Cities across North America are betting big bucks on your business. An unprecedented real estate boom in convention center construction will result in nearly eight billion dollars worth of expansions and new construction between now and the middle of the decade, according to Tradeshow Week's recently published Major Exhibit Hall Directory. Exhibit space in North America is expected to grow by 16.4 million square feet and meeting space by 3.9 million square feet during that period, the directory reports.

And while huge expansions at venues like Orlando's Orange County Convention Center and the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans take up a good chunk of that new real estate, the lion's share of new openings and expansions will be in second- and third-tier markets. Cities like Tampa, Daytona, Spokane, San Jose, Greensboro, and Des Moines are among the many smaller cities that will offer convention and trade show organizers expanded options for their meeting business, helping to keep the market competitive.

Moreover, cities aren't the only entities bullish on trade show business. The series of high-profile mergers and acquisitions of trade show/communications firms going on in the last year was capped recently by the sale of Advanstar Inc. to a private equity investor for $900 million. That's nearly three times the company's 1999 revenues, and it represents one of the largest sales of a U.S. trade show firm ever.

For both private investors and public agencies, the convention and trade show market is viewed as a good investment, and that can only bode well for associations and their meetings and trade shows.

In this, our annual convention center and CVB special issue, we offer a close look at some other cogent industry trends. Our cover story examines how CVBs are responding to the plethora of new technology options for site selection and destination services. In particular, there's a report on an exciting new technology initiative by the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus.

Who are the innovators when it comes to convention centers and bureaus? See our feature on page 75 for some interesting highlights. Our case study on page 127 looks at how one technology association handled a huge surge in attendance at its annual trade show this year. And for a thought-provoking essay about why CVBs might turn into for-profit entities, see "Last Word," on page 180.