The 2020 GIE+EXPO is set for Oct. 21-23 and will be held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
Kris Kiser, president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) and organizer for this year’s expo, says the show must go on, but safety must always come first.
“(My show partners and I) got together and had a conversation about safety first,” says Kiser. “We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think we could do it safely and responsibly. This is the 38th year, it’s a successful event, people want to do it and it serves a very useful business purpose. So right now, the plan is to go forward.”
Kiser says one key motivator in pushing the event forward was the fact that the world is currently in the midst of a once in a lifetime event with the coronavirus, and these times have proven extremely challenging for everyone.
With this in mind, Kiser says there are many lessons green industry professionals can learn from being part of this world-wide crisis, which is why he and his fellow show partners believe it’s vital to keep the event on track.
“Some landscaping companies have really been hurt, some have thrived and some have just barely survived,” says Kiser. “What are some tips they could pass on? What did they do that worked? How did you keep your workforce? How did you bring your people back? GIE+EXPO offers the opportunity to answer those questions and more.”
Kiser adds that since there may still be numerous unanswered questions regarding the economy and business operations come October, that also opens up the potential for industry professionals to come together to talk about how to move forward and stay in business.
“There’s all kinds of educational and learning opportunities at GIE+EXPO,” says Kiser. “It’s about how can we share ideas and thoughts. Landscapers are essential, and there’s a lot of new equipment available that might be able to help them in their businesses.”
Kiser believes the event can still be held while maintaining safety, as the Kentucky Exposition Center’s unique set up allows show organizers to space out booths and exhibits, as well as safely utilize the 20 acres of outdoor space.
In the past, Kiser says they’ve not had to use certain areas of the center during GIE, but with the needed distance between booths, this year they can begin to utilize other wings of the space.
“If we have to modify the footprint or modify the buildings we use, we believe we can do it safely and responsibly,” says Kiser. “We thought there was a bonafide need and opportunity to help folks in the business, and that’s why we’re continuing.”
To ensure attendees can maintain the recommended distance from one another while enjoying the show, Kiser says they plan to incorporate a design scenario that takes advantage of the space’s adequate square footage. This, he says, will ensure there’s plenty of space for people to remain separated from one another.
Kiser adds that they will also provide mass quantities of hand sanitizer, and they will be working with exhibitors to ensure display and testing equipment is sanitized and wiped down after being used.
“We may expand the aisles and change ingress-egress,” says Kiser. “What we want to do is make sure people have their registrations ahead of time if we can, so there aren’t registration booths or lines. So, we’ll work with all of that and on the building and the design. We’ll have multiple entrances and we may extend the hours.”
Overall, Kiser says they are remaining flexible and fluid. With Louisville being centrally located for a fair amount of attendees, Kiser says many people will be able to use their own vehicles to travel, as opposed to flying, and there will also be free parking offered at the event.
To maintain educational sessions, Kiser says they will create more classroom spaces when necessary, and they will continue to stress the importance of practicing proper safety guidelines. But Kiser also stresses that even though the show organizers go above and beyond to enforce safety, it’s also up to attendees to hold up their end of the bargain and follow the rules.
“There’s a personal responsibility piece of it,” he says. “Each of us should be responsible and we’ll talk to our attendees about it. Wash your hands and wear your mask. We’ll design the laboratories in a way that keeps them in the safest possible use pattern, but in the end, everybody has to take some responsibility for themselves.”
Currently, Kiser says organizers are discussing repercussions for attendees that refuse to adhere to the safety guidelines, as well as the best method for feeding attendees.
“We’ll get it done, we just want to tell our attendees it’s probably going to look different, and it’s likely going to feel different,” says Kiser. “I’ve told people you might want to make sure you wear comfortable shoes. The physical footprint might get bigger. It’s already a big show physically and, frankly, it might get bigger.”
If conditions take a turn for the worst over the next few months, Kiser says they will, unfortunately, need to cancel the event and reconvene in 2021, but his hopes are high that that won’t be the case.
So far, Kiser says he hasn’t had an issue with vendors or attendees dropping out, and they currently seem to be running parallel to last year when looking at registration numbers and hotel bookings.
Kiser recommends those interested in attending register and book hotels now, as he says the spaces are filling up quickly.
Going forward, Kiser says organizers will continue to keep the public aware of updates and changes that are made, as the situation is extremely fluid.
“We think there’s a pent-up demand to get out,” says Kiser. “We’ll do what we have to do, and as we get closer in, we’ll put more of these things into final form. I can’t guarantee the show comes off and I can’t guarantee there aren’t major changes. Things could change and get better or get worse. The key now for us is to stay flexible and fluid.”