Ladies and gentlemen — the doors on 2010 are offically closed. Not a banner year by any shake of the stick, but it did end on an up-note, and the recovery is slowly churning into reality. So now, it's time to spin the roulette wheel on 2011 and take our chances. Ok, not really. Success is never dependent on luck. But since the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) is in Las Vegas this year, the stage is being set for your success.

First, some good news. Construction spending through November, 2010 was slightly up (0.4%), according to Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. He says that represents a 16-month high.

Want more good news? Back in October, our sister publication, HPAC Engineering, published a news item from the management of the AHR Expo, who conducted a survey of exhibitors to see what the consensus was on the 2011 outlook.

As reported in the October issue of HPAC, more than half of the 1,000 manufacturers surveyed expect 2011 to be a better year than 2010, with the commercial sector being the largest demand segment (+66%), especially in the renovation/upgrade markets (39.3%).

But hold on — Simonson tempered his November report by saying that the overall construction industry, remains, "fragile," and he expects this area to decline in upcoming months.

Why? Simonson says Federal belt tightening on military projects, hurricane disaster rebuilding, and projects funded with stimulus dollars is the root cause.

That doesn't sound as good as what HVAC manufacturers said in that AHR survey.

Then, there are the many doom-and-gloom predictions in the newspapers and around the Internet that say the economy will collapse this year and the country will stumble into a double-dip recession.

That also doesn't sound as good as what HVAC manufacturers said in the AHR survey.

According to others, the steadfast unemployment rate is a huge indicator that disaster is on the way. Yet, in a Forbes magazine article titled, "Jobs Report Be Damned, Economy Chugs Higher" (bit.ly/g0nsc2), writer Sy Harding explains how unemployment doesn't play as big a role in the economy as other factors, such as measurements of consumer activity, retail sales, home sales, auto sales, consumer sentiment, factory orders, and so on.

"Unemployment," he writes, "is a lagging indicator. Employers do not hire additional full-time employees until after the economy has recovered so much that their present employees cannot keep up with improved business."

According to Harding, consumer indicators continue to improve. By itself, this doesn't mean the economy is in a full swing recovery. But it does provide grounds for some cautious optimism.

Now THAT sounds like how the manufacturers in this industry are seeing things.

Contractors across the country are still feeling the squeeze of consumer wallet watching, but depending on where you are, some wallets open a bit more easier than others. The key is that consumer spending seems to be ticking upwards, and THAT is fabulous news for contractors AND manufacturers.

So let's toss the dice and call for a good 2011. It's been my experience, that such optimism is often felt by the timbre of the buzz during the AHR Expo. With that event happening at the end of this month, we have an opportunity to make this outlook a reality. Get ready to put some fire in your bellies, and check out the latest in technology, products, and services that can help you help your customers to be more successful and productive in this new year.

Be prepared: The Las Vegas Convention Center will be teeming with the HVAC industry’s brightest, who will be there to visit the more than 1,800 exhibitors. I can already feel the optimism rising.