Coronavirus Didn’t Slow Down ConExpo, Largest Construction Convention in North America

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Robison Wells

Last week ConExpo went ahead as planned in Las Vegas, bringing in 130,000 attendees to the once-every-three-years event. The expo takes up 2.7 million square feet of space and is truly staggering in its scope. Taking place on March 10, before most travel bans and mass closures were instituted, the expo move forward on schedule.

Despite fears from many of the attendees, vendors, and exhibitors, the expo was considered to big to cancel at such a late date, as tens of millions of dollars of travel and shipping costs were spent to move everything from backhoes to cement mixers to cranes to road-pavement gear to the city.

“It’s a good chance to know the new technology and figure out what works better for our company,” says Jeff Herington, a project manager estimator at InRoads Paving LLC in Des Moines. “You can talk on the phone and email, but it’s just different to speak face to face, and when you have the company here you can get better answers.”

The convention is a massive showcase for companies such as Caterpillar, John Deere, Komatsu, Volvo Group and other global companies.

At the convention hand sanitizer stations were prominent and continually refilled, and many safety precautions were taken such as a no-handshake policy and attendees wearing buttons with a red slash mark over clasped palms. Industry bigwigs are getting into the act: Chief Executive Officer Jim Umpleby of Caterpillar Inc., one of the world’s largest machinery producers, greets people by bumping elbows, while Mike Ballweber, president ofBobcat North America, prefers “shoulder shimmies.”

Still, it was not the same conference as in previous years. “A lot of investors didn’t come, that would be the one thing that’s probably different this year,” says Caterpillar’s Chief Financial Officer Andrew Bonfield. He says that if investors could instead arrange meetings with managers at Cat’s headquarters outside Chicago, “they would probably take that rather than come to a very large event where they may need to self-quarantine afterwards.”

But what that means for the future no one is quite sure. A Bobcat’s employee says he and his staff had a discussion about whether to self-quarantine after the event. “We haven’t made that decision yet, but it is something we have absolutely talked about,” he says. “When I got this job no one gave me the playbook on how to handle a potential pandemic.”

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