Seeing the future from the past

Yellowed by age, a copy of ?Koldfax,? the official monthly newsletter of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute, documents the big news: On May 18, 1953 the ARI Board of Directors met for the first time, elected officers and began its long evolution into an Institute of Excellence.

Born a month earlier from the merger of the Refrigeration Equipment Manufacturers Association (REMA) and the Air Conditioning and Refrigerating Machinery Association (ACRMA), the new ARI had an important role, according to the chairman of the committee who handled the joining of the two organizations. He declared that ARI should: ??put the important story across of how and why, in peace and war, the refrigeration and air conditioning industry is vital. A united industry is needed to insure the continuance of the mechanical cooling industry as a prime industry entity and to prevent its descent to secondary status.?

The following November, 13,500 attendees and 234 exhibitors jammed an ?All Industry Show? at the public auditorium in Cleveland ? a worthy precursor to the AHR Exposition in Chicago this year with its tens of thousands of visitors and over 1,500 exhibits spread over nine acres. Similar turnouts are expected in Annaheim in 2004 and Orlando in 2005.

For expo attendees of 50 years ago the Cleveland venue offered a unique opportunity for entertaining business prospects. The Cleveland Browns played the Pittsburgh Steelers and a block of 500 tickets was arranged. Ticket cost: $3.60 each. In reviewing Koldfax issues of 50 years ago, it is fascinating to read the excitement that accompanied publication of ARI?s first standards and the creation of product sections. Other items detail business opportunities such as the fact that the number of U.S. motels had doubled from the 25,000 counted in 1948 and that 500,000 room air conditioners would be in use in U.S. homes.

One early Koldfax item notes: ?Air conditioning in modern super markets is now a must? while another item notes: ?You can remember when automobiles had no self starter?no heater?no radio. Today they all have them. Now comes the announcement that air conditioning will be available in 1953 Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles as optional equipment. This might well be the beginning of a trend.?

Who among the original organizers of ARI could have conceived that by this February the industry would ship over 132 million central air conditioners and heat pumps?. Who could imagine the scope of the annual replacement market or that more than 85 percent of new homes would be built with central air conditioning? Who could imagine that Koldfax would be delivered electronically and that ARI?s standards, performance ratings and thousands of additional pages of information would be housed in hyperspace at www.ari.org?

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While those prospective achievements were not being dreamed about a half century ago, the reality of a fast-growing market did inspire ARI?s founders to invest in the future by launching worker training and recruitment efforts.

For example, three ARI Educational Conferences were held in 1954-55 with technical sessions to demonstrate installation and maintenance techniques. Today, with the industry dependent on hundreds of thousands of installers and technicians, the challenge is even greater.

The HVACR industry needs to recruit at least 20,000 new technicians each year just to fill vacancies. With retirement looming for many thousands of skilled workers, the challenge is becoming more difficult, especially with industries like information technology and the Internet/computer explosion siphoning away many potential recruits.

To help fill this void the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) program provides enhanced value through its certification program. Also, the Career Education Coalition, a cooperative effort of 12 industry associations, has launched a number of efforts designed to attract the best and the brightest to HVACR careers.

CEC hosts a Web site at www.coolcareers.org where prospects can learn more about lifetime opportunities in heating, cooling, plumbing, ventilation and refrigeration. The site includes information about scholarships including those from the new Clifford H. ?Ted? Rees Jr. Scholarship Foundation which is chaired by former ARI Board Chairman Daniel W. Holmes, Jr. The Foundation will be making its first awards this year to students attending HVACR training. The Foundation is looking for support to build its endowment so that many more scholarships can be provided in future years. There could be no better way to celebrate ARI?s 50th anniversary year than to donate to this worthy cause.

Our future is as bright, if not brighter, than the future seen by those who established ARI. By recruiting quality workers to rewarding careers this industry will be building for the future in the same spirit that motivated visionaries 50 years ago to plan for the future.

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