Thursday, June 30, 2005

More Red Wing Boots

I blogged several weeks ago about the 100th anniversary of the Red Wing Shoe Company, which is doing a “Shoes on Parade” exhibit around town. I just received an email with a website that will link up to pictures of many of those boots, decorated by local artists. Go to, click on the boots button on the upper right hand corner and then click on the white arrow to the left of the first picture. There are some great photos.

A Company Town? Still Functioning in 2005?

I thought that company towns went the way of the buggy whip. Perhaps there are some still in existence, but at least I’ve visited one—Port Gamble, WA. The tiny town of 85 people sits along the Hood Canal. Its history dates back to 1853 when William Talbot, Josiah Keller and Andrew Pope modeled the community after their hometown of East Machias, ME for the new timber mill they built.

The town’s heyday was in the 1920s when the mill employed 250. When it shut its doors in 1995, it had the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating sawmill in the USA. It fell victim to the spotted owl and environmentalist attacks, which resulted in over 200 mills closing in the NW during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Today Port Gamble is making a comeback of sorts. It hosts 25 entrepreneurs today compared to only 9 in 2001, operating small businesses out of their storefronts while living upstairs, just like in the old days. All buildings are leased from Pope Resources which has spent several million dollars on refurbishing the town and cleaning up the old mill site. Their hope is to develop up to 4,000 acres of timber land that they own nearby.

One attraction in the town is the historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which has become a popular venue for weddings. Last year they hosted 32 weddings and I’ve got to think that Pope Resources has to be the only timber company that has its own wedding coordinator.

Port Gamble, WA General Store Posted by Hello

:Port Gamble Firestation Posted by Hello

St. Paul's Church--Port Gamble, WA Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Phoenix Growth

I was talking with a good friend who recently moved to the Phoenix area today and he was relating the incredible population growth that is going on in that market. Coincidentally, I was reading a real estate study that looked at housing permits.

In the past year Phoenix has had almost 66,000 new permits issued, which is more than the total permits issued in the MSAs of all but 5 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, and Texas.

WA State of the Cities Report

Small town leaders are much more optimistic than big city leaders in a new report on the State of the Cities Report from the Association of Washington Cities (AWC). I picked up the report when I was at their annual conference last week and read it on the plane coming home.

At one of the small town committee meetings that I attended, it was pointed out that 215 of the 281 members of the AWC have a population of fewer than 10,000. The state is big but skewed in population toward Seattle.

The State of the Cities Report broke the state down into 14 categories including Regional Centers; Rural Commercial Centers; Tourism/Light Industrial Hubs; and Rural Communities that matched with the 9 agurbs® that I chose in the state.

When asked if they were optimistic or pessimistic about being able to provide citizen-demanded services over the next 5 years, Central Cities (like Seattle) were only 33% optimistic. This contrasted to Rural Communities at 54%; Tourism 50%; Rural Commercial Centers 27% and Regional Centers at 38%.

Even more pronounced was the difference on the question of providing economic development opportunities over the next five years. Central Cities were at 33% compared to Rural Communities at 43%; Tourism 67%; Rural Commercial Centers at 27% and Regional Centers at 75%. Regional Centers, which tend to have a more well diversified economic base, had the highest percentage of optimism.

Moonlight’s Day in the Sun

His big-league career was over in only 2 innings, but he became immortalized in the movie “Field of Dreams” that I love to talk about in my BoomtownUSA talk. You see, there really was a “Moonlight” Graham played by Burt Lancaster in the film, and his one major league appearance was 100 years ago today.

The 28 year old rookie came into the game in the bottom of the eighth and was on the on-deck circle waiting to bat when pitcher Claude Elliott flied out. In the movie Moonlight asks, “Is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make dreams come true?”

Moonlight moved to Chisholm, MN (population 4,960), in northern MN, in 1912 when the town placed a newspaper ad looking for a doctor. He lived there until he died in 1965, never boasting about his ballplaying. He was known in Chisholm only as Dr. Archie Graham.

Field of Dreams is one of my favorite movies. It exemplifies what many of the agurbs that I’ve visited have gone thru when they dreamed a BIG dream and were scoffed at by others. Agurbs® like Branson, Leavenworth, Mooresville and others pop to mind. Yes, there are other towns that dreamt the big dreams and didn’t make it. But, it is the dreamers like Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) who take a dream and built into reality.

Is there a dream in your town that needs to be lit by the moon?

Doc Graham’s adapted hometown of Chisholm has been raising funds for two college scholarships/year in his name by selling his baseball card shown here and other memorabilia. Go to their website at and check it out for yourself.

Back of Doc "Moonshine" Graham's Rookie Card  Posted by Hello

Doc "Moonlight" Graham's Rookie Card Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It’s the Entrepreneurs, Stupid

“A dearth of entrepreneurs explains the economic mess in Europe,” is Rich Karlgaard’s opening line in this week’s column ( He goes onto say in the column, “Consumption will never lift a country’s growth rate. Only new production—the work of entrepreneurs—will do that.”

Karlgaard is my favorite columnist and wrote the wonderful book Life 2.0: How People Across America Are Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of Their Happiness. He has a wonderful feel for both how technology is shaping America and why small towns (he calls them the booming boonyacks) offer so many advantages for entrepreneurial development.

Karlgaard’s nine points for entrepreneurial development that you should read in his column are:

1. Taxes must be reasonable.

2. Trade and labor markets must be free.

3. Regulations must be light.

4. The rule of law must be understood and enforced.

5. Entrepreneurs come in all types.

6. Immigration must be encouraged.

7. Waste and inefficiency must be accepted.

8. Honest failure must be tolerated.

9. Social mobility must be applauded.

Wandering Washington

I just returned from spending 5 days wandering around the state of WA with my family. We drove over 1000 miles, which brings my total for the year to over 2,000 miles in the state. I’ve been to three of the four corners of the state, having visited Neah Bay (NW) and Ilwaco (SW) on this trip. An earlier trip took me to Colville (NE). I was less than 100 miles away from the SE corner of the state when I gave a talk in Kennewick on this trip.

It is a BIG state! It is over 500 miles from corner to corner and there is a lot to see. I’ve become enchanted with the natural beauty of the state, which is very diverse. We particularly loved the area around Mt. Rainier as well as the coastal region.

As I’ve driven around the state I’ve been struck by how many people live in a relatively small area around Seattle compared to the vastness of the state. It is not unlike other states like NY, IL, CA and others that are dominated by one very large city. Usually this one city dominates the politics in the state and is viewed by the rest of the state with a big of fear. Washington wasn’t any different.

There are 5.9 million people who live in WA, with 3.1 million (or 53%) in the Seattle/Tacoma MSAs. These city dwellers have a different live style, socio-economic status and approach to life that is different from the rest of the state. Balancing a huge MSA like Seattle with the rest of the state is an ongoing challenge.

One example of this battle was a petition that fell out of the local newspaper and that I saw displayed several times on my travels. A group called was complaining about a recent legislative initiative that raised the gas tax by 9 ½ cents/gallon over the next 3 years, raising WA from the 5th highest state gas tax state to the highest in the nation. The group wants to put the issue to the voters in the state as a ballot initiative.

If I had to guess, this tax is probably supported in a city like Seattle but is strongly opposed in most of the rest of the state, where it will have a much more detrimental economic impact. It’s a typical big city vs. small town issue that I’ve found in many other states. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in WA.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Wal-Mart—A Union Member Perspective

Wal-Mart gets bashed a lot, so I thought that the following letter to the editor in our regional daily newspaper was of interest on the subject.

“I have been a United Food and Commercial Worker for 13 years, and I am tired of my union paper wasting space bashing Wal-Mart. I have a wife who works at Wal-Mart, and I can tell you that they start out at $7, $8, or up to $12 an hour, depending on experience. My union’s starting wage is the minimum wage.

The insurance offered is good at Wal-Mart for employees who work 30 some hours a week; my union offers insurance only to 40-hour-a-week employees.

My wife has worked at two union grocery stores and has not been treated as good as she has at Wal-Mart. She receives profit-sharing checks each year, and stock purchases are something the union stores never offered.

So, quit knocking Wal-Mart; a good majority of people shopping there are union members anyway.

Linn Summers

Coming Home

How good are you in bringing back home your retirees? A new book, Retirement Migration in America by Dr. Charles F. Longino, Jr. due out in July, explores the issue.

Longino found that the best states for bringing back retirees are FL (54%); NC (51%); SC (48%); GA (46%) and UT (45%). The worst were DC (5%); WY (13%); ND (14%); NE (18%) and SD (19%).

How many former residents could you entice back home to retire? What impact could they have upon your community?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Optimist or Pessimist?

“The optimist already sees the scar over the wound; the pessimist still sees the wound underneath the scar,” was said by Ernst Schroder. I read his words recently on a plane flying between towns to do my BoomtownUSA talk. I’d just visited a couple of towns that had lost plants in the past couple of years. How did they approach their loss?

The optimistic town viewed having an empty building and an underutilized workforce as unique assets that they could sell to prospective companies. The pessimistic town wrung their hands and bemoaned the loss.

What is your approach?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Urban Legends

“The renaissance of American cities has been greatly overstated. Cities are content to promote the appearance of thriving while failing to serve the very people who most need cities to be decent, livable places.” So wrote Joel Kotkin (, renowned urbanist author of The City, in the May 23rd issue of The New Republic. His article cites numerous examples of the media dramatically overstating the demographic realities of slow, if not negative population changes in most major USA cities.

“What’s more, these population setbacks for cities are taking place at a time when the growth of suburbs, exurbs, and more rural communities has continued. Even during the late ‘90s, a relative boom time for cities, five people moved out of central cities for every three who came in. Highly urbanized Massachusetts, one of the locales lionized by the new urbanists, was the only state last year to lose people”

Kotkin cites the movement from cities of large company headquarters from almost 90% in 1969 to less than half today. Of particular shock to me is that New York, once a bastion of retailing dominance, has not had ONE of the USA’s top twenty retailers headquartered there since 2002.

Kotkin debunks many of the arguments that Richard Florida has made that only hip and gay cities are the role models for economic growth in the 21st Century with his article. It is interesting that an urbanist like him sees more potential in places that I call the agurbs®.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Spending More on Tourism Advertising than the State—Only in Leavenworth

Leavenworth, WA is always my lead-off story for my BoomtownUSA talk. It is a fascinating story of how a small town rebounded after losing 80% of its population. At my talk yesterday at the Association of Washington Cities Annual Conference there were two Leavenworth City Council members in the audience. We spoke after it.

Tibor Lak owns two stores in Leavenworth while Robert Eaton is a regional sales rep who covers Canada, WA, OR, ID and AK from the tiny town. Robert told me, “I live in God’s country because technology allows me to.”

“We spend more on tourism advertising than the state tourism board for the entire state of Washington. 80% of our $5.5 million general fund is from tourism dollars. We were able to do our new $2 million festival hall in an old packing house from our lodging tax. We’ve also built a new $2 million swimming pool and a new skate park because we brought several groups together on the projects,” Tibor told me.

I also learned that Mayor Mel Wyles’ mother, Laverne Peterson, was one of the original eleven members of the Vesta Junior Women’s Club that got the ball rolling on Leavenworth’s transformation into a Bavarian Village. In fact she converted the Chikamin Hotel into the Hotel Edelweiss.

But Leavenworth isn’t resting on its laurels. It is making a push to be the training site for ski jumping in the 2012 Olympics. On the outskirts of town is the only 90 meter ski jump area that is west of the Rockies. Great agurbs® never give up on their constant quest to improve themselves.

Robert Eaton & Tibor Lak, City Council members from Leavenworth, WA Posted by Hello

This is a Big Country!

For the past 15 months I have traveled to over 35 states, logging 130,000+ miles. I’ve found that some places are much further apart than I had thought prior to beginning this journey. Here are some examples of distances as done on Microsoft Streets and Trips that have astounded me:

1. Rockford, IL to Metropolis, IL 414 miles compared to Atlanta, GA to Metropolis, IL 393 miles.

2. Chicago to Texarkana, TX 795 miles compared to Texarkana, TX to El Paso, TX 813 miles.

3. Metropolis, IL to Pensacola, FL 590 miles compared to Pensacola, FL to Miami 680 miles.

4. Bristol, TN to Ontario, Canada 390 miles (air) compared to Bristol, TN to Memphis (air) 443 miles.

I’m sure that there are others that I’ll find equally astonishing as I continue my trips. If you’ve got other examples please send them to me. I hope that you can win a bet or two with my examples.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Entrepreneur of the Year

Tonight I got a call from Coleen Phillips, VP of Marketing for Agracel, from Chicago where she was attending the Ernst and Young Illinois Entrepreneur of the Year Award. I’m out in Washington doing a talk to the Washington Association of Cities and couldn’t make the travel plans work to get back for the awards ceremony. Coleen let me know that I won the award for Illinois, which is quite a nice honor.

However, as I told my team back at Agracel in an email this evening, “Even though my name is on it, it is truly a team effort and couldn’t have happened without the effort of each of you. Thanks for all that you do. You are the best!” It is a wonderful experience for me to get a chance to work with this great team. I hope that each of you who read this blog get a chance to meet all of them one day.

My sons and two friends at Moonshine. Posted by Hello

Moonshine—The Town

Calling Moonshine a town is a bit of stretch. They advertise a population of 2 on their sign but it looked like a stretch to me when my sons, a couple of their friends and I stopped by for a cheese-moonburger earlier this week. We were on our way back from Terra Haute where we make an annual run to purchase fireworks that we’ll be shooting off on July 3rd from our boat dock. Stop by if you’re on Lake Sara.

The State of Illinois map doesn’t list Moonshine, but I found it on Microsoft’s Streets and Trips. I should have printed out the map, because we ended up getting lost trying to find this wide spot in the road. It is not a place that you are likely to stumble across…it sits at the intersection of two country roads about 8 miles from any cluster of homes that you might call a village.

But Moonshine has become a bit of a cult location where people from all over the world (all 50 states and 30 foreign countries) go for big, greasy, juicy moonburgers that they sell for $2. They’ll add a slice of American cheese for another quarter. The day we were there they’d served over 150, but had done 250+ the day before. Their record is 469, set earlier this year when several collector groups (antique tractors, Corvettes and Studebakers) stopped by for lunch. The grill is on from 10:15 to 12:30 (sharp). We got there at 12:20, but a family that arrived at 12:35 after us, was out of luck.

Helen and Roy Lee Tuttle bought the old country store in 1982 and haven’t done much to it since then. In fact I’m guessing that there hasn’t been a major renovation done to the building since it was built in 1912, other than a reasonably new wooden outhouse across the road. They call it “Sitty Hall.”

You can sit on one of the three church pews inside, on the three benches on the front porch or the dozen picnic tables on the lawn on the east side of the building under the shade trees. Moonshine is one of those places that you want to tell people you’ve been to. It has a very unique sense of place.

Moving to the Burb—Agurb® that is!

Dan Cialdella and his wife are Chicago natives. A couple of years ago they bought a vacation home on Lake Mattoon in Mattoon, IL and as he told me, “ever since we started coming to the Mattoon area on the weekends, I just fell in love with it.”

“I currently work as a Cash Manager for a large financial services company but that is not where my true passion lies. I love real estate, primarily income producing real estate, especially when the prices are right and the cash flows are strong. I was looking for real estate in my suburb for years, but everything is so over valued, to the point that if you bought a building you were guaranteeing yourself an operating loss immediately. Mattoon, on the other hand, provided wonderful real estate investment opportunities. Numbers actually work out.”

His goal is to eventually move permanently to his vacation home. He’s already done four real estate deals and has others in the works.

I wonder how many other “big city” future entrepreneurs there are like Cialdella that just need a nudge to get out and find themselves in the agurbs®?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Coming Revolution in Air Transportation

“It will cost $50,000 and be based upon GPS technology compared to $2 million for the current ILF system,” was how Bob Wearley, president of the Indiana SATS Consortium explained to me the new Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) that was unveiled this month in Virginia. Indiana is one of six such consortiums formed around the country by NASA, DOT, FAA and NCAM. Wearley went onto explain to me, “Today the air traffic controllers can handle about 3 planes/hour in low visibility, bad weather conditions. With this new system an airport will be able to handle over 10/hour and they won’t even need a control tower. It will all be automatic.”

The Indiana SATS has let other SATS work on developing the technology. Indiana has concentrated upon studying the economic impact of this revolutionary technology. The group’s economist Morton Marcus explained the impact that SATS could have on a community, “It will change the way that communities live. It used to be that if you weren’t on the river, then on the railroads and now on the interstates, you didn’t really exist as a community. Implementing SATS will have a similar impact in the future as those three transportation modes have had in the past.
Marcus has done a study of the impact of this new technology for every county in the USA. His study for Steuben County, IN (population 33.722) is an increase in output of $4.7 million; an increase in earnings of $2.9 million; and an increase in employment of 88 jobs. To get your county’s estimated impact of this new technology, email them at

When you combine this new air traffic system with the new generation of Very Light Jets, new air taxi companies (Pogo & Day-Jet) and the scheduling power and flexibility of the internet you can quickly see that we are on the verge of a paradigm shift in air transportation in the USA. No longer will we fly only out of 150 airports in a hub and spoke system of transportation. Rather, we will fly directly point to point, fully utilizing the 5,000+ local airports which are within 20 miles of 98% of our population.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Security Cargo Lock Cluster

“Two-thirds of all of the cargo locks used for security purposes are made here in Steuben County, Indiana,” was how Gary Nielander, head of Economic Development for the county, explained to me as he showed me a demonstration of TydenBrammall’s World Bolt at the 23rd Annual Northeast Indiana Business and Industrial Conference. “They and Brooks Transguard, another local company, are the leaders in this increasingly key industry.”

The product display of TydenBrammall showed very simple security seals made from flexible cable and wire, to the rigid bolt systems and all the way up to padlock type seals. Earlier this month the company was awarded a U. S. Department of Homeland Security contract for 1 million of their World Bolt container seals. The seals will be used at port and border locations across the country.

Eric Hamilton, of TydenBrammall said, “These seals have to be removed with bolt cutters. It’s not something that can be removed by accident.”

It’s another example of Indiana small town ingenuity, helping to solve issues of homeland security.

Who Says We Can’t Compete?

“We went from the black sheep of our company to one of the bright spots,” was how Jim Harden, plant manager of Schneider Electric’s Huntington, IN plant explained the turnaround that occurred. He has gone from 140 employees making transformers in early 2004 to 220 today and already has record sales for the year locked up.

In 1996 the Huntington plant was the only one in the company that went out on strike. Schneider moved ½ of the production out of the plant in 1997. Harden, who came from the engineering side of the business was made temporary plant manager after the strike and became full-fledged plant manager in 2000. About that time the French parent company began looking at how to rationalize global production. Did Huntington, IN make sense in today’s world supply chain, especially when you threw in the past strike at the union plant and a wage/benefits structure much higher than most other plants?

“We saw that the trend was for the high volume, stock items to move production overseas. Seventy to eighty percent of our business was in these items. We were making transformers that were the size of your fist up to the size of a picnic cooler. They were easy to transport and there were five other factories making these same items.” Harden told me.

“We looked at our strengths and weaknesses. We went to the workforce and asked them to get involved and they bought into the changes that we had to make. Most people want to be successful and ours weren’t any different than anyone else. They just needed to understand what we were trying to do and why. They knew that we were on several internal shut-down lists and that our backs were up against the wall.”

Harden did a lot of benchmarking of his plant and developed a new strategy of changing the focus from high volume, commodity products to one of specialty products that had a much lower volume. “This was not a market that we had traditionally played in. We became a technical resource for R & D, got all of the bugs out and then handed off to the high volume plant in Mexico. Today that plant and ours are the only ones left of the six. They even closed another Mexican plant that was similar to us because we were able to offer a better quality product.”

Today the plant’s average production size is only 10 pieces with 70% of the product made one at a time, compared to an average production run that ran into the hundreds of parts. Harden is big on communications, sharing financials, budgets and other key metrics and the workers have responded. Today his union plant logs only 5 grievances/year.

Harden’s plant is a great example of what an innovative, forward looking company can do in today’s fast paced manufacturing environment. There are many others like it throughout the USA.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Manufacturing Posts Big Gains

“Manufacturing Posts Big Gains,” was the headline in the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. The newspaper was surveying manufacturing jobs in the nine county NE IN region. I was in Angola, IN, the most NE county in the state, addressing the 23rd Annual Northeast Indiana Business and Industrial Conference. This nine county region is a dynamic one, especially in the manufacturing sector. Several of these counties have over 50% of their jobs in the sector, one of the highest levels that I’ve seen in my travels.

The article cited the 3,182 new jobs that were created in the manufacturing sector in 2004, comparing it to the 1,358 jobs that were lost in the area. As important as job creation is the $295 million in new investment that was made in the nine county region. The first sign that there are lay-offs on the horizon is when a manufacturer stops making capital investments, because it is only with these capital investments that the very significant gains in productivity can take place which ultimately result in higher wages.

A total of 43 new businesses were established with over 100 companies involved in an expansion of some sort in the region. Contrast that with the 13 companies that closed their doors.

As I scanned the list of companies that were growing, I wondered why news organizations like the New York Times and others aren’t out in NE IN reporting on the expansion and vibrancy of the manufacturing sector. Is it not news or it not news that they want to report? Hmm?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

City/University/Alumni Working Together

Cape Girardeau’s Show Me Center was one of the many wonders that I found when I was doing my research on BoomtownUSA. This was a project that was done jointly between the city and university, one of only eight such projects done jointly in the USA.

Why aren’t more done in this manner?

I attribute it to a “silo mentality” of groups only working in their own silo, instead of working cooperatively together. An example of this silo mentality is in the area of recruiting back alumni to the agurbs®. In searching for many years I’ve only found one place that is doing this effectively—Spokane, WA. This week my e-zine, which you can sign up to receive for free on my website, discussed how Spokane has effectively developed their program.

The following email in response to my ezine is another example of how the town of Pocatello and ISU have worked together to develop a bigger project than either could do alone, fully utilizing their alumni in their fundraising efforts.

“I was interested in this article as it relates to Pocatello and Idaho State University. We began a capital campaign for a new performing arts center and we directed our efforts to our alumni. We had initially targeted the $30 Million cost of the new facility but we broadened our scope at the suggestion of one of our "movers and shakers". To make a long story short, the foundation has raised over $150 Million on the project. Alumni are a wonderful source of not only money as you suggest but also to assist in our continued efforts of economic development.”

Why don’t more agurbs® utilize this wonderful untapped resource?

Investing for the Future—Or Spending it Now

In the past week I’ve been reminded of three examples of governmental programs that will impact generations into the future.

The USA’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve is almost full. We have been stockpiling 75,000 gallons/day, not necessarily a huge amount, but after doing it for 30 years we will have our 700 million barrel goal achieved in August. The oil comes from oil producers who have paid royalties on public land with oil in lieu of cash. At today’s prices the USA is sitting on a reserve worth $35 billion, yet it isn’t even calculated into the national budget battles.

Many years ago the State of Alaska set up a special fund with a portion of their oil revenue. Again after many years of putting a small amount each year into the fund, it has grown to over $20 billion and pays each permanent resident of Alaska around $2000 each year. Talk about a reverse state income tax!

Finally, in my home state of Illinois the governor decided to forego paying money into the retirement system for state employees. He will save around $1 billion/year for the next two years. However, this savings today will constitutionally have to be paid by future generations. Estimated cost is $30 billion. Pay now or pay a lot later!

What are you doing in your family, business and community? Are you spending it now or are you making the long term investments that will be looked upon with awe in the future?

Oil Windfall into Entrepreneurs

I’ve been in several communities in the past six months that are experiencing the ‘boomtown’ affects of $50+/barrel oil. One of those was in ND, famous for its Williston Basin. I’ve counseled several of these areas to figure out a way to tap into this newfound wealth while the oil profits are still flowing, so that they don’t look back with regret when the boom comes to an end.

ND recently passed legislation to do just that. The state will borrow $20 million from the Bank of North Dakota, to be used for the establishment of “centers of excellence” at ND colleges which provide grant money for new business projects that are hatched on these campuses. The money will be repaid from a state oil tax fund that is swelling because of the higher oil prices.

It’s a great way to perpetuate economic activity in ND, hopefully for generations into the future when the oil pumps have stopped pumping.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Irrational Exuberance in Site Selection

“Our organization and others need to do a better job of researching and documenting the competitive cost advantages of rural America,” was how Rand Fisher head of the Iowa Area Development Group ( summed up his observations from doing site selection calls in Chicago. His words made an awful lot of sense as he contrasted operating costs in Iowa with Chicago.

“As we made calls in the Chicago loop, urban fringe and suburbs, we observed a tremendous amount and diversity of investment. We saw some very imaginative and incredibly expensive office and housing investment in the loop. We observed a lot of totally uninspiring, costly warehouse and manufacturing space. When we traveled to the suburban office parks, we also witnessed unbelievably expensive subdivisions filled with “look alike” homes. As I contemplated all this building and the extraordinary costs of the urban environment, I thought about Greenspan’s description of “irrational exuberance.” I pondered the rationality of all this metropolitan centered construction and the likelihood for financial return on investment. I thought about all the competitive advantages Iowa offers.”

“Later in the day while stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, I wondered out loud about the urban concentration and costly investment my development partners and I had witnessed. They readily concurred. In fact, they used terms like “outdated”, “overrated” and “mindless” to describe the obsession associated with metropolitan location. They questioned the sustainability of such investment given the global competition of a new era.”

Fisher is correct in his assessment. The increasing cost disparity between a high cost location like Chicago compared to rural Iowa will eventually be realized by more people and companies, ultimately resulting in shifts in site selection decisions.

Friday, June 17, 2005

A Weird Festival

I’ve heard of numerous chili, corn, tulip and car festivals but I’d never heard of a testicle festival until today. If you’re in Mt. Sterling, IL (population 2,077), 40 miles east of Quincy tomorrow, you can attend this unique culinary gathering.

Most commonly know as mountain oysters, but also as cowboy caviar, swinging beef and lamb fries the festivals motto is, “Come one, come all, let’s have a ball.” The festival will feature beef, pork, lamb and turkey testicles from 1 pm until midnight.

Last year the town doubled in population during the festival and generated quite a bit of media coverage. They say that all PR is good, but perhaps Mt. Sterling will change that old adage.

Regionalism Pays & Pays Big

Why would one area of a state have twice the economic activity of the rest of the state? Even if it’s primarily rural? I wondered why this occurred as I read the Northern Alabama Industrial Development Association (NAIDA) Annual Report Headlines for 2004.

The 13 county area of NAIDA ( encompasses 16% of the land area of the state and accounts for 22% of the population. The largest city is Huntsville which is dwarfed in Alabama by Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. I wrote about how Huntsville grew from a town of 16,000 to 160,000 in the past 50 years in my February 5, 2005 blog (see my archives) by finishing in second place in a national competition. Other than the counties which have Huntsville and Decatur, all of the other 11 counties are under 100,000 populations. Half of the agurbs® I found in my research of Alabama are located in this region.

But this largely rural area of the state created 45% of the new jobs in the state; 45% of the new capital investment; 30% of the new companies; and 41% of existing company expansions. In other words they are almost double the activity of the rest of the state on either a per capita or area metric.

Two factors come to mind as I review these figures. First is the impact of a strong regional economic development group like NAIDA, which has been facilitating new business and job creation for decades. It is firmly established, well funded, highly respected and forging new paths for Northern Alabama. The second factor is the prevalence of small farms in Northern Alabama compared to the rest of the state. Those small farmers have developed a unique, strong work ethic which makes them prized employees for new firms moving into the region.

Northern Alabama is a region that has a very bright future. It is a region on the move and one that you’ll see more of in the future.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Community Foundations Take Time—But Worth the Effort

“In 1949 seven community-minded leaders established the Foundation. It experienced only modest growth for the first 23 years. In 1972, however, the Foundation received its first significant bequest from the estate of Minnie Rubek, a cleaning lady employed by a local utility company, valued at more than $300,000.” From that very slow and very modest beginning The Great Cedar Rapids Community Foundation has grown to over $30 million in assets. This past year it gave out $2.3 million in grants and scholarships to several hundred non-profit organizations and scholars.

Granted, Cedar Rapids is larger than my typical agurb®, with a population of 120,000, but what is happening in Cedar Rapids is occurring in many other communities across the USA. I’ve found that generally the more progressive the community, the more vibrant their community foundation is in the community. They are a great way to perpetuate a legacy of good for small towns.

Cedar Rapids sends me their annual report. If you have a community foundation, please send me information about what you are doing. I’d like to write about more of them as I see them as a key foundational pillar for stronger communities.

America’s Secret City

This Eastern TN town grew from 3,000 to over 75,000 in a three year period of time. It was a WWII’s “Secret City”, which was chosen in 1942 as the site for construction of the Manhattan Project, the government’s code name for the development of the Atomic Bomb. That project cost $1.65 billion and consumed 1/7 of ALL of the electricity in the USA. I was amazed with these and other facts as I toured the American Museum of Science & Energy in Oak Ridge, TN (population 27,387 today) this week.

Stats for Oak Ridge are generally very positive: 89.3% high school grads compared to 80.4% in the USA; 37.9% bachelor’s degree or higher vs. 24.4% in the USA; as are per capita and household income. The one warning signal for me: a medium age of 43.4 years compared to 35.3 years for the USA.

The city is still heavily dependent upon governmental projects. There are a large number of governmental contractors who have offices in the city.

The city celebrates their history this weekend with their Secret City Festival ( I thought that it was interesting that one of the featured acts is Bill Haley’s Comets.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Arts & Crafts as a Strategy

“The largest concentration of independent artisans in North America creates pottery, jewelry, wood carvings and artwork daily,” is how the local chamber of commerce boosts its 8 mile long loop on the outskirts of Gatlinburg, TN. The effort started in 1937 and was boosted by special maps which showed the artists home studio locations.

In 1978, 28 original members formed the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community along the trail. Today the community has grown to over 100 artists. Only four of the original 28 are still there and I visited with one of them, Judy Bailey, who is also the current president of the community. She started Gatlinburg Ceramics ( in 1973.

She was busy loading her kiln with product when I visited but I got time to snap a picture of her, get some information on her shop and a promise to send me additional information on the establishment of the community in 1978. I hope to post more in a couple of weeks, when I receive the information from her.

Efforts like the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community make a lot of sense for other communities to copy. They can be an economic development tool for fostering new entrepreneurs, help to create a special “sense of place”, and can act as a catalyst to entice more visitors to a town.

Judy Bailey; Gatlinburg Ceramics; President of Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Don’t Discard Unpolished Gems

“If there is one lesson to be learned, it’s to not discard a city’s unpolished gems. Back in the 1920s, the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to permanently pave over what had been a nuisance waterway prone to flooding and sewer problems.” I flew thru Detroit today and read a comparison of San Antonio’s River Walk with Detroit’s feeble attempts at such an attraction in the Detroit Free Press. The two cities’ NBA teams are playing each other in Game 3 of the NBA Finals tonight, so such comparisons and mayoral bets are the order of the day.

“Only the intercession of local women, a small group of activists whom Dick Rigby of the nonprofit Waterfront Center in Washington, DC calls the classic ‘ladies in tennis shoes types,’ blocked the Corps and saved the waterway for development.”

San Antonio which has grown into the USA’s 7th largest city has over 12 million annual visitors each year, many of whom visit its famous River Walk. I’ve been there many times myself and never tire of visiting it.

What hidden gem do you have in your town? How can you unlock its potential?

Smoky Mountain Gateway

Over 2 ½ million visitors pour thru Gatlinburg, TN (population 3,382) every year on their way to the Great Smoky Mountains Park in eastern TN. With over 512,000 acres of beautiful wilderness and mountains, that park has been a jewel since it was established in 1934.

Today Gatlinburg and neighboring Pigeon Forge (population 5,084) are major tourist destinations and trying to navigate around the towns are very time consuming. The valleys aren’t wide, roads are few and traffic is as bad as I’ve seen. I’m not sure how towns like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge can fix this structural problem.
Dolly Parton, who was born and raised in the area, built her Dollywood Park in Pigeon Forge 20 years ago. This amusement park, numerous theaters, shops, restaurants and other attractions make Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge a major tourist destination location.

One of the best ideas I saw there was the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community. I’ll write about it tomorrow.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Red Wing Pottery—Resurrected

“Red Wing Pottery was started in 1865 by the German immigrants who brought their pottery skills from Europe. It was funded by the local grain merchants. We were the furthest west pottery and also the biggest in the USA.” Was how Scott Gillmer explained to me the history of the company. “My grandfather worked for the company as a salesman and was eventually made president of the company in the 1950s. The international union forced our workers to go on strike and the company was shut down in 1967.”

Today Scott is bringing back the Red Wing Pottery name ( He started hiring potters in 1996 and has them making Red Wing’s distinct pottery in his shop located next to the old factory, which has been converted into an outlet mall (one of the first in the USA) with condos on the top floors. His potters date and sign each piece of pottery. “Our $18 mugs outsell the mugs made in China that sell for $4,” said Gillmer.

There is an annual convention held each year in Red Wing as thousands of collectors of the world famous pottery converge upon the town. It’s good to see the tradition continued by an entrepreneur like Gillmer.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Big Airlines Precursor of Big Cities

“Are the big airlines a precursor of what lies in store for big cities in this country?” was my thought as I sat in O’Hare this morning, waiting for a flight to Knoxville to talk to the Tennessee Municipal League Conference. In the next several paragraphs I’m going to talk about the airlines, but just substitute the word ‘big cities’ as I go thru my analysis.

The big airlines (United, American, Delta, etc.) were all created in a regulated world. Costs of operation increases were relatively easy to pass along to the consumer and as a result more attention was spent on expansion rather than on cost containment or profitable expansion. Their cozy world was upended in 1980 when the Staggers Act deregulated the entire transportation industry. New companies like Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran (read small towns) have stepped into the lurch with a low cost, more efficient operating model that allows them to make profits at ticket prices that the big boys lose money at.

In 2000 the average airfare cost 13.5 cents/seat-mile. Last year it was 11.7 cents, a 13% decrease. During that time, the major airlines have lost a collective $32 billion. For the past several years the economy has been growing, inflation has been low, interest rates historically low and as I can readily attest to, airplanes have been flying relatively full. In a “normal” capital-intensive business like the airlines, all of these factors should be recipes for minting money. However, the airlines extremely high fixed cost structure, built up in that regulated environment, is today forcing most of the old “legacy” carriers into contemplating bankruptcy. Even if they survive, they will continue to have difficulty in competing against the more nimble, low-fare carriers.

The same differences exist today in a comparison of large cities with the agurbs®. Keep your eye on how it plays out for each over the next several years.

A Very Giving Agurb®

The tens of millions of dollars that have been donated back to their hometown was one of the things that impressed me most about Red Wing, MN. It is a tradition that dates back over a century and has made a huge difference for this town of 16,000.

One of the first evidences of superlative giving is the T. B. Sheldon Theatre, named for the local citizen who left $83,000 of the $92,000 cost to the city when he died in 1900. The theater eventually became a movie theater in 1936 and slowly deteriorated from there until a $3.5 million bond referendum in 1986, which passed by a 5:1 margin, restored it to its past glory. It is a wonderful asset for the town.

The local YMCA and St. James Hotel, both 1900 structures have been redone to their past glories because of local citizens. The YMCA’s $7.5 million local fund raising has allowed Red Wing to have one of the nicest Y’s I’ve seen. The St. James was rescued and restored by the Red Wing Shoe Company, another major local employer and giver. The Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies is located on the estate of A. P. Anderson, a local who invented Puffed Rice and other food products, leaving it to the community.

Red Wing boosts more than 900 acres of parks, many of which were donated land from locals. The Red Wing Wildlife League, which was formed in the 1920’s, has purchased and preserved over 3,000 acres of wetlands on the edge of town abutting the Mississippi River.

Those are only some of the examples of incredible giving that I saw in Red Wing. They exemplify one of the best examples of what local citizens who care about their town can do to make it a wonderful place in which to live.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

United Way of Red Wing Posted by Hello

100 Years of Boots

“First in 100 Years Warehouse Sale or Once in 100 Years Sale is how we are going to promote it,” is how Marcy Dowse of Integreat explained to me how she is promoting Red Wing Shoes 100 year celebration July 28th to 31st. The company is a family business, still owned and run by the Sweasy family.

Bill Sweasy, Jr., 3rd generation CEO continues to reinvest in Red Wing, MN and to fly in the face of conventional wisdom by continuing to make its world famous boots in the USA. The company, which has over 700 employees in Red Wing, also has done major redevelopment in the downtown area. Not only is its headquarters located in a set of historical buildings on the riverfront, but the company purchased and completely remodeled the historic St. James Hotel. Their original shoe factory, a block down the street will be redeveloped into a company museum.

As part of their 100 anniversary celebration Red Wing Shoes has supported a boot design competition that will have supersized Red Wing boots designed by local artists decorating the town. The first ones were being installed on my visit there this week. I’m on the road without any tech help, but I hope to post some pictures of these boots on my blogspot.

If you need boots and even if you don’t, Red Wing is going to be hopping in late July.

Red Wing's Boots on Parade Posted by Hello

Friday, June 10, 2005

Red Wing MN - Boat House Marina Posted by Hello

Red Wing MN- Downtown and Riverfront Posted by Hello

What a Downtown Should Look Like

Red Wing’s downtown has a residential component to it that is comparable to two other wonderful downtowns, Traverse City, MI and Oxford, MS, that I’ve seen in my travels over the past year. Each of these towns has created a very special “sense of place” about their communities as a result. What makes them so special compared to others?

Each of these towns have redeveloped the old apartments and offices on the second and third floors into apartments that are attracting young professionals, empty nesters and retired people back into their downtowns. As a result coffee shops, restaurants and other entertainment venues have relocated into suddenly more vibrant downtowns.

Red Wing’s location on the banks of the Mississippi River puts it into a perfect setting for such a revival. The Red Wing Shoe Company refurbished the 130 year old St. James Hotel, an incredibly magnificent, stately historical building. Their local leadership and investment have encouraged others to transform other historical buildings, turning Red Wing, MN into one of the more picturesque downtowns I’ve seen in my travels.

If you go to visit be sure to check out the “boat house” marina, which is filled with floating structures that date back to the early 1900s. They are held in place by “gin poles” to keep them from floating down the Mississippi River.

I asked Mayor Dummer, “What are gin poles?”

“Why, they were what the owners tied their gin onto during prohibition. They’ve had the name gin poles ever since.”

Red Wing’s downtown isn’t perfect yet. They need to do such things as connecting it to their 20 mile trail system and 900 acres of parks. But they’ve got a visioning process started and I’m betting that they figure it out on their own. I’ll be back to check it out.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Red Wing, MN

The 250 flower baskets scattered around the downtown area were what really caught my wife’s attention when we first visited Red Wing, MN some six years ago. I returned this week to give my BoomtownUSA talk and the baskets are still there. They really accent an incredible downtown that is in the midst of a revival.

Red Wing (population 16,116) sits right along a bend in the Mississippi River with incredible bluffs surrounding it. They’ve historically had a very strong manufacturing base with such famous companies as Red Wing Shoes and Red Wing Pottery still headquartered in the community. However, in the past five years they’ve lost about 20% of their manufacturing jobs and the community is searching for a new vision for their community.

New Mayor Donna Dummer has started Imagine Red Wing, a long term planning process that involves citizens from all walks of life. They’ve had a series of meetings and continue to work on what they want their town to look like in the future. I was impressed with the participants that I met and some of their ideas for their community. I’ll share some of the best over the next couple of days on this blog.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Facts of Rural Development

I received the following email this past week from the Center for Rural Affairs from Nebraska. They were one of the six recipients for a $2 million award from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Grants for Rural America. What do you think of their ideas?

Given the Center for Rural Affairs experience and involvement with community development in 20-plus communities over several years, five undeniable facts have emerged.

1. Trends that show little to no hope for small rural communities are wrong. It takes great effort, but small rural communities can survive and even flourish.

2. Rural youth want to return and live in the area they grew up in. Every survey we have conducted indicates youth cares about the community and wants what is best for it and for them.

3. Young people do not want to be “retained.” They want to be given opportunities for growth and prosperity like their parents had, better known as “youth attraction.”

4. Entrepreneurial growth is the strongest mechanism for small community survival, not industrial business attraction.

5. Small rural communities don’t all suffer from the same problems. No model can fix the woes of all communities. We must recognize that only the community can address their problems. The best we can do is to provide resources for them to get the job done.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What D’Ya Know?

Each year I read with interest Warren Buffet’s annual letter and the Dallas Fed’s Annual Report. Both take a long-term view are written with great clarity. The Fed’s report this year, What D’Ya Know? ( is a look at the impact of lifelong learning upon the pursuit of the American Dream.

In 1940, 60% of the jobs in the USA only required an eighth grade education, compared to around 5% today. Today’s workforce is much better educated, with over half of the American workforce having a least some postsecondary education.

The average estimated lifetime earnings for someone with an eighth grade education is $976,350; high school grad is $1,455,253; Bachelor degree is $2,567,174; and professional degree is $5,254,193.

The report goes on to explain the importance of education and how all of us are gong to have to become lifelong learners. The importance of community colleges and technical schools in our agurbs® is going to become more important into the future.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Entrepreneurial Regions Given a Boost

Since 2004 nearly 200 applicants have been striving to win the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s ( rural entrepreneurship grants. This week those awards of up to $2 million each were made to regional efforts in NE; NM; NC; OR; SD/WY; and WV. All of the winners were regional efforts, taking in from five counties to an entire state and in one case (SD/WY) reaching across state lines with an initiative.

Regionalism is a continuing trend that I’m witnessing more frequently as I travel around the country. No longer are interested citizens letting artificial boundaries, set by surveyors in the 19th Century, limit their ability to connect and transform their populations.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Butte—From Boom to Bust to Revival

It was the biggest city between Chicago and San Francisco at the turn of the 20th Century, an urban island in an ocean of wilderness. Today it is down to 33,892, a fraction of its population from 1880 to 1920. Butte hill was the richest copper on the Earth. Entrepreneurs like William Clark, Marcus Daly and Augustus Heinze were “the Copper Kings” of the era. These copper barons dominated Montana’s economy and politics, controlling four of the five of the state’s major daily newspapers, railroads, banks, power companies, land and even portions of the state Legislature.

Butte was a mecca for newly arrived immigrants. The pay was very good and dependable. Miners work hard, but also play hard. The tradition for a new tavern was to flush the front door key down the toilet on opening day, because there was no reason to ever close the place down again as thousands of miners worked around the clock.

Butte’s low point came in 1982 when Atlantic Richfield Co., which bought the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. in 1977, closed the mine down from one day to the next. Businesses closed, people left town and the town dwindled.

Some of the town’s main attributes today are the buildings and infrastructure built during the boom times. The Uptown part of town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. Jeff Francis, a Florida native, sold his antique and collectible show business there in 1999 and has been splitting his time between FL and MT ever since. He has spent $1.5 million on 12 historic commercial buildings that date from 1890 to 1920. He’s convinced that Butte is on the cusp of a new boom, not built upon copper but on “side-open spaces, peace and serenity, outdoor recreation, it’s all the vogue. Butte has it. Look at Park City, Aspen, and Telluride. They were all mining towns. Look at them now.”

Francis is pushing Butte into the festival business. He is bringing in 200 to 300 antique and collectible dealers for one of the first of many shows that he intends to develop. It should be an interesting change for a town that was only going down.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Cabela’s Stamp of Approval

When Cabela’s picks your town for a retail store there is a certain aura that goes with their choice. After all, the company only has 10 retail stores in addition to their catalog business, but did over $1.6 billion in sales in 2004. These are BIG stores! In fact they are often the major tourist attraction in some states.

Cabela’s picked Dundee, MI a town of 2,800 in 1999 (3,522 population in 2004) for a new 225,000 sf store. The town is midway between Ann Arbor and Toledo, OH on route 23 (not an interstate). It’s a young town with a medium age of only 30.7 years compared to the national average of 35.3. But it was a sleepy town until then.

Cabela’s has hired 600 employees, but Chuck Drexler, of the Dundee Businessman’s Association estimates that more than 1000 jobs have been created since the retailer opened their doors, “People now know where we’re at. In Cabela’s first year of operation, it brought 6 million people to town.”

Recently Global Engine Alliance, a joint venture of Daimler Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai announced the building of two automobile-engine plants in Dundee that will eventually hire another 800.

Dundee is a town on the move. It got a break and is making the most of it.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Dream Factory in MS

The fastest growing car manufacturer in the USA isn’t Toyota, which seems to get all of the press, but Nissan which has gone thru a transformation since the mid 90s. A new plant in Canton, MS, built in 2003 at a cost of $1.4 billion and size of six football fields, helped Nissan to grow its USA sales by 16% in 2004 compared to Toyota’s 10%. Ford and GM both lost sales volume last year.

The thinking of putting a plant in MS was counter-intuitive. Alabama and Tennessee were typically the states of choice in the south for new auto plants due to their more industrialized traditions. But Mississippi won over Nissan and is rapidly transforming the state with this new plant. Business 2.0 features the plant in their June, 2005 issue.

I blogged on the impact of this plant in small towns throughout Mississippi on February 14 and 15th. Already 50 firms, hiring 5,000 people in over 18 towns have set up shop in the state because of Nissan. More will follow.

One of the interesting tidbits from the Business 2.0 story is how Nissan has developed a system to alleviate hail damage to their vehicles at the plant. With as many as 12,000 new vehicles on the back lot being prepped to ship and Mississippi notorious for their hailstorms, Nissan developed a sonic system to break up hailstones in the sky. They’ve installed 12-foot cannons tied into a Doppler radar system that searches for hail formations at 50,000 feet. When the radar system detects these formations it automatically triggers the sonic blasts, breaking them up. They’ve used the system four times already and haven’t lost one car to hail to date.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Fear & Rejection

“Fear & Rejection” was how Europe’s recent slide backwards was written about today by David Brooks, NY Times columnist ( He cites the many policies that have been rejected in the USA in the past several years but embraced by Europe as the reason for their past decade of decline.

Brooks notes that Europe today has a standard of living 1/3 lower than here, unemployment has remained at a stubborn 8 to 11% and 3% growth has only been hit once in the past 14 years. It will only get worse. “Europe’s population is aging and shrinking. By 2040, the European median age will be around 50. Nearly a third of the population will be over 65.”

One of his more interesting thoughts in the column was Brooks’s observations about momentum for countries. “It is happier to live in a poor country that is moving forward—where expectations are high—than it is to live in an affluent country that is moving backwards.”

Too many European countries are moving backwards. At Agracel we’ve seen increasing interest in European companies looking to locate manufacturing plants in the USA. I believe that this interest will increase and that we will see more of them making their products in the USA.

Differentiate or Die

“We were getting ready to file for bankruptcy on January 2nd but we finally found a Chicago bank on December 31st that would give us a line of credit….at 23 ½% interest! The New York Times did a story asking, what was the reason for us to exist anymore?” Ken Schmidt former director of communications for Harley Davidson was telling about the revitalization of the American icon beginning in 1986 at a community breakfast I attended yesterday. At the time Harley was losing market share to the Japanese, the quality of its products was terrible and the brand was most closely linked to biker gangs like the Hells Angels. Harley had laid off 40% of its workforce and was down to only making 35,000 bikes/year. The company tried making a line of boats, snowmobiles and even golf carts! Talk about lack of focus. It was a bleak time.

A new motor, the 1340 cc, the first new motor from Harley in over 20 years was introduced to great fanfare by the motorcycle press, but Harley still couldn’t get anyone to try its bikes. Neither they nor any of the other motorcycle manufacturers allowed their products to be test driven because of liability concerns. “But we decided we didn’t have anything to lose. If they hurt themselves and sued us, what were they going to get? The company was worthless. We took our entire promo budget and filled 2 semis with motorcycles. We took them to events for people to test drive and asked them what they wanted in a bike. We had to get in front of them to win their hearts and minds.”

“The Harley Owners Group (HOG) was something that got started by accident, but today there are over 1100 chapters. It has become a huge social club and has gotten people to buy into our image. Today our parts and accessory sales are over 100% greater than our total company sales of only 12 years ago.”

“We are all about noise. It is what differentiates us from the other companies. We’ve made a concerted effort to do business completely different from everyone else. And it has worked.”

Today Harley Davidson sells ten times as many bikes/year as during the mid 80s. They have developed a unique niche by differentiating their product, their stores and their customers. And they concentrate on accentuating that difference to their advantage. You know a Harley bike by its look and sound, its stores by their unique architecture and locations along interstates, and its customers by their wardrobe and ……..well, let me have Schmidt explain it, “When was the last time that you had your company logo carved onto someone’s body. There are Harley tattoos on thousands of people.”

How does this relate to a small town? How are you differentiating your community? At the event the community handed out business cards to show what the top 10 selling points of their community were: 1. Great Central Location; 2. Family Friendly; 3. Higher Education; 4. Great People; 5. Quality Public Schools; 6. Cost of Living; 7. Agricultural Base; 8. Regional Health Care; 9. Low Crime Rate; 10. Community Spirit.

Where is this community? What makes them special? They could be any of 10,000 towns. My guess is that virtually every town in the USA would claim to have 8, 9 or 10 of these attributes. Some could probably add to the list.

Todd Thoman, who does most of our site selection work at Agracel laughingly, has told me in the past, “Jack, I’ve yet to be to a town that doesn’t claim to have the best people, schools and churches. When everyone is promoting the same things, what have you got that is different? What makes you special?”

Harley realized that they had to be different. They’ve built a brand and tremendous following out of that strategy. Why don’t more towns take a Harley approach of thinking and acting out of the box? What can you do to make your town special?

Chickasaw’s Love—Celebrating Success

It’s not often that you see a TV ad celebrating the success of someone, so I was wide awake when I saw this different approach when I was in Wilburton, OK. The Chickasaw Nation ( was featuring Tom Love, one of their tribe as a successful entrepreneur. And it was a great example of what is possible with vision, drive and determination.

Tom Love, CEO of Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores (, started in business in 1964 when he opened his first filling station in Watonga, OK (population 4,658), 60 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. He added his first Country Store in 1972 in Guymon, OK (population 10,472) and one of my top 100 agurbs®. Today he has 159 stores, ranking him as the 50th largest convenience store operator in the USA, doing $385 million in sales.

The Chickasaw are very proud of one of their own. Entrepreneurism is not particularly common in the Indian Nations, but I’m detecting a growing current of support there and think that it will ultimately transform many tribes.
Oh that we could all celebrate success like this! What a great example for others to follow.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Peer Comparison Idea

“Our approach to economic development has been one of wealth creation rather than merely chasing jobs,” was the comment from Greg Wathen head of economic development in Tell City, IN. I wrote about his efforts to land a major manufacturing plant that literally required moving a mountain in BoomtownUSA.

“We track per capita income, average annual wages, average manufacturing wages, etc.” Wathen said. He is doing some very innovative benchmarking against similar sized towns scattered all over the country. It is an interesting idea that other towns should emulate.

Typical Government

In response to the editorial and my blog on irrigation in NE I got the following email from a friend:

“Thanks for the water article. Last week I was in those counties mentioned in the article looking at a damaged corn project. I noticed irrigation well drilling going on everywhere. A non-farmer resident told me that they are drilling all the irrigation wells now before a law against it goes tino affect. He said that there are wells being drilled on fields that never would have had a well put on them if it wasn’t for this new law.

Typical government.”

It is the law of unintended consequences poking up its head again.

BANANAs Derail Boccie

A massage parlor, a skate park, even a little league ball field might get some people riled up in a few towns. But, a boccie ball court? It is the perfect non-impact; no-noise sport, played primarily by little old men. It’s the Italian version of lawn bowling! How could you be against that?

But the town of Clayton, CA (population 10,762) is in a huff about the city’s plans to build an eight-court center. The town is an aging retirement center, with a medium age of 40.2 years compared to the national average of 35.3. Average household income is an astounding $101,651, almost 2 ½ times the national average!

And, even though some residents like their boccie ball, there is a coalition that is concerned that there will be noisy cheers, litter and even wine drinking. “There’s more violence at Little League,” Mayor and boccie ball player Gregory Manning said, “At least with boccie, we don’t have the parents there.”

The Clayton City Council caved into the BANANAs, Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything, and has nixed the plans for the courts on city-owned land across from the police station.

How many other towns pay more attention to the BANANAs than in trying to improve their community?