Cities such as Phoenix, the site of this year's SMACNA convention, might still be sparsely populated, dusty cowboy towns if it weren't for the invention of air conditioning.

But thanks to Willis Carrier's patent, the so-called Sun Belt, which stretches from Georgia to California, is the fastest growing region in the country. Thousands move every month to the formerly cactus-and-tumbleweed-filled Western U.S. states, drawn to seemingly endless sunshine and mild winters.

Stewart Varney
And many of those who aren't moving are visiting. The area, with lush golf courses thanks to irrigation, is a top tourist spot. And Oct. 8-12, visitors will include members of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, as the group holds its annual convention at the JW Marriott Resort and Spa.

Like years past, SMACNA will offer five days full of educational seminars and discussions, mixed in with time for socializing and golf outings. A small trade show is also scheduled. The Oct. 9 opening lunch speaker will be Stuart Varney, a business journalist and economist for Fox News. Varney will offer his views on politics, culture and the American economy.

The former host of "The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board with Stuart Varney," and a London School of Economics graduate, has been a member of Fox News since January 2004. He contributes to "Your World with Nick Cavuto," "Bulls & Bears" and "Forbes on Fox."

Glen Frey
He reported extensively on the 1987 U.S. stock market crash, helping CNN earn a Peabody Award for its coverage.

The entertainment at the Oct. 11 closing ceremonies will likely be a little louder. Glenn Frey, best known as a member of the popular 1970s and 1980s country-rock band The Eagles, is scheduled to perform. "Witchy Woman," "Lyin' Eyes," "New Kid in Town," "Hotel California" and "Heartache Tonight" were among their biggest hits. Many of these featured Frey on lead vocals.

Here's a look at some of the sessions scheduled before Frey ends the event.

Dennis Sowards


If someone offered you 100 loyal customers or 100 satisfied customers, which would you choose?

Dennis Sowards will give attendees his suggestions during "Gaining Customer Loyalty," at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 9. Sowards conducted research for the SMACNA-affiliated New Horizons Foundation on customer satisfaction. He says it's important to understand customers' changing needs and the factors that influence how they value work.

Also at 7:30 a.m., Michael J. Horman, Ph.D., of Penn State University, will speak about his New Horizons Foundation-sponsored study, "Creating a Learning Culture for HVAC and Sheet Metal Contractors." His program will repeat at 2:15 p.m.

The HVAC Contractor Forum, also at 7:30 a.m., will explore the future of the industry and the cost benefits of using temporary equipment versus permanently installed systems. Thomas C. Schleifer, Ph.D., of Arizona State University will present "Unprecedented Challenges - A Look Into the Industry's Future." Schleifer will describe how the dramatic changes in contracting, technology and communication are affecting the market.

At 2:15 p.m., the Architectural Contractors Forum will meet. Attendees will participate in a panel discussion led by members of SMACNA's Architectural Sheet Metal Council, including Harold Munder of New York Roofing Co. in Long Island, N.Y., and Glenn Parvin of Custom Architectural Sheet Metal Specialists of Detroit.

Industry representatives from Simpson, Gynpertz and Heger Inc.; Soil and Materials Engineers Inc.; Revere Copper Products Inc.; and the New York-based Copper Development Association will be on hand.

Fred Grandy

From television to Congress

Oct. 10 will start with SMACNA's product show at 7:30 a.m. At 8 a.m., Fred Grandy will speak at the spouse breakfast.

Grandy is a one-time U.S. representative and candidate for governor of Iowa who fluently speaks Arabic and French.

However, for millions of people, the 58-year-old Grandy will always be Burl "Gopher" Smith from the long-running television series "The Love Boat."

After giving up acting in the mid-1980s, Grandy ran as a Republican for a U.S. representative seat from his home state of Iowa. He won the 1986 election and served for eight years, including stints on committees dealing with agriculture, conduct and education.

After losing a close election for the Iowa governorship in 1994, he became the president and CEO of Goodwill Industries, which provides education and job assistance to low-income and other disadvantaged people. The nonprofit group is primarily funded through sales of donated clothing and furniture.

Under his leadership, Goodwill Industries doubled its annual revenues to more than $1 billion and was able to help more than 373,000 people each year.

Since 2003, he has co-hosted the "The Grandy and Andy" radio show on WMAL-AM in Washington, D.C. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Maryland's School of Public Affairs.

At 9:30 a.m. Oct. 11, The International Training Institute's activities will be the focus of "What Every SMACNA Member Needs to Know About Industry Training."

The session will feature David Norris, management co-chairman of the ITI trustees. Norris will discuss the institute's efforts on lifetime learning, continuous education, core curriculums, "modular" training, associate degrees, accrediting joint apprentice-training centers, career paths, master technicians, certification and other programs.

Training materials for new markets will also be discussed.

For more information on SMACNA's annual convention, write 4201 Lafayette Center Drive, Chantilly, VA 20151-1209; call (703) 803-2980; fax (703) 803-3732; see on the Internet.

Side bar: Phoenix offers wide array of activities, lots of history

When Phoenix was officially established in 1881, most probably couldn't have predicted that this city in the Sonoran desert would become the sixth largest in the United States, let alone a tourist destination.

Known by some as the "Valley of the Sun," Phoenix has a rich history dating back to early Native Americans, as well as U.S. settlers who saw the land as ideal for farming. Visitors to the area will find plenty to feed their historical curiosity. But the city also offers an array of leisure activities, from the symphony to shopping.

Octobers in Phoenix can hit a high of 88ºF, so for SMACNA members attending its 2006 convention, get ready to enjoy the heat, as well as everything else this metropolitan community has to offer.

For visitors who want to delve into Phoenix's past, one of the first stops should be the Heard Museum. The 130,000-square-foot museum offers a number of galleries devoted to the art and culture of Native Americans. The sight provides a look at early artifacts, as well as the work of several Native American artists.

The Deer Valley Rock Art Center also offers a look at early civilization in Arizona. The center is the location of the Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site. Petroglyphs are prehistoric designs that have been carved or engraved into rock and stone. More than 1,500 such ancient drawings can be found at the art center.

For a more traditional look at history and art, there is the Phoenix Art Museum. The facility houses a variety of art, including Modern and Contemporary art, and American, Spanish, Asian and Latin American Art. The museum also has a collection of fashion design from the last three centuries, as well as a room of miniatures.

A history of firefighting is also a highlight in Phoenix. The Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting offers close to an acre of exhibits with over 90 restored pieces of firefighting equipment. Some of the equipment dates back to the 1960s, while other pieces are from the 1700s. According to the museum, most of the equipment is from the United States, but there are also rare pieces from England, France, Austria and Japan.

The great outdoors

There are plenty of opportunities for visitors to enjoy the great outdoors in Phoenix. For example, Camelback Mountain provides hiking trails for beginners and experts. The most difficult hiking trail will take you up 1,200 feet above sea level. The mountain gets its name because it looks like the shape of a camel lying on its stomach.

Papago Park, which is the location for the Hall of Flame, also offers hiking trails. Visitors will find fishing spots and the Desert Botanical Garden. The garden contains 50 acres of outdoor exhibits, including a desert discovery trail, a variety of desert plants and wildflowers, and a desert house and garden library.

Finally, if golfing is your idea of enjoying the outdoors, Phoenix has several options. According to the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, there are more than 200 golf courses in the area. The bureau reports that peak golfing season is in November, with shoulder seasons in May and September through October. Some of the most popular golf courses include the course at the Four Seasons Resort in Scottsdale, the Sedona Golf Resort and the Sanctuary Golf Course at Westworld.

Around the town

Billed as "90 blocks of urban lifestyle," Copper Square is the place to go for shopping, dining, entertainment and more.

The Arizona Center can be found in Copper Square, which is the location for three acres of shopping and restaurant choices. The center has more than 30 boutiques and stores, a movie theater, seven full-service restaurants and a coffee house.

Copper Square also offers several theaters and entertainment complexes, including the Orpheum Theatre, (originally built in 1929), the Phoenix Symphony Hall, the Dodge Theatre and the Herberger Theater.

For sports enthusiasts, Copper Square is the location for the BankOne Ballpark, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the America West Arena, where the Phoenix Suns hold court.

Several other theatres, museums and churches can be found in the Copper Square district.

Family destinations

If you're traveling with the kids, Phoenix offers activities that the whole family can join in on. The Arizona Science Center in downtown Phoenix boasts 300 hands-on exhibits in five galleries. The museum aims to educate through interactive exhibits. One of the permanent exhibits is called "Many Hands Make a Home." Sponsored by Home Builders Care across Arizona and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Arizona, this exhibit shows in-depth what it takes to build a home, from conception to construction. Hands-on opportunities are presented in electricity, plumbing, design and project management.

To catch a glimpse of 1,300 different animals, head over the Phoenix Zoo. The zoo is also home to 200 endangered or threatened birds, mammals and reptiles from around the world. In the past five years, the zoo has introduced several new habitats, including the Monkey Village, the Wallaby Walkway, and the Leapin' Lagoon water play area.

Outside the city

If you're willing to travel outside the city limits, a number of day trips are within reach. The most popular is, of course, the Grand Canyon. The canyon is billed as one of the world's seven natural wonders and it's a five-hour drive northwest of Phoenix. Nature walks and mule rides are available at the Grand Canyon. According to the convention and visitors bureau, the North Rim of the canyon is open through October depending on weather conditions.

Just two hours outside the city is the Apache Trail. This trail, originally a stagecoach trail, was used by the Apache Indians to gain access through the Superstition Mountains. There are several points of interest along the paved trail, including the Roosevelt Dam, the Tonto National Forest and the ghost town of Goldfield.

Other points of interest outside Phoenix include Sedona and the Oak Creek Canyon, the White Mountains, and Lake Powell.