A slow construction sector didn't deter more than 52,000 people from attending this year's World of Concrete, held on Jan. 24-27 in Las Vegas.

According to show manager Hanley Wood Exhibitions, the turnout translated into a 7% increase in registrants and an 8% rise in exhibit space since last year, which bottomed out at 48,554 registrants. "It seems that the economy is turning around," said Steven Pomerantz, a show spokesman. "There is more activity at this show and in Vegas in general."

The crowd's optimism shined against a backdrop of economic storm clouds around the world: Home mortgage foreclosures remain high. The upcoming presidential election threatens to put public-works spending on ice. The full outcome of the European debt crisis remains to be seen.

With these and other factors taken into account, cement forecasters see flat growth this year, though they admit that industry moods are upbeat as contractors and suppliers are eager to get back to work.

“There is a tinge of optimism,” said Ed Sullivan, chief economist for the Portland Cement Association. “It will be a synchronized recovery, with incremental demand.”

Talk of global mergers penetrated the show floor, with one big deal announced on the last day, though not in Vegas. In a press release issued in Germany, pump builder Putzmeister Holding GmbH said that it is selling to China-based Sany Heavy Industry Co. Ltd. in a deal expected to close in the first quarter. Though the parties did not disclose the sale price, they said it was the largest Chinese acquisition of a German company. Various news reports pegged the cost of the deal at $475 million.

Sany noted that it plans to keep Putzmeister's management and brand in place. Analysts said that such moves can ensure a smooth integration as more Chinese companies look to acquire Western ones.

"Let's face it, China has enough money to go out and buy Caterpillar," said Frank Manfredi, a machinery analyst in Mundelein, Ill. "But what would they do with it? They wouldn't know how to operate the business."

A new masonry king was crowned at the show's annual Bricklayer 500 competition. This year's winner was Leif Reints, 31, who works for Reints Masonry Works, Neosho, Mo. Assisted by mud-man Gustavo Soriano, Reints took home a fully loaded, 2012 Ford F-250 pickup truck, plus $5,000 in cash and thousands more in prizes by laying 583 bricks in one hour.

Click on the headlines, the slide show or video to check out more of ENR's coverage of World of Concrete 2012.