Almost 35,000 tile and stone industry professionals and 1,200 manufacturers, dealers, installers have descended on the Windy City to get an interactive glimpse of all the latest product and technology developments associated with tile. Coverings--essentially, Fashion Week for the tile set--is where attendees come for one reason: to see and touch the merchandise.

Even though attendees participate in educational and installation seminars, it's all about the tile. "First and foremost, the product introductions take center stage," says Tamara Christian, CEO of National Trade Productions, which produces the show.

It's no accident that tile is the hot thing at the show. According to the Anderson, S.C.-based Tile Council of North America, the U.S. ceramic tile industry put down a record-setting 3.36 billion square feet of tiles in 2006--a 3 percent increase over 2005. Also, domestic tile production increased to 692 million square feet, the council says.

But like all other industries associated with housing, the tile industry's growth has slowed. The 3 percent increase over 2005 is smaller than 2005's 3.8 percent increase over 2004 and is due to the downturn in the housing market. Fortunately for the industry, the remodeling and commercial markets remain strong and continue to drive sales.

"Remodeling especially impacts the tile industry, as the two rooms most frequently remodeled are kitchens and bathrooms, which also happen to be the two rooms where tile is most often used," the council states.

Despite the increase in U.S. tile production, most of the tile used in this country comes from places such as Italy, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, and China. In recent years, tile imports from Italy and Spain--higher-cost producing countries--have decreased: 4.1 percent for Italy, 5 percent for Spain, and 4.8 percent for Brazil, the council says. At the same time, imports from lower-cost producing countries--Mexico and China--have increased. China, in particular, saw a whopping 53.9 percent increase over 2005, while Mexican imports increased 10.6 percent.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Chicago, IL, Anderson, IN.