I’m writing this column between convention trips as Michigan heads toward the end of an especially cold and snowy winter.

Having the opportunity to visit warmer climates such as Florida, Las Vegas and California during the coldest months of the year has made it easier to endure.

But by the time you see this, April will be under way and temperatures will be warmer here - up to 59°F, on average, by the end of the month. I’ll take it.

For many contractors, the busy season will soon begin as well. It will be very interesting to see how the softening U.S. economy, which may or may not be in a recession, affects business this year. As I mentioned in last month’s column, a number of exhibitors at January’s AHR Expo in New York City said they were already suffering through slowing sales.

That trend continued when I attended the International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Fla., a few weeks ago. You’ll be reading our coverage soon, but I can tell you now that there was a lot of worry the national mortgage crisis would result in a large drop in attendees, making the sprawling Orange County Convention Center seem empty. The show had set new attendance records there just a couple years ago.

The official numbers weren’t quite so bad. Perhaps downplaying expectations helped. More than 92,000 showed up for the convention, which was an 11 percent drop from 2007, but rumors were the drop would be much larger.

Like at the AHR Expo a few weeks before, exhibitors I spoke to were pleased with those who visited their booths, although many acknowledged their companies were seeing fewer orders from certain parts of the country.

I always wonder how much of any economic slowdown, whether it meets the official definition of a recession or not, is a self-fulfilling prophesy. After reading numerous articles on the falling stock or real estate markets, many homeowners may decide they don’t need to upgrade their HVAC systems or builders may cancel or postpone projects. Of course, that just makes any softness in the economy worse.

Making changes

On a different subject, the Snips staff has been talking about and working a lot on our Web site lately. Hopefully, you’ve visitedwww.Snipsmag.comrecently and noticed the additions.

For example, our Today’s News Update now features new stories almost every day, many of them exclusive to the Web site. Previously, it was common for us to receive press releases on upcoming events too late for them to appear in the print version of Snips (we typically have a three-month lead time on issues). Now, they’ve found a home online. Occasionally, visitors see big, breaking news that will later appear in print in a slightly different version.

Another addition to our Web site are story-related videos and online polls. The videos, taken by Snips’ staff, are designed to make articles more informative and interesting. It appears we’re working through the bugs that made them sometimes difficult to view last year. We’re hoping to include a video with at least one story each month.

The polls are a quick look at the views of online readers. If you have a poll question idea, e-mail me at mcconnellm@bnpmedia.com.

In the next few months, we’re planning a redesign of the rest of Snipsmag.com. As a speaker at the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s convention noted, the ever-changing world of Internet search engines requires Web sites stay fresh so people find them. Unless you keep up-to-date, many Internet users will never find you - or so I’m told.

Personally, I always have mixed feelings on such endeavors. As I’ve written before, I’ve been hesitant to change the print version of Snips too quickly. Every time you change a publication’s appearance, it confuses many readers - at least for the short term. I feel uneasy the first few times I read a magazine or newspaper that has changed its appearance. Eventually, I get used to the new look and often agree it was an improvement, but it takes a while.

So I hope you’ll bear with us. I don’t know what our new site will look like yet, but I think you’ll like the results.