The AHR Expo is ready to return after a year off. Exhibitors and organizers are excited to welcome thousands of HVAC contractors and other industry personnel to the Las Vegas Convention Center January 31 to February 2.
While uncertainty around the pandemic remains, everyone is hopeful. The AHR Expo has a long track record — in addition to being one of the largest HVAC events in the world, it’s also one of the oldest. The first show took place in 1930. The last one took place in Orlando, just as the coronavirus spread was turning into a pandemic. It drew more than 50,000 attendees from around the world, with more than 1,900 exhibiting companies.
A year ago, organizers put up a valiant effort, working with the city of Chicago to avoid cancelling the event. Despite these efforts, the show did not go on. This year, with a combination of vaccines and improved protocols, the Expo is on track. Lisa Tryson, director of corporate communications and public relations for Danfoss, is looking ahead with guarded optimism.
“Certainly, the pandemic has changed a lot of things, but our industry is built on strong relationships and there is a need to reconnect face-to-face after a year away,” Tryson said. “I expect overall attendance will be lower, but I expect the quality of the attendees to be very high.”
Getting There is Half the Battle
It helps to have the event in Las Vegas. The city has always been geared toward large events, such as the AHR Expo, and making sure they run smoothly. That’s been especially true in the past year with pandemic protocols.
“Based on feedback from other shows held recently in Vegas, they have been diligent about following safety protocols, just as our show management will be,” Tryson said.
STAYS IN VEGAS: The city of Las Vegas will host this year’s AHR Expo. Ensuring attendee safety has become part of the way Vegas accommodates events. (Courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Flickr)
Getting to the show has become more challenging and less comfortable. Dick Foster, president of ZoneFirst, has been to several meetings this fall. He warns there are fewer flights and the planes are packed as a result. All passengers still must wear masks during the entire flight.
The pandemic does create some new wrinkles for attendees. While Foster said there is nothing like a good handshake to build a relationship, not everyone is comfortable with that ritual today. One event he attended offered a color code system for people’s comfort with contact.
Organizers always say there is value in attending AHR, but this year’s event occurs while the industry stands at something of a crossroads. Will the demand from consumers continue and for how long? Will commercial work continue to gain strength? Will HVAC contractors be able to sources parts, equipment, and supplies to meet this demand? And at what cost?
“We’ve got great demand, but we have supply chain issues,” Foster said. “You’re constantly juggling. The better relationships you have with people, the more you can talk face to face, gives people more confidence in who they’re buying from.”
New Technologies to Meet Trends
Then there are the long-term trends affecting the industry. These include environmental topics such as the movement toward decarbonization and electrification and the phasing out of HFC refrigerants. Another major issue is the ongoing labor shortage and the struggle to attract more diverse employees.
“There are so many important issues, trends, and changes that will impact our industry in the near term,” Tryson said. “Our industry has never been more relevant. We provide crucial solutions and technologies, and it’s important for the industry to meet to see what new technologies and solutions are available to support the transition in areas like refrigerants, indoor air quality, and decarbonization, to name a few.”
Many of those technologies will be on display at this year’s Expo. While HVAC contractors can watch demos and read descriptions online, being able to get close makes a big difference. That’s why exhibitors keep coming back year after year. Taco Comfort Solutions has been exhibiting since that first event in 1930. John Hazen White, Jr., Taco’s executive chairman and owner, said he and his staff are excited to see all of the company’s customers, reps, and business partners again.
“This show represents one of the largest marketing platforms available to promote our new products and services,” Hazen said. “We were fortunate to celebrate our 100-year anniversary at the 2020 AHR Expo.”
The event is co-sponsored by ASHRAE and AHRI. It is held concurrently with ASHRAE’s winter conference. In addition, the event will feature nearly 200 free seminars, new product and technology presentations, professional certifications, and continuing education courses. Added to the roster this year is a panel discussion featuring industry leadership that will dive into the current state of the industry. Panelists include moderator Bryan Orr, host of the HVAC School podcast; Mick Schwedler, president of ASHRAE; Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of AHRI; Talbot Gee, CEO of HARDI; Roberta MacGillivray, 2022 president of NAFA; and Rob Falke, president of NCI.
LEARNING ABOUT THE LATEST: Attendees sit in a class during the 2020 AHR Expo. This year’s event will include an industry panel discussing the latest trends. (Courtesy of AHR)
“We are thrilled to open a forum for our industry leaders who represent organizations from every sector of the industry,” Stevens said. “Having representation from all our professional sectors come together to discuss the past two years during the pandemic and all that has come of it — both positive and negative — within the industry is an incredibly valuable and necessary tool to achieve the community approach we need to continue strengthening this industry.”
Of course, there will be changes from the last event. Masks will be required for all attendees indoors, including vaccinated individuals. Social distancing in small areas such as bathrooms will be encouraged. Hand sanitizer stations will be located throughout the building.
“We are aware of the challenges that members of our industry are navigating, including safety concerns,” said Mark Stevens, manager of AHR Expo. “At the top of our list for the 2022 show is hosting a safe event to welcome everyone in the industry back to business and large-scale networking.”
Organizers are drawing optimism about the successful return of AHR from other industry events — for example, AHR Expo Mexico, which took place September 21-23 in Monterrey.
“AHR Expo Mexico was such a positive and safe experience full of energy and excitement to be back together,” Stevens said. “It was an excellent opportunity to see how safety protocols and planning are the key to getting us back to business.”