It has been a challenging year for our industry and specifically our part of the market, which is systems integration and OEM panel manufacturing. Just a year ago, the trade show industry basically shut down. A municipal show with several thousand attendees in the national stage may have been considered small. Now, in mid-year 2021, a trade show with a few hundred attendees seems to be a good beginning.
The recent North Carolina Rural Water conference was the first state show allowed in over a year, and by prior standards it would have been considered poorly attended. In 2021, it’s thriving. Masks were mandated, booths had the usual spacing between them, but with full height curtains, and attendee traffic was directional to improve social distancing. Several municipalities would not permit employees to attend, while others allowed anyone who was fully vaccinated to attend.
Will it take several years for the municipal trade show industry to fully recover, or are companies and attendees starved for these events and interactions? How quickly can shows, which often require months of planning, make a full comeback? Are the exhibitors and the attendees ready to return to crowded exhibit halls, restaurants, and customer hospitality events? After over a year of Zoom and other online networking, do we really feel the need to fully restart the exhibit circuit?
Currently, some of the regional and national events are releasing plans to resume in-person operations, with an augmented hybrid component, allowing others to attend remotely. Many offices are implementing a similar hybrid model with telecommuting options, which may become the new normal.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has relaxed the mask mandates, they still discourage large events and gatherings referring to “extremely high” cases of COVID-19 throughout the country. When gatherings include attendees from outside the local area, the CDC guidelines advise event organizing staff to provide information about the local COVID-19 statistics so attendees can make informed decisions about their participation.
Our team wants to reconnect with customers and business partners in person, and we have consequently had to weigh the benefits of trade shows against the possible health risks to our staff. To balance these concerns, we’ve developed a series of company protocols allowing for the benefits of in-person networking while preserving our team’s safety. Our plan is to initially limit on-site staff and include specific company mandates for interaction, social distancing, and continuous disinfection of our trade show booth area. These are guiding principles, and they will be modified in light of any new restrictions and customer needs in a specific area.
Given that trade shows are beginning to resume in certain areas of the country, many companies will be forced to perform the same balancing act. Since state, local, and show-specific regulations can differ, each company will need to assess their own situations and those of their employees and customers to develop an appropriate protocol. An open dialog involving all members of the team, from management to staff sent to any events in question, is critical to ensuring that we can realize the benefits of in-person interaction while maintaining the health of our staff and community. WW
About the Author: Jon Forrest is president of Fortech Inc. and a member of the WWEMA Board of Directors and serves on its Marketing and Member Services Committee. WWEMA is a non-profit trade association that has been working for water and wastewater technology and service providers since 1908. WWEMA’s members supply the most sophisticated leading-edge technologies and services, offering solutions to every water-related environmental problem and need facing today’s society. For more information about WWEMA, visit www.wwema.org and follow them on LinkedIn.