Chem Show 2011: If Thomas Edison Could See Us Now

Chem Show celebrates 96 years of innovation

By Clay Stevens, president, International Exposition Company (IEC)

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There wasn't much of a chemical processing industry in America nearly a century ago. What little presence we had was being threatened by the pending war in Europe cutting off raw materials.  That's when Dr. Charles Roth, chief chemist for the Standard Oil Company, and IEC, producers of expositions, came together to discuss creating a forum where equipment manufacturers and chemical producers could come together to meet this challenge.  The result of this meeting, and the dire need for the U.S. chemical industry to rapidly become more self sufficient, was the creation of the First National Exposition of the Chemical Industries in New York in the fall of 1915.

Eighty-three manufacturers of processing equipment and materials came together to showcase all their latest products and solutions to a few hundred attendees, including a young inventor named Thomas Edison. This inaugural event was embraced by the industry and soon the Chem Show's incredible growth paralleled that of the early process industries. The 1916 show more than doubled to 188 exhibitors, and the 1917 event more than tripled to 288 exhibitors - a 250% growth.

As the industry continued to grow into the early 1920s, the Chem Show thrived as the No. 1 resource where new innovations were constantly being showcased. And even when the country struggled through the 1930s Great Depression, the chemical industry and the Chem Show continued their strong growth. The lean years of World War II characterized the 1940s as the show's focus shifted to conservation and prolonging the lifecycle of equipment and materials. However, the booming post-war economy of the 1940s and 50s ushered in a robust economic recovery that drove the Chem Show to record numbers of exhibitors and attendees.

Increasing environmental regulations were the byword of the '60s and '70s and created a significant increase in pollution control and environmentally focused products at the shows.  Unfortunately, the '70s were followed by the economic recession of the early 1980s, which brought downsizing and consolidation throughout the industry.

Fortunately, advances in software and new automation technology in the '90s ushered in the age of increased productivity and greater efficiency.  We introduced a new Process Control and Automation Center in the mid-'90s that attracted nearly three-dozen exhibitors showcasing everything from digitized transmitters to process simulation.

About this same time period, another major trend was taking shape -- the increasing globalization of the Chemical Process Industries (CPI) was shifting manufacturing overseas and taking many of the jobs with them.  And although the Chem Show had grown quite large and overseas participation increased dramatically, there were now fewer U.S.-based companies left to participate.

The dawn of the new millennium seemed full of promise for a smaller but still vital U.S. CPI and Chem Show, until just a few weeks before the 2001 show when terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center.  We were considering the possibility of canceling the show but a survey of our exhibitors overwhelmingly indicated that they wanted to go ahead with the show to provide moral support to New York City and economic support to the CPI.

The attacks also sent the world-economy into a tailspin and many companies cut back on their exhibiting expenditures and travel expenses for sending people to trade shows. Some well-known processing-related events did not survive the next few years while others were forced to re-emerge in a different format.

However, the next few years saw the economy and the Chem Show steadily recover until the great recession occurred in 2008. Once again, companies cut back dramatically on their exhibit and travel expenses for the 2009 Show, but the 53rd edition of the venerable biennial event persevered.

We are very optimistic as we prepare for the 2011 Chem Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on November 1-3. We are expecting more than 7,000 CPI professionals who will be coming from around the world to see all the latest products and technologies on display from nearly 400 leading exhibiting companies. We will also be featuring a comprehensive conference program created by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), one of major organizations that endorses the Chem Show.

So, although our 2011 exposition and conference will be much different than what Thomas Edison experienced in 1915, we still have the same mission– to bring CPI suppliers and end-users together to find solutions to their challenges.

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