A fifth installment at the Las Vegas Convention Center left little doubt of ConExpo-Con/Agg’s emergence as a global event worthy of staging every three
Don Marsh, Editor
A fifth installment at the Las Vegas Convention Center left little doubt of ConExpo-Con/Agg’s emergence as a global event worthy of staging every three years between the Bauma and Intermat fairs in Munich and Paris, respectively. The success of ConExpo-Con/Agg 2008 and co-located International Fluid Power Exposition challenges the shows’ manager, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, to work with Las Vegas officials and service providers so that city and convention center infrastructure improvements keep pace with what should be another world-class gathering in March 2011.
ConExpo-Con/Agg and IFPE 2008 set records for attendance, exhibit space, number of exhibiting companies and education seminars. As a combined event, they will be this year’s largest trade exhibit in the U.S. for any industry. A 30 percent increase in foreign delegates, coupled with at least normal levels of participation from domestic operators, saw reported attendance approach 145,000, or 20,000 more than the shows’ 2005 staging. This year brought nearly 2,200 exhibitors occupying about 2.3 million sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space, or 21 percent more than in 2005. At peak periods, swelling crowds made the otherwise sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center seem cramped and taxed the city’s passenger transportation capacity.
Record participation countered forecasts by two of the construction industry’s premier economists, who held a joint briefing upon show opening. Citing weak GDP, rising inflation, slim job growth, and a desperate housing outlook, Associated General Contractors of America Chief Economist Ken Simonson noted that 2008 construction spending will see a 2 to 6 percent drop, although certain nonresidential project types will continue to show strength. Home building, on the other hand, is pacing a 15 to 20 percent drop before it sees a turnaround as early as the end of 2008. Simsonson added that materials, fuel and labor costs will continue to rise, potentially aggravating the construction slowdown.
Less optimistic was his Portland Cement Association counterpart Ed Sullivan, who does not expect to see any hint of turnaround until well into 2009, and perhaps not until 2010. He cited rising debt and credit problems as primary sticking points for the residential market’s comeback, but also believes 2008 nonresidential building activity will suffer due to a shake up in business confidence. Sullivan projected that total construction spending will decline nearly 12 percent during 2008, based on a three-quarter recession. Housing starts in the PCA outlook are expected to decline 26.5 percent from depressed 2007 levels. Weakening economic conditions are expected to result in a 7.1 percent decline in nonresidential construction during 2008, compared to robust 2007 levels. PCA also sees a significant moderation in 2008 public construction activity.
Both economists see prospects for building and construction improvement and recovery in 2010 and 2011, suggesting cause for a brighter mood at the next ConExpo-Con/Agg and IFPE compared to what the industry has just observed. Over the next 35 months, public and private construction interests in Las Vegas can do their part by using bounty from this year’s show to build more sidewalks, bus and taxi staging areas and centrally located exhibit space. Exhibitors and their customers in construction, materials production, and power transmission are worth the investment.