AHR, the economy and engineers

Going into this year's Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigerating Expo/ASHRAE Winter Conference, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. A number of HVAC manufacturers, with whom I had spoken prior to the show, were concerned that attendance would be down significantly as the result of the sagging economy and lingering fears about flying in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center th...

02/01/2002


Going into this year's Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigerating Expo/ASHRAE Winter Conference, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. A number of HVAC manufacturers, with whom I had spoken prior to the show, were concerned that attendance would be down significantly as the result of the sagging economy and lingering fears about flying in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center this past fall. For them, this, of course, begged the question as to whether it was worth it to exhibit.

Indeed, some major industry players, including York, Carrier and Trane, declined to exhibit. Furthermore, many manufacturers I spoke with, both before and at the show, had the perception that the people they want to reach—specifying engineers—were few among the many walking the floor.

So in meeting with a number of engineers at the conference, I decided to pose the question. One engineer I dined with said that he simply felt there was not enough engineering expertise on the floor to make it worth his while. Another gentleman, heavily involved in a number of ASHRAE committees, said he simply didn't have the time. On the other hand, several other engineers did ,and we even latched onto a few for an insider's view of the show (please see our ASHRAE/AHR roundup in expanded Home Page coverage on p. 14).

Those forays onto the AHR Expo floor, in this reporter's eyes, revealed aisles full of people with seemingly good booth traffic. In truth, overall show attendance was down from past years, but with the smaller Atlantic City venue, it appeared otherwise, and both attendees and vendors seemed happy with a turnout that was definitely beyond their expectations.

That being said, other news of late—K-Mart entering Chapter 11, and Toys "R" Us closing hundreds of stores nationwide—tends to put a damper for me on the buzz generated at the show. A number of economists I've dealt with claim the foremost indicator of a true recession is consumer spending. In other words, when the "average Joe" starts to hold on to his dollar, watch out. These two outlets, it seems, are very dependent on the average Joe.

By the size of our past few issues, it's obvious we've also been feeling the crunch of the economy. I've been hopeful that maybe, in part, it's just the time of the year, and things will pick up. However, not all in our industry are so optimistic. And with the announcement of "Category Killers" like K-Mart and Toys "R" Us going down—and certainly the whole Enron mess—what does that mean for the building market? Are you more optimistic, or are we heading for some really tough times? And as far as trade shows, are they of value to engineers?

Please shed some light:

jcrockett@cahners.com





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