Britain’s machine tool trade body, the MTTA, last week took the first steps in bidding to host Europe’s international machine tool show – EMO – in Birmingham some time after 2003. So far, these shows have been rooted to continental Europe, alternating between Hannover, Milan and Paris (where the show ended this week) every two years.
But would such an event work in the UK? Many people believe that the critical mass of such an industrial extravaganza lies in Germany, where the number of tool manufacturers is greatest and the industrial base is biggest. In addition, manufacturers tooling up in eastern and central Europe are only a few hours’ drive away, and the French, Swiss and Italians – all big consumers and producers of machine tools – are near neighbours.
Britain’s chances look slim in the light of the continued debate over the inclusion of France and Italy on the show circuit. The attraction of these cities may indeed help to bring in visitors, but possibly for the wrong reason. If France and Italy offer an elegant high street, Germany, you could reason, offers the shopping mall. It may not be the most attractive place to do business, but if customers get easier access, more choice and traders win higher turnover, then the commercial logic can’t be ignored. Hannover is best placed for passenger footfall, as retail experts would say, and best placed for access. Its `mall’ status is reinforced by what must be one of the tackiest German theme restaurants on this planet.
Birmingham, for all its attractions, is neither Paris nor Milan. Nor is it within close driving distance of much of the European market, as Hannover is. The prestige of staging such an event, which can be seen as an international shop window for British industry, is a compelling argument in favour of trying. But while the NEC is in the right place for shows aimed at a UK audience, it is not at the centre of Europe. The best outcome should be to hold EMO shows in Hannover only. Britain, and the rest of the EMO partner countries, could then focus on negotiating a fair division of the spoils.