I have long since stopped being surprised when people from Europe or Asia tell me the American city they want to see first before any other is Las Vegas. Being a fan of the city, I never tell them not to go, but I do advise them that Las Vegas is in many ways the most atypical American city in the U.S. Visit, yes. Have fun, yes. But don’t think that you’re getting a taste for mainstream America. It’s where mainstream Americans go to get away from the dull and ordinary. And that’s not such a bad thing, after all.
My first trip to Las Vegas was forty years ago, and nearly everything I saw then along the Strip has changed. The Imperial Palace had recently opened, while Ceasar’s Palace was celebrating its tenth birthday. The Forum would not open for another 16 years. Many of the then-most-prominent hotels/casinos are gone, including the Desert Inn, the El Rancho, the Haciendo and the Dunes (replaced today by the infinitely-more-upscale Bellagio). Downtown Vegas retains much of its appearance from long ago, but it, too has changed considerably.
My most recent trip to Vegas was in early February for the World of Concrete exhibition, second largest in attendance after the annual Consumer Electronics Expo. I was there on business, and on a tight budget, so I chose to stay at the Flamingo for the umpteenth time. It is a familiar spot, and sports a monorail stop that carried me easily and inexpensively to and from the Las Vegas Convention Center where the WOC was being held. There are more luxurious options too numerous to count, such as Ceasar’s Palace, the Mirage, the Wynn and, if you’re not worried about breaking your budget, the Bellagio. Another option I’ve tried on occasion is the Trump, where there is no casino and smoking is prohibited—two big plusses in my book. Because this particular trip was purely business, I’ll focus on that element of my visit for this article. In a subsequent article I’ll delve into the entertainment side of the Las Vegas experience. The Las Vegas Convention Center touts itself as one of the largest convention centers in the world, with over 3.2 million square feet of exhibit and meeting space. This year’s WOC occupied most of the complex, including the cavernous North, Central and South Halls. Unlike ten years ago, however, there were noticeably fewer exhibitors this year, forcing the show organizers to put up curtain barriers blocking off significant portions of each of the three halls. People say that the reasons for the downsizing are two-fold: first, an overall slowing of business in the construction industry and second, the proliferation of website business and of smaller, regional trade shows that are specifically targeted to particular areas of interest. At the World of Concrete you get a little of everything; at some of these other shows, you get a lot of exactly what you’re looking for—a big difference that’s causing WOC organizers significant headaches.
Nonetheless, the WOC has never failed to deliver new business for me and exciting new connections, and this year was no exception. I force myself (it requires considerable effort) to walk down every aisle in every hall and at least look briefly at every booth. After four days of walking on hard concrete cushioned by cardboard-thin rugs, my tired legs screamed for a rest, but it was worth it. Had I not paid close attention to each and every booth, and had I not traipsed down every aisle, including those tucked away in the furthest reaches of the exhibition halls, I would have missed out on several of the most promising connections I made. And the connections I made were not with only domestic American companies. One of the best meetings I had was with a major producer of construction chemicals from Thessaloniki, Greece making its first appearance at an American trade show. Their booth was in one of the most distant areas of the South Hall, and a cursory walk through the show would probably have missed it. Luckily, I found them. Over the years, I’ve encountered a number of exhibitors from the Middle East or doing business in Saudi Arabia. Whenever I see a sign in Arabic, I automatically stop and make an enquiry.
This year, for instance, I had a long discussion with Sarvesh Kekatpure, a manager specializing in Building Information Modeling with Pinnacle Infotech. Among the projects they have dealt with are airports in Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabit and Salalah. More importantly, they are providing 3D BIM Modeling and other services for the 3,250 foot Kingdom Tower presently under construction in Jeddah. Sarveesh operates out of Houston and has frequent contact with specialists at ASC. We had a stimulating conversation that may produce interesting results. Who knows? Good things sometimes result from contacts like these made at trade shows such as the World of Concrete.
Some of the most eye-catching displays at WOC involved heavy equipment. A bevy of manufacturers showed trucks large enough to move mountains and cranes and loaders long enough to reach the sky. If you are into big, really big trucks and equipment and have a million or two dollars to spare, Putzmeister had just the eighteen-wheeled toy for you.
Several equipment manufacturers engaged in one-upmanship with one another over who could put up the most intricate, impossible-to-believe display of equipment. The accompanying photograph will give you an idea of what one of these displays looked like. In past years, I have stopped at WOC booths belonging to companies from Dubai, Kuwait and Bahrain. This year, however, I spied no booths representing companies from the region—only many booths with companies eager to do business in Saudi Arabia and its neighboring countries.