And here I thought I was going to go to Las Vegas to forget about life’s problems for a while. Well, ever since arriving at Caesars Palace to report on the proceedings of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s (SMACNA’s) 2002 annual convention, things have been … well … not necessarily encouraging. Within a 24-hour period, this is what has transpired.

My room was not ready upon my arrival mid-afternoon Sunday. Yes, this meant waiting around those tempting, evil slot machines for two solid hours before my room was available, which was after 5 p.m. This meant scrambling to get to the 5:30 p.m. opening general session, which was difficult to do, given that the bellhop did not bring my luggage to my room until 5:45 p.m.

Not that arriving late to hear the tail end of featured speaker James Baker was that disastrous. Sorry, but the former Secretary of State did not mince words regarding what’s down the road with Saddam Hussein. Baker told the attentive sheet metal contractors, who packed the large Palace Ballroom, that war is inevitable with Iraq’s “leader.” When asked when he thought such a war would begin, he guessed it would occur early next year — after all diplomatic roads to avoid a war were exhausted.

Wait. It only gets worse.

Baker said the potential war will not come without sacrifices. He thought the U.S. economy, already not in the best of shape, would suffer more blows, noting that one could expect gas prices to rise almost immediately after this potential war is launched. And, he warned, there would be potential U.S. casualties, especially if it took ground troops to get to Baghdad to either capture or kill Hussein.


After a restless night’s sleep, the following morning’s residential contractor forum did not wipe out the stress. In this three-hour-plus session, led by David Holt, president of Ultimate Service Systems, residential contractors discussed everything from the pluses and minuses of flat rate vs. time and material pricing to the ever-present debate of forcing vs. not forcing techs to sell.

(At least this open dialogue did produce some valuable business tips and suggestions, which shall be featured in an upcoming issue of The News.)

At least the sun was shining outside when the group lunch took place at noon. Unfortunately, international business expert Jeffrey Rosensweig had to ruin a good thing by bluntly placing everything on the line about the economy immediately after the filling meal. To cut to the chase: Let’s just say this frequent guest on “Good Morning America,” “ABC World News Tonight,” and NBC’s “Today” show did not paint a picture of a healthy economic future (at least not for 2003).

“The glory days of growth are over,” he said.

At least Rosensweig — who holds a master’s degree from Yale University and a doctorate in economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — attempted to end his head-spinning talk on an optimistic note, noting that, despite its current woes, the United States is still the locomotive pulling the world economy.

That joy only lasted but a few minutes into the afternoon’s HVAC contractors’ forum. Up came Dr. Thomas Schleifer to the microphone to inform SMACNA members that the construction industry is entering a stage of rapid consolidation in which tens of thousands of construction companies — primarily small and mid-sized — will disappear, over as little as the next 10 years. This far-reaching trend was the focus of Schleifer’s presentation, “Transformation Revolutionizing the Construction Industry.”

(Again, the gory details shall be spared — at least for now. Expect to read a more thorough report regarding Schleifer’s revelations in a future issue of The News. In truth, it’s information every contractor should know.)


I’m not so sure what will surface during day two or day three of this convention. Maybe Jay Leno, who is supposed to supply the entertainment at the grand finale, will send every SMACNA attendee home laughing.

Then again, Mr. Leno had better lay off the jokes that night regarding football’s Detroit Lions. Sure, the 2001 version from Motown provided plenty of nightly ammunition for the late-night comedian. However, at least the 2002 edition (with a talented young quarterback behind center) shows promise.

The bottom line: Leno better not lambaste the Lions. I’ve already been through a frustrating 24 hours.

Mark Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 10/28/2002