As I write this in the first week of November, the Occupy Wall Street protests are still going strong with no indication of an end.

In fact, we’ve seen the protests spread to other cities across the country. In the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, an “Occupy Oakland” event turned violent when police officers used rubber bullets and tear gas on the protesters.

It is easy to see why Americans are frustrated.

This is our December issue, and each December we take a look at the year ahead. We also take a look back to see what contractors have been dealing with in the industry. It’s my job to produce these feature stories each year. For the past five years at least, the declining economy has been a prime topic in these features.

I’ve seen the housing market tank and new-construction projects evaporate. I’ve talked with contractors who are financially pinched, trying to make projects as lean as possible. Contractors are also forced to be ultra-competitive, which sometimes means taking a loss on jobs just so they can sign the deal.

This year was no different. However, there are things to be optimistic about.

The future is wide open

For this year’s outlook feature, I spoke to four individuals who probably have a pretty good idea of where the HVAC and sheet metal industry are heading. They include the presidents of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, and the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association. I also interviewed the vice president of sales for sheet metal accessories maker Duro Dyne Corp., and the general manager of software company Trimble’s building construction division.

Manufacturers are always finding new ways to make sheet metal and HVAC applications easier and more efficient. They’ve come up with systems that are more sustainable, helping customers save money on their bills while giving contractors an edge in the field.

Over the past few years we’ve also seen building information modeling taking off. It’s a process that won’t be going away, according to many experts.

The forward-thinking attitude of our industry keeps chugging along even if the economy continues to stall.

When you read this month’s cover story, I hope it makes you feel more positive about the future. These tough economic times won’t be around forever - although it may feel like it. But while they are around, open yourself up to everything the industry offers. There are products and technologies out there that are making business easier. I think you’ll see that this kind of “occupying” will only make your business stronger.

Who has the best collection?

On another note, before we wrap up our last issue of the year, we want to find out about your Snips collection.

Our 80th anniversary issue is coming up March 2012. To celebrate, we want to know who has the oldest Snips issues and the largest collection of back issues. We’d like to find as many readers as we can to feature in our anniversary issue. So take a picture of your collection and email it to us. Or just tell us how long you’ve been reading Snips. How long have you been a subscriber? What has Snips meant to you over the years?

Share your Snips memories and you could be in our 80th anniversary issue. You can email me at siegelj@bnpmedia.com.

James J. Siegel is the associate editor of Snips.