There’s a lot to be said for the tireless advance of technology: better gear; smaller gadgets; 24/7 access to information, and even the debatable – yet inevitable – demise of the phrase(s) “I wonder who/what/when/where/how…?” Vanquisher of bar stool debates, thy name is Google.

  But for all the hype and hoopla, you’d be hard pressed to argue against the value of the handshake, the eye-to-eye sizing up, the meet-you-later-at-the-bar-to-talk-about-the-the-things-you-can’t-talk-about-on-the-floor opportunities that conferences, conventions and other industry events offer. And April was chock full ‘o such chances.

The National Wood Flooring Association’s Expo saw a rejuvenated crowd and a revamped agenda for 2012. Over and over I kept hearing about how “the industry’s shaking off its malaise” and that “people are finally getting over their fears and seizing upon their opportunities.” If I had to describe the overall feeling in a single word? Excited. Pure and simple, it felt like there’d been a collective realization that a corner may have finally been turned.

 The following week, back to Orlando for Coverings, the tile and stone industry’s flagship showcase. It’s been more than a few years since I’ve attended a Coverings show, but it didn’t take too long to get back into the swing of things. The sheer number of exhibitors, seminars, products and demonstrations mandates a decidedly calculated approach to traversing the aisles and conference rooms, and even then you get home wondering what all you just weren’t able to accomplish before the lights went out on that final day.

From Coverings it was straight down to Puerto Rico for Starnet’s 20th anniversary and annual meeting. This show was a first for me, but hopefully not the last; rarely have I found myself in better company, nor attended to by more gracious hosts (and yes, our surroundings didn’t hurt much either).

Three days later it was off to San Diego for the Carpet America Recovery Effort’s 10th Annual Conference. Another small yet fiercely dedicated collection of professionals, CARE came about as an initiative to advance market-based solutions that increase landfill diversion and recycling of post-consumer carpet, encourage design for recyclability and more. It’s as diverse - and interesting - a group as you can imagine.

Could I have simply read up on all these events online? Sure. Could I have downloaded the exhibitor lists, seminar lineups and new product releases? Of course. Would it be cheaper? Obviously. But the value of being able to look someone in the eye, extend a hand and say, “Nice to meet you.”? Priceless.