The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 23, 2015

Trades set stage at auto show

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

DETROIT – Showtime!. Before the cars go on display in front of the press and the public at the North American International Auto Show, nearly 1,000 union carpenters electricians, iron workers, electricians, stagehands and Teamsters go to work transforming the 700,000-square-foot Cobo Center into an automotive wonderland.

And that doesn’t count the hundreds of other union trades, including those affiliated with Painters District Council 1M, who build the displays in numerous shops in Southeast Michigan. Many months of work are devoted to setting up for the auto show, which starts with the industry preview Jan 14-15 and opens to the public Jan. 17-25.

The week before the press preview, Iron Workers Local 25 steward Mike Decker said 94 iron workers were working the auto show over two shifts. “The show is probably about the same size as it was last year,” he said. “We’d always like to see it a little bigger, but it’s still pretty good. It’s always good to work here.”

The show goes on during some of the coldest weeks of the year, and the work, mostly indoors, is most welcome to the trades.

“All in all, it’s been going great, a really smooth job,” said IBEW Local 58 steward Andy Dunbar, the local union’s president. About 200 electrical journeymen and foremen were on the job Jan. 7. “One of the nice things is the compliments we have heard from vendors setting up their displays about the job we’re doing. And it wasn’t just about the labor, they were very complimentary about the turnaround the whole city has made.”

Last year there were 227 vehicle exhibits at Cobo Center, with 803,451 attending the show. The auto show has an estimated impact on the local economy of $365 million.

This is the North American International Auto Show’s 27th year as an international event – meaning the show’s organizers, the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), upped the ante and have made the event a prestigious platform for new vehicle reveals, conferences and industry-related gatherings. It has become one of the largest media events in North America.

Dr. Kunibert Schmidt, former executive director of the Frankfurt auto show, said it’s likely that Industry Preview – with hundreds of credentialed automotive journalists present and new products unveiled –  couldn’t be successful in most other markets in the United States.

“With no disrespect meant, but I’m quite certain of this,” says Schmidt, now a consultant to a number of Tier One suppliers. “Detroit acknowledged long ago that the supplier community is very important; NAIAS has gone out of its way to provide a special welcome for them.

“Of course it doesn’t hurt that the show is one of the most important in the world in terms of media attendance and global product reveals. That’s also why you see top automotive CEOs every year at Cobo Center.”

ELECTRICIAN Aaron King of IBEW Local 58 and Conti Electric moves up to adjust lighting at a display at the North American International Auto Show.

THE AUTO SHOW isn’t the only show going on at Cobo Center for the building trades – they’re wrapping up a five-year, $279 million renovation and expansion of the hall itself. Shown here working at the hall’s north entrance atrium are Paul Suominen and Bob O’Kronley of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1. “We’re just finishing caulking every bit of this glass, from top to bottom,” Suominen said. They’re employed by Ram Construction.