A few years ago, fed up with high labor rates and working conditions in Chicago at the time, SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association took a big gamble and decided to move its triennial show, NPE2012, which had been in the Windy City for 40 years, to the untested waters of Orlando.
There were several unknowns in taking a chance on Orlando, according to William R. Carteaux, president and CEO of SPI, the biggest one being the city had never had hosted a heavy machinery show of this magnitude before.
Even though labor costs were going to be lower than in Chicago, there were anxieties from exhibitors about how Orlando would handle the move-in of the show, he added, and there was anxiety about whether attendees would still come to what traditionally was a Midwest-oriented show.
But, Carteaux said, all of those fears were put aside the first day the showfloor opened April 2 at the Orange County Convention Center when he and SPI senior vice president of trade shows and conferences, Gene Sanders ,walked into the registration area.
“There were lines all the way out into the concourse,” he added. “I high-fived Gene and said, ‘We actually pulled this off.’ We really hit a home run across the board.”
Not only did NPE2012, which aptly had the tagline “Breaking the Mold”, exceed expectations, Carteaux said, but with 56,000 total attendees, there were 13,000 more in Orlando than attended the 2009 show in Chicago.
In addition, the number of exhibitors was up 200 to 1,900, compared with the 2009 event, and the showfloor also saw an increase of 180,000 net square feet from 977,000 net sq. ft. in 2009 at McCormick Place.
Beyond all of those increases, Carteaux said because of the lower costs in Orlando, exhibitors also brought 7 million more pounds of equipment than they did to the 2009 show.
“The show exceeded the expectations of show management, exhibitors, attendees and us the destinations,” said Gary Sain, president and CEO of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
He added there were questions about whether Orlando would be able to handle a show of this size, but those doubts quickly put aside.
“Exhibitors told me it was the smoothest move-in they had in 30 years,” Sain said. “The question of how Orlando would perform has been laid to rest forever.”
Carteaux agreed, adding, “Freeman did an admirable job getting us ready. Our exhibitors were thrilled with the move-in and overall attitude.”
He added that NPE2012 exhibitors and attendees also were impressed with how friendly everyone working in Orlando was.
"Moving from Chicago to Orlando was the first initiative in SPI’s strategy of 'breaking the mold' by creating a broader-based and more exciting NPE with new benefits for exhibitors and visitors," Carteaux said.
He added, "Three years of work by SPI and the NPE Committee has given the industry an NPE2012 that not only substantially surpasses the recession-era NPE2009 in size and scope, but is in line with the greatest NPE successes of the past."
But, with labor reforms now in effect back in NPE’s original home in Chicago, there have been the inevitable questions about whether the show would stay in Orlando in 2015.
“We haven’t signed yet, but we will be back in Orlando in ’15,” Carteaux said.
NPE2015 will be held March 22-26 at the Orange County Convention Center.