From the Field

AHR Expo's Stevens: Witness to a half century of revolution

Fifty years after working his first AHR Expo in Chicago, Clay Stevens now runs the big show. Here, he reflects briefly on an extraordinary era of industry progress.

It’s been 50 years since Clay Stevens first worked the AHR Expo, which in 1969 was held at the Chicago Amphitheater due to an epic fire that had razed the first McCormick Place Convention Center two years earlier. Today, as president of International Exhibition Company, which owns and operates the annual convention for the HVACR marketplace, Stevens marvels at just how much that small show has grown.

“Back then, you could fit the names of all the exhibitors on two sheets of 8.5x11-in. paper, and the manual for setting up a booth was a binder that weighed five pounds,” he recalls with a smile. “Today, this year’s show is the biggest we have ever held in terms of exhibitors (2,155) and exhibition space (530,000 sq ft).”

At the moment, Stevens can’t comment on whether or not the final attendance figures for this year will also set a record, but he would not be surprised. “Advance registration for this year’s show was quite strong and the turnout so far has been very encouraging,” he said late Monday. Regardless, the annual show, which is now international, is also too big for all but four cities. “We’ve outgrown New York and Dallas, so the only cities that can accommodate us now are Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Atlanta, the site of next year’s show.”

Stevens has been the owner and operator of the AHR Expo for the last 10 years and is impressed by the many levels of positive change he has seen over that period. In particular, the explosion of technology has just been impossible to ignore. “There definitely seems to be more emphasis this year on smart technology and interconnectivity,” he notes. “But another major trend is our international participation. Last year in Las Vegas, we had 11,000 attendees from countries outside the U.S. This year looks like a continuation of that.”

Indeed, with so many exhibitors from overseas now, too —especially from Asia—AHR Expo has never been more global. Quite a contrast from the first time Stevens entered this arena.

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