Normally I'd offer you a cheery note, inviting you to come to World of Masonry at World of Concrete. But it struck me that I'd be lying if I gave the impression that all was bright. Economists suggest that 2010 commercial and residential construction will be level at best. But for us, level is bad, as most of the ongoing work appears to lack much masonry. Margins will be tight on the projects we do get.

And if we get work, will we have qualified masons to do it? For years we have been discussing the need to review our training programs for new masons. We have traditionally relied on a training program which produces skilled workers in three or so years. How many new qualified masons have you hired in 2009? Will you hire any in 2010?

And compounding this are two other factors. Many masons over 50 years old are retiring instead of waiting for your callback. And many of our best middle-age employees are switching to other industries which offer better working conditions and perhaps more stable pay.

And should we have work and workers, will we have equipment and supplies to build with? Look at the number of suppliers and manufacturers who have left our market. Some have closed, while others have merged, trying to hold on while waiting for business to improve.

So I'm very concerned about what 2010 will bring to the masonry industry, which has suffered its largest market drop in history. And I'm not certain we have all the pieces in the right places to build on. Our leader of year, the Masonry Association of Florida's Keith Sommer, whose profile is on page 27, has provided leadership in a market that had to come together to have any chance to survive. But who is doing this at a national level?

All that being said, there are several compelling reasons for you to attend World of Masonry in Las Vegas, Feb. 2-5. Attending is an investment in your business, rather than a reward for a good year of profits.

First, while you can't directly affect the economy, you can learn from the experts on how to better manage your contracting business. No other exhibition has such a strong collection of training programs geared toward contractors.

Second, you can participate in developing marketing efforts. For example, the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) will offer members the opportunity to become certified contractors. MCAA plans to use national contractor certification as a marketing point in 2010.

Third, developing a strong and knowledgeable workforce will require you to be up-to-date on current technical trends and practices. Working with MCAA, World of Masonry offers an extensive seminar series that will offer even the most experienced mason insights on repair and new construction.

Fourth, you can't work without tools and equipment. Manufacturers will exhibit hundreds of new products that may be able to help you either grow your business, or be more productive at your tasks. We have highlighted some of these new offerings on page 44. I also encourage you to vote in the 2010 Most Innovative Products contest.

Finally, it's important for contractors to reach out to their peers and share ideas. Given today's highly competitive climate, I'm not too sure the information discussed at local contractors' meetings is as open as it used to be. But World of Masonry offers an opportunity to meet and share with counterparts from around the country.

And if you can't make it to the show, keep reading MASONRY CONSTRUCTION and visit us at