Ya, I went to NAHBS because it was a short drive. It confirmed my fears. Not sure I will go again.I agree with Pete, with the caveat that most of the builders who go are not really for-profit enterprises (though they may think they are), so heavily populated/rich population locations don't really matter in that the majority of the attendees (both builders and visitors) are just there to geek out, not to transact business.
Also, his point about nobody caring about geometry is spot on. Geometry and fit are really what you are selling as a custom builder, the fact that it's basically never discussed in the context of the show has always disturbed me.
I'd offer the host one of those here on the North Shore, motivation for hosting would be to weed out all the lightweight xc whipped single speed bikes and to see builders build some tough modern AM rigs like the Breadwinner Bad Otis. Hopefully there would be some dual squish built.I think what would be totally awesome would be an event at a mountain bike trail with a campground where builders would set up booths and tons of people would come and ride bikes. Sorta like your basic mountain bike race but oriented more around the hand build aspect of the sport. It would be cool if someone would simply promote it as a chance for builders and riders of bikes that are actually hand made get together to compare builds do some riding and socializing. If there was enough interest I am sure we could just pick a weekend and make it happen (i.e. a low key pro and amature framebuilder get together where people can setup booths and also actually ride bikes). I don't think it even needs to be a media event.
To the outsider looking in, custom frame building appears to be a weird industry. There are many examples of people who are confident in themselves and their skills who are happy to share their experiences on this forum and elsewhere. Oddly though, there seem to be even more builders who are insecure and afraid of business, competition and life and who want to erect bizarre barriers to entry, foster an isolationist/elitist attitude, and otherwise discourage new builders. It sounds like some of this dysfunction has unfortunately manifested itself at NAHBS with the restrictions on new builders and the questionable judging.
One feature I feel is missing in your perception of pro builders and aspiring new builders is that these people have invested a lot of time and money and even marriages to learn and hone their craft.
They've paid their dues.
With this in mind, sharing their wealth of knowledge and desire to excel should not be taken lightly in a world of mass produced widgets coming from lands and people you will never know.