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Kim Billeaudeau touts the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to LAGCOE attendees.

LAGCOE’s first trade show in New Orleans last week provided the organization with a new starting point for revitalizing the event and the industry.

Next up for the Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition Board: Deciding what comes next.

At 66 years old, LAGCOE was not ready for retirement this year, but its leadership was ready for a change. The three-day event moved from its familiar surroundings at the Cajundome in Lafayette, where it was a mainstay, to the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, where it charged admission for the first time and expanded its attention beyond the off-shore energy industry.

Organizers believed that better flights to New Orleans, more hotel rooms and roomier accommodations at the event center would help improve LAGCOE. They believed that international visitors and others would be excited about New Orleans, an international tourism draw.

Angela Cring, executive director, said this week there were plenty of positives to bring back to LAGCOE’s headquarters in Lafayette from last week’s first New Orleans event. Among them: a crisp show with ample space and good organization; some happy exhibitors; and the potential to grow the show in new directions.

“It’s a different event, having it in New Orleans, than it was in Lafayette,” Cring said this week. “Knowing that, we have to go into the future with open eyes, recognize that and be willing to commit to the type of event it will be in New Orleans.”

Here’s what was different: Attendance was about 4,200 paying customers over three days, down from 10,000 admission-free attendees in Lafayette in 2017. But the show at the Cajundome, which focused mostly on the offshore energy industry, attracted lots of casual observers. Vendors said they wanted to see more serious customers, people who would be willing to talk sales and write checks. Hence, the admission charge and change of venue.

Keith Jenkins of exhibitor Houston-based Eventure, speaking on the LAGCOE show floor, said charging admission "weeds out people who are just looking for freebies" at LAGCOE. He said the move to New Orleans got his company interested in exhibiting at LAGCOE.

"Everyone loves New Orleans," he said. "We've seen some really good customers here."

He said that his crew had discussed a sale with a customer for $300,000 to $500,000, which would encourage his company to return in 2021.

Chris Rosson of R&R Manufacturing in Broussard, said he was seeing more variety in the customers who were stopping at his exhibit — not the "same old guys you see all the time."

He was pleased with the venue in New Orleans because he said oftentimes his company had to exhibit outside at the Cajundome.

"While we had a lot of happy exhibitors, we had people who said keep it (in New Orleans), too,” Cring said. Those other vendors want the show back in Lafayette. In general, Cring said, larger vendors preferred the new site; smaller vendors said they preferred the big crowds in Lafayette. Paying customers in New Orleans, she said, seemed to be those in management and sales, while attendees in admission-free Lafayette were composed of more people who worked “in the field.”

“We had more vendors who operate mostly on land,” Cring said of the New Orleans show, something that was necessary to grow the event. Off-shore business, she said, has been in the doldrums in recent years and if the event had remained in Lafayette, many businesses that work offshore would not have returned to the show. More people attended this year from the Permian Basin in Texas, where production has been booming on land.

LAGCOE this week sent surveys those who attended, seeking their insights on what worked and what needs improvement. She said it will take some time, perhaps a couple of months, to fully analyze the results and shape the next show in New Orleans.

And, she said, it will take a second New Orleans show to determine if moving the event there is the right choice. Right now, she said, she believes it was. She said the facility in New Orleans was superior, as was service from the Morial center.

“Overall, everything ran so smoothly. Logistics were good, the show floor looked beautiful. Signage was crisp, clean, clear. The sessions had great content. So there were lots of positives,” she said.

A downside: The exhibition halls were located some distance from the hospitality suite and conference sites. That’s because LAGCOE’s decision to move came just a year before the event. That should change in 2021.

A pleasant upside: The “Tech Talk” area exceeded expectations. That area, featured on the showroom floor, enabled companies to pitch their products in 30-minute sessions that included Q&A. Speakers liked the format and attendance was good.

Cring said that, unfortunately, the industry is in tough straits, with oil and gas prices down and offshore companies struggling to stay alive. Offshore production in Louisiana’s inland waters and in the Gulf of Mexico remain troubled. So no matter where the show was held this year, she said, attendance was going to be low. She said she had hoped for 5,000 paying attendees; two weeks out, she projected 4,000.

“All shows are down in attendance. We are all doing what we can to provide value to customers and to the industry in general,” she said. “How do you continue to provide value in a down market? That is getting harder and harder.”

She said a second show in New Orleans in 2021 may determine if the choice to move to New Orleans is the right one, long term.

She said LAGCOE remains “as strong as we can be, considering the state of the industry.”

“If oil were at $80 a barrel, if gas were at $5, things would have been different. All in all, though, if I had to do it over, I wouldn’t do anything differently.”

Email Ken Stickney at kstickney@theadvocate.com.