Hardcore ceramic industry folks have gathered in Spain this week as one of the world's most important tile shows, Cevisama, kicks off in Valencia. But even as attendees from all over the globe gather to investigate the latest products, trends, and technology, the Spanish tile industry is forced to calculate its next move as the U.S. economy remains volatile and its housing market slows.

"I definitely believe that [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 ceramic game. (Italy's Cersaie in November is the other.) It is here that manufacturers release cutting-edge technology such as ceramic tiles that look like corten or stainless steel, and it is here that they introduce new products. The show gets about 100,000 attendees and features exhibitors from over 140 countries.

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

Still, Fasan says even though Spanish tile numbers slip in the U.S. market, they remain strong in other areas. "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, but the industry exports 60 percent to Europe and says its numbers increased by 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 will continue through Feb. 12.