The last two years remind me of running in the San Diego Marathon. It was a brutally hot event. At the starting line, race organizers distributed salt packets and issued dire warnings to slow our pace – or face the consequences.

Ambulances and EMS workers were stationed along the route as a grim reminder. Many runners posted a DNF (did not finish) as the conditions knocked them out.

For those in the skilled trades/service sectors, the last two years have produced similar brutal conditions. If you are still running the race, that’s awesome. I’m guessing you’ve slowed your pace to make sure you can finish. But maybe it’s time to speed up.

There’s good news from a key sector. The Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Expo (AHR Expo) was a major success, drawing more than 54,000 participants in its first-ever stop in Las Vegas, Jan. 31-Feb. 2. You can read extensive coverage of the showhere.

The Expo, co-owned by the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute and American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers, usually pulls such huge numbers only when the industry is really booming. The big turnout is a sign the industry is returning to health.

Either that, or those wild and crazy engineers succumbed to the temptation of their first-ever AHR Expo in sin city. Whatever the cause of the strong attendance, it was a pleasant problem to have to fight through crowds to visit booths.

There were nearly 1,200 booths to visit. I only had time to visit a handful. Here are a few highlights.

The ITT booth featured newBell & Gossett circulators, heat exchangers, monitors, and submersible and solar pumps, as well asGoulds line of stainless steel and vertical multi-stage pumps. Separately, ITT held a press conference to address its recent announcement that it will split ITT into three separate companies. The Bell & Gossett and Goulds brands will be part of a new, soon-to-be-named company focused on water solutions. You can find out more

TheRheembooth showcased both HVAC/R and water heating lines, a rebranding decision designed to integrate its air and water technology products. As a part of the rebranding, Rheem introduced hybrid water/air heating products with new designs and functionality, using two-time NASCAR champ Kevin Harvick to lure in customers.

General Tools & Instrumentsflexed its technology muscles by spotlighting a series of new electronic instruments. This included several versions of its Seeker brand of video inspection systems, data loggers, and humidity and temperature meters.

Navien America drew an audience with its tankless water heaters, heat exchangers, and condensing combination water heaters/boilers. Navien also generated queries regarding a Sterling Engine and an evacuated tube solar water heater system shown in the booth, but neither product is available in the U.S. at this time.

If you are in the skilled trades, or an engineer, architect or service provider, I encourage you to visit BNP Media’s Moving On Web site. You’ll find more than 30 success stories from pros like you explaining what they’ve done to excel during the economic downturn. They’ve “moved on” from negative thinking and found niches and sweet spots to assure their continued success. See for yourself