The exhibition industry grew 2.7 percent in 2011, exceeding expectations and outpacing the growth of the U.S. gross domestic product, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

The year-end numbers, which exceeded CEIR’s forecast of 2.3 percent growth at the beginning of 2011, were buoyed by a strong fourth quarter when all four metrics jumped considerably. Net square feet of exhibition space sold jumped 4.2 percent, revenue climbed 5.1 percent, professional attendance spiked 3.6, and the number of exhibiting companies rose 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the previous year.

“The positive momentum of the exhibition industry, which has experienced six consecutive quarters of growth, gives strong reassurance that the industry has emerged from the economic downturn and is making progress toward recovery,” said CEIR’s economist Allen Shaw, PhD, chief economist for Global Economic Consulting Associates Inc., Springfield, Pa.

The exhibition industry outperformed the overall economy as measured by the GDP, which grew 1.7 percent in 2011. This is an impressive achievement given the fact that the macro economy was still sluggish and the exhibition industry is usually a trailing economic indicator, said CEIR analysts.