A sense of anticipation, and a sense of home


The bustle of Monday morning's commuter rush means that this could be any train station anywhere in the world. But this is Hannover, Germany, on the opening day of Hannover Messe, and there's a different feel in the air.

You walk through the wide doors into the Hannover hauptbahnhof and proceed past the regional trains taking in and sending out workers across Lower Saxony, and then down to the local commuter line. Get on the No. 8 or No. 18 train; either one will take you right to the front door of the Hannover Messe fairgrounds in about 15 minutes.

The women's voice in German intones "Messe Nord" and then a voice in an English accent helps those who don't quite understand the translation that you're at the north entrance to the fairgrounds, and that you should depart the train and "enjoy your day at the fair."

I've been fortunate to attend a decade's worth of Hannover Messe events. It always is the most valuable week of my schedule, but it's also a lot of information and a LOT of walking. I tell people all the time that the three most important words at Hannover Messe each spring are "wear comfortable shoes." The sheer size and scope of the fairgrounds, and of the booths, presentations and events, are unparalleled in the manufacturing sector. It is a big show, a big event filled with important information.

Yet, over time, Hannover Messe has become an intimate show for me. There are people I have met over the years who welcome me back with a warm handshake. It is a comfortable place to visit now. From the time I land to the time I depart, there is a sense of—well, if not home, then at least a sense of belonging.

In this particular year, however, there is a sense of anticipation greater than any before; and this year, there is a real sense of home. My country, my manufacturing sector, will be front and center at Hannover Messe, and it's about time.

President Obama will deliver the keynote at the opening ceremonies April 24, and I won't need the translation headphones this time. The U.S. Pavilion in Hall 3 will showcase the excellence of U.S. manufacturing. U.S. business leaders are coming in unprecedented numbers to shake hands, ask questions, create relationships and build bridges for manufacturing.

We don't need walls and barriers; we need bridges and understanding. We need to get away from our comfort zone, from our safe sense of doing what we always do, and venture out to see what else might be out there. While I believe the return on the investment to come to Hannover Messe is as enormous as the fairgrounds, this is not something you can measure in traditional ways.

Hannover Messe, for me, is something you need to feel. We hope to convey some of those feelings with our live coverage of Hannover Messe online starting April 24 from the opening ceremony.

For those of you who are coming, I remind you that I will be at the U.S. Pavilion at Hall 3 at 5 p.m. Wednesday evening. The first round is on me. For those of you who do not plan to come, it is worth considering. The best manufacturing operations I know are collaborative, involving all corners of the plant. Manufacturing as a whole gets better when we collaborate, involving all corners of the planet. This week in Germany is our time to come together. I hope to see you there.

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