Coverings 2003, the stone and tile industry's annual trade show in Orlando, FL, was recently held from March 24 to 27, less than a week after the first allied military strikes on Iraq. Obviously, the timing of this unsettling event made many members of the stone industry think long and hard about whether they wanted to get on an airplane and head to this trade show. Even some members of the Stone World staff debated the issue before ultimately deciding to go ahead with their travel plans.

Those industry members who chose not to attend the exhibition could hardly be blamed. This is a difficult time to be traveling, and as people look inward and re-evaluate their priorities, sometimes the thought of leaving one's family during a time of war can be too much to bear. Certainly, the somewhat reduced crowd on the show floor illustrated that many people were indeed swayed against traveling. In some ways, it was eerily reminiscent of the 2001 Marmomacc exhibition in Verona, Italy. That show, which took place only a few weeks after the September 11 attacks, also saw a decline in attendance -- despite also being a top international event for the stone industry.

However, there was a major difference between Coverings 2003 and Marmomacc 2001, and this distinction was provided by the attendees. A total of 18,892 visitors were on hand for Coverings, with an additional 7,824 people at the show from a total of 1,450 exhibiting companies.This was a decline from past years, but a solid showing nonetheless.

Moreover, virtually all of the exhibitors who were polled said that the quality of the attendance at the show was extremely high. People who came to Coverings did so to conduct business, and many transactions were completed on the show floor. As one exhibitor stated: "The tire-kickers stayed at home this year, but the people who wanted to do business showed up."

Overall, the energy level of stone industry members was high. I had the opportunity to meet with many stone fabricators and suppliers on the show floor as well as at other events that were part of the exhibition, and there is still a very strong passion among industry members for their craft. They came to Coverings 2003 not only to make purchases, but to be educated. Our magazine conducted a Fabricators Forum that was attended by approximately 80 members of firms from around the country, and the exchange of ideas and information was outstanding. (A synopsis of the topics discussed at the forum can be found on page 82 of this issue.) Indeed, all of the stone-related seminars were well attended, and the technical and practical knowledge imparted at these sessions has proven to be of high quality.

The U.S. stone industry -- particularly the stone fabrication sector -- is growing at an ever-increasing rate, and people at all levels of the trade are proving to be very responsible about refining their techniques and business practices. As the editor of this industry's trade magazine, I would like to personally thank those who participated at Coverings 2003 for their outstanding professionalism.