In last week's issue ofThe NEWS, we introduced Aaron Grace to you, a young 14-year-old service tech/installer who has made HVAC his "career" since tagging along on jobs with his dad, Art Grace, since the tender age of eight. Aaron is what I would call a young protégé and good example of what our industry needs more of - young teens interested in HVAC as a career.

Yet, despite all of his experience (doing installs since age 11) and his enthusiasm for the trade, Aaron is not able to attend the industry's biggest trade show, the AHR Expo, run by the International Exposition Co. (IEC). And before you get the impression that I am going to criticize this group, I am a big supporter of the AHR Expo and think that it does an excellent job of organizing and operating this very important event.

My intention is to raise awareness of this situation and hopefully gather some support for finding a way to get young people onto the show floor.


During my visit to the recent AHR Expo in Chicago, I managed to bend the ear of Clay Stevens, president of the IEC. Stevens has enjoyed a very successful run as the leader of the AHR Expo staff and is well respected by the trade. He obliged to hear my story about Aaron Grace.

Stevens reminded me that AHR Expo guidelines had recently lowered the age limit for entry from 18 to 16. He said that lowering it anymore would bring the issue of safety on the show floor and insurance liability concerns. If an underage person left unattended would hurt himself or herself on a piece of equipment on display, it could become a very difficult situation to deal with and one that the IEC definitely wants to avoid.

But Stevens also left the door open for discussions on how young people under 16 could be allowed to view the exhibits. We discussed the possibility of a student outing where supervised groups of young people would be allowed to visit. He told me he would approach the subject in the future. That would be fine with Aaron's father, Art, who told me, "Perhaps we could get Ferris State to sponsor a Michigan group of junior high and high school students interested in our trade. Perhaps parents of children from suppliers, manufacturers, and contractors would be willing to help promote this kind of junior achievement."

I am satisfied that Stevens will consider allowing underage people into the show under very special conditions.


Messe Frankfurt Inc., which runs the biennial ISH-NA trade show and exhibition in North America, also has a 16-year-old age limit for entry into its show, which features products from the HVAC, plumbing, and kitchen & bath industries. The 2006 show will be held in Chicago on Sept. 28-30.

Jennifer Salvadori, ISH-NA show manager, told me that her organization does not publicize the fact that underage people can enter the show, under certain restrictions. She said the main intent of the age restriction is to discourage adults from bringing their children to the show. My guess would be that ISH-NA does not want to babysit children while parents visit exhibitors, and I strongly support that.

"We realize that HVAC is a family-founded business and a lot of the companies that attend the show are mom-and-pops with the industry ingrained in several generations," she said. "We do allow children to be registered and attend the show if the [responsible] adult signs a child waiver. That is just in the event that some unforeseen craziness happens."

What is really crazy is keeping our young HVAC wannabees out of important industry shows. What do you think?

John R. Hall, Business Management Editor, 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax),

Publication date: 02/13/2006