My first experience with what is today the world's largest poultry expo was in 1974 as a graduate student participating in the College Student Program at the International Poultry Expo (IPE) a program still going strong. The size and scope of the show amazed me even back then, a time when it was held in Atlanta's Civic Center, a much smaller venue then today's Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC). As the IPE turns 60, it has grown to the point that it is listed in the Top 100 Trade Shows in America.

Much has changed for the show over those 60 years and throughout my 30-plus years of attendance. Three years after my first visit, the IPE moved to its present location, the GWCC in downtown Atlanta. The show expanded along with the convention center, and when in 1984 when the GWCC's B-Building was completed, the IPE spilled over from A-Hall into B. Freight logistics were always difficult for exhibitors with the configuration of the A-Hall, so when the latest expansion of the GWCC brought the C-Hall into play in 2003, the show was reconfigured to take advantage of B- and C-Halls.

The Early Southeastern Years

Things began modestly in 1948 at the first "Southeastern," as the IPE was then known for the name of its sponsor, Southeastern Poultry & Egg Association (now U.S. Poultry & Egg Association). Frank Frazier was the executive secretary and W.W. Durham, Lebanon, Ky., was president when Southeastern's first annual convention was held in Atlanta's Ansley Hotel. Attendance was about 200.

The first standalone Southeastern took place in 1951 at Atlanta's Municipal Auditorium. Sixty-seven firms contracted for a total of 110 booths exhibiting everything from egg cartons to a complete line of eviscerating equipment. The show grew, and was moved to the Atlanta Civic Center in 1968.

Modern Expo

Last year's show featured over 16 acres of exhibits from more than 950 exhibitors, and attracted over 19,000 attendees. This year's show is expected to rival that of 2007 in size and scope.

New last year, the American Feed Industry Association co-located its International Feed Expo (IFE) with IPE. For 2008, the joint expositions continue with the show configuration remaining basically the same. C-Hall features the processing, further processing and packaging aspects of the poultry industry, while the B-Hall focuses on feed and the production aspects of the poultry industry.

Adapting To Changing Industry

Over the years, IPE has responded to industry changes:

Consolidation of domestic poultry companies and suppliers has impacted the number of domestic attendees; however, the show has continued to bring in the purchasing decision makers. Success is now measured not so much in the number of people coming through the gate as by the amount of business conducted on the show floor.

Domestic attendees spend fewer days at the show. With pressures on the bottom line and the pre-planning of the average attendee making purchases, the days of "conventioneering" are gone. More and more attendees arrive the night before attending the show, spend one day at the exposition, and head home the following day.

The International Buyer Program that brings together international visitors and domestic suppliers. Through the program, U.S. embassies abroad promote the show and facilitate the formation of delegations.

The Buyer Connection program, new in 2008, provides hard-walled, enclosed meeting rooms for members of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association to meet with suppliers exhibiting at the show.

Looking back on my own 30-plus years of show attendance and ahead to 2008, I am as awed by the opportunities presented at each new IPE as I was at my first show in 1974. As the IPE turns 60, it continues to reflect the industry it serves never standing still but always changing to answer the demands of a new day.