The More Things Change...

Jan. 1, 2024
The industry faces a familiar situation as the iconic expo turns 50

In 1974, when Robert “Big Bob” Weatherton and Bill Avery formed World of Concrete and planned its first exposition, the roads and bridges construction industry faced a mix of opportunities and challenges that will sound familiar to this year’s attendees. 

The context is important as World of Concrete celebrates its 50th anniversary at the Las Vegas Convention Center from Jan. 22-25. 

Signed by President Nixon the previous summer, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973 was being implemented. The law pumped $20 billion into the industry over the next three years. 

It funded the construction of new urban and rural primary and secondary roads. It also provided money for existing interstates, as well as a highway safety program, and it allowed states to use highway trust fund money for mass transit for the first time. 

Speaking of safety, this legislation introduced the country to a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour.

Though the government had invested in the country’s infrastructure and safety, the construction industry faced obstacles.

Members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) had launched an oil embargo in October 1973. This was done to hurt countries like the United States that had supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War, also known as the Fourth Arab-Israeli War. 

Gas prices surged. As 1974 began, inflation had more than doubled to 8.8%, and the cost of construction materials rose, too.

This also was the height of the Watergate scandal. 

With this as its backdrop, World of Concrete was developed. It is the first and largest trade show in the concrete construction industry, and over the past 50 years, it has become one of the most important trade shows in North America.

And though some things haven’t changed (Middle East turmoil, inflation, political scandals, a massive piece of legislation that invests in our infrastructure), World of Concrete continues to evolve with the roads and bridges construction industry.

Later this month, industry professionals will descend on Las Vegas, and World of Concrete will celebrate the industry’s history and give attendees a window into where it’s heading.

Every year, World of Concrete brings together professionals from around the world with the purpose of connecting the concrete construction and masonry communities while giving companies the opportunity to showcase their products and services. Although that’s been constant throughout the years, some things this year will be a little different. 

“Attendees and exhibitors will notice a subtle difference in our overall branding and look of the event, as well as having the ability to take a trip down memory lane of past events,” said Kevin Archibald, the senior show manager of World of Concrete. 

After conceptualizing and planning World of Concrete throughout 1974, Weatherton and Avery launched this annual tradition in early 1975 at the Hyatt Regency in Houston.

The first World of Concrete had 75,000 square feet with 71 exhibitors showcasing their products. It attracted 1,500 attendees, and the entry fee was $3.00. 

The Las Vegas Convention Center is a little bit bigger than the Houston hotel. This year’s attendees may want to study the layout of the convention before arriving. World of Concrete is incorporating over 720,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibit space this year, the largest since 2019. Not an inch will go unused: there will be 1,400 exhibitors, 300 of which are new to the convention. 

The size of the convention isn’t the only thing that’s changed over the past 50 years. So has the technology. World of Concrete will focus advancements in BIM software, robotics and 3D printing, autoclaved aerated concrete, and modular building.

Things that seemed like science fiction when Weatherton and Avery were planning the first World of Concrete in 1974. 

Inside the convention center, the Central Hall will feature exhibits such as Work Truck LIVE! and material handling. The North Hall will feature technology for construction, concrete reinforcement, precast, and the cement production pavilion. The South Hall will focus on concrete repair and demolition. 

Outdoor exhibits will be in the Bronze and Silver Lots. Featured outdoor events include: Decorative Concrete LIVE!, skill challenges for attendees, and product showcases.

On the upper levels of the convention center, educational sessions will be held. There will be more than 200 sessions for every skill level, from beginner to expert, and every level of responsibility, from office and field personnel to business owners. Topics range from technical applications, business best practices, project management, and safety. 

Approximately 50 new topics have been added to the line-up of educational sessions that are offered. The new topics on the docket range from ADA guidelines and compliance, fundamentals of concrete paving, implementing Type IL Portland-limestone cement, and employee mental health. 

Last year, the convention saw over 48,000 attendees. This year, Archibald is expecting between 50,000 to 55,000 attendees.

“Las Vegas has become our home away from home since 2005,” said Archibald. “We love all the city has to offer from the state-of-the-art facility in the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is continuing to improve its facilities through an impressive renovation project, which will continue to offer our exhibitors and attendees a top-notch experience for years to come.” 

The biggest names in the industry will be at World of Concrete to showcase products. 

“For Caterpillar, World of Concrete gives us a wonderful opportunity to meet our customers face to face and connect with them about their business needs,” said Kim Bain, the marketing communications manager for Caterpillar. “We are able to not only showcase our products and services, but also give our customers time with our product experts to answer their questions and help them find solutions to improve their businesses. Caterpillar has been a part of the World of Concrete for decades and it is a valuable partnership.” 

The roads and bridges construction industry seems to be in great shape. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is in the process of injecting $500 billion dollars into projects. Of course, there are challenges (rising costs, political dysfunction, a labor crisis). However, World of Concrete is a place to converse with contemporaries about those obstacles, discuss ways to overcome them.

World of Concrete also is a chance to learn methods and discover products that can help take advantage of the IIJA. For these reasons, this might be the most important World of Concrete yet.

“Seeing our industry professionals in one place, thriving, connecting with one another, knowledge sharing, and finding ways to improve their business. There really is no better time of year,” Archibald said. RB

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