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IUPAT District Council 88 Shifts Their Focus South

by Caitlin Howle

The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 88 represents a diverse and growing workforce of active and retired men and women in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Southern California and Texas. Members work in a multitude of professions, from construction to manufacturing and conventions. Tradeshow facilities have been a hot topic lately; District 88 has been focused on its many cities in Texas being a draw for outside consumers for these shows that supply work for its members. District Council 88 has also been working with its members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and reflects on how upcoming tradeshows and new instruments for training have set their members ahead of the curve. 

IUPAT District Council 88 Director of Service Jennifer Hernandez said of the state of Texas, “There’s a great opportunity here for anyone willing to put in the work. The tradeshow industry is like no other. It’s fast-paced with a deep sense of pride for the work that we do.”

Texas offers a diversity of lifestyles within its boundaries, and IUPAT considers their members ambassadors of the cities they work and live in. Apart from the quality labor they provide, they know the ins and outs and must-see places in each city. They have the inside scoop on local cuisine and attractions, and District Council 88 pairs that knowledge with southern hospitality throughout the state and makes Texas a great destination for events and a critical resource for its members.

What makes Texas unique in the industry is its four distinct local unions within the district, all of which are situated in some of Texas’s biggest and best cities, known for their work with the arts, walkability, food and large events that bring in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of individuals with ease. Hernandez says, “It doesn’t matter what your vibe is, there’s a city that will pull you in. They don’t want to just offer a show, they want a full experience, for attendees and exhibitors.”

Local 1839 in Austin, the Texas capital city, features the slogan “The Live Music Capital of the World” in reference to the city’s musical background, and as a nod to its long-running PBS TV concert series “Austin City Limits.” Austin is a youthful and hip city that features unparalleled music, food, nightlife and outdoor spaces, with a highly educated and diverse population. On 6th Street, where many go to eat and bar hop, everything is within walking distance. The famed South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, which is set up by members of District Council 88, happens in Austin each year. It brought in 280,000 individuals to its events in 2019. 

Local 756 in Dallas is set in a deep historical tradition. The famed Deep Ellum neighborhood, not far from downtown, has been transformed with different restaurants, a vibrant nightlife and craft breweries, and it is known for the performing arts. Dallas is also home to such events as the Texas State Fair, which brought an attendance of 2.2 million in 2021. 

With Local 653 in San Antonio, participants get to experience The Riverwalk, known for its welcoming feel and historic importance; the Alamo is within walking distance of the attraction. The city also has a reputation for its amazing food and fun atmosphere. San Antonio recently hosted the AMPP national conference and sees nearly 32 million visitors per year.

Last, but not least, is Houston, home to Local 550. Houston features a convention center that has become a hub for downtown. Discovery Green park is nearby, and Minute Maid Field and the Toyota center are all within walking distance with incredible eats along the way. The city is known for its food and diverse population. According to a 2019 study conducted by Wallethub, Houston is known to be the most diverse city in America in ethnicity, socioeconomic status, industry diversity and more. It’s a melting pot that balances southern charm with a welcoming atmosphere.

Hernandez says, “Our goals in Texas overall are to increase our numbers and be the tip of the spear for quality work and setting the standard in all markets. We know the value of what we bring to the industry that we love, and it shows in the work our members do on each show. We are confident that we are on a path to success with members and contractors passionate about putting Texas on the map not only as a great destination that pulls in attendee numbers with attractions in every city, but that also keeps a focus on supporting our skilled IUPAT members in the industry.”

District Council 88 represents around 1,000 members statewide, and they are already starting to see positive changes after the devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Hernandez, “We saw a slight dip due to the pandemic and are coming back strong as shows start to re-emerge.” She continues, reflecting on the members, “Our members are dedicated to the trade and the industry and have weathered the storm. They are excited for forward movement with show management and exhibitors. Those are the interactions we missed most—the people and seeing a show floor come to life.”

Hernandez says of the way members handled the pandemic,“We used that time to regroup and deep dive on changes we saw within the industry both prior to and during COVID. We know that meaningful interactions happen on a show floor and that no virtual concept can replace the booth space where you can see and touch a product and make those needed networking connections. We make that space happen, we build it and ensure it’s the quality from start to finish that makes the difference and will keep our members working.” 

District Council 88 deeply cares for its members, and during the pandemic found that it brought the strength of its members to the forefront and pulled them closer together. “Members experienced hardships through the pandemic, but were resilient. We banded together to support each other. That’s the basis of our work; it takes a village, and we are that village. With the return of the industry post-COVID, we have worked through challenges and navigated barriers that have become a new norm. Things are falling into place, and shows booking create a robust return that has helped to alleviate some of the difficulties brought on from the pandemic.”

As for what’s next for District Council 88, Hernandez says, “We’ll continue to grow and evaluate what has changed since COVID to ensure that every job we do, every show that’s set, has the quality to uphold the standards within the industry. We’ve always banded together. During the pandemic, there were some individuals who experienced financial hardships and food insecurities, and we made sure we all had what we needed. We knew the industry would come back; it was a matter of time.”

With the industry returning, Hernandez is optimistic, and gave insight into new programs that District Council 88 created. This fall the council will see new training for newcomers to the field, as well as a mentorship program that will pair veteran workers with those in training or just starting out, as a way of helping the industry and individuals carry the torch forward, as well honoring the work that the skilled tradesman in the area have completed. Hernandez says, “We don’t accept the answer that our industry isn’t going to move forward. We’ve navigated those barriers, and if they have slowed us down, we’ve come back stronger.”

The council also plans on focusing on technology as a tool to help train its tradesmen, with the debut of their virtual boom lift and additional training programs that are tailor-fit to the trade-show industry. Their goal is to create more accessibility for workers and increase confidence in those just starting out so that they can train and be prepared to get a floor show ready before it’s even time to step foot into the venue.

IUPAT District Council 88 has its mind on its members and tradesmen and expanding their market to help them thrive in some of the most desirable locations for tradeshows in the country. Organizations that choose to book shows in Texas are making a smart move. The Lone Star State has that wow factor that will leave show associations, attendees and exhibitors eager to return for a second helping of southern hospitality and another seamless event set up by skilled IUPAT decorators.

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