited how it turned out."
Carteaux said NPE2018 is the "heaviest" NPE in history, with more than 21 million pounds of freight hauled onto the show floor in preparation.
He said the Orange County Convention Center added equipment, like two high-pressure air compressors to meet the demands of the show's Bottle Zone, and put three standby generators on-site to increase the available electric capacity for the heavy equipment on the show floor.
"And this is after spending $5 million to add additional capacity over the last few years," Carteaux said.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs made brief remarks at the opening ceremony and said that funding has been secured for an expansion of the convention center, a point which Carteaux asked her about in his remarks at the ceremony.
Carteaux also noted the event's international flavor.
He said NPE2018 will have more than 11,000 international attendees from more than 110 countries. That includes 765 attendees from formal buying delegations from 27 countries organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce international buyers program.
He also noted there are 18 international pavilions representing 13 countries.
But at the press conference, Carteaux and association leaders also acknowledged uncertainty surrounding global trade, with President Donald Trump threatening at times to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement and his government in early April proposing a wide range of tariffs on Chinese imports, including 25 percent tariffs on many types of plastics equipment.
"I think the thing we all have to recognize is that this is a global industry," Carteaux said, noting that about 500 Chinese companies are exhibiting at NPE2018. "The plastics industry association, our policy is free and fair trade."
But he acknowledged divisions among the association's member companies on trade and China, saying that they've recently done a survey. "I'll be honest with you about that: Our membership is split on the issue," he said.
"Which is why we are sticking to our policy statement that we're for free and fair trade," he said. "Some folks are gong to be dramatically affected by it. Some folks are going to see benefits from it."