Greeted in the morning by a panel of industry superstars at the keynote address and complemented in the afternoon by nearly 400 companies showing off the newest trends, the International Roofing Expo opened Tuesday at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center with a pledge for better times ahead.

Greeted in the morning by a panel of industry superstars at the keynote address and complemented in the afternoon by nearly 400 companies showing off the newest trends, the International Roofing Expo opened Tuesday at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center with a pledge for better times ahead.

The eye-popping keynote opened IRE with a panel of the industry’s most distinguished hierarchy that included: moderator Bill Good, Vice President of the National Roofing Contractors Association; Keith Rozolis, Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Planning for ABC Supply Co. Inc.; Mike Vall, President, Firestone Building Products; Bob Tafaro, President of GAF; Fred Stephan, Vice President and General Manager of Roofing Systems, Johns Manville; and Marcelino Susas, Vice President and General Manager - Americas Uni-Solar.

In a changing economy, knowledge is everything, which made Tuesday’s keynote that much more remarkable. The expert panel talked about the current state of the roofing industry, emerging technologies, economic trends, issues facing the industry, and future growth.

“We were blessed in ‘08 by Mother Nature,” said Keith Rozolis of ABC Supply.

Mike Vall from Firestone Building Products said he looked forward to new year and noted Firestone’s certified contractors indicated that going into 2009 there’s a “back log” of work, referring to contracts on the books and roofing projects ready to begin. “Plan for a challenging year,” said Bob Tafaro, President of GAF.

Tafaro commented that GAF was doing more with less, and that despite the down economy, it’s a good market to “recruit people” and to spend money on “infrastructure” needs.

“The outlook long-term is very strong,” said Fred Stephan, Vice President of Roofing Systems for Johns Manville.

When the topic at Tuesday’s keynote turned to solar initiatives, Marcelino Susas, Vice President, Americas Uni-Solar, said with the new Administration in office in Washington D.C., he sees growth in the solar market over the next eight years. Susas said he would like to see the new government put together “more incentives” for builders “to get things going.” “I think of solar as relatively new to the market,” Susas said, despite acknowledging that solar’s “been around for 30 years.”

Tafaro said it’s only a matter of few short years before there’s a significant breakthrough in solar technology like integrated photovoltaics. But Tafaro also noted the big winners in 2009 would provide the “whole system” like roof membranes and solar and warranties.

“There’s a lot more to learn” in integrating photovoltaics, Stephan told a full audience at the Mandalay Convention Center.

Bill Good, meanwhile, said he would support some of the proposed stimulus package plans backed by President Barack Obama.

“We are watching credit carefully,” Mike Vall commented about any stimulus plan.

Tafaro, who noted that the economy would not get going “until credit is flowing in a free and responsible way,” offered one final tip. “Know your costs and customers,” he said. “Buyers will be more inclined to buy quality and reliability.”

The IRE continues today and Thursday at the Mandalay Convention Center. In-depth sessions will cover educational tracks addressing key roofing segments including technical, workplace safety, leadership/management, green building, legal/HR, money matters, sales/service and general business. The target audience includes commercial, residential, and metal roofing contractors, business owners, CEOs, general managers, superintendents, foremen, architects, designers, consultants, salesmen/estimators, manufacturers, suppliers, building owners and facility managers.

Of the 48 sessions at IRE, 92 percent feature new topics, with six of last year’s most popular sessions back by demand. Thirty-three of the sessions involve issues relevant to the residential roofing professional, while the Spouse Program offers 28 sessions for the involved spouses who are looking for ways to help manage and grow their businesses.

With sustainability and environmentally friendly roofing growing in demand, the new green building track will teach attendees about energy efficiency, green roofs, solar energy and how the green movement affects the roofing industry.

Complementing the educational conference is the product-filled show floor of 364 exhibiting companies in 910 booths covering 91,000 square feet of space. The show - expected to draw over 8,000 attendees during the three days - offers the newest, most advanced materials, equipment, tools, services and technology.

The IRE moves to New Orleans in 2010 so make sure to make your stay at the IRE in Las Vegas one to remember.

For more information about this year’s Ire or any questions or suggestions on future topics should be forwarded to IRE Conference Manager Brandi McElhaney at 972-536-6392 or bmcelhaney@hanleywood.