The exhibition industry grew 2.7 percent in the first quarter, outpacing the U.S. gross domestic product, a leading economic indicator that grew 2 percent in the same period.

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research’s CEIR Index also showed that all four metrics it tracks were up in the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2011.

Attendance was the key driver for the period, growing about 4.6 percent year over year. Net square feet of exhibition space sold jumped about 3.4 percent, while number of exhibitors and revenue climbed about 1.5 percent each.

"The first-quarter results are very promising,” said CEIR's economist Allen Shaw, chief economist for Global Economic Consulting Associates Inc. “They show that the exhibition industry is on the upswing despite a sluggish economy." The exhibition industry has had seven consecutive quarters of growth and CEIR President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Ducate, CMP, sees continued growth for the foreseeable future.