There seemed to be enough heavy equipment in Las Vegas March 15 to 19 to reconstruct the world.
From the smallest component parts to the towering cranes, contractors came to check out the latest the industry has to offer.
More than 1,900 exhibitors covered approximately 1.88 million sq. ft. of space (more than the size of 41 football fields) at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Approximately 125,000 people roamed the exhibits and 20,000 of them attended part of the series of educational sessions.
With all of these people in town, Sin City was expected to be on the winning end of $160 million in non-gaming economic impact through the week.
Co-chairman Brent Cook said the attendees this year already had a notion of what they were looking for at the convention, while in the past, it seemed to be more of a window-shopping mentality.
“This time, they came with a shopping list,” he said.
Gerry Shaheen, the other co-chairman of ConExpo-Con/AGG, said organizers are proud of the fact that this year marked grand strides in breaking out of the “North American show image.”
The average visitor spent 2.5 days at the show, about twice as long as the time spent at an average trade show. Two waves of people attended – those who stayed Monday to Thursday and from Thursday to Saturday.
International attendance set a new record high at more than 20,000 people from 131 countries. In addition, 44 official international customer delegations representing 35 countries were organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Among these delegations was the first private-sector trade delegation from Iraq in more than 40 years.
The Iraqi companies represented in the delegation came with a business proposal and investment opportunities, said Eric Nigh, vice president of corporate development of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Nigh said construction companies were closed to outside technology and new ways of doing business.
He said the nation lacks sufficient infrastructure and the money with which to repair it.
That’s why they spent months planning the visit to Las Vegas.
Amer Paulos of Al-Haikal Group, a consortium of 20 companies, said Iraq is focused on the reconstruction of existing facilities, such as hospitals, universities and laboratories.
But before that can happen, the construction workers need appropriate training.
“We have to make an investment in people before an investment in materials,” Paulos said.
Diyar Kader of Diyar Group said the previous regime did not give workers the opportunity to improve upon their skills.
But as Iraq transforms from a socialist state to a nation with a free market, the private sector is re-establishing itself, Paulos said.
Bassam Ridha Al-Khaleej of Al-Kabeer Group said his companies are working with 10- to 20-year-old equipment. The industry in Iraq could use “billions of dollars” in new equipment.
Construction crews, Al-Khaleej said, have to tinker with equipment on a daily basis just to get it running for the task at hand.
It’s lasted this long because, “Iraqis take very good care of the things that they have,” Nigh said.
In roaming the showroom floor of ConExpo-Con/AGG, Al-Khaleej said the equipment on display would allow for great strides in the reconstruction of Iraq.
The representatives said Iraq already has a talented base of workers, but needs foreign companies to invest money, equipment and expertise to be able to complete the arduous task.
“Security is a big issue for all of us,” Al-Khaleej said. Iraqi construction companies lose employees amid the insurgency against American troops far too often.
Foreign investors wouldn’t have to make the same sacrifice, though.
“They don’t have to come to Iraq and bear the risk because there’s already companies bearing that risk,” Nigh said.
In addition to the Iraqi delegation, representatives from Thailand and Indonesia discussed with the construction companies their need for relief following the tsunami and reconstruction needs.
As ConExpo-Con/AGG organizers look into the future of the event, which they confirmed will be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center every three years through at least 2023, there have been discussions about expanding its focus to include mining and structural companies.
But they cautioned they do not want to get too large, as it then might become confusing for the attendees.
“Never say never, but this show is pretty well focused,” Shaheen said.
The show will have room to grow in the coming years, as plans are in the works for an expansion of the convention center. The work will include an additional 100,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space, a direct connection of the monorail into the center and a police substation.
The 2008 ConExpo-Con/AGG is set for March 11 to 15.