The mood at this year's annual conference of the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA) was similar to the unusual weather Boston was enjoying last week — unseasonably warm, but scarred by the economic winter reps and manufacturers had endured the past few years.

Even though it was 60 degrees in mid-February, some mailboxes and unfortunate cars were still buried by humongous snow piles a few short blocks from the NEMRA Conference at Boston's Marriott Copley Place, a cruel remembrance for residents of the New England winter.

Inside the hotel, it was unmistakably NEMRA. Reps dressed country-club casual held formal and informal meetings with their manufacturers wherever they could grab a table; manufacturers new to the U.S. electrical market were exhibiting at the NEMRA Showcase of Services and chatting up potential reps; manufacturers and reps were hustling to-and-from their one-on-one meetings; and the hotel bar was alive well into the wee hours.

NEMRA President Ken Hooper said conference attendance topped 1,350, up approximately 250 from last year's meeting in New York. The general session reflected that increase and drew a nice crowd. Economist Alan Beaulieu of the Institute for Trend Research, Boscawen, N.H., gave a positive assessment of the economic conditions for the next few years and motivational speaker and author Sam Glen, “The Authority on Attitude,” reminded attendees about the powers of positive thinking and humor.

Beaulieu said independent manufacturers' reps and their manufacturers will be busier in 2011 than they were last year, but that the increase in their business won't be as dramatic as it was in 2010, when growth was coming off a horrific bottom. “2011 will be good, 2012 is better and 2013 will be flat,” he said. He did caution the NEMRA audience about coming inflation and said the nation's economy would dip into a mild recession in 2014, but that it wouldn't be anywhere near as bad as the most recent business downturn.

He also said reps should watch monthly data on private sector employment because it will be a dependable indicator of the strength of the recovery. As long as the monthly data shows consistent national employment increases of at least 200,000, the recovery will be on track. The danger signal, he said, is if the monthly data starts tracking to less than 100,000 new jobs. Longer term, Beaulieu said 2015-2017 should bring a return to prosperity.

Also of note at the meeting was the rollout of the Manufacturers' Representative Analysis Reports (MRPAR) being developed by Tom and T.J. O'Connor at Farmington Consulting Group, Farmington, Conn. The MRPAR reports will help reps evaluate their companies' operating results by benchmarking them against other rep firms, in similar fashion to how electrical distributors use the PAR reports published by the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED). The first MRPAR reports will be available in June.

NEMRA also announced its meeting schedule for the next three years: Feb. 1-4, 2012, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, San Diego; Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 2013, Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, Chicago; and Feb. 5-8, 2014, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta.