Pack Expo 2014: A Leading Economic Indicator?

Pack Expo 2014, the industry’s premier event, just wrapped up in Chicago. The slow death rattle of tradeshows, predicted by many, was not evident this year. Record floor space sales and record attendance made it a banner year. What does the success of this show tell us about the wider economy? Here’s a decidedly non-scientific snapshot.

With four massive conventions centers, each with two floors, monstrous McCormick Place is the largest convention center in North America; yet this year’s show filled all four buildings. More telling was visitor parking. All garages, all lots, all space – filled before mid-day. If you arrived after 11am, you were walking down from Soldier Field. Parking is always a weak link at McCormick, but in thirty years, I’ve never seen it sold completely out for a trade show.

Mardi Gras for packaging geeks. The place was mobbed. It looked and felt like a celebration was under way. If you ever wondered what gets packaging engineers excited, it’s a show like this. Not just the record crowds but the mood and tempo of the entire convention center was upbeat.

This show is about capital equipment. Selling significant long term assets are its lifeblood. Example: Cloud Packaging Equipment, based in Des Plaines, manufactures high speed packaging machines ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to well north of a million. Traffic? They had people lining up for demos. The number one question was not cost but lead time. Can you say “economic recovery”?

Unlike consumables, which indicate current strength, purchases of these assets are a leading indicator of business confidence. No one knows when the music will stop, but for now it is rocking in the packaging industry. This bodes well for the larger economy as this sector touches so many others.

By the way, if you missed this year’s Pack Expo, you can always go next year. It will be in Vegas and will likely be another record show.