“As sure as the spring will follow the winter, prosperity and economic growth will follow recession.”

~ Bo Bennett, Author “Year to Success”

I stood along the rail of an upper tier at the Nashville Convention Center, home of the 2009 AWCI Convention and Intex Expo trade show. I watched two middle-aged men approaching each other on opposing escalators, one going up, the other going down. Two industry veterans greeting one another probably for the first time since last year while attending the same event. The first said, “Hey, good to see you.” Which solicited the reply “you too, how you been?” “Okay, well so-so, really. Hope we get some work soon.” “Me too! Catch you later?” “Sure.”

As I pondered what I had just witnessed, it occurred to me that this was a pretty good metaphor for what I had already seen at the show. It was obvious that everyone; contractors, vendors, and industry representatives from both labor and management, were all nervous but optimistic over the economic condition of our industry. We heard rumors about some companies already shutting down or severely curtailing their workforce; while others were beginning to see some glimmer of hope by way of bids and interest in new applications of lath, plaster and drywall within the “green building” agenda. The thought on most minds may have been, “Why spend the money to attend such an event when there is so much doom and gloom out there right now?”

I know this certainly crossed my mind.


There are three good reasons to attend an event like this in good times and bad:


To see and handle a wide range of new or updated products, and to have the opportunity to speak directly with vendor representatives about your interest or concerns.

I’ve been attending this particular show for about 20 years, and I have always found something new and interesting to drool over. Some of these new products are just improvements on industry staples, while others are entirely new perspectives on how we could perform our work. Products that utilize recycled materials were big this year, as well as some precision machines for cutting drywall in very new and unique ways. The concept “do more with less” kept ringing around in my head over and over again. This year I saw more substance and fewer frills from those who exhibited. Companies brought their senior technical staff and left the show girls and models at home, although Dryvit and Lafarge did bring-or should I say “drive”-some serious hardware onto the show floor that caught everyone’s attention. There were a few notable absences of vendors this time; now I am not going to name any names, you know who you are, and I hope to see you back again in 2010.


To attend one of many industry educational sessions that are offered and/or participate in a wide variety of steering committees covering the gambit from fire-proofing to EIFS, from Portland cement lath and plaster to steel stud framing, from drywall to interior gypsum plaster. The convention center was abuzz with new ideas and efforts on improving old ones.

With more and more projects attempting to meet the LEED building standard, one of the most interesting, and well attended, workshops was “LEED: What’s the Impact On Our Industry?” hosted by Robert Grupe, USG; John Mixson, National Gypsum; Anita Snader, Armstrong; and Lee Zaretzky of Ronsco Inc., a drywall contractor and member of the Green Building Council.


To network with old friends, industry representatives, competitors, former partners, future partners, and some of the most experienced people in the wall and ceiling industry you will ever find under one roof; or is that within four walls and under one ceiling-I don’t want to give the roofers any jurisdiction over us, we need all the work and credit we can muster.


If there were no other reason, this is why I show up every year at these things. Business is all about building and maintaining relationships. If you are a vendor, I guarantee you will sell more products to a contractor who you have met and established a relationship with. If you are a contractor, I guarantee you will get a faster response from a vendor when/if a problem arises if you call and ask for someone by their first name who you’ve met at one of these trade shows. If you are a labor representative, I guarantee you will improve the relationships you already have and make new ones that will benefit your members. If you are in management, I guarantee when it comes time to negotiate a contract or settle a dispute, your relationship with a union guy who you’ve worked side by side with on a committee or shared a meal with at the convention will help you resolve your differences easier and faster.

As we wrapped things up and started to look towards heading to home via the airport, a thunderstorm blew into town. Anyone not catching an early flight was going to be waiting it out in Music City one more night; the tornado warnings being displayed on the flat screen monitors assured us of that. But in the morning, the storm had blown through, the sun came out, and it was a beautiful spring day in Nashville. Such I hope will be the path of this current recession; the hope of tomorrow sustains us and keeps us from giving up. Was it Einstein that said, “Chance favors the prepared mind”? Well, I believe that those of us who are continuing to prepare for the future will be best prepared to meet it. What direction are you headed on this economic escalator: up or down?

See you in Denver in 2010. W&C