Last week, I attended 2 events in Houston, and was shocked by the low turnout of automation and process control practitioners.

The first was the ARC Event, “Optimizing Asset Lifecycle Performance”.  The list of registered attendees showed that only about 20% of the attendees came from user companies.  The other 80% were various suppliers and consultants.  This was confirmed by a show of hands in some of the breakout sessions.

The second event, of course, was the ISA Expo.  In “the old days”, this event was the place for automation and process control professionals.  Attendance appears to be way, way, down in general.  In its heyday, this event had well over 20,000 people.  Now, it seems doubtful that it could reach 5,000.  And most of these are the vendors.

There was some great information available at these events.  The technical sessions, in fact, were well-attended.

So what is happening?  We’re not sure exactly, and would be interested in your comments.  Here are some thoughts:

1. Houston is still recovering from Hurricane Ike, so local engineers could not attend.  This seems plausible.  My hotel was awash with refugees from Galveston, FEMA workers, and plywood.

2. Younger people don’t come to trade shows.  This also seems plausible.  There were very young people at these events.  ARC is targeted at the over-40 crowd anyways.  And ISA has made a few attempts to bring in more students and young engineers.  This year, ISA even brought in high school students. (And I am sure these will be counted toward the official attendance numbers!)

3. The shows are simply not an effective way to do business anymore.  Google holds the keys to the universe.  I don’t really believe this…but I have been wrong before!

4. Travel budgets are down to nothing.

If it keeps up like this, then next year, we could be singing “Where Have all the Trade Shows Gone?”  (My sincerest apologies to Pete Seeger for the lyrics! )

Please speak up…Why do you think these events have limited user participation?