Another SGIA Milestone Approaches

Reflections on how our most important event marks times that the industry has boomed, busted, and rebounded.

The last time the SGIA Expo was held in Atlanta, in 2008, the housing market had collapsed and the economy was on the brink of catastrophe. The mood at the show was pretty grim. I went home to Vancouver Island thinking the economy was only tanking in the US; then my business revenue dropped by almost half in 2009, and I watched the value of a friend’s house do almost the same as he spent two years trying to sell it. Worldwide, things went into a tailspin. Many companies went bankrupt. People lost their jobs. Specialty printers weren’t “favorite sons” like the automobile and banking industries – there was no bailout for us. Every business cut back; some failed.

Now, seven years later, things are finally improving. It’s an interesting time to be in this crazy business.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the SGIA show has become a sort of marker in my life, like a birthday. Day to day, month to month, I sometimes lose track of progress. Even on a yearly basis, it’s a bit hard to see trends develop. But thinking about the dates and location of the expo helps me track fundamental changes, including some radical shifts that really stand out in hindsight.

Example #1 (an important one for Canadians and hockey fans everywhere): The last time SGIA was in Atlanta, you could see NHL hockey in an arena kitty-corner to the convention center – for $10! Now, you’d have to jet off to Winnipeg to see the former Thrashers play.

Example #2: The New Orleans SGIA shows demonstrate how our industry and world events collide. When we were in the Big Easy in 1993, it was full speed ahead. I remember attending a Sericol event at the Superdome. They rented the whole stadium, brought in a bunch of screen printers, plied them with beer and food, and let them throw and kick footballs around where the Saints and other teams do battle every Sunday on national television. That says something about the business and advertising budgets at the time.

The next time we were there, in 2000, the city was just as crazy, but the industry was already changing rapidly, as was the focus of the show. More digital, less representation on the screen side. Still, we were writing orders, selling our “antique” presses, unwilling to read the writing on the wall – which, in hindsight, must have been a digitally printed building wrap.

We were supposed to be back in New Orleans in 2005, but the show didn’t actually happen. It got cancelled due to a weather event. (You remember a young lady by the name of Katrina?) As I recall, the show wasn’t cancelled until after the hurricane hit and the levies failed. No one thought things could get as bad as they did – but like life, they can.

Going to New Orleans in 2009, we saw a city that had been virtually destroyed rebuilding itself. Resilience and the human spirit were on display. And we saw our industry bend – but not break – in the aftermath of the financial hurricane of the previous year. By 2011, it seemed that like New Orleans, the specialty graphics industry was well on the mend from the recent disasters. There have been a few more shows since then, each seemingly busier than the last.

And so we prepare to head back to Atlanta. Aside from the lack of cheap NHL hockey – which is an oxymoron to a Canadian like me – some really great things are happening this year. I can only speak from the screen-printing side, but one of the neatest announcements from SGIA is a new scholarship program for post-secondary students. Supported by donations from endowment investors and industry leaders, the new program will award $2000 to five student recipients attending SGIA Educator Member universities. Applicants will complete a rigorous application process, with winners selected by the SGIA Education Committee. Deadline for entries will be in April of 2016; more information will be available at the SGIA booth if you know a deserving student and want to be sure they are considered.

Speaking of education, another innovation you will see in Atlanta is Educator’s Row. Remember the last time you had an opening and complained about how you can’t find decent employees? Well, take a stroll down this new aisle and you just might find your next worker. The list of schools is impressive, with a few more to be added: Cal Poly State University; Clemson University; Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Southern University; Philadelphia University; Rochester Institute of Technology; Southern Crescent Technical College; and University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Specialty printing businesses are becoming more dependent on skilled workers capable of using communication technologies to interact with customers, process orders, and chase new market opportunities. And many of them are hiring. Maybe we’ll remember the 2015 SGIA show as a time that a lot of new talent and ideas came into our industry.

Read more of Andy MacDougall's musings here.

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