SWANA Boogies Under the Arch

When the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., said, "Meet me in St. Louis," 3,500 of us heeded its call, making the 35th annual event the second-largest Wastecon to date.

SWANA's 1997 meeting of the municipal minds, held during the week of October 27 in centrally-located St. Louis, attracted 500 more attendees than last year's Portland, Ore., event.

And the exhibitor numbers were up more than 15 percent: 245 companies this year versus 210 in 1996.

"We have seen steady growth in the number of exhibitors and attendees over the past few years," reports Caroline Lacey, SWANA's director of marketing and sales. "Exhibitors, attracted by the quality of the Waste-con attendees, are pledging their support through [their] increased involvement with the show."

As the event kicked off on Monday, grinning green-and-gold badged Missouri chapter members were on hand to guide guests to their destinations. Their hospitality was praised by the bleary-eyed foot-traffickers who were trying to orient themselves in the city under the Arch.

"The professionalism exhibited by the SWANA staff impressed me most," says Edwin Marr, director of refuse and recycling for the city of Buffalo, N.Y. "Their knowledge provided the intangible experience that you can't get from a brochure or video."

Chris Mischler, a division manager for Seneca Railroad and Mining, Bellevue, Ohio, also commends the "friendly and helpful staff."

A first-timer, Mischler compared Wastecon to shows he has attended in other industries and says that SWANA's attendance appeared to be good.

Show me! The mostly sunny, upper 50-degree days did not discourage attendees from streaming into the windowless bowels of the America's Center to browse the exhibit hall's eye-catching booths.

Missouri's moniker, "The Show Me State," fit aptly with the attitude of the company representatives on the exhibit floor, primed to show-and-tell interested attendees about their products and services.

Most attendees were pleased with the variety of exhibitors and with the detailed information that they were able to pick up and take home. Tom Stroud, director of Altamont Technologies Inc., Overland Park, Kan., says the annual reports that were available from some of the publicly-traded companies were particularly helpful.

The traffic appeared to be a mix between buyers and browsers. But browsers easily can turn into buyers on the exhibit floor, especially when attendees keep their municipality's agendas firmly in mind. For example, Marr, whose city currently is reviewing plans to switch to a semi-automated collection system and take over operations at its transfer facility, praised the show for "expos[ing] me to many vendors that I might not otherwise have [met]."

Browsers aside, there was plenty of wheelin' and dealin' and hob-nobbin' on the show floor. At the Camp Dresser and McKee Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) booth, Communications Specialist Alicia Burke used her time to chat with existing clients and to forge relationships with potential customers.

Despite keeping busy, Burke was surprised at the amount of attendees that she saw overall. "Although SWANA did a great job of planning and executing the show, the foot traffic was not as heavy as one would expect from being in a central location," she explains.

Actually, the talk heard around the coffee dispensers and up and down the escalators revealed that most attendees and exhibitors deemed the show "steady."

Some exhibitors attributed this seeming ebb and flow of attendees to the condensed exhibit hall hours. Keeping with its tradition of trading off sessions and exhibit hall times so that neither ran concurrently, SWANA allotted four hours for each a day.

"With shorter exhibit hours, it appeared that attendees came in groups verses being spread out [like what happens] when an exhibit has longer show hours," explains Don Hildebrandt, senior territory manager for EPI Environmental Products Inc., Conroe, Texas. "This placed a greater number of people in the exhibit hall at the same time."

Hildebrandt's booth had the fortunate location at the end of the hall near where the cash prize drawings of $250 and $500 was held daily, which "put more people in the drawing-area exhibits," he says.

Mingling and Schmoozing Weaving her way through the crowd, Wastecon first-timer Felicia Blow, director of Public Information for Southeastern Public Services Authority, Chesapeake, Va., buzzed by booths to meet contacts face-to-face and to introduce herself to exhibitors whom she didn't know.

While she says she was pleased overall with the America's Center facility, she laments that the walk from the conference hotel, the Marriott Pavilion, took a toll on her toes.

Other feet treading the floor came from foreign soil. The majority of non-U.S. Wastecon attendees hailed from Canada, but the potpourri of nations represented included England, Guam, Argentina, Australia, Malaysia, Slovenia, Italy and Israel.

Many attendees in the exhibit hall were seeking answers to specific questions or trying to get clarification on something they had heard at a technical session.

To this end, some were disappointed. For example, Mischler says that despite the variety of services and products displayed, there was a lack of engineers or product designers on hand to answer questions. "When I pointed out things that I knew were problems from my own experiences, some of the salespeople seemed disinterested," he says.

As the attendees left on the final day, most complimented SWANA's selection of the America's Center. "The show floor was really spread out," says Mark Halleen, director of Foth and Van Dyke consulting firm, Green Bay, Wis. "Plus, the facility was very clean."

However, those who drove to the center were unpleasantly surprised at the parking situation. "The lack of parking was frustrating," says Paul Thompson, solid waste director for Garland County, Hot Springs, Ark.

Marr, too, was surprised at the cost of parking at an otherwise flawless show. "My only wish would have been to have free parking for attendees," he says.

Info Influx As the bell rang, SWANA members shouldered through the throng, peering at easels outside rooms, trying to determine which technical session to select.

"Collection sessions were once again well-attended," reports Chris Voell, SWANA director of technical services. "The landfill sessions, as always, had major participation, and new health and safety sessions got a good response."

Next year, he says attendees can expect to see new sessions such as a hauler's roundtable and solid waste management in developing countries.

"The trade show was wonderful, speakers were very good and it was well organized," Blow says. "I was extremely pleased with the session variety. I had to choose between sessions most of the time."

Stroud also was impressed with the sessions' focus. "I was looking for basic education verses purchasing [sessions]," he says. "The sessions certainly met my expectations."

Halleen agrees, but noticed a recycling of speakers from last year. "SWANA may want to add some new speakers instead of reusing the previous ones," he suggests.

"The best surprise [of the show] was the [speech by the] mayor from East St. Louis," Blow reports. "He was a great speaker." SWANA awarded Mayor Gordon D. Bush the Lawrence Lecturer Award for his efforts in revitalizing the city's solid waste management program.

Can't Wait Till '98 Expect to be mingling with a more international crowd next year as '98's Wastecon is held in conjunction with the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) World Congress, bringing in more than 250 international delegates.

Exhibit space for the October 26 - 29 event is more than 50 percent sold, and many companies have increased their space from the St. Louis show, Lacey reports.

This fusion with ISWA will give Wastecon a more international flair, which will be reflected in both the exhibits and sessions alike.

However, to some attendees, this year will be tough to beat. "To be honest, I wasn't expecting the world-class show that I got at Wastecon," Blow says. "This event was planned to a 'T.' There was high energy, great assistance from the staff, something for everyone. I had a great time."