NPE 2013: Strength More than Survival

It's been almost three weeks since National Pavement Expo 2013 ended in Nashville -- enough time to let the euphoric buzz pass and take a hard look at what at the time seemed a very good show.

And after letting things settle a bit what I've realized is... NPE 2013 was every bit as strong as it seemed at the time. Attendance was up 43% over 2011 in Memphis and up nearly as much over 2010. And the contractors who attended took way more sessions than in the recent past -- possibly a result of a new pricing structure that reduced the per-session cost the more seminars a contractor signed up for. The free Roundtables were crowded, all the coffee mugs sponsored by STAR Inc., Blacklidge Emulsions, and the Asphalt Sealcoat Manufacturers Association went like hotcakes, and hallways were abuzz between sessions.

And on the expanded exhibit floor, which was busier from start to finish than it's been in years, more than 20 new companies offered their equipment and materials. It could even be considered the Year of the Paver on the floor as a host of paver manufacturers (Carlson, Caterpillar, LeeBoy, New Generation Paving Products, Weiler and Wirtgen) brought their asphalt pavers -- most for the first time (or first time in years). And a revised schedule that opened the floor for a hospitality preview on Wednesday night but offered no show hours on Saturday seemed to appeal to attendees and exhibitors alike.

But clearly the biggest change over the recent past was in the attitude of the people in attendance. Since 2008 contractors and exhibitors attending NPE have clearly showed strain and signs of struggle. There were fewer jobs to bid, competition was tightening, profits were declining -- and everyone was working hard just trying to figure out how to survive.

But this year contractors and manufacturers alike seemed to have put their survival efforts behind them and are looking to their future. Growth and diversification was in the air, partly a result of the economic turnaround (slow as it is), but whatever the reason it was great to work in such a positive atmosphere with a couple thousand people who are intent on developing their contracting business.

Here's hoping this is the start of a strong 2013 season that we can all celebrate at NPE 2014, which will be held in Fort Lauderdale, FL (!), Jan. 8-11.

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