I rode into the I-X Center parking lot in Cleveland for the Rubber Division exhibition behind three large SUVs—the bomb detection unit, explosive-sniffing dogs and all.
"I wonder if this is a bad omen for the expo?" I thought.
It wasn't. Nothing exploded, and from what I could tell, the big expo didn't bomb, either.
Exhibitions generate plenty of interesting numbers—how many booths, exhibitors, attendees. But being numbers, they can be interpreted to fit a point of view. A common example of that is when a trade show doesn't draw well, you hear "but we had the right people come, the ones the exhibitors wanted." Yeah. Sure.
Anecdotal evidence of a trade show's success has some value, but it's, well, anecdotal, not quantifiable. Take that information, toss in the numbers, and in particular, see who comes back the next time around, and then you can figure out if an expo was a success.
By those criteria, there's plenty of proof now that the 2011 Rubber Division conference and expo was a winner. The 2013 version? At least from the preliminary evidence, it seemed to do pretty well.
I base that judgment on statistics, the "buzz" on the exhibition floor, the size and interest of the audience at various tech sessions, and the fact I've been to at least 65 Rubber Division meetings and 25 major or smaller exhibitions.
By the numbers, the 2013 conference and exhibition drew 4,100 attendees, 257 exhibitors and had 107 technical presentations. That measures up to the 2011 affair, which had roughly a similar number of participants, 240 exhibitors and 116 tech papers.
The division hierarchy added a medical component to the event in 2011, trying to tap into a growth area for the rubber industry, as well as in the northeast Ohio region. I attended the Advanced Materials in Healthcare session at the IX Center in 2011, and part of this year's conference in downtown Cleveland.
The medical conference drew 62 registrants, a group that included people from the rubber industry, academia, the medical field and at least one regulator. They definitely seemed interested in the program.
I don't know if exhibitors came aboard because of the new focus on the medical field. The fact is, though, 17 more companies were on the expo floor than two years ago, and that's a good trend.
It's too soon to tell how the Rubber Division's effort to emphasize the medical sector will play out. There are a couple of enormous medical device shows that draw rubber industry companies and essentially compete with the division's event.
A clearer picture should emerge in two years, when the next major expo moves to downtown Cleveland, home of the new Medical Mart & Convention Center. The I-X Center is a big venue, close to the airport but somewhat distant from downtown and the medical community, such as the renowned Cleveland Clinic.
With a better location and another medical seminar under its belt, chances are good the Rubber Division's move into the medical field will show continued growth.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.