I’ve got to be quick because I’m starting my ironing later ahead of my latest trip to the States, this time to the heart of the Old South in Savannah, Georgia, where the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) will stage its annual meetings from September 29 to October 3. I’m still deciding whether to pack my shorts.

My friends at the MHIA tell me not to let the antebellum charm and relaxed ways of this historic southern city fool me. Apparently, Georgia is now the New South and has emerged as a manufacturing and logistics leader. Exciting, eh?

According to the Porter Study, conducted by Harvard University, Georgia has the fourth largest logistics hub in the United States. Its manufacturing and logistics industries provide an unparalleled infrastructure that not only saves time and money, it provides a solid backbone for competing in an increasingly global marketplace.

Businesses can reach 80% of the US market within two hours by plane, and any major North American city in four hours. International flights reach 45 cities and 30 countries, making the world’s business centres easily accessible. Hartsfield-Jackson is also the world’s leading air cargo centre, handling more than 900,000 US tons of goods each year.

I’m also told that the combination of Old-World charm and 21st Century supply chain sophistication makes Savannah an ideal destination to begin a transformation toward successful change both in your business and in your personal life. Well, if I do have any especially enlightening experiences, I’ll let you know here first!

Seriously though, the MHIA annual meetings offer the ideal environment for gaining knowledge and networking. Some parts of the agenda are totally focused on business topics; other parts encompass social gatherings to enjoy with spouses or partners plus old and new friends.

I’ve been reading the brochures and apparently the Hyatt Regency Savannah offers an inspiring setting for both business and pleasure. If you’ve been maybe you could give me a heads up on this seemingly fascinating place.

Last time I was in the States it was show time with fantastic Chicago the setting for ProMat 2007. On the back of another booming year and order backlogs stretching well into the year – and beyond – the US market should have been cock-a-hoop. But the hot topic was the imminent decline of the market – and I expect this to be on the agenda during my latest visit.

Since 2003, the US has enjoyed prolific growth – but the industry is braced for a slow down and many say it has already peaked with a soft landing on its way just the other side of Christmas. So much for Happy New Year.

As Brian McNamara, executive chairman, MHIA, said at the show: “Life has been great, it continues to be good, and it’ll slow down some time soon.”

He couldn’t have summed it up in more simple terms, but there was a sense of anxiety on the show floor at McCormick South about when exactly this decline was going to happen and, moreover, how bad it will be.

Hal Vandiver, MHIA executive vice president, business development, eased worries: “The material handling expansion cycle appears to be sustainable well into 2007.” And, even better news, he continued, “is that as we move through the deceleration growth phase of this business cycle, early indications are that the pending contraction will not be a harsh one as we experienced in the 2001 through 2003 period.”

Hal more recently told me that they are beginning to see major business sectors shifting into the decelerating growth phase indicating that this cycle is maturing. Various sectors will vacillate between the accelerating and decelerating growth phases over the next few quarters, he reckons.

I guess we’ll see. And if you’re at the meetings I look forward to seeing you at the weekend.

More from me soon. Keep in touch.

Richard Howes, Editor