No.  Not back from New York.  I just got back from a week in Las Vegas at the World’s largest annual trade show and conference for the Concrete Construction industry.  I apologize for not posting but was totally involved with customers, suppliers, and friends.  

People laugh at “conventions” in Las Vegas.  Those who have never exhibited products at such an event don’t have a clue how difficult and how rewarding such a show can be.  I didn’t gamble a single cent nor go to a single show.  I was there to work.  Most of the people who filled the 1.5 million square feet of exhibit space did the same.

For me, this is a chance to see what people see on the ground.  How are their businesses doing?  What do they see in the future?  This may not be Washington, D.C. where they are trying to “stimulate” the economy, but this is where people know what happens each time government steps in and tries to fix things.  There is a reason that business people generally feel that the scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.”  This is ground zero in the Economy of our nation and probably the world.

I spoke with literally hundreds of business people.  There were concrete contractors and readymix producers and precasters and folks who do stunning art in concrete materials.  Annually, about 80,000 people in the industry (probably only 60,000 this year) come from all over the world to learn at seminars, to see new products, and to plan their buying for equipment and supplies they will need in the coming year.

My imprressions:

1. Almost no Chinese attendees and very few Chinese exhibitors – in the past there were likely 1000 attendees and exhibitors combined, not the 50 or so I saw this year.

2. There were very few Europeans.  Again, it seemed like there were about 10% of the normal number.

3.  More attendees (at least as a percentage) were from Canada and Mexico.  More from all of Latin America were there.

4.  People were looking to buy only what they truly needed.  A few saw this as a buying opportunity but the vast majority were shopping only to replace what they really needed.  They were prepared to wait on marginal purchases.

5.  I can’t count the number of folks who said that they would not make any purchases until sometime into the summer when they could see how things were going.

6.  I heard almost universal dislike for what is going on in Congress.  It mattered not whether they were Democrat or Republican, they expressed a distaste for all the spending.  Without any prompting (As a rule, I don’t talk politics with customers) I heard a couple dozen people say that they thought the $800 Billion “Bailout Bill” was going to cause huge problems for all of us.  Many stated they thought it was intended to bail out congressmen and women only. 

7.  Business people in general can figure out how to get the job done in any conditions.  They do like to have a known set of conditions with which to work.  Most have been burned by changing conditions.  When Steel went up 40% in two months a few years back lots were hurt.  When Oil and transportation costs skyrocketted, the same thing happened.  Most admit to being afraid of major changes that they cannot predict.

8.  The most common fear I heard was that all the loose spending by the Federal Government would create massive inflation.  Many used the words, “even worse than when Jimmy Carter did the same things.”