More than 13,000 people came to Cleveland's International Exposition Center for this year's Fabtech.
CLEVELAND - From Oct. 29 to 31, the place drawing the biggest crowds and generating the most noise here wasn't the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It was Fabtech 2002, held at the International Exposition Center. More than 13,000 attendees and hundreds of exhibitors packed the convention hall for what sponsors say is the largest annual metal forming and fabricating event in North America.

The event, jointly sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, is alternately held in Chicago and Cleveland. This was Fabtech's first trip to Cleveland since 2000, and in some ways, it returned a different show. Attendance in 2000, at the high-water-mark for the U.S. economy was 18,321, with 697 exhibitors covering more than 267,000 sq. ft. of floor space. This year, with the U.S. in a recession and the nation facing the possibility of war, the number of exhibitors was 597, taking up close to 197,000 sq. ft. on the show floor.

Despite the drop in attendance and exhibitors, SME and FMA officials said they were pleased with this year's show.

"Attending companies can no longer afford to send teams of people to trade shows," said Mark Hoper, FMA expositions director and Fabtech show manager. "They are however, continuing to send key decision-makers. While total numbers are down, the quality of attendees on the show floor is at least as good if not better than in the past."

"All things considered, we're pleased with 2002, and exhibitors and attendees gave us very positive feedback," said SME spokesman Dave Lipnik. "Let's hope the economy picks up as hoped."

Kenneth Frick, sales manager for Roto-Die Inc. of Euclid, Ohio, said he thought this year's Fabtech was much better than 2001. The company was exhibiting its hydraulic bender.

Changes made

For the first time this year, Fabtech educational conference organizers offered shorter, two-hour classes, instead of the half-day and daylong sessions held in the past. Subjects ranged from sheet metal punching to tips on increasing the effectiveness of company Web sites.

More than 250 people attended one or more of the 25 sessions, show officials estimated.

"We realize that most attendees only have one day to spend away from the office," said Vee Jevremovic, Fabtech conference manager. "Tightly-focused two-hour sessions give attendees more flexibility in their day - they get the chance to learn from expert presenters in a classroom setting, while still having plenty of time to visit the show floor."

And visit they did. The show floor was bustling most days, with the heaviest traffic reported by exhibitors on Oct. 29 and 30. Although the official numbers said about 6,000 less people attended this year's Fabtech than last year's Chicago show, many exhibitors said they were actually happier this time around.

"It's been pretty good this year. A lot better than last year, that's for sure," said Kenneth Frick, sales manager for Roto-Die Inc. of Euclid, Ohio. The company was exhibiting its hydraulic bender.

Dean Phillips, sales manager for Tennsmith Inc., was equally impressed.

"We weren't expecting anything this year," he said. "But we've been happy." Tennsmith was showing machinery with a new black-and-silver color scheme available on some of its bending, folding and fabricating equipment.

Many tool manufacturers said they were also happy with this year's Fabtech.

Monty Kelly of Wilson Tool said he was surprised by the quality of visitors to his company's booth.

"We had a steady flow of people," he said. "It was refreshing to see so many people who were serious about their intention to acquire new equipment. We haven't seen leads of this quality in quite some time."

On the other side of the booth, attendees, including many first-time visitors, also gave the show high marks. Carleton McCarthy, a tinsmith from Ohio with Ford Motor Co., said he was impressed with Fabtech.

"So far, it's pretty cool," McCarthy said. "It's been pretty informational."

Craig Stiebeling, president of Cleveland-based Accurate Welding and Fabricating Inc., said he enjoyed just aimlessly wandering the aisles.

"I'm getting some valuable stuff here," Stiebeling added.

The positive buzz about this year's Fabtech extended beyond the I-X Center. Cleveland convention and visitors bureau officials said it was the largest event to come to the region this year. Attendees were expected to pump about $18 million into the local economy, according to an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Many hotels, restaurants and bars reported increased business during the event.

Next year's Fabtech will take place Nov. 16 to 19 at Chicago's McCormick Place.