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Editor's Note: Planning for a Resolute New Year

Jan. 3, 2019
From the January issue... HVACR confidence remains high as we enter 2019. Just remember to keep your head when the ride gets bumpy.

The start of every new calendar brings with it a flurry of industry surveys, fresh data and market predictions. By the time AHR Expo and ASHRAE arrive each January, we are all hungering for insights about business prospects, hoping to get a jump on the competition that will inform both our short- and long-term planning. Everyone wants a peek into the future. 

Of course, crystal balls seem particularly murky this year, given the constant chaos at the federal level and the strong likelihood that circumstances will only get crazier in 2019. But regardless, forecasters are still going to forecast, and prognosticators will still prognosticate. After all, that is their raison d’étre. And that is what several pages in our January issue are dedicated to detailing. We are trying to help you plan for a successful year, and beyond. 

Indeed, in the pages ahead, you will see that your HVACR colleagues are still quite optimistic about the year to come. The latest AHR Expo/ASHRAE Journal survey found that nearly 90% of respondents are confident that they will see “positive business prospects” in 2019. In fact, nearly half of that group foresees annual sales increases of 10% or more. Of note, retrofit and renovation work is expected to lead the way this year, according to the latest survey. 

More broadly, Dodge Data & Analytics (see p. 11) predicts that the overall volume of construction contracts awarded for 2019 will slip 3% across the board, effectively ending nine years of economic expansion. But other industry analysts, such as FMI and Moody’s, which measure market performance more traditionally with construction put-in-place data, still expect increases of about 5% on the near horizon this year. (The two measures differ in that one records data at the start of a project and the other at the end.) 

Everyone agrees, however, that more technology is on the way, and just in time, too. 

Growing skilled worker shortages will demand more productivity from fewer experienced hands, which firms are now struggling to find as older workers retire. Last month’s 4Q report of the new Commercial Construction Index (CCI), produced by Dodge Data for both USG Corp. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, found that 74% of contractors surveyed expected to employ innovations like drones, equipment tagging, wearable technology, and augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) over the next three years. Only 6% said that they currently use them. 

Energy efficiency also contributes to productivity levels. In fact, 96% of the respondents to the latest AHR/ASHRAE survey said that energy efficiency is “very important” in virtually all decision-making. Not surprisingly, Johnson Controls’ own new survey of 2,000 facility and energy management executives in 20 nations found that 57% in the U.S. and 59% globally expect to see greater capital investment in energy efficiency in 2019. 

So, the bottom line here is, no matter how many negatives you may see in the newspapers, or on your Twitter feed, in the weeks and months to come, the die has been cast for 2019. Indeed, most construction owners have already placed their bets, and they are still optimistic. So now it is up to you to remain calm and stay resolute in pursuing new work. 

Who knows what 2020 will bring? Opportunity is here now.

So, recruit more talent when you can, but invest in more technology in the interim. In the end, you will likely need both to make this year another success. Just remember to keep your head, even if all around you start to lose theirs. 

About the Author

Rob McManamy | Editor in Chief

An industry reporter and editor since 1987, McManamy joined HPAC Engineering in September 2017, after three years with, a Chicago-based media startup focused on tech innovation in the built environment. He has been covering design and construction issues for more than 30 years, having started at Engineering News-Record (ENR) in New York, before becoming its Midwest Bureau Chief in 1990. In 1998, McManamy was named Editor-in-Chief of Design-Build magazine, where he served for four years. He subsequently worked as an editor and freelance writer for Building Design + Construction and Public Works magazines.

A native of Bronx, NY, he is a graduate of both the University of Virginia, and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Contact him at [email protected].