LAS VEGAS — HARDI officials say the association’s 2017 annual conference was a great way to end the year, with record attendance and top-quality speakers to help members growth their businesses. Official attendance at the Dec. 2-5 event at the Aria hotel-casino in Las Vegas was 1,557. Members who came to the convention could hear from experts on attracting workers, internet marketing, creating work-life balance and emerging currency alternatives such as bitcoin.

It added up to a great conference, said Talbot Gee, CEO of the Heating, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International.

HARDI chief economist

HARDI chief economist Alan Beaulieu says the economy will continue to be good for HARDI members.

“I truly believe that the performance of this year’s HARDI annual conference is a testament to the growth in value that members see in HARDI, and the ever-growing potential they see in the association as the industry expands,” Gee said. “I hope everyone had a great time in Vegas, but more importantly that they received some takeaways that they will be able to implement into their business practices immediately. We will keep you updated, but stay engaged with the resources HARDI provides to ensure that wholesale distributors are the channel of choice for HVACR manufacturers and contractors.”

Among the best-attended presentations at the conference was the Dec. 4 appearance by Alan Beaulieu, HARDI’s chief economist. Beaulieu likes to point out when researchers at his firm, ITR Economics, get something wrong, they acknowledge it.

“I don’t know of another firm that does what we do, which is hold ourselves accountable to our forecast,” he said.

But needing to point out errors doesn’t happen very often. ITR’s website boasts it has a nearly 95 percent forecast accuracy rate when it comes to the economic sectors they research. And that’s why HARDI has long relied on Beaulieu and the rest of the ITR experts to give members top-notch insight and analysis.

Some years, Beaulieu broadcasts bad news, telling members that the recession the nation is experiencing won’t end for another year or two or that recovery might be slow. But he always tries to point out ways they can prepare their companies for the better days that are always ahead.

But he didn’t have to prepare such statements this time. 2017 was a profitable one for many HARDI members. Warm weather in much of the country has also helped.

“By and large, they’ve had a good year,” Beaulieu said in a phone interview conducted a few weeks before HARDI’s convention. Beaulieu was at ITR’s Manchester, New Hampshire, offices, during a rare week where he wasn’t traveling to client events. “The economy has been their friend on the residential and commercial side in most parts of the country. Consumers have had money and banks have had money to lend.”

Midwest Tools CEO

Midwest Tools CEO Scott Musser (left) and national sales manager Chuck Loparo work the Michigan company’s trade show booth.

A little slower

He doesn’t expect that to change, even though he does have a little bad news to share at this year’s presentation: The economy will slow down in 2018 and into 2019. 

“But at the same time, it’s not going to be a recession,” Beaulieu added. “I like the word ‘softness’ rather than ‘downturn’ or ‘recession’ because it conveys an easier time.”

 He makes that prediction apart from anything that might be going on in Washington D.C., regarding tax cuts, national debt limits or general political infighting. Although it still surprises many HARDI members and other ITR clients, the machinations of politicians in the nation’s capital are not a major influencer of ITR’s research. While they are certainly instances where the government’s actions — or lack of them — affect its reporting, such events rarely change the overall thinking of ITR’s researchers.

“If we think there’s going to be a shutdown, we’ll certainly talk about the short-term impact,” he said. Most effects are limited and are felt largely in the metropolitan Washington area.

 “The rest of the country just goes, ‘Oh that again. The kids in the sandbox aren’t playing well again. Who’s surprised? Raise your hands,’” Beaulieu said. “It tends to be overblown in the media.”

Recruiting expert James Ellis

Recruiting expert James Ellis tells HARDI members they should do more to market the HVAC industry to millennials at his Dec. 3 session.

Apolitical theater

As Congress gears up for the 2018 midterm elections, some economists and politicians — and maybe a few HARDI members — are saying that the results could determine whether the country falls into a recession. Beaulieu said they’re wrong. 

“Economists love their theory but they hardly ever deal in reality,” he said. Which party controls Congress or has the presidency does not matter.

“It absolutely makes no difference to the economy, statistically no difference at all, whether there is a Republican or Democrat in the White House. And yet we tend to think the opposite — which is absolutely amazing,” he said.

The U.S. economy is sound and investors in much of the world know that, Beaulieu added. They’re not waiting for the country’s next election.

“While we keep getting told that … businesses are fleeing and all the rest of that, the rest of the world is pouring money in,” he said. That’s a good sign.