Waste Expo '97:Cool Time In Hotlanta

After Atlanta rose from the ashes of General Sher-man's attack during the Civil War, it acquired a proud analogy to the phoenix. More than a century later, the Centennial Olympics again forever altered Atlanta's identity, globalizing it to the stature of "Olympic City."

And now, less than a year later, Atlanta can add another moniker to its history: "Garbage Central."

OK, well maybe WasteExpo did not leave as big an impression on Atlanta as the War Between The States or an Olympics that was "most exceptional," but to those in the waste industry who attended, the WasteExpo event was a resounding success.

The five-day show, held from May 19 to 23, boasted educational sessions, facility tours, workshops, a three-day exposition and, of course, parties.

Exhibitors made a strong showing as 560 companies gobbled 226,990 square feet of space out of the Georgia World Congress Center, nestled adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park and the CNN Center.

The industry's largest trade show was a bit smaller in attendance this year, as an approximate 12,425 registered attendees trafficked through the center's doors - down from the 13,300 attendees seen at 1996's Las Vegas show. Of attendees, 9,636 people were verified as "registered buyers," according to WasteExpo coordinator, Jacqueline Wolfe of the Environmental Industries Association (EIA), Washington, D.C.

"While our attendance was down from what it was in Vegas, the exhibitors told me that the people they saw were buyers," Wolfe says. "You can have the numbers, but they all might be tire-kickers. The attendee quality is more important than the quantity."

Most exhibitors, such as Michael Ellinger, president of Ptarmigan Machinery Co., San Antonio, agree. "The percentage of executives and potential 'check writers' was up [this year], although the attendance was smaller than the previous two years."

While he admits that the "majority of visitors were browsing," he realizes that these attendees were "the people who will make the decisions when the time comes to buy."

Wayne Zwolinski of SuperSource Inc., Phoenix, which sells integrated software systems, expected the brow-sers. "Of course, the vast majority [of attendees] are going to be walk-bys who say, 'Hey, I'm interested, send my secretary some information, here's my card so you can send me some stuff and let me have that letter opener. That's par for the course," he says.

"But the people who are interested enough to stop in and take time to look at our computer program are those who will buy," he explained. "There were enough of those types of attendees to keep us busy."

Donovan Enterprises' (Stuart, Fla.) April Ashenbeck reports more traffic at WasteExpo '97 than at any other show. "This was absolutely the best waste show and truck show Donovan had ever participated in. We sold nine systems - we never sold a system before at a show. The products just flew."

At the Rehrig Pacific Co. (Los Angeles) booth, William Bloch entertained his share of quality traffic. "As expected, this was a very well-planned event," he says. "We had the serious buyers and were quite satisfied."

However, Lyn-da Kaperonis of Lindemann Re-cycling Equip-ment, Charlotte, N.C., states that although she saw "several good pro-spects who were prepared to buy," most attendees at her booth were "not key decision-makers."

Although she was satisfied over-all with the attendance, she re-ports being "disappointed with the lack of in-depth interest at the booth."

"If you walked around, it just seemed empty," agrees Judy Mathews of Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill. "It was a quiet show. When attendance was down in Las Vegas, I chalked it up to the good weather and the casinos. People would stay for an hour, get their tickets punched just to say that they were there. I thought Atlanta would be good, but it needed more pizzazz and more things go-ing on in the ex-hibit hall."

Kaperonis be-lieves that events such as cocktail hours and continental breakfasts might have helped draw and keep attendees on the exhibit floor.

However, browsing, wandering and mingling is the meat of most trade shows for attendees who are curious about industry innovations. From the spanning windows in the atrium above the exhibit hall, pockets of crowds could be seen rippling down the rows. At most booths, it was either feast or famine, as the attendee volume climaxed on Wednesday and dwindled to stragglers by Thursday morning.

Hits And Misses Browsing was profitable for James O. Daley, senior planner for Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., Johnston, R.I., who was able to find "solid leads" for his company. However, he adds, "I wish either Waste Management, Heil or Kann had brought a front load co-collection vehicle to Atlanta."

Norman Wood, business development director for Waste Industries Inc., Raleigh, N.C., says he was pleased with the overall exhibitor number and the enthusiasm of attendees, but notes a lack of "revolutionary new technology" displayed at the booths.

Software companies were a draw for technologically-minded attendees, such as Russell Adkison, logistics coordinator for Waste Management Inc.'s Opelika, Ala., location, who reports "quite a bit of success" from his hours of wandering the floor. "I was looking for some routing software programs, wondering what was out on the market. I was impressed with what I saw."

There were a few surprises in the hall as well, attendees say. For example, Charlie Sedlock, division manager for Hamm Co., Perry, Kan., did not expect to see the number of new landfill processing systems for leachate, and Rhode Island's Daley notes a steady increase "since 1994 in the number of exhibitors and sessions on composting techniques and technology."

Overall, attendees were pleased with EIA's selection of Atlanta and the Georgia World Congress Center for 1997's show.

The center nicely contained all exhibitors, although it was a long haul from booth 815 to 5654. Christina Harris of Marathon Equip-ment Co., Vernon, Ala., praises the convention center's "large aisles, exhibitor services and easy move-in."

"Having a medical waste pavilion was a great idea," adds Mark Taitz, director of business development for Sanitec Inc., West Caldwell, N.J. "It was a good gathering place for attendees with that specific interest. The pavilion idea could carry over to other industries as well."

Many other attendees echo this sentiment. "The show area was too big," says Frank Lederer of Integrated Waste Technology, Jacksonville, Fla. "It should be sub-divided into specific areas. Better grouping of product lines would help."

Kaperonis says that she would like "to see an area separated out for trucks and vehicles that would be starting their engines on the exhibit floor."

Troublesome issues such as accessibility and the $6-a-day parking fees kept the center from scoring high marks with attendees. "Exhibitors should not have to pay for parking at the show," Bloch says.

Ellinger's overall reactions on this year's location are mixed. "The conference center rated an 'A.' Atlanta in general rated only a 'C+,' because the quality of the downtown area is really spotty," he says, adding that he rated the Omni Hotel a "solid F" because it was "grossly understaffed and way over-priced for what it can deliver."

However, "Southern hospitality does exist," says Daley. "Atlanta, and especially Buckhead, was interesting, educational and entertaining. The weather was fine and there were plenty of great restaurants. The CNN Center was right next to the show, and I recommend a tour."

Southern Exposures As the hub of the Southeast, the Atlanta location drew more attendees from this region as West Coast attendance slipped. "We had more than 500 people from California, but that's not as much as we had before," Wolfe reports.

While WasteExpo was only a short hop across Peachtree Street for some attendees, others were still rubbing their eyes on opening day after having crossed the international dateline. According to Wolfe, 1,254 attendees representing 75 countries registered - down from last year's approximate 1,500 foreigners.

"I was impressed by the international participation on my tour of the Athens-Clark County materials recovery facility tour on Friday," says Daley.

"On the bus ride and during the tour, I made contacts with people from Australia, Japan, the Philip-pines, India, France and Thailand," he continues. "I definitely learned that other countries consider the United States to be the leader in solid waste management and are eager to learn from us."

WasteExpo provided an excellent showcase of At-lanta success stories which were highlighted by Fri-day's eight facility tours.

In addition to the Athens-Clark County tour, attendees visited Waste Tire Management's Lawrenceville facility, United Waste Service's Atlanta hauling/transfer station, USA Waste Services' Pine Bluff Landfill and Smyr-na hauling/transfer station and Waste Mangement's Live Oak Landfill and driver/mechanic training center.

The Cobb/Bedminster Co-Com-posting facility tour went off without a hitch, despite recent hardships. Still under construction from two 1996 fires that gutted the 250,000-square-foot facility just northwest of the city, it was prepared for visitors although it is not expected to reopen until later this year.

"We were hoping for a big group, but we only had 20 people on the WasteExpo bus," reports Bedmin-ster's tour guide, Laurie Bonds.

A group of 10 non-attendees who arrived for a separate tour were combined with WasteExpoers and then divided into two groups. "We brought half of them into our sales office and showed a video of how the technology works and answered questions, while the others walked through the facility. And then, we swapped the groups.

"Everything went really well," she continues. "We had a lot of foreigners, but that was expected because we have a huge international interest."

Pulling off the tour required some creativity, though, according to Bonds, who says that when Bedmin-ster made the tour arrangements, there had been only the August 1996 fire.

The subsequent fire, which blazed on Christmas eve, destroyed many integral parts of the facility. For example, Bonds says that the conveyor systems were burned and the tip floor in the main building still is missing the roof. "They had to use their imagination in the room, and I hated that," she says.

Learning Each Day What is a conference without sessions and interactive workshops? From ethics and legislation to management and technology, WasteExpo had the issues covered.

"On average, we ran about three different time slots and had roughly 300 attendees per time slot," says Wolfe, who notes that on Tuesday, session attendance shot up to an average of 570 people at each of the two session times.

After a year spent on each coast, WasteExpo returns to Chicago in 1998. "Chicago will be a good draw. You have all your Fortune 500 companies within a 500-mile radius," says Wolfe, who encourages attendees to register early.

Due to its central location, the Windy City is expected to lift Waste-Expo attendance back to previous attendance heights.