Talking Asphalt: CONEXPO recap – April 2014

The latest CONEXPO show has ended, and it was a big deal. I did not attend this one but followed it closely and talked with my colleagues who worked the Asphalt Institute (AI) booth.

CONEXPO calls itself “… the international gathering place … for the construction industries.” It’s held every three years in Las Vegas and it is a showcase for the latest in construction equipment, products, services and technologies.

As I said to begin, it’s a big deal. There were more than 2,000 exhibitors and 2.35 million square feet (41 football fields) of exhibit space. Almost 130,000 people (contractors, equipment dealers, materials suppliers, engineers, etc.) attended the show. About 31,000 internationals from 170 countries attended. (I didn’t know there were 170 countries.) Interpreters were busy – Arabic, French, German, Portuguese, etc. In fact, the international interest has grown to the point that Latin America CONEXPO is scheduled for October 21-24, 2015 in Santiago, Chile. There were not just a lot of people there; most were involved with decision making. Show management reported that more than 75 percent of the people attending were in management positions.

CONEXPO is really about new equipment, either new models or updated lines. The equipment ranged from the latest in brush-cutters to business jets. Intelligent machine controls and hybrid power technology were featured prominently.

Learning about the latest construction technology is also a big part of CONEXPO, and the educational opportunities were well received. There were 10 “tracks,” so about everyone could find something of interest. The training topics ranged from “Better Quality Work” to “How to Thrive Coming out of a Recession.” There was even an “Industry Investor Conference” to promote investing in the construction machinery industry.

Overall, the outlook seemed to be positive, with a feeling that business is slowly improving. CONEXPO’s Daily News ran an article reporting that the worldwide asphalt demand will increase by 3.6 percent annually until 2017. China and other developing countries are expected to lead the demand. Maintenance and preservation work will continue to be the primary focus in the U.S. and Europe.

The AI people reported hearing the following words used to describe the show: “… opportunity, energy, enthusiasm, upbeat, a culture of quality, big international interest.” Also, “the need for training” was said many times, as well as “we have to appeal to the youth,” and “the asphalt industry has opportunities that young people need to know about.”

The attitude at CONEXPO was upbeat, but there is work to be done. Addressing the Highway Trust Fund and the ongoing funding shortfall remains a critical issue. The administration is proposing a four-year, $302 billion transportation budget. During remarks at the show, Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez commented that with the Trust Fund balance rapidly diminishing, checks could be bouncing by the end of August. But, that may be material for another blog.

For most locations, the paving season is about to begin. Let’s hope it is a good year.