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Out With The Old and In With The New

As the book closes on 2011, we all can once again sit back and sigh, perhaps with collective relief. You see, 2011 is the second or third year of the U.S. economic recovery, depending on who you read, and there looks to be no end soon to the stalemate we seem to be in.

It's funny how back in January, the International AHR Exposition in Las Vegas set the stage for what looked to be an exciting 2011. Attendees were ready to get back to work and were hot about the latest technologies and their applications in the marketplace. Other hot buttons focused on the economy and the need to clear obstacles that prevented the housing markets, banking industry, and construction industry from growing. But as time went on, we witnessed a climate change: it was politics 101 in Congress as our politicians battened down the hatches and prepared for the upcoming election year. So much for removing obstacles.

Of course, we can't forget about the global energy conversation of 2011 and it's impact on you, the mechanical systems contractor. This conversation includes regional efficiency standards, the introduction of new technologies, and approaches to those technologies that treat the entire house as a system with the mantra of "measure, measure, measure," to ensure clients they're indeed getting what they pay for.

The idea: the products you install and service aren't acting on their own — they're part of a bigger system requiring different skills and tools to maintain. Great stuff, but with this focus on technology, we mustn't lose sight of customer comfort. No, Virginia, comfort is NOT a four-letter word.

From a business standpoint, the impact of social media continued to grow in 2011. Smart phones are everywhere and now, with tablets like the IPad, there’s an "app" for practically every aspect of running a business — from dispatching to doing load calculations. In addition, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,, and other social media sites continued to provide contractors an "instant" medium for communications and education. Interestingly enough, it's also becoming clear there’s a "social" aspect to social media that can impact a consumer's opinion on the professionalism of our industry. Our behavior online can either show customers that our companies represent best-in-class contracting firms who have the best-trained and certified NATE technicians or, we can cloud their opinions on our ability to solve their comfort problems. Professionalism online and in person should always be the order of the day.

Speaking of clouds, as an industry we need to get our heads INTO them. In 2011, Cloud computing really began changing the way we share data and store records, and it is a cost-effective change at that.

Yes, 2011 was an interesting year. We witnessed the aftermath of one of the worst earthquakes in recorded history as Japan was rocked by a 9.0 magnitude quake, the death of Steve Jobs, Apple's inventor extraordinaire, and, again, an ongoing economic recovery that isn't quite recovering.

Yet there are contractors out there experiencing one of their best years ever. They're making the most of the recovery, such as it is, and are seeing great success.

This is the year we saw the reduction of federal stimulus dollars into our industry, but there still is public money available for funding projects if you know where to look and how to apply for it.

So what’s ahead? As I said, 2012 is an election year, not only here in the U.S., but around the world. Three other of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are picking leaders: France, Russia, China. Those changes will impact the world economy in a major way. How? That remains to be seen.

Environmental issues will remain in the forefront of the news as the green movement continues to gain momentum. Watch for more news on alternative refrigerants, on international efficiency standards, and more.

The bottom line is that 2012 offers a renewal of opportunities and changes. It’s how we challenge ourselves and overcome the roadblocks we face that make the difference. Let's hope that when we meet the enemy, he or she ISN'T us.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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