I just attended a press conference held to mark the impending end of the feet-numbing, mind-blowing, windswept ConExpo/Con Agg conference in Vegas. The mood, like the city itself, was determinedly bright.

"I feel like we've made it," said Mike Haberman, president of Gradall Industries and chairman of ConExpo/ConAgg 2011. "There has been a positive momentum at this show. You could see the smiles."

In the next breath, he added: "But the U.S. business is not back. It's still down. But attendees are showing hope. They're buying. We actually have backlogs."

Of course, those who are buying are largely Asian or South American. As of Friday, with about a day and a half to go, 24% of total registrants were non-U.S., said Megan Tanel, AEM  vice president for exhibitions & events. There were 150 countries represented, and 42 international delegations, out of the 117,000 registrants.

Hanging over all the professed optimism was the perpetually uncertain fate of federal transportation reauthorization. Haberman urged everyone to log on to ImakeAmerica.com
, a campaign site to promote more manufacturing jobs in America via a long-term transportation legislation bill. "It's time," he said. "It's actually too late, but let's get it started."