SMTA Dallas: Texas Open for Electronics Business

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The Dallas SMTA Expo is scheduled for March 22 at the Plano Event Center, and we heard that our Texan friends have quite a gathering set up.

One-day tabletop shows like this are becoming increasingly popular; the cost to exhibitors isn’t eye-popping, and they draw local attendees who might not make it to bigger shows like SMTA International. In a stroke of scheduling luck, the Houston SMTA Expo is two days later, and some Dallas attendees and speakers plan to be at both events.

I spoke with Gary Tanel, president and ambassador of the Dallas Chapter of SMTA and chairman of the Electronics Alliance. I asked him to discuss what his group has on hand for the Dallas SMTA Expo. As Gary says, “Texas is open for business.”

Andy Shaughnessy: How’s it going, Gary? Long time! Why don’t you start off and tell us about the show. I understand you have some cool events going on.

Gary Tanel: Yes, and I’m energetic about being supportive. I think this is my 29th year as an SMTA member, and it’s my 28th year as being an SMTA officer. I’m currently the Dallas Chapter president and the Expo chairman, but I also now have the dubious title of international ambassador. I’m probably one of about a dozen or so ambassadors, meaning former board members who are part of the SMTA. So it’s very exciting. I get to go to some of the other trade shows and expos and represent SMTA. We’ve got an expo coming up in Colorado March 10, the Dallas Expo on March 22, and the Houston Expo on March 24. We’re very excited about that.

The excitement I feel is that Texas is open for business. We’ve had two years of hiatus where we did not have an expo, just to be on the safe side. We announced we would have the Expo this year and exhibitors just started signing up. We have more exhibitors this year than we’ve ever had at the Dallas Expo. We even have a waiting list of exhibitors. Other trade shows that I’ve attended in the Dallas area recently have been very well attended, so I’m very confident we’ll have a very good turnout at this show.

Shaughnessy: I understand you’re having a barbecue planned for this year.

Tanel: Yes, the barbecue is a lunch. We’ve had barbecue the last few years. We do have vegetarian food there for people who don’t eat barbecue.

We’re having a happy hour afterward. Normally we end our show at 3 p.m., and people go to other restaurants for happy hours or whatever and spread out. This year we thought that as long as everyone is together, let’s go and have some fun. So, happy hour from 1-4 p.m. The show ends at 3 p.m., but we’ll keep the booth open until 4 pm. It should be a lot of fun.

It’s a one-day show. Usually, the exhibitors set up early in the morning, do the show and leave, so there’s a lot of chasing around. We opened it up for two days so the exhibitors could set up the day before. On the day of the show they can relax, have a cup of coffee and a Danish before the show starts.

We’ve got a great technical conference with four national speakers, not just from the Dallas area. They are interspersed throughout the day, starting at 8:30 a.m.

Shaughnessy: I know Texas opened back up before many states, right?

Tanel: Yes. There were trade shows in Dallas like Design-2-Part, which had its largest show last year in the middle of 2021. Everybody in Texas was hungry for a show. They said, “It looks like COVID is over with. Let’s go and have a show.” It had the most exhibitors and attendees they ever had. Little did they know COVID was still hanging around for another year.

But the other shows I’ve been going to are very well attended. Because they’re local, attendees are all driving to the shows. The exhibitors are flying in from across the country.

I’m sure some people are still hesitant about attending events, and that’s fine. But if you’re comfortable, and you want to do some business, we’re open for you here in Texas.

Shaughnessy: So it’s not just a regional show anymore?

Tanel: No, exhibitors are coming from all over. We probably have attendees from the states around Texas, like New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana; Texas itself is a big state. We get people from Austin and Houston come up to Dallas and there’s some of the Dallas folks who go down to the Houston Expo. We’ve got the Dallas show on a Tuesday and the Houston show on a Thursday. Some of the speakers and attendees go to both shows.

Shaughnessy: Right. What else has been going on with SMTA?

Tanel: We have a leadership forum in Colorado the middle of March. I tag along with the Colorado chapter’s Expo, where we host officers of various chapters. I think we have 43 chapters around the world right now. New and existing officers can share best practices. It’s a two-day review, and the new people get to learn a little bit more about what it’s like to be an officer and help in training some of the officers. Those of us who have been doing it a long time learn a lot from the new people coming up. I’m looking forward to that. We had a wonderful SMTA International in Minneapolis last year. We were partnered with the MD&M show and that worked out well.

We have several webinars, and we changed our structure to better accommodate corporate members. That’s going very well. Now, corporate members can have many more participating members at a lower cost per unit. We have opened up all 6,000 of our technical papers for all our members, so you can search the database of technical papers and that’s a big draw. I’m looking forward to increased attendance or increased membership for SMTA going forward.

Shaughnessy: We are seeing quite a few younger people in the industry, which is nice.

Tanel: I think you’re right on about that. It’s nice to see some of the folks who don’t have gray hair coming to the shows. We started a young professionals group within SMTA. There are separate tracks just for them, leveraging social media, all the other things that are hot. Also in the Dallas Expo, two universities are going to be participating. The University of North Texas and University of Texas in Arlington each have booths at our trade show. They’re going to do some poster sessions, and their students are looking for internships and jobs, and the companies are looking for people to fill those jobs.

Right now, there are two big things in the electronics area: supply chain shortages and finding good people to work in there. There’s a shortage of people in the electronics manufacturing area, particularly in the United States, and we need a lot more people to help manage the supply chain.

Shaughnessy: I spoke with a recruiter who deals with engineers of all kinds. She said there were 750,000 engineering positions open worldwide, and only about 300,000 engineers looking for the jobs. A good chunk of those are in electronics.

Tanel: It’s a good time to be an engineer. But I also see the same thing with the technologists, the line workers, and those careers. If you have some technical skills, whatever they are, this is a very competitive market. The salaries are pretty good. I love seeing our industry grow and thrive. It’s a challenging time for us, but I think it’s a good time to show what we can do.

Shaughnessy: Companies are having to up their game by offering more benefits, bonuses, or whatever they have to do.

Tanel: There are a lot more work-from-home jobs. With some of the engineering functions, I noticed that when you’re doing PCB layout, you can do a lot of that technology remotely. We had to change to this new method of doing business that makes a lot of things easier. Because when we do some of these webinars, we have people from Israel, Egypt, and China. Two-thirds of the people who have participated in our Dallas webinar were from outside Texas.

That’s a phenomenal thing. People who can’t get out of the office long enough to come over to a meeting can log in at their computer for half an hour and get the benefit. So there’s some good things happening with working remote.

Shaughnessy: Yes. A lot of people complain about being “webinared out.” But you talk to these companies that have done a lot of online virtual shows and they reach engineers in the Mideast who would otherwise not attend the event. So there are definitely a lot of silver linings in the last few years.

Tanel: You asked me about some other things going on within SMTA, and one other thing is we’re adding a significant number of new training sessions to the SMTA website. With the corporate memberships, 20 to 200 individual memberships come with it; for every member, you also have a free online training session every year worth anywhere from $75 to $250 per person.

Solder paste, reflow, and things like that. That is the current wave of the future, to put some of that training online in addition to the technical papers that are online right now.

Shaughnessy: Also, I’ve got to say, I like how you’ve changed your website. I like the big button that says “Local Expos.”

Tanel: Oh, yes, headquarters does a great job on that. It was a little cumbersome navigating your way around the site before. We’ve made significant changes with Ryan Flaherty and some of the other great folks at HQ and the board of directors. We had several recruiters giving their thoughts on it. I think people will see that one much-improved section on the website is the career center, and that’s being rolled out right now.

It’s definitely a matter of continuous improvement. It’s primarily a volunteer-run organization. We do have some great staff at headquarters, and they basically help us out with the administration and the tactical things there. But the passion to drive all of the technical content is coming from the volunteers around the world. It’s wonderful.

Shaughnessy: I know you don’t have a giant full-time staff, and it’s mainly volunteers who have “day jobs.”

Tanel: Yes, I think SMTA has about eight or nine employees. Everyone else is volunteers. If you look at each of the chapters and the speakers worldwide, there are a lot of people putting their time in. But it works great for them because they get to be out there and meeting new people. That helps everybody’s business. If you’re out there selling or learning, you want to be around other people who are in the business. It’s a great mechanism to do that. The heart and soul of SMTA is the chapters and the members, and it’s a grassroots organization.

Shaughnessy: Well, that sounds good. I’ll see you in Dallas in a few weeks. Thanks for your time, Gary.

Tanel: Thank you, Andy.


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