Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

I hope that each of you have a very Merry Christmas. I’m going to take a few days off during this holiday period to recharge my batteries, but will be back blogging with you after the first of the year.

Here is a version of the Night Before Christmas from the Ponca City, OK Development Authority. I couldn’t have done it any better than what they did.

The forecast is strong for the e-con-o-mee;

During two thousand and five business here remained loyal,
Manufacturing rose and you know about oil;

For those wanting work, the signs were inspiring,
They hung in the windows: “Help Wanted,” “Now Hiring!”

Next year’s looking good, why not celebrate?
So say the smart folks who teach at O-State;

Retail sales will be up as they were in ’05,
While the rate of job seekers continues to dive;

Incomes will rise and performance will soar,
They’ll be many new jobs, we’ll add hundreds more;

No regrets for the way things were back in the day,
That road has closed and we can’t go that way;

We’ll enter ‘06 on full steam, without sorrow,
Get set Ponca City, we’re “go” for tomorrow;

The New Year looks bright, go tell Dad and tell Mom,
Read the forecast yourself at;

So to Ponca, Kay County and all of O-K,
Merry Christmas to all, from PCDA!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Out Where? Flying Where?

“Rainwater calls Lake City, SC the “middle of ... nowhere.” But the truth is he’s got everything he needs here: cable TV, a telephone, an automatic coffeemaker, a decent golf course up the road, and a fast Internet connection.” I was reading Fortune magazine’s December 26 issue last night when this article about Billionaire Richard Rainwater and an article about the very light jets (VLJs) kept me up later than I planned.

Fortune says that Lake City, SC (population 6,478) is the last place in the world that you would go to look for a rich man like Rainwater. His wife, Darla Moore’s grandfather was a small tobacco farmer in Lake City and they’ve bought the old farm, using it as a base of operations, spending a lot of time in the tranquil surroundings.

The VLJ article is a summary article of the characteristics of the four manufacturers of these new planes. Fortune does a nice side-by-side comparison of the planes and explains why people like retired American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall are so excited about the new technology so that they can set up new air taxi companies.

It is happening! Some of the technological innovations that will drive it and lifestyle reasons for the resurgence of the agurbs® are starting to be picked up by the mainstream business press. I’ve been researching it and writing about it for several years and so it is fun to read their breathless new discoveries.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Keeping the Local Grocery Store

“M&J’s Grocery, like other small stores in North Dakota, is struggling to survive. With a mobile society, additional competition, and diminishing rural populations, sales have been declining,” was how the Wimbledon, ND Newsletter described the town’s only grocery. Wimbledon has declined to only 237 people in the latest census. Its medium age is 42.5 compared to the national average of 35.3. It is probably at a “tipping point” as a community, where unless it can stop its population loss and bring down its medium age, it risks dwindling away.

I was in Wimbledon earlier this year and listened to many citizens concerns about keeping their town vibrant. We specifically talked about M&J’s Grocery because of the age of the current owners, who started the business 50 years ago when they were young people. Mike & Judy Schlecht have tried to develop a niche as a wholesaler of sausages, jerky, beef sticks, smoked port chops, cottage bacon and ground chuck, which they sell in a number of neighboring communities. However, the business is marginally profitable and is at risk of closing.

I hope that Wimbledon is able to develop a plan to keep this important local institution operating in the community. Saving M&J would be a major step in keeping Wimbledon as a vibrant small town.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Not Letting Friday Night Lights Block Cooperation

Three counties in rural IN are jointly working together on the development of a 1,000-acre technology research and development park. The effort is being assisted by the state to take advantage of the $3 billion Crane military technical center, located in the most sparsely populated of the three. Last week the State of Indiana pledged an initial $1 million to help get this project off the drawing boards and into operation by late 2006. Already, two high tech companies with ties to Crane have announced plans to locate in the park.

Daviess (population 30,245); Martin (10,467); and Greene (33,500) counties are typical rural counties. The largest town in this region is just over 10,000 in population, with all of the rest less than 5,000 in size. Too often the phenomenon of “Friday Night Lights”, blocks joint projects like this in towns and counties. I’ve written extensively about it, defining it as because our High School teams play each other on Friday nights, we can’t possibly work together on Monday mornings.

It is wonderful to see communities working together cooperatively in creating new jobs and opportunities for their citizens. I’m glad that they got over Friday Night Lights.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Power of Rural Philanthropy

“Leaders in Shickley, NE, generated 150 local gifts for their new community fund endowment, all from a town of only 379 people. African-American neighbors in rural VA pool their resources to permanently support community change for the long-term.” These were just two of the items that grabbed my attention in a report I read last night called “The Power of Rural Philanthropy” (

One of the most powerful forces for change that I’ve witnessed in traveling around the country for the past several years is Community Foundations. Their growth has been spectacular and they are a major force of change for many towns. This report estimated that there are over 2,000 geographic funds affiliated with community foundations with over $1.5 billion in rural endowments, most established within the past ten years. And, these funds are up 132% in the past six years alone.

If you don’t have a community foundation set up yet in your community, make a resolution to start one in 2006. Those of you with community foundations should pat yourselves on the back for having set one up and for what you are going to be able to do in your communities as a result.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Is Your Community Mean-Spirited or Kind

Don Iannone raised an interesting question for communities in his blog yesterday (, asking if your town is mean-spirited and desperate or if it is kind and willing to sacrifice for others. I have seen a similar approach in researching my book and in my travels. Here is Don’s blog on the subject:

I have been noticing two interesting tendencies in the places where my consulting work takes me. The first is a tendency toward mean-spiritedness and desperation. The second is a tendency toward kindness and sacrifice for others. Of the two, the second is clearly preferred. And yes, both tendencies are found in all communities.

Let's look at each.

Suffering Leaders

Leaders in many communities have allowed themselves to become calloused, jaded, ungrateful, judgmental of others, and overally self-critical. Some seem to excuse this behavior as appropriate and acceptable because "that's what leaders must do to get things done." This behavior exists in growing and declining communities alike.

As I explore why these leaders are so unhappy, I discover that many suffer from two related conditions: low self-esteem and extreme egocentrism. Many leaders are unhappy because they can't wave a magic wand over the community and transform it into some "magical economic wonderland." Many suffer because they are obsessed with making businesses happy at the expense of people.

I listen to what these leaders have to say when they ask my firm to take a "hard look" at their competitive advantages and what needs to be done to make the place more attractive to businesses. I see the leaders of these communities and states blaming themselves and their citizens for not doing enough for business competitiveness. As I listen to them further, I hear anger and blame, which masks the underlying fear, apprehension, and worry they carry around in their gut. I work at feeling compassion and understanding for these leaders.

Joyful Leaders

Then, there are leaders in places that demonstrate a sincere concern about people, unprecedented acts of kindness, caring, and generosity. I hear true empathy and compassion, and not blame and ridicule, in these leaders' voices. These places are also concerned about their competitiveness, but they are not willing to throw people aside at the expense of unaffordable incentive packages or other actions that permit businesses to do what they shouldn't do anywhere. I see a courage to care, love, and respect in the faces of these leaders. Joyful leaders are found in both growing and declining places.

The second set of voices gives me hope that something we might call "humanistic economic development" is possible in our field in the future.

Of the two groups, the second is far stronger and much better prepared to confront the realities of economic change, conflict, and hardship. These places are also better prepared to develop new opportunities because they are open and willing to listen, learn, and grow.

Truthfully, I find both voices in most places. The question is which is voice is louder and takes precedence? Which description best fits your community, region, or state?

The choice is ours in terms of how we want to be. I celebrate the enlightened joyful leader who understands the need for gratitude and kindness in economic development. I have compassion for the suffering leader, who shares his suffering, rather than his joy, with others.

Leaders in any community have a choice on how they want to be. Given the choice between suffering and joy, I will take joy any day.

My advice to communities for 2006 is quite simple: "Create a joyful environment and prosperity and abundance will take stronger root in your community." It's worth a try. Don't you think?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cirrus’ 2000th Plane

Recently, Cirrus Design flew their 2000th airplane. The company, headquartered in Duluth with a plant in Grand Forks, ND took four years to build their first 1000 planes and only 2 to build their next 1000.

These type of new planes along with the Very Light Jets (VLJ) are goijg to revolutionize how we travel in the future. Keep your eye on Cirrus, Eclipse, Adams and others. It is going to be a fun ride.

Friday, December 16, 2005

BRAC Renewal for ED

For the past 65 years, Newport, IN (population 578) has been the site of the Newport Chemical Depot for the U. S. Army. The facility produced and stored RDX explosives and heavy water for the atomic bomb during WWII, TNT and the chemical agent VX after that war.

In the late 60s, President Nixon halted all production and transportation of chemical weapons. For almost the past half century, a stockpile of 1,690 one-ton containers of VX has been housed at Newport. As you would expect, there is a lot of security that makes the place look like a true military base. I made sure that I didn’t make any quick moves and did as I was instructed, as I presumed that the guns everyone held were real.

Earlier this year, Newport was informed that the base would be closing and a production system has been set up to destroy the VX. It will take about 3 years to complete the process.

The Vermillion County EDC hopes to take possession of the facility and views it as a diamond in the rough. The plant has over 7,000 acres of land, numerous older buildings, six huge water wells, a seven million gallon indoor reservoir, two water towers, a sewage treatment plant, roads, etc. It has tremendous potential for some large industrial projects.

Newport and Vermillion County have the potential to turn this plant closing “lemons” into lemonade. They are proactively approaching the problem in a very positive manner.

Newport Chemical Depot Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 15, 2005

New Lake as ED

“Head to Huntingdon, TN and buy land around the new lake they are building,” would be my advice, if I were in the real estate advisory business. They’ve been working on building this 977-acre recreational lake since 1984 when they formed the Carroll County Watershed Authority specifically for this lake.

Huntingdon is a town of 4,349 in Carroll County (population 29,364) midway between Nashville and Memphis. “Once built, the lake will likely be a boon for the country’s quality of life, bringing with it tourism dollars in the short-term and industrial and real estate development dollars in the long-term,” says Carroll County Chamber President Brad Hurley. He estimates the economic impact at $23 million for the first ten years, with a project annual increase of $1.5 million in property taxes for the county.

Another benefit that Hurley pointed out about the lake is “unlike a company which could come and go--it’s difficult to move a 1,000 acre lake. It is here for the future.”

In the past, I’ve written about the impact of these types of projects on a community. My travels around the country have solidified my conviction that a project like Carroll County’s is an economic altering event for a county and a region. It not only has a direct economic impact, but also more importantly raises the quality of life and brings many new people into the community.

I’ll be keeping my eye on this project and its impact.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

America’s Rags to Riches Story

John Steele Gordon’s new book An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power traces the growth of a young America into the world’s dominant economic power. His work chronicles the people, technologies and industries that propelled this rags to riches transformation.

He attributes the USA’s famous get-up-and-go approach to our ancestors who “are descended from those who got and came. Those who chose to leave all they had ever known and come to a strange and distant land came to pursue their own ideas of happiness.”

Gordon relates how early clusters such as ship building, textile mills, railroads, etc. helped to develop more diversified communities than were found on monoculture plantations. One interesting side note is his relating of the first railroad locomotive which zoomed along at 18 miles per hour, “Several of the passengers brought along paper and pencil and wrote down coherent sentences to disprove the then widely held belief that people’s brains couldn’t function at such speeds.” It reminded me of why my hometown didn’t have an Illinois Central rail line. Those German farmers were convinced that the “Big Iron Horse” was going to sterilize their soil and fought to keep the rail line from coming thru town.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Entrepreneurial eBay

I stand corrected! I’ve been saying in my “Entrepreneurship as a Paradigm Shift in Economic Development” talk that 500,000 Americans are making their living on eBay.

A new survey by A. C. Nielsen finds that it is now 724,000 who rely upon eBay as their primary or secondary source of income. eBay is a recent phenomenon, but is quickly becoming one of the main generators of jobs and businesses in the USA, and for the most part these businesses are flying under the radar screen of job statistics.

eBay has dropped barriers to starting new businesses and is a major reason that entrepreneurism is alive and well in the USA. These people are their own bosses. They work hard, innovate and figure out a way to make themselves successful. It is a spirit that is alive and well in this country.

With $83,000 worth of good traded every minute of the day, eBay is an incredible marketplace. Fourteen percent of these eBay sellers are people who’ve retired early to work full-time on eBay.

Two examples of internet businesses that I love to talk about are Dakota Cabin Quilts in Hettinger, ND ( and Bless My Bloomin’ Cookies in Enderlin, ND ( Both do over 50% of their business over the internet from very small towns in a sparsely populated area. They couldn’t survive without the internet, but have thrived by understanding it and selling all over the USA and the world with it.

My wife is now working on her second quilt from Dakota Cabin Quilts and I don’t believe will buy a quilting kit from anyone else. If you are a quilter try them out.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Do it Ourselves!

Big Sandy, MT isn’t getting the network TV show that they had hoped for, but like a lot of towns that I visit that isn’t going to stop them. They are just going to do it on their own. And, in my opinion, will be better for it than if ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” had chosen them for a makeover.

Big Sandy applied over a year ago to the show, hoping to be remade as an Old West town. They never heard back from the show, but the application process galvanized the local citizens into action. Marlys Bitz, local Chamber of Commerce Beautification Coordinator said, “At the time this town of 800 had three businesses for sale. We knew that we had to do something or we were on the road to death. First go the stores, then the doctors, and finally, the gas station.”

Today, Big Sandy is doing just that. Their motto is “We’re not going to be another Verona,” a town 10 miles away that once thrived but died a slow, painful death. “Today it’s just a sign, two garbage cans and a picnic table. The problem with Verona was that people there didn’t want to see anything change. We’re not going to let that happen in Big Sandy.”

Bitz has brought in the Montana State University Community Design Center to help with the makeover. But, they aren’t going to make themselves into a Old West Town, rather sprucing up what they already have. Several of the businesses that were for sale have new owners; there are plans to slow traffic down in the downtown and giving people a reason to stop. The big grain elevators in town are going to be painted red, giving the town a unique look and identity.

I just love towns like Big Sandy. They never give up, keep plugging away and find ways to reinvent themselves.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My Marathon—Half, That Is!

Well, I accomplished all three of my goals for the ½ Marathon that I ran yesterday. I did complete the course, running the entire 13.1 miles in just over two hours (official time 2:06:21). I also found muscles that I didn’t ever know that I had.

Most importantly, I beat my brother Bob by about 5 minutes. I had shot out into the lead over him and his wife Audra in the first mile, but they caught me at about the 8.5-mile marker, making some rude comments about “not believing that I had held them off for so long.” I caught up with them in about a mile, passing Bob without much effort.

The Kenyans did not show up. They don’t run unless there is prize money and Kiawah is a prize-less race. I did finish before the winner of the marathon by about 15 or 20 minutes, but want to remind you that he ran 26.2 miles to my 13.1.

My sister Mary Lacksen finished fourth in her age class. She and her husband Jeff finished the race hand in hand.

I had a great time, shocking my family with my finish. Of course they were going to be shocked with any finish.

My sister Mary Lacksen and I at the finsih Posted by Picasa

The Seven Runners Posted by Picasa

They didn't tell us of these until after the race Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Running in SC

I’m not sure that I can run 13 miles. I’ve never done it before. But, I’m going to try it this morning. In on Kiawah Island, SC for my sister Mary’s 50th birthday party. Mary is a runner and talked six of her siblings and friends to join her on a half marathon race.

I have a couple of goals for this race that I wanted to share with you prior to the race:
1. Finish the 13 miles
2. Beat my brother Bob, 12 years my junior
3. Beat the Kenyans

The third goal might seem a little lofty, but you have to realize that the Kenyans will be running 26 miles to my 13 miles. Stay tuned for the results.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Native American VC

Native American Capital ( is the first All Indian Country private equity and venture capital firm in the USA. The WA based firm plans to raise $10 million from wealthy tribes before approaching institutional investors for an additional $40 million. The plan is to invest from $1 to $3 million in Native American enterprises in established markets such as gaming, governmental contractors, federally funded housing, health care and natural resource extraction on Indian lands.

One of the major trends that I’ve observed in my travels of the past year is the dramatic increase in the number of Native American entrepreneurs. It is a largely untapped market that has tremendous long-term potential. NAC will be the first of many such venture funds in this area.

Rant Two—It Got Worse

After my rant on Amtrak yesterday, I thought that it couldn’t get much worse than what I had reported. I was wrong!

I am in Chicago for several days of board meetings for the State Universities Retirement System (SURS) Board that I’ve been on for over ten years. We take care of the retirement funds for all of the people who work at universities and colleges in the state.

As I reported on my blog yesterday I was able to make my 1 pm meeting on Wednesday, but several of our staff were so late from taking the same train on Thursday that they didn’t make a 3 pm meeting. They were stuck for many hours in Kankakee. That Amtrak could be three hours late one day is perhaps understandable, but to be even later a second day in a row is inexcusable.

Hopefully, this will be my absolute last rant on this subject.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

What Are the Odds of This?

What do you think the odds are of having four students from the same small high school playing in the NFL? And, all being offensive linemen?

Those were the questions I asked Bruce Altorfer of Altorfer, Inc. from Cedar Rapids, IA when he told me the story last week of Casey Wiegmann (Kansas City Chiefs); Aaron Kampman (Green Bay Packers); Jerod DeVries (Detroit Lions) and Brad Meester (Jacksonville Jaguars). They all went to Aplington-Parkersburg High School within a six-year period. The school is a consolidated one of around 300 students in towns of 1,054 and 1,889 in a county of only 15,071 in central Iowa.

With 32 teams having rosters of around 75 players, there are 2,400 world-class players in the NFL, or about 1 for every 117,000 of population in the USA. Butler County, IA is doing 31 times better!

All are offensive linemen, a position that requires a player with more intelligence than normal because they have to memorize all of the plays and know what they are supposed to do in each situation. Evidently, a great linemen coach at that small school is doing something out of the ordinary with young athletes.

Who in your town is developing world-class talent? How can you develop and expand this talent pool?

Rant on Amtrak

Ok, bear with me here. It’s time for my annual rant about some inefficiency in our transportation system. In the past, I’ve written about the DFW airport, hub and spoke airlines, etc. Yesterday I was riding on Amtrak to Chicago…..very s-l-o-o-o-o-w-l-y.

The train was supposed to leave Effingham at 4:57 am, scheduled to arrive at 9 am in Chicago. I called them at 4 am to learn from Amtrak’s automated phone system that the train was running “13 minutes late, but the train crew was trying to make up time to put them back on time.” Right!

The train finally pulled into Effingham at 5:30, which wasn’t too bad and actually better than I feared. About 20 people got on the train in Effingham, also a larger number than I would have guessed.

About 30 minutes out of town, we were stopped for “a broken rail.” I’m glad they discovered it before we rolled over it. After a half hour wait, we were rolling again. Would you believe that we had an identical “broken rail” another 30 miles up the track? Incredible! Is there some conspiracy going on here?

At 7:40 am, my wife and I went up to the dining car for breakfast to learn that “the dining car just closed so that we can get prepared for our arrival into Chicago.” Hello!!! You aren’t going to arrive at 9 am folks!

They must have either heard my stomach growling or loved my winning personality because we were able get them to un-close the grill to get our second egg choice because they were out of their omelet special. Did I miss some culinary breakthrough? Are they are no longer making omelets out of eggs?

By the time we hit Kankakee, my wife was sick of my special rendition of “Ridin’ on the City of New Orleans.” I digress: Did you know that Arlo Guthrie is going to be in Effingham this weekend for a special concert for Katrina victims? Unfortunately, we’re going to be out of town and won’t be there to hear his version.

We finally made it into Chicago almost 3 hours later than scheduled. In the time that we spent traveling one way to Chicago, we could have driven there and back with time to stop for breakfast and lunch.

I could write several more paragraphs about other inefficiencies of Amtrak that I noted on our trip, but won’t bore you with those details. Let me just say, it is not hard to see why the federal government has to pour billions of dollars into keeping this horribly inefficient transportation mode. Why anyone rides it, is beyond my comprehension.

End of yearly rant! Don’t expect another Amtrak one for at least five years.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

American Christmas

“Abraham Lincoln voted against adjourning the legislature on Christmas Day,” Cullom Davis, an Abraham Lincoln historian told me as we were touring the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, IL last week. I had heard a great deal about the museum from my wife and children who have visited numerous times but was not prepared to see with how history can be brought to life like what I saw at this new museum. It didn’t hurt that they used a Disney expert and had $150 million to spend. But, it was still impressive.

One of the temporary exhibits was “Christmas at the White House” which detailed how the traditions of Christmas have evolved over the years. I learned that it wasn’t until the 1890s that Christmas began to become a major holiday in the USA. The extent of the Lincoln’s Christmas celebrations were probably Christmas stockings over the fireplace. There was no Christmas tree and President Lincoln worked as though it was a normal workday. Lincoln thought that the taxpayers were owed a day of work on Christmas and shouldn’t be treated as any different from any other day of the year.

As I toured the museum, I was surprised at how our traditions have changed and evolved over the years. It is the same with our communities. We have to continually update our traditions and evolve as communities.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ethics of Enderlin

“Over the last several years there has been much in the news about corporate scandals, cheating and executives being fined or sent to jail. I think I am very lucky to have come from a place where everyone in town expects honesty and where parents and community leaders make sure kids walked the straight and narrow. The ethics foundation I received growing up in Enderlin, and our honor code at West Point, are always at the forefront of every decision I make.” Those were part of Marshall Larsen’s talk at the Enderlin Recognition Awards Ceremony in his hometown of Enderlin, ND (population 947). Larsen is CEO of the Goodrich Corporation, a Fortune 500 company with 21,000 employees.

Larsen is like lots of people I meet in my travels. They have very fond remembrances of growing up in their small town and often give justly deserved credit to the lessons that they learned years ago. Larsen finished his speech with these words, “I am proud to stand in front of this audience and tell you Enderlin was, and is a wonderful place to grow up. This is a great and caring community and the current leaders should be commended for providing opportunities and solid improvements for all to enjoy. I will always be proud to say I cam from Enderlin and Enderlin will always have a special place in my heart.”

Enderlin has a wonderful publication called “The Hometown Magazine” that is aimed at the many alumni of Enderlin High School. It is obviously well read, as there were letters and notes from 37 other alumni in the magazine. What a great way to stay in touch with those many alumni (I call it a town’s brain bank) like Marshall Larsen who have a special place in their heart for their hometown.

I was in Enderlin earlier this year when I did a weeklong tour of ND towns, one of my more memorable trips of the year. I was so impressed with the hospitality and warmth of the people I met in the nine towns I visited. Mike Martin, who accompanied me on the trip, wrote in “The Hometown Magazine”, “The days spent with Jack Schultz showcased an amazing part of the world. Not one community leader I visited with yearned for the good ol’ days and all of them spend a lot of time thinking of the future and what changes their community should make to benefit from it. The theme seems to be “Prepare yourself for your time, and it will come.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Tomatoes on Steroids—Get on Board!

Tomatoes on Steroids is a catchy name for a unique program that the Kern (CA) Economic Development Corporation ( started last year to assist fledgling companies in the county. The nine companies chosen last year have already created 35 new jobs in the past year.

This year the EDC has chosen eight small businesses and one business cluster from the 38 applicants to the program. The program is aimed at companies with fewer than 50 employees that have the potential to pay above average wages, have sustainable products and a unique or advanced technology.

The cluster selected for the program is the off-road and motorcycle industry. Eight companies in this cluster will be assisted on how to get their information out to a wider public by working together. As I travel around the USA, this cluster and related recreational activities is a rapidly growing one.

The Tomatoes on Steroids is another Economic Gardening initiative that first began in Littleton, CO and is spreading throughout the country. You need to have your community on this bandwagon. Get on board!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Entrepreneurial Model

Nancy Richards started First Preston Management in 1988 with her life savings. She was featured as a “Supporter of Entrepreneurship” at the Ernest and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in CA last week for her work in encouraging and mentoring over 2,000 entrepreneurial suppliers to her firm.

First Preston uses independent companies to inspect, appraise, maintain, value, list and market its portfolios of buildings in 24 states. The company has mentored and encouraged these entrepreneurial companies, developing its own software program called HomeTracker, to assist in the management of its work.

Richards has grown her business into a firm that handles a real estate portfolio of more than $13 billion for corporate and government clients. And she has done it fully utilizing a team of entrepreneurial companies. How many other businesses could be built upon such a model?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A New Oil Refinery?

There hasn’t been a new oil refinery built in the USA since 1976. The rules and regulations along with the low returns prevalent in the industry have discouraged new facilities. Cushing, OK (population 8,371), which bills itself as the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” is fighting to build the first new one in almost 30 years.

A town meeting last month was attended by about 100 people who endorsed the town facilitating the construction of the $2.5 billion facility that would have a $157 million payroll. Having studied and traveled extensively throughout OK in the past year, I am not surprised that OK is looking at building the 150th refinery in the USA.

You have to leverage your resources as a community. You can’t just wait for it to be thrust upon you.

Friday, December 02, 2005

History Repeats Itself

George Gilder’s Friday Letter had a very interesting piece in it today. Gilder’s thoughts on the continuing negativity of certain people parallels what I am witnessing. We are in the midst of an incredible technological revolution in this country that is going to lift incomes, wealth and prospects. However, the mainstream media prefers to report on anything negative, as opposed to having a vision of where we are going.

Here is what Gilder has to say:

George Gilder (11/30/05): Twenty years ago, Clyde Prestowitz was one of my leading debating partners, along with Lester Thurow and Robert Reich. All of them were citing the same "imbalances" (tech trade gaps, near zero savings, foreign purchases of U.S. assets) and making exactly the same arguments for catastrophe that Prestowitz offers in Newsweek. The only difference was that in the 1980s they fervently agreed that the country that would vastly outperform the U.S. was Japan. They were also sure that Europe would excel us.

Instead, since the early 1980s the U.S. has risen from around 25% of global GDP to close to 30% and from a third of global market cap to nearly half (depending on purchasing power parity or currency values). The fact is that capital movements, flowing through fiber at the speed of light, now dictate trade flows rather than the other way around. The converse of a capital surplus, the trade gap signifies the superiority of U.S. financial markets and entrepreneurial opportunities. I believe that the U.S. economy has many weaknesses (litigation, green paranoia, special interest politics driven by McCain-Feingold, fatuous mushy education), and that China could become a more potent challenger than Japan was. But Prestowitz still doesn't have a clue.

Kermit’s Green Carpet for Kermit

Kermit the Frog kicked off a 50-city tour in Kermit, TX (population 5,714) to celebrate its 50th anniversary this past week. The city named the Muppet its homecoming king, renamed a street and a park in his honor and painted his likeness on the town water tower.

The west TX town was named for Teddy Roosevelt’s eldest son who used to visit the county to hunt antelopes. However, the town is thinking of adding Kermit the Frog to its official seal, which currently features a cow, oil derrick and yellow jacket (the high school mascot). There is talk of replacing the cow with Kermit.

I’m not sure that these changes will play out well for the long term, but it’s fun to see a town leverage their bit of fame, even if it is only for that famous 15 minutes.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ten Minutes to Anywhere

“Ten minutes to anywhere…including work, school, shopping and home,” is the theme of Fairmont, MN (population 10,889) to bring home their mid-career graduates. They are in their second year of promoting the town to students who graduated between the years 1972 to 1985. They mail out a series of postcards, all with the same theme of moving back home.

Mike Humpal, assistant city administrator told me, “We are looking for those who liked growing up here. We are trying to get them to check out our website and hopefully get them to either the MN or US job banks so that they can see some of the jobs that are available in the area.” He added, “We’ve surveyed 18 who have moved back in the last 2 years and found that none of them came for the jobs. They all came back to take care of parents or for their kids or even to be able to live on a lake. They all knew that they could find a job if they got back here and that’s what they did.”

Fairmont hasn’t had a huge brain drain, like a lot of areas. Mike told me that they found that over 50% of their grads still live within a 25 mile radius of home, but the population of Fairmont is 17% older than the US average (41.3 years vs. a 35.3 national average).

I like their approach. I’m hopeful that other towns will follow the example of Fairmont to proactively bring back some of the brain bank of their towns.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Strong on Strong

“Lately Strong seems to be known as the town that has lost three major businesses in the last three years and we’d like to change that perspective,” said Eileen Miazga who owns EJ’s Market in Strong. So Miazga led an effort to turn things around in this NW ME town of 1,259. She and a small group of local citizens set up the Strong Area Business and Civic Alliance.

Strong’s economy has been dominated by lumber and the milling business. When those three mills closed their doors, many thought that would be the end of Strong. But, living up to its name, Miazga and others are working on highlighting the existing businesses in the town and developing new ones. They did an inventory of businesses in the town and as Miazga said, “I was amazed at the number that are here. I thought we maybe had 25.” But, the survey by the Alliance showed that they had 115 businesses, 8 civic organizations and 3 working farms. Many of those businesses started up after the mills shut their doors, demonstrating the entrepreneurial spirit of small towns.

Strong, ME is a great example of a town that isn’t going to shrivel up and die. Its people are strong minded and entrepreneurial. There are a lot of Strongs in the USA that are going to figure out how to prosper in this new century.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

$100 Grows to $22 Million

“Little did anyone know, least of all class organizer Theodore Dann, that the New Castle High School graduating class of 1924’s decision to set up a small endowment with $100 would be the beginning of what is now the Henry Country Community Foundation,” is the start of a brief history of what is today a $22 million community foundation. Several other small funds were started as a result of that initial fund and by the late 1930s there were $25,000 in assets. By the 1950s the funds had grown to $75,000.

Today a giant oak of a community foundation has grown from that $100. With $22 million in assets, the foundation last year received gifts from 1,300 people totaling almost $700,000, gave out 404 grants totaling $650,000 and most importantly is positively altering the landscape in Henry County, IN (population 47,809).

Community Foundations are one of the best assets that a community can develop. I’ve seen numerous examples in my travels of the impact they can have.

What acorns are you planting today? Wouldn’t you love to be the Theodore Dann of your community?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Jay Leno’s Goofiest Towns in America

At the Ernest and Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition, I got an autographed book from Jay Leno, which I read on the plane back home. I was pleased to see that he shares my fascination with strange named towns. Here are the ones that he identified, some of which I’ve already stumbled across, but also a few new ones.

Cheesequake, NJ
Monkey’s Eyebrow, AZ
Hygiene, CO
Yeehaw Junction, FL
Santa Claus, IN
Beebeetown, IA
Smileyberg, KS
Shoulderblade, KY
Hot Coffee, MS
Pumpkin Center, MO
Truth or Consequences, NM
Chocolate Bayou, TX
Humptulips, WA

Saturday, November 26, 2005

What If They’d Built that Lake?

“In the late 1980s we tried to build a 3,000 acre lake. We couldn’t put it together because we had a few people who wouldn’t sell their land. The whole idea just died.” Bill McCartney, head of ED for Pike County, IL told me during my recent visit.

After my talk in Pittsfield, I spoke with several local people about what the county might look like today if they had been able to build that lake. After seeing what has happened in similar areas with the impact of a lake, I’m convinced that Pittsfield and Pike County would be much more economically vibrant. There would be numerous second homes, more stores, and more employment. It’s too bad that they weren’t able to do that lake when brush land prices were only a couple of hundred dollars per acre. Today that same land would cost them thousands of dollars per acre.

I urged them to dig up the old plans for the lake and to try to resurrect it. Their kids and grandkids will thank them, if they do.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Economic Impact of an Off-Road Park

“We hold one of only 26 Jeep Jamborees in the U. S. We host about 30 other events/year,” Debbie Wombels of the Rockport Off-Road Park that she and her husband Tom started in 2003 told me. “Tom started the Two Rivers Jeep Club about 15 years ago. He has a bulldozer business and I’m an x-ray technician. We’d always dreamed of starting our own business.”

They received a $1.2 million state grant earlier this year to buy 350 acres of land that they were leasing, giving them ownership of 750 acres. “We either had to buy that land or the deer hunters would have snapped it up. The grant was funded by a special tax on ATV sales.”

They charge $15/day for ATVs and dirt bikes ($10/day for kids) and $20/day for jeeps and trucks. Nine thousand vehicles have used the facility so far this year.

Debbie told me, “While we aren’t making any money yet, we are paying out bills.” She figures that the park has a $1 million+ impact upon the local economy with people staying in hotels, campgrounds, etc.

Mayor John Hayden of Pittsfield; Bill McCartney, ED for County; and Debbie & Tom Wombels of Rockport Off-Road Park Posted by Picasa

Rockport Off-Road Park Posted by Picasa

Rockport Off-Road Park; Rockport, IL Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Expert is Wrong—Entrepreneurism is Alive!

“The time and importance of entrepreneurism in America is over.” Carl Schramm, CEO of the Kauffman Foundation was quoting the words of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith from his 1967 book The New Industrial State. At the time, Japan was on ascendancy. The USA was struggling with high unemployment and low growth. Galbraith and others thought that the country needed centralized planning just like the Japanese.

It was a time of BIG! There was Big Government, Big Business and Big Unions. These three worked together, setting out a plan for the country. This was a time of “What is good for General Motors is good for the U. S.”

How wrong they were. As Schramm pointed out the U. S. has moved from a Big to Better Society, with the growth of entrepreneurs rather than big business driving our economy. A number of changes speeded the transformation with changes in pension laws; development of Venture Capital; deregulation; and the winning of the cold war all encouraged a more entrepreneurial approach in our country.

Schramm’s prediction is that “we will move from being an ownership society to becoming the entrepreneurial society.” I couldn’t agree with him more.

Carl Schramm of Kauffman Foundation Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What If’s! There Again!

“Sometimes you’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time,” was how Wayne Huizenga started out his presentation. He told of how when he got out of the navy in SC, he met his dad in Florida. They went out to lunch and happened to meet a friend of his fathers at the restaurant. The man was in Florida visiting his small, three-truck trash hauling business. He needed a manager and offered it to Wayne on the spot. From that chance meeting, Wayne Huizenga, who had no experience in trash hauling built a business into Waste Management. He also bought into Blockbuster Video on a similar fluke meeting. At the time, he didn’t even own a VCR, nor had ever rented a movie in his life.

Pat Croce told of calling the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers fifty times before he finally sold him the team. His memorable quote was, “IQ is not as important as I Will!”

Several of the speakers spoke of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. How many ordinary people do you have in your towns that are doing extraordinary things? What if you multiplied that energy by two, five, or even ten times? What could you accomplish?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Lessons from the Movie Hoosiers

The movie Hoosiers is one of the best sports movies ever made. In my book BoomtownUSA, I wrote about how the town that achieves real teamwork within its various sectors is the one that reaps real success. The movie portrays this concept perfectly.

The movie was based upon the high school basketball team from Milan, Indiana (population 1,816) which beats a big-city team in the Indiana State Finals when there was only one class of teams. Hollywood changed the name of the team to the Hickory Huskers, telling the story of how the team struggles early in the season because its players are selfish and uncommitted. When the coach demands selflessness and commitment—and dares them to believe in themselves and have a great vision—the boys become an unstoppable winning team. The result—a state championship, is still treasured in basketball crazy Indiana.

The Huskers’ home court in the movie was the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown. I was thrilled to be giving a talk in the gym, getting a chance to tour it prior to my talk. It was built in 1922 and today is a wonderful tourist attraction for the town.

Knightstown, IN (population 2,148) is holding the 20th anniversary of Hoosiers June 3 to 11, 2006. They’ve invited back Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper, stars from the film for the festivities.

Nearby New Castle, hometown of Kent Benson and Steve Alford, is the site of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. The town of 17,780 has the largest high school gymnasium in the country, which seats 11,000. In fact, seven of the top 10 largest high school gyms are located in Indiana.

High school sports are wonderful unifier in most towns, but what if we put as much effort into creating new jobs and opportunities in our towns as we spend in supporting our high school teams?

Former grade school in front of Hoosier Gym; Knightstown, IN Posted by Picasa

Hoosier Gym from stage Posted by Picasa

Me shooting a basket in Hoosier Gym Posted by Picasa

Hoosier Gym Locker Room Posted by Picasa

Hickory Huskers Letterman's Jacket Posted by Picasa

Harley Worth More than GM

“Our first ad was…Thank God They Don’t Leak Oil Anymore,” Richard Teerlink, former Chairman and CEO of Harley Davidson told us at the Ernest & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Conference. He was talking about how 12 management people who invested $1 million and borrowed $85 million tried to turn around the motorcycle icon in 1981. “The joke was that no one owned only one Harley. You had to have a second one for parts. Our quality was horrible.” The company’s market share had shrunk from 65% in its heyday down to only 14% in 1981.

The company was facing heavy Japanese competition and was on the verge of bankruptcy. It had horrible labor relations. Its dealer network was in shambles. Sales in 1982 were $210 million with an operating loss of $15 million. Today Harley has a 49% market share, $5 billion in revenue and an operating profit of $1.4 billion.

Contrast that with GM, which announced yesterday that it was closing nine assembly plants and laying off 30,000 employees. GM was on top of the world when Harley was fighting for survival. Harley Davidson made the hard decisions, invested in new products and has excelled. GM has dawdled and the results are crystal clear. Today GM with 40 TIMES more sales than Harley has a market cap of $13.3 billion compared to $15.1 billion for Harley.

Teerlink also told us about his father who emigrated from Holland in 1920. “Dad was a tool and dye maker with a six grade education, but in Holland he knew that he would never be able to own his own business, so he came to the only country in the world where he knew he could. He eventually owned a machining shop in Chicago.”

The lessons learned? Anything is possible in the USA. If you produce a great product and take care of the customer, you can be wildly successful. If you don’t, watch out! Even a giant like GM can be humbled.

Richard Teerlink riding his Harley into talk Posted by Picasa

An Early Harley Ad after buyout Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 21, 2005

Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

I’m back today from three incredible days attending the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Palm Springs, CA. I had won the award for Illinois and was in the running for the national award but was beat out by some company called Home Depot. But, even though Agracel didn’t win the award, it was a real honor to be nominated and to have the opportunity to take part in the excellent program that E&Y put together.

Arthur Blank told of how he and Bernie Marcus started Home Depot in 1979 after being fired from Handy Dan. They ran thru half of the capital that they raised in first nine months but as Blank said, “We went into the stores and made modifications based on listening to the customers as well as the sales associates of the stores.” Today Home Depot has 1,900 stores with a new one opening every 48 hours.

We had presentations by Wayne Huizenga, who started six companies that are listed on the NYSE including Waste Management, Blockbuster Video and Auto Nation; Carl Schramm of The Kauffman Foundation; Pat Croce, former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers; Richard Teerlink, former CEO of Harley-Davidson; and Angela Basset, Academy Award Nominee Actress. There was a lot of take home from their messages.

I also got to meet some incredible entrepreneurs who are leaders in their industries. I met the fastest growing ethanol producer in the USA; the leader in the manufacture of weather stations; the developer of a mower that can cut a football field in nine minutes (where was he when I was a kid?); the developer of the Flow Jet that you might have seen on American Chopper and many others. E&Y told us that collectively the 300+ entrepreneurs that were at the conference accounted for 850,000 jobs!

The Doobie Brothers played one night and Jay Leno was the MC for the Awards Gala. We had a blast! I’ll be reporting on some of the take-aways from the conference in the next couple of days.

My mother and mother-in-law at the awards banquet Posted by Picasa

Joan River's on the red carpet Posted by Picasa

Harley's first ad after the buyout Posted by Picasa

Pat Croce's presentation Posted by Picasa

My banner at the Ernest & Young Awards Posted by Picasa

Fireworks at Doobie Brothers Concert Posted by Picasa

Purple Martin Capitol

“He was in the TV antenna business and was concerned about cable TV coming in, hurting the demand for his antennas. He switched to making purple martin houses with his brother.” Bill McCartney, head of ED for Pike County, was telling me about J. L. Wade. His company developed into the premier producer of purple martin houses, eventually hiring over 200 people. Trio Manufacturing, the company that Wade started still makes purple martin houses, although employment is down to only 40 as demand for the houses has declined. But Griggsville, IL (population 1,258) remains the purple martin capitol of the USA.

Purple Martin sign in Griggsville, IL Posted by Picasa

Purple Martin house tower in Griggsville, IL Posted by Picasa

Oldest house in Pittsfield, IL. Radio sign in front. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Radio Tour of Historical Houses

“We’ve got nine talking houses. Each has a radio transmitter that broadcasts the history of the house done by period actors.” Mayor John Hayden of Pittsfield, IL was explaining to me how the town was promoting their historical houses that date back to the 1830s and include many that have some tie to Abraham Lincoln. It costs about $350/house to set up, an amount that every town I’ve been in should be able to afford. A map of the location of the houses makes it easy to find. This is another idea that other towns should use to make their tours more user friendly.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Community Foundations for the Long-Term

I received the following comment to a recent blog from Lael. Here is what she wrote:
“Our community needs its very own endowment fund for community development but we are finding a pocket of resistance from some folks who think any money raised should immediately be spent rather than saved as a permanent asset with only the interest utilized to facilitate community development. They also resist the idea of helping the poor through this fund. I don’t understand this but would love any ideas on how to overcome the resistance. We have decided to call it a Legacy fund rather than endowment. This is a rural community with the biggest town being under 10,000 and total county population of approx 40,000. 25% of the population lives below the poverty level.”

I’ve visited some towns and counties this size that have $10 to $30 million in their endowments. They have all taken the long-term approach, not immediately spending any money raised, but rather investing for their kids and grandkids. A bit of patience and the power of compound interest can yield some wonderful benefits for the community.

Yesterday Should have been a State Holiday!

“The price of brush ground has skyrocketed from $300/acre ten years ago to over $3,000 today. It is worth as much as the finest farmland in the county.” Bill McCartney, the head of economic development for Pittsfield, IL (population 4,211) was explaining to me on my tour of Pike County, IL earlier this week. I was stunned! What economic force could possibly be driving values to these levels?

McCartney quickly explained to how raw land values have escalated so dramatically, “Deer! We have the highest population of deer in the state. We have 35 outfitters in the county who are buying and leasing land for hunting purposes. They are building hunting lodges that are incredible. We have a new one that has 30 rooms in it. These hunters, who come from all over the country, are paying $2500/week.”

Bow season was just closing and shotgun season opened yesterday in Illinois. In many parts of the state, the local high schools close down for the day because if they didn’t their attendance would fall precipitously.

We take our deer hunting seriously. Last year one local plant manager told me, “I had one long-term worker who came up to me with a request for time off. He handed me the request with one hand and I asked him what he had in the other hand? He said, ‘That’s my letter of resignation, in case that you don’t accept my time off for opening day.’ And, he was deadly series.”

I did a quick, back-of-the-envelop calc of the financial impact of only the increase in value of this land, not taking into account the dollars that flow into the county each year with hunter’s spending money. Pike County has 830.2 sq. miles of land, or just over 500,000 acres. About 150,000 of this is scrub ground, which means that this previously worthless land has escalated over $400 million in value in the past 10 years, or $23,000 per capita increase in net worth for every person in the county. Add in the economic impact of the money spent each year, added tax revenue, etc. and you have an incredible impact and one that is growing!

Pike County is not an anomaly. The increased demand for hunting, fishing and other recreational pursuits is a growing one. It is being driven by the aging baby boomer generation, which has much more disposable income and is willing to pay to pursue their passions. If you have the natural resources in your community, you might look at how you take advantage of this phenomenon.

Friday, November 18, 2005

What If, Again?

I received this email from someone in Shawneetown, IL. “I think probably our area's biggest claim to fame is... that when Chicago's 'founding fathers' wanted to expand their small hamlet, they came to the bank in Old Shawneetown (3 miles East, on the Ohio River) and requested a loan. Our 'founding fathers' (in all their wisdom) said... “NO! Chicago is too far away from Shawneetown and the Ohio River to ever amount to anything”

The main mode of transportation changed with the development of railroads and suddenly Shawneetown, located in close proximity to the Ohio River, wasn’t as strategically located. The town has been in a slow decline ever since.

What if Shawneetown had been the banker of Chicago and assisted that community to develop? What if the residents of Shawneetown had reaped some of the riches from Chicago? What would Shawneetown look like today?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Oil Rig near Sidney, MT Posted by Picasa