Hannover Messe, the world's largest industrial technology trade show, drew 6,550 exhibitors from 62 countries to Hannover, Germany the week of April 8. The attendees - all 225,000 of them - were equally diverse.
One in every four visitors came from abroad, mainly from countries in the European Union (50 percent), as well as South, East, and Central Asia (20 percent). The largest visitor contingents were from the Netherlands (3,500) and China (3,400), followed by India, Italy, Austria, and Denmark.
The U.S. made its presence felt with exhibitions from small- and medium-sized businesses. In total, an estimated 150 U.S. companies were present at the show. The decision to attend was a major one, given the length of the event, expense of international travel and lodging, and, of course, the cost of booth space at such a large and prestigious show. It's an even more difficult decision for small companies with limited manpower and more limited budgets.
The U.S. turnout - which, according to Larry Turner, president of Hannover Fairs USA Inc., marked a 30 percent increase over previous years - was a testament to the country's manufacturing strength. Part of the turnout had to do with America's gradual emergence from the recession, along with "the fact that the German economy is relatively stable," Turner told IMT.
Interest among U.S. companies in doing business with Europe is on the rise, Turner added. While the EU economy has not been stellar, it is poised for 2.5 percent growth through 2014, he said. Another reason for the attraction is the fact that, unlike China and other emerging economies, Europe has a well-developed legal and trade system that is accustomed to international business. "It's easier to get paid. The commercial infrastructure is there and it's stable," Turner explained.
There was also luck in the timing. Turner worked closely with the U.S. Commercial Service and many state economic development organizations (EDOs) to help build the American presence at the show, taking tremendous advantage of the STEP (State Trade and Export Promotion) program. "Even in those states where you might only get a few thousand dollars to support the effort, if a company was on the fence, that $2,000 would be enough to make them look into it and many ended up signing up," he said.
U.S. companies have been reporting that the show was a phenomenal success. According to Turner, most of the businesses he spoke to insisted that their expectations were met by the end of the day on Wednesday. "Even though we were only halfway through, they were calling this a successful event," he said.
Andrew Crowder would agree. Crowder works for the Washington Dept. of Commerce, which was one of 12 state EDOs present at Hannover Messe. In a unique arrangement with the Hannover Fairs USA team, the Washington Dept. of Commerce and other EDOs brought U.S. representatives from American companies who then shared booth space with the state organizations. This arrangement helped increase the U.S. presence while also reducing the costs for small businesses that might otherwise lack the financial resources to attend. A total of eight Washington-based companies attended Hannover Messe as part of the state's shared exhibit.
Crowder told me that Hannover Messe is more than just a trade show; he called it an "industrial and cultural event." According to Crowder, the companies that attended indicated that the show was "a very productive experience that allowed them to begin relationships that would take years to build but that ultimately would be very productive."
The 2013 show was the second year that the Washington Dept. of Commerce brought companies to the event, Crowder stated. Of the companies that attended last year, two have banked sales of over $300,000 within the first year.
The secret to trade show success is preparation, Crowder insisted. He recommended "taking time to learn in advance who else will be there, and setting appointments in advance with other exhibitors."