The big news in Appleton and the Fox Valley yesterday was the report presented at the FCPAC by a community coalition task force charged with evaluating the potential development of a convention center. The group, appointed by Appleton mayor Tim Hanna and chaired by retired Thrivent executive Walt Rugland, put together a comprehensive and intelligent Report to the Community that addressed the issue from almost every possible angle.
They looked at location, the type of facility we would likely need, cost to build, cost to maintain, likely private/public partnerships, ownership, and funding approaches. They were ready for questions on parking, on the impact to surrounding neighborhoods, the expected relationship to the existing Radisson Paper Valley Hotel and the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, even the potential impetus to other development, such as the riverfront, that this project could trigger.
As impressive as the report was in its comprehensive thoughtfulness, it seemed that one factor hasn't been fully considered. What's happening in the tradeshow and exhibition industry, and where is this industry likely to go? Industry data shows total exhibition spending has been gradually declining for the past decade, and the recession forced exhibitors to make more drastic cuts over the last two years.
Today, Expo Magazine is forecasting a modest uptick while acknowledging that exhibitors are being both cautious about spending and exploring alternatives to trade show attendance. Technology and the explosion of social media opportunities are both to blame.
For the community coalition, this means we really need to be smart about understanding who our potential market is, and what exactly we should be building to be most attractive to them. Because if we believe the total market will likely continue to decline (and we should believe that!) then we have to be convinced we can take business away from other communities that will be trying desperately to hold onto shows.
What do you think? Is an exhibition center a good investment for the Fox Valley? What other considerations haven't been raised that should be part of the evaluation? Weigh in now, because after ground is broken it will be too late to do anything but complain!