As I write this column in early February, it’s only been a few days since I was at the AHR Expo in Orlando, Fla.

Besides having a chance to enjoy some warm weather and sunshine - two things in short supply during a Michigan winter - the show gave me a chance to talk to exhibitors and attendees about how their businesses are faring in what is now called the “great recession.”

As the HVAC and sheet metal industries continue to struggle, I wasn’t sure what to expect this year, either in terms of attendance or the mood of those who came to this year’s expo.

I am glad to say I was happily surprised on both counts. (Coverage will be in April’s Snips.)

Attendance was estimated at 44,000, which is only around 1,000 fewer than the 2005 show. At a time when many trade shows are reporting much bigger drops in attendance, I think that’s pretty good.

Even more interesting to me were the comments from many exhibitors. Most I talked to were generally pleased with the amount of traffic at their booths and many were making sales. Maybe the positive comments were a result of lower expectations, but they were quite happy. By the second afternoon of the show, a number of large sheet metal machinery makers told me they had sold all of the equipment they brought to the AHR Expo - an impressive feat in this economy.

Charge it

I asked if buyers were financing purchases or paying cash. Answers were mixed, but a number of booths had signs out saying they were offering credit to qualified customers. So some companies have access to credit.

While it may or may not be reflecting in their businesses, company owners appear to be feeling more positive about the economy: A poll show organizers released before the expo said 54 percent of those planning to exhibit expected 2010 sales to be up to 30 percent stronger than last year’s.

I left the show feeling a little more hopeful about the year ahead. As always, I’d love to hear how business is in your state or region.

On a different subject, a number of AHR Expo attendees were discussing the prospects for President Barack Obama’s health care reform effort. Many were not optimistic.

With the upset special-election victory of a Republican for the U.S. Senate seat long held by the late Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, many people at the convention seemed to believe that the push to overhaul the nation’s health care system is dead. The election of Scott Brown gives Republicans 41 seats in the Senate - enough to sustain a filibuster of any bill the GOP opposes in unison.

As of February, President Barack Obama has not been able to secure any Senate Republican votes for his health care package, putting passage in serious trouble. Even a few moderate GOP senators who supported parts of the plan last year have soured on it.

Many of those that I and others talked to at the show seem to think with an election looming next fall and the Republican Party staging a comeback few predicted so soon after steep loses in 2006 and 2008, the health care bill will have a tough time coming off life support in the chamber.

It is possible that by the time you see this column, Democrats will have been able to figure out a way to pass a bill alone or grab a few Republican votes - but I doubt it.