Like many stone industry professionals today, I find myself facing difficult financial times for the first time in my career. Over the past 15-plus years, my professional day-to-day life has grown in unison with the growth of the stone industry, and this has been particularly evident in my robust travel schedule. As anyone who regularly reads Stone World knows, my research includes frequent and distant trips to stone-producing locales around the world. I’m not just talking about trips to obvious destinations like Italy or Brazil, from which the U.S. imports most of its stone, but also trips to places like Mauritius - a tiny island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa - to see semi-precious stone production. For extended periods of time over the past few years, it seemed like my “office” was on board an airplane, waiting at an airport or wherever I had a chance to scribble some notes while wandering through a quarry or stoneworking plant.

Of course, in addition to exotic international destinations, I would just as often find myself traveling to fabrication shops in “everyday” towns like Frederick, MD, or Needham, MA, working to bring Stone World readers the latest news on what is happening in the field.

This year, however, has been different from the past few years. Before undertaking the expense of any trip these days, I am forced to take a harder look at the return I (and my parent company) will get out of the journey. It has added new challenges to my day-to-day job, and some decisions are harder than others.

Later this month, however, I will be taking a trip that was a “no brainer” in terms of ROI. I’m headed to Las Vegas, NV, for StonExpo/Marmomacc Americas, the annual stone trade event. Over the course of the show’s three days, I will be able to touch base with a host of suppliers of stone, fabricating equipment, tooling, installation/maintenance products and other vendors. Moreover, I will be able to network with fabricators from across North America. Each year, the contacts I make at StonExpo extend well beyond the show itself, and I always come home with a notebook full of industry issues to cover and new story leads to pursue.

For stoneworking professionals, a walk through the exhibit hall offers a look at the latest the industry has to offer. Many manufacturers of stoneworking equipment rely on StonExpo as a platform to launch new machinery, and large-scale exhibits allow visitors to see these introductions in action first hand. The same applies for new stone materials, new concepts in tooling and new installation products.

And despite the fact that StonExpo takes place in Las Vegas, where an early trip to bed is far from a sure bet, the event’s education program still entices me to set my alarm and make my daily early-morning trek down to the conference rooms. As a member of StonExpo’s Education Advisory Committee, I can tell you that an incredible amount of planning goes into this program, and it shows in the finished product. Fabricators, installers, distributors and other stone industry professionals have consistently praised the educational content at StonExpo, and as we all know, this is a discerning group of evaluators.

On the show floor itself, Stone LIVE! gives visitors a new level of education not found elsewhere in the trade. In covering this aspect of StonExpo, I find myself taking photos of stoneworking experts demonstrating countertop installation procedures, seam setting techniques, material handling and more. It is a chance to actually see concepts and theories executed in practice, and this is a rare opportunity.

With all of this on my schedule, I always return home from StonExpo satisfied that it was worth the trip (exhausted, but nonetheless satisfied). And while financial prudence has prompted me to pass on several business trips during the financial quagmire that defines 2008, this is one that I simply can’t afford to miss.

Michael Reis, Editor/Associate Publisher