Devoted ceramics industry professionals have gathered in Spain this week as one of the world's most important tile shows, Cevisama, kicks off in Valencia. Attendees from all over the globe are here to investigate the latest products, trends, and technologies, even as the Spanish tile industry calculates its next move in light of the U.S. economy's ongoing volatility and slowing housing market.

"I definitely believe [the current condition] is challenging, and it's going to remain challenging through 2008 and perhaps even until 2009," Patti Fasan, a ceramic tile expert and a consultant to the Association of Ceramic Tile Manufacturers of Spain, says from the trade show floor. "There are manufacturers very carefully assessing where their money will be spent and where their distribution will be."

Many in the tile industry, including U.S. tile experts, consider Spain's Cevisama expo to be one of two important European tile shows for those in the ceramics business. (Italy's Cersaie, which begins Sept. 30, is the other.) It's here that manufacturers release cutting-edge technologies, such as ceramic tiles that look like Cor-Ten or stainless steel, and it's here that they introduce new products. The show attracts about 100,000 attendees and features exhibitors from more than 140 countries.

Spain has seen its market share grow steadily over the last few years, but that growth has slowed. At a press conference earlier today, Spanish tile officials said shipments declined by almost 34 percent in 2007 and that 2008 will remain "challenging."

Such news, though troubling, won't doom Spanish tile manufacturers, Fasan says. "The manufacturers that are traditionally strong in the U.S. are losing market share there, but they have other markets that are booming and doing really well, such as France, Russia, and South America." Indeed, the U.S. market accounts for about 6.5 percent of total Spanish tile exports; Europe accounts for another 60 percent. In fact, the industry's numbers increased 11 percent in 2007.

"The relevance of Cevisama rests, to a large extent, on its international appeal, in terms of both the products it offers and the demand for them," the show's press materials say. "Key to the strategic plan for the event has been to attract large international companies on the basis of the exhibition's impact and positive commercial results."

Cevisama's tile exhibit continues through Feb. 9.