CONEXPO-CON/AGG Delivers Largest Show Ever, Despite Health and Travel Concerns

March 14, 2020

The overall largest trade show in the United States and North America’s largest construction trade show, the triennial CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE, set a new square footage record March 10-13 at the Las Vegas Convention Center amid COVID-19 concerns and travel restrictions.

 

CONEXPO-CON/AGG spanned 2.67 million net square feet, up from 2.5 million in 2017. The cancellations totaled 66,950 net sq. ft., or roughly 2.48 percent, with 15,000 sq. ft. resold. IFPE lost 45,000 sq. ft. or 26 percent of the 172,500-sq. ft. of floor space.

Attendance numbers were unavailable, but pre-registration was more than 120,000.

“It was event planning on steroids,” said Dana Wuesthoff, vice president, Exhibitions & Event Services for Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), which owns and produces the show.

She added, “Truly, for us it was a step-by-step process - from logistics to operations to security, emergency preparedness and crisis management - to ensure that safety and health of all the participants are top-of-mind.”

According to AEM officials, the team closely monitored the situation and worked with facilities, local agencies, vendors and stakeholders to ensure the proper protocols were being followed.

“It takes a long time for our show to set up, so we’ve been in Las Vegas for over a month, which made it easier for us to be in a constant communication loop,” Wuesthoff said.

She added, “We were continuously evaluating every new piece of information that came in and made sure we addressed it.”

To address health risks, the show instituted a no-handshake policy, suggesting elbow bumps as an alternative, and promoted it with buttons and stickers that showed a slash mark across clasped hands. Thorough cleaning protocols were put in place.

Signage about stopping the spread of germs and hand sanitizer stations were prominent, especially outdoors and in the common areas. Exhibitors had hand sanitizer readily available on their counters.

Despite the health concerns, the show focused on delivering a productive and smooth experience. This year, it used the Las Vegas Festival Grounds as part of its outdoor exhibit space, which meant creating attendee awareness and making traveling there easy with free Monorail passes.

On the LVCC campus, the Tech Experience showcased innovations reshaping the construction industry. A new 3-D printed statue of a female construction worker evoked a sense of strength and pride.

“We’re North America’s gathering place for the construction industry, and the industry wants to gather,” Wuesthoff said. “The aisles are busy, and there’s business being done.”

It was a crowded event onsite for day three, but the overall virus situation clearly was having an effect. Volvo, a major manufacturer, already had an exhibit but decided days before the show not to send its staff and replace them with a few local employees. Several exhibitors mentioned that they brought a skeleton crew because of the travel restrictions and health concerns.

“We canceled our international attendees,” said Laura Pietrok, an exhibitor with a Portland-based mining manufacturer Weir Esco.

At the same time, she added that the show was very busy, and even the turbulent stock market wasn’t yet affecting purchasing decisions. “We weren’t sure what things would look like but we got lots of traffic,” she said.

At the 40,000 sq. ft. exhibit of equipment manufacturer Komatsu, a massive theater was filled with attendees willing to learn about the new machinery.

“Our presentations go on every hour and they’ve been full,” said company rep Leah Harnack. “It has been surprisingly busy. We were expecting it to be quiet because of the travel restrictions but it feels like a regular CONEXPO.” The company was taking precautions by placing hand sanitizer at every machine and every table and avoiding hand shaking, she added.

Michael Bell, an attendee with Ohio-based welding automation company Pemamek, was not deterred by the health situation.

“We came here to see equipment manufacturers and see how we can help them manufacture smarter,” he said. “We’re getting lots of leads. It’s like half of the population is concerned and the other half is not, and we’re here to do business.”

The show closed on March 13, a day early, to accommodate mounting travel restrictions and coronavirus concerns.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG and IFPE ranked No. 1 on the 2017 TSNN Top 250 trade show list.

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