After months of will they or won’t they, we finally have our answer about the big show. In a public statement released last month, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) officially announced the cancellation of its big annual AHR Expo.

What follows is what we’ve all heard by now about the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic and being able to effectively social distance.

“The Board of Directors has carefully considered what course of action would be best for ASHRAE members, the committees that conduct the Society’s business, the industry we serve and the AHR Expo,” says ASHRAE 2020-21 president Charles E. Gulledge III, P.E., about the canceling the show. “The pandemic has affected everyone, requiring that we adapt to existing conditions in our personal and professional endeavors, and our decision to cancel the 2021 AHR Expo is a reflection of necessary adjustments.”

ASHRAE Executive Vice President Jeff Littleton explains, “Current health rules regarding social distancing and large gatherings makes it impossible for us to provide the experience that our attendees expect at the AHR Expo. As leaders in the built environment, we have a responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of attendees, exhibitors and staff. While we could not find a path forward to host the expo in 2021, we anticipate an even greater show in 2022 in Las Vegas.”

For a long time, as the coronavirus was ramping up around the world, the HVAC industry did nothing but wait. Sure, we made plans, closed deals and conducted business as usual on the outside. But on the inside, I speak for most people when I say that we were still waiting for this all to really be real.

Then things got real. The kids came home. Statewide shutdowns became a game of Russian roulette for our local economies, and the meeting and events that normally filled our agendas began to disappear. 

When ACCA’s 2020 Annual Conference, the 2020 ICB/TABB Conference, Metalcon and FabTech canceled, it seemed things really started to hit home for everyone in the HVAC industry — from ductwork fabricators to heating and cooling technicians. That is, for everyone but AHR.

Because the show is so big and seemed so far away, for many of us it became a last stronghold of sorts that things would return to normal sometime soon. Yes, smaller shows had to move to online or cancel. And, yes, the coronavirus is serious. But it’s not serious enough to cancel AHR. Right?

We now know that answer. But we know a lot of other things, too: the HVAC industry will survive and will keep going. And there are a number of organizations, associations and events for HVAC contractors who are setting the bar high when it comes to what the future holds.

SMACNA recently, successfully, conducted its annual member conference online. ENR’s Ground Breaking Women in Construction event went digital without missing a beat, and Metalcon has pivoted to a digital series of podcasts to keep its audience engaged until next year’s conference.

That ingenuity extends to HVAC contractors, trainers and equipment brands as well. SMART’s Locals are conducting virtual classes. Mestek Machinery is walking clients through virtual sheet metal machinery installations, and HVAC contractors like Neil Comparetto are putting their expertise to good use in new ways. 

It’s proactive. It’s forward-thinking. And, frankly, it’s what the HVAC industry and contractors need now more than ever. For some, more than others.

If canceling the AHR Expo proves anything, it’s that even the strongest and oldest of us aren’t immune to the changes of the time. It’s the preparing the next generation of skilled workers conversation all over again. Only this time, I hope, we are all better prepared to move forward into the future.