The Material Handling Industry of America's (MHIA) NA 2004 trade show was the most successful yet, and vindicated the organisers' decision to move it from Detroit to Cleveland.
More than 20,000 materials handling industry professionals graced the exhibition hall, and the feeling from more than 400 exhibitors was positive. Most reported more traffic and a friendlier atmosphere than the 2002 event in Detroit, and several companies had returned after boycotting the 2002 show.
While the opening day saw moderate foot traffic through the exhibits, Tuesday was probably a record. There appeared to be more than three times the number of visitors from the previous day, and exhibitors were busy the entire time.
There was plenty for visitors to do other than talk turkey in the exhibition proper. FedEx's "relax" theme featured two very comfortable armchairs with electronic massagers; visitors to the Big Ass Fans stand could shake hands with former gridiron star William "The Refrigerator" Perry; and many exhibits featured ornate rolling displays of their products.
NA 2004 was very much a regional show - no glitzy displays, dancing girls or forklift ballet. It was a chance for company representatives to talk to the grass roots industry, and the show had a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. It was a place where business and personal relationships were forged and rekindled in the forum of a biennial reunion.
While PR posturing on the floor was going on, serious business was being discussed in the bowels of the I-X Centre, once an aircraft bomber factory in World War Two, where press conferences, business seminars and discussions were constantly occurring.
The MHIA staged its annual press conference, in which MHIA executive chairman Ralph Deger said industry scuttlebutt and discussion had centred on the US economy and market confidence in the coming years.
The USD60 billion US materials handling industry was cyclical, and ebbed between high and low peaks every 4.5 to five years.
"While the most recent cyclic decline was influenced by some extraordinary events, the downward trend was well underway following the dot.com implosion and, in fact, preceded the events of September 11 ," Mr Deger said.
"The good news with cycles is that what goes down has always gone back up to new and greater heights as economies expand."
The MHIA predicted materials handling consumption would this year hover just below USD60 billion, before rising to USD63 billion by 2005. According to MHIA figures, 70% of materials handling equipment is sold in the eastern states.
Mr Deger said the industry turnaround began in the third quarter of calendar 2002.
"By the end of 2003, we saw the overall industry emerge into a growth phase. 2003 saw capital spending up 2.8%, industrial output up 0.4%, materials handling bookings up 2.7% and materials handling shipments up 0.8%," he said.
"In 2004 ... capital spending should improve 9.8% and industrial output (should rise) 5.1%, materials handling bookings should be up 6.5-7%, with shipments expected to increase by 4-6.5%."Forkliftaction.com thanks organisers and exhibitors for our warm reception at NA 2004. Our three representatives greatly benefited from meeting important people in the industry. See our online photo gallery for pictures from the event.