A spike in onsite registrations helped iboost overall attendance at SUR/FIN 2010, held June 14–17 at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Mich.
A spike in onsite registrations helped iboost overall attendance at SUR/FIN 2010, held June 14–17 at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Mich.

From relevant keynote presentations and technical sessions to special events and exhibits on the show floor, SUR/FIN 2010 offered virtually something for everyone. Following are some highlights of the event:

Exhibitor/attendee surge. More than 140 companies lined the exhibition show floor at SUR/FIN, a double-digit increase over last year’s event. These included perennial suppliers of surface finishing chemicals and equipment as well as some new faces. “There were even some companies present that had not participated in SUR/FIN in a long time,” said Eric Olander, immediate-past chairman. On top of that, SUR/FIN 2010 saw the return of several surface finisher exhibits—something we haven’t seen since SUR/FIN '07 in Cleveland.

This year’s show also saw an uptick in attendees—particularly on-site registrations. According to NASF, full-conference sign-ups nearly tripled that of last year’s event. Among the new attendees: a delegation of more than 30 representatives from Brazil, including chief officers from ABTS, the Brazilian equivalent of the NASF.
“We exceeded expectations for SUR/FIN 2010,” NASF president, Michael Siegmund on opening day. “Registrations were way up from Louisville, and we sold out the hotel!”

Anecdotal information shows this activity translated into positive experiences for many SUR/FIN exhibitors. Most companies Metal Finishing spoke to said traffic was particularly brisk on day one as well as the afternoon of the second day—thanks in no small measure to a revamped conference program that better synchronized show hours with breaks in the educational sessions. “We had about 50 leads by the end of the first day,” said Rob Simmerer, BEX Spray Nozzles.

Economic keynote session. Dr. Ken Mayland, president of Clearview Economics, made a return appearance to SUR/FIN 2010, offering attendees an update on the economic forecast he presented to attendees at last year’s show. While economic conditions are still challenging for many individuals and businesses, Dr. Mayland pointed to signs of progress. Growth of 2.2% in Q3 of 2009, 5.6% in Q4, and 3% growth in Q1 of 2010. All welcomed news to attendees’ ears.

“The recession is just about a year old, although the Bureau of Economic Research has yet to make an official call,” Dr. Mayland told attendees during opening session.

Does it mean we’re out of the woods? Absolutely not. “Recovery is not synonymous with ‘recovered,’ ” Dr. Mayland explained. “Rather, it means economy is expanding again.” He also reminded the skeptics among the crowd that the economy is “cyclical, not random or static,” meaning the economy will inevitably recover. To bolster his optimism on the economy, he cited the findings several key economic indicators. For one, he sees improving consumer confidence despite nearly 10% unemployment. In illustration: he cited the current personal savings rate (around 3% today) vs. the spring of 2009, which was about 6%. The logic being: a high savings rate means consumer spending is lacking and, therefore, not fueling the economy. On the business side, Dr. Mayland cited production increases associated with reversing of the drawing down of inventories—a critical barometer of non-consumer consumption. “We’ve had two years of draw-downs in inventories over the past two years, and now we’re seeing that reverse itself,” he said.

Dr. Mayland also sees promising activity in key market sectors, including automotive. What’s needed now, though, is a narrowing of the chasm between the scrappage rate—the pace at which consumers put down their older vehicles—vs. the overall new car sales rate. “Currently the industry is seeing about 13 million in scrappage vs. 11 million units sold, annualized,” he explained. “We need to close that gap.” Eventually, Mayland sees automotive production hitting the 16 million-unit mark, most likely in a couple of years.

Regarding more general economic trends, Dr. Mayland sees positive movement. “Companies have seen an enormous rebound in corporate profits, consumer spending is back on track, and the banks have stabilized,” he noted. The good Dr. also believes the short-term prospects for industrial production look good, adding that manufacturing jobs have actually gone up for four straight months in the U.S. He’s also seeing a positive correlation between sales growth and inventory levels, something that “should remain in effect for most of 2010.”

At the same time, Dr. Mayland does have his concerns. “I do worry about the debt problem; we can’t keep running trillion-dollar deficits.” Mayland also believes that not enough stimulus money went to infrastructure improvements—only 6–7%, by his estimates. But that should rectify itself this year, he noted, given the $350 billion slated to be spent in 2010 and nearly next year.

All in all, Mayland’s outlook for 2010 is positive. “I’m predicting 3.5% growth for the year.”

For more on SUR/FIN 2010, including a special awards presentation ceremony and exhibitor photos, look for the July-August dual edition of Metal Finishing.