While the pandemic-driven decision to cancel this year's NPE2021 plastics show is getting wide support in the industry, it could also have some sizable financial downsides.
Organizers said they had no choice in their Jan. 5 decision but to cancel the triennial show, given the spread of the coronavirus. But some said its absence could be an economic drag in an already difficult year.
The show, with more than 50,000 registered attendees and 2,100 exhibiting firms spread over 1.2 million square feet of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., is the biggest in-person buying marketplace and new technology showcase for plastics in North America.
As well, the show, which had been scheduled for May 17-21, generates about half of the budget of the Plastics Industry Association, creating a potential financial hole with longer-term implications for one of the industry's largest lobbying and advocacy groups.
In recent weeks, the plastics association had come under increasing pressure from exhibiting companies to cancel the show, as they grew more concerned about exposing staff and visitors to the virus and worried a smaller event would make it hard to justify the cost of exhibiting.
Tad McGwire, chair of the NPE executive committee within the plastics association, said safety and health of attendees was the top priority for organizers.
The U.S. hit a daily record high of 4,085 COVID-19 deaths on Jan. 7, surpassing the previous high set just the day before, according to a tracker operated by Johns Hopkins University.
"We held out hope up until the week before Thanksgiving that things are going to move along fast enough in terms of controlling the spread and the distribution of vaccines," McGwire said. "But it was really the first two to three weeks in December that demonstrated that there was no way we could safely hold this show."
The scheduling and logistics problem for organizers is that it is extremely difficult to find another window for the event, given its size and demands machinery companies bring to the show floor, sometimes shipping it in from overseas.
The fair only runs five days but requires a 28- to 30-day window for setup and takedown, McGwire said.
In the U.S., only the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando and Chicago's McCormick Place have both the size and electric power capacity to handle NPE, he said. While Las Vegas is big enough, it would need a power grid upgrade to handle all the industrial equipment running during the exhibition.
"The bottom line is that there were no dates available at any appropriate venue that would allow us to postpone the show to a later date," said Wylie Royce, immediate past chair of the association's board. "The amount of time and effort needed to set up, produce and break down a trade show of this size is enormous."
That left show officials largely looking ahead to the next edition in 2024, even though it would mark six years without an NPE in the United States.
Show executives said they're still working out details for a virtual alternative to the 2021 event and issues like procedures for handling fees already paid.
Without the show this year, McGwire and some others are pointing to a negative impact on the industry as a whole.