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Artificial intelligence (AI), the labor shortage, Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) incentives, the HFC refrigerant phasedown, the macroeconomic outlook, and much more are on the agenda next month at the Heating, Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) annual conference.

The name for this year’s conference, scheduled for Dec. 2-5 at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge resort in Phoenix, Arizona, is Ascend, and organizers say it’s designed to help member distributors climb past business challenges they expect will come with a changing economy and the bursting of a post-pandemic bubble.

“The planners, the people who are investing in their strategic vision, in educating their people, and bench-building, etc., are going to fare much better” than those who aren’t, said Allison Greene, HARDI’s marketing director. “And so our content is designed to help those members plan and plot their path to success.”

Ascend will also offer a roster of six keynote speakers, meals, opportunities for socializing and networking, and opportunities to meet with suppliers and representatives of businesses that support HVACR distributors.

HARDI’s block of rooms at the Marriott Desert Ridge sold out quickly — registrations for the conference are approaching record numbers — but members are still signing up for Ascend, Greene said, and planning to stay at nearby hotels.

“We are fortunate that our members continue to find ways to attend,” Greene said. “It’s a testament to our content and the experience that we provide that we have 900 rooms at a hotel but 1,700 attendees.”

Ascend kicks off at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, with a golf outing at the Desert Ridge Golf Club. The event is a benefit for HARDI’s philanthropic partner, Homes for Our Troops. First-day highlights also include a Women in HVACR Meet and Greet, a town hall for suppliers only, another for distributors only, and a 7-9 p.m. opening reception.

The next three days will feature keynote speakers and breakout sessions based around the three major conference themes: personal and organizational development, business growth, and external impacts.

The personal and organizational development sessions, Greene said, will deal with issues such as employee recruiting and retention, workplace diversity as a way to solve worker shortages, and leadership development. The business growth segments will focus on topics that include supply-chain analysis, succession planning, ways to use AI and Chat GPT, mergers and acquisitions, and pricing practices. The external impacts sessions, Greene said, will be a look at both industry regulations and the economic factors that affect HVACR distribution.

“We tried to provide as much education as possible, like regulatory updates, analysis of the HFC phasedown, EPA transition rule, the IRA tax incentives,” Greene said. “On the economic and market side, we look at doing some macro- and microeconomic deep dives to help to help members understand what what’s influencing the channel.”

Ascend’s Solutions Center, a chance for distributors to meet with service businesses and members of HARDI’s Marketing/Purchasing group and discuss ways they can help manage and grow business, is 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, and 7 a.m. to noon on Monday, Dec. 4. Greene said about 40 vendors are expected to be represented at the Solutions Center.

The Booth Program, featuring suppliers, service vendors, and master distributors, is 2-5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4. Greene said about 250 businesses are registered for the Booth Program.

The keynote speakers scheduled for Ascend are:

Meagan Johnson.

Meagan Johnson, author of Generations, Inc: From Boomers to Linksters — Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work. Johnson will speak on recruiting, retaining, and engaging multigenerational teams. Johnson is the breakfast speaker on Sunday, Dec. 3.

Anirban Basu.

Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group. Basu is to speak at lunchtime on Sunday, Dec. 3, on the factors shaping the economy, including Federal Reserve policy, worker attitudes, business confidence, and geopolitics.

Alex Ayers.

Alex Ayers, director of government affairs at HARDI, who is scheduled to speak at breakfast on Monday, Dec. 4. Ayers will offer an update on government programs and HVACR industry regulation, including the HFC phasedown, refrigeration reclaimation, IRA incentives, and energy efficiency standards.

Peter Zeihan.

Peter Zeihan, strategist and futurist and the author of The Accidental Superpower, The Absent Superpower, and Disunited Nations. Scheduled to speak at lunch on Monday, Dec. 4, Zeihan will take a look at the geopolitical landscape and the events affecting economics.

Linda Bernardi.

Linda Bernardi, co-founder and CEO of XdMind Inc., which uses AI to adapt music to video gaming. Bernardi, the breakfast speaker on Tuesday, Dec. 5, will talk about “futureproofing” a business by embracing disruptive technologies.

Vince Poscente.

Vince Poscente, an author and motivational speaker, whose presentation will cover topics like unlocking peak performance, innovative success strategies, and building resilience. Poscente is the lunchtime speaker on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

HARDI members can find conference agenda and registration details at Greene expects registrations to total around 1,800 by the time Ascend begins.