Attending last week’s ISA Expo in Houston was like attending a funeral for a friend.

The aisles were filled with old friends, people I work with every day, and people I haven’t seen in 20 years. While it was great to see everyone, there was a sadness in the air, as we all realized this was, in all likelihood, the final ISA Expo.

ISA leadership, in the form of past president Kim Miller-Dunn, announced rather unceremoniously that next year ISA would hold a completely different sort of event. The large trade-show style event would be gone. While she said the purpose was “to better serve our members “, it seems clear that ISA was primarily trying to stop the financial bleeding.

The ISA Expo is horribly expensive to run. At the cavernous Reliant Center, this year’s show was almost tucked into a corner. It feels like annual attendance has dropped every year since the 2001 ISA Expo was struck by the 9/11 tragedy. By some estimates, attendance this year was down 40%.

Next year’s ISA event (it’s hard for me to call it an Expo) will be held at a hotel in Houston, limited to 10,000 square feet of exhibit space. Attendees will pay $900 to $1000 to attend a two-and-a-half day technical conference. No free admissions to the exhibit.

This format, which is targeted at higher-level decision-makers, will admittedly isolate the majority of ISA members – plant-level technicians and engineers. Vendors from smaller companies also appear very disappointed.

I’ve been attending the ISA Expo for over 20 years. It really is like losing an old friend. In the end, I found myself going through the classic stages of grief:
* Denial – Are they really going to kill the show?
* Anger – Don’t they realize this will hurt us, the members?
* Bargaining – Maybe we can get them to expand the new format…
* Depression – What’s the point of finishing the show today?
* Acceptance – Well, in many ways it was inevitable…

The trade show format seems a bit of an anachronism. Most people simply do a Google search to get more info. Nobody wants to travel. So, indeed, the time has come to say goodbye to the old ISA Expo. So long, old friend…we had many great years together.

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