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Trade convention expected to boost economy

The world’s oldest and largest steel industry trade show returns to Pittsburgh next week after an eight-year hiatus.

The Association of Iron Steel and Engineers biennial convention moved to Cleveland for shows in 1997, 1999 and 2001 after outgrowing the old David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. With a new, $375 million convention center now fully operational, an expected 6,000 attendees from 27 countries will spend four days at what has traditionally been called “Steel’s Big Show.”

“In the old building, they were leaving a lot of dollars on the table because they didn’t have enough exhibit space to sell,” said Robert Imperata, of the Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau. “They were even setting some exhibits up in the Westin Hotel, but that wasn’t an ideal situation, so they had to take the meeting to Cleveland.”

Pittsburgh hosted every conference between 1981 and 1995. Pittsburgh will host the next show in 2005 and has reserved space in case it is selected to host the show in 2007. The hiatus from Pittsburgh was the show’s longest since it started in 1919.

“Pittsburgh is still an ideal location, as while we may not have the level of steel production in Western Pennsylvania we have been historically known for, the region still represents the most capital for steel technology,” said Ronald Ashburn, of the Pittsburgh-based Association of Iron and Steel Engineers. “There are more steel companies represented in Western Pennsylvania than in any other region.”

Imperata said the agency estimated a $5.5 million impact for the region’s economy from the four-day show. That’s down from previous years, when the show would have drawn as many as 15,000 people.

But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a sluggish economy that left the steel industry particularly hard-hit have curtailed attendance in recent years.

Exhibits by 315 companies and more than 160 technical demonstrations will be free, with on-site registration available. Other events include the President’s Breakfast on Tuesday morning, featuring keynote speaker Wilbur Ross, chairman of Cleveland-based International Steel Group.


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