How Trade Shows Helped Build the New America

You know those people who pine about the old days?  The ones who wish the 1950s (or at least their idyllic vision of the 1950s) had never passed beneath the sands of time?  Who was poetical about the Eisenhower Administration, conveniently leaving out the absence of air conditioning and the fact that everyone was terrified of a global nuclear war?

What’s sad is that those people are missing the New America – one in which the rhetoric of past generations – things like “liberty and justice for all” – are finally winding their way into reality.  And although it might be a stretch to say that the Trade Show is the cornerstone of that New America, those gathering places of trade – especially the tech ones – have played an important role in defining how we live, work, and interact today.

First, you can’t have that New America without the technological innovations that have made this age fundamentally different from any that has come before it.  The big trade shows – CES for example – have brought the leaders in technological innovation together.  And while they’re putting on shows for retailers, reporters, and the general public, they are also getting together in the same room, discussing their industry, and envisioning its future.  Face it:  its future is our future.

Another key dynamic of the New America is the way in which commerce works.  While old-timers might remember those old-time downtowns with wistful and deserved nostalgia, that’s just not the way business gets done anymore.  It isn’t just that trade is global.  It’s that trade has escaped the limitation of distance.  It has escaped national boundaries.  It has escaped the geographical barriers of mountains and oceans.

As the reality of commerce has become more diffused, trade shows have created reliable moments in which people and products can come together again.  In a sense, they’ve become the lynch pins that enable this rapid, around-the-corner/around-the-world form of commerce to work.  Whether it’s the LA Auto Show introducing new cars to the world or the American Library Association’s annual conference drawing vendors under one roof, trade shows empower the economy that defines the New America.

And while trade shows have certainly aided international conglomerates in their growth over recent years, they have also kept small businesses viable – even when they’re up against those conglomerates.  For the price of booth rentals and a good presentation, small business owners gain access to the same distributors, suppliers, and customers that their major competitors use.  In some cases, having that access is the only way small businesses have been able to remain viable.

The importance of trade shows in our modern society and economy has been illustrated by their staying power during the recent recession.  When the downturn hit, I was consulting with two companies in Southern California.  Both saw their revenues plummet.  Both cut every corner they possibly could to stay solvent.  Aside from speculative bets on social media, the only marketing line item they kept was trade show attendance.  Why?  They felt they couldn’t do business without it.

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