So, who was the big star onstage at the Las Vegas Hilton during the recent AWFS Fair? Barry Manilow? Nope. David Brenner? Guess again. Joshua Nickolds Williams? Bingo.

Williams, a student at Rockingham Community College in Wentworth, N.C., swept the three overall student design categories at the Industry Awards Dinner held one evening during the show and emceed by Scott Phillips, host of the PBS series "American Woodshop."

In the Student Design Contest, Williams won the Best of Show and People's Choice awards for his Newport Block front desk. Williams was presented the Best of Show award sculpture created by Sam Maloof, and both Williams and Rockingham received cash awards. (Williams also won the Fine Woodworking Craftmanship Award.)

The Best of Show award was determined by a panel of judges. The People's Choice award was made up of exhibitors and attendees at the show.

Finalists were on display just outside the entrance to the show, so people could see the casework, tables and chairs. There were 13 first place winners and 16 honorable mentions selected from 58 finalists.

Winners of the 2005 contest will be included in a new book, Fresh Wood: New Designers, Volume 2. Volume 1 was published after the 2003 awards. Order at www.freshwood2005.com. (Go to www.awfsfair.org, and click on "press room," and go to press releases, then news releases to see a full list of winners.)

On the high school level, there were also outstanding winners, many of whom were from Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough, N.C.

Attendance at the first Las Vegas exhibition was higher than previous Anaheim shows, and the feeling was positive overall. Verified total attendance was reported to be 24,289 for the four-day show, an increase of 37 percent over 2003, the last Anaheim exhibition. Verified attendee numbers were up 22 percent to 17,045.

The first AWFS show in Las Vegas was also the largest in terms of space. A total of 898 exhibitors occupied more than 418,000 square feet of exhibit space. While California still accounted for the largest number of attendees, it was interesting that attendance from every other state increased. This included large increases from such states as Texas, Illinois, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. Attendance was even up from the other western states.

There were many new product innovations and ideas, which is always encouraging. Some of the most interesting were also award winners. Look for additional AWFS coverage on these awards and other news this month and in next month's issue.

The people who are negative about the future of this industry should attend AWFS and IWF. In my opinion, there are plenty of things to be positive about. We need to encourage the young people, like these award winners, to bring their enthusiasm and creativity to our industry.

Their names may not be as familiar as, say, Barry Manilow's, but they may well be the industry stars of tomorrow.

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