Monday, October 31, 2005

Ponca City’s New Business

Here are excerpts of a story that I received from Tim Burg of Ponca City, OK. I’ve been very impressed with what Ponca City has done to step up their ED efforts. I’m getting more and more stories like this and am going to be posting them when I feel that there is something to be gained.

“I wanted to share a story about a success we have had. Let me begin by saying that this success is still unfolding and it is easy for an economic development person to claim success before it totally develops. I also don’t wish to jinx the deal, which seems to happen when we prematurely claim success. I would entitle this as a work in progress.

I also try to live in the belief that “Ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity”. Which simply means this ain’t about me but more so, it is about us and the belief that rural America offers so much, to so many.

In March of this year, we worked a trade show with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce in Florida. This show was focused on financial officers and those who sell their products to such individuals.

On the first day of the show, I met the owner of a company that manufacturers and sells business performance, management software. His name is Jim Eberlin. He is best described as being an entrepreneur who can take his ideas from dreams to commercialization. Jim has successfully built companies from the ground up and turned them into profitable organizations.

Jim and I met several times over the next few days at the conference and worked though some of the details of what his company needed to start an operation in Ponca. We also gave him information on our community regarding our economic development organization. Needless to say, Jim is a quick study and he “got it” very quickly on what we could offer his company.

As I recalled the day of his visit, we could not have planned it better even if we tried. The day was sunny, warm and it seemed that even the squirrels stood on the edge of the curbs as we drove by raising one paw to say hello. (Those little buggers were tough to train!). The local churches even had cute little sayings on their marquees, like welcome to America’s Family Business Heartland” and “Welcome to the Center of our Universe”. Again all unplanned and unrehearsed, except of course for the squirrel part.

Once we established the labor force was here, we then set about finding him office space. We had such space leased in a savings and loan space that was easily renovated for his needs. We even acquired furniture from a large corporation who gave it to us, as we are a non-profit. They got a tax write off, helped us and we gave the furniture to a company therefore reducing their overhead costs. Many win, wins on that issue.

Where all of this is leading is that Jim’s company, Host Analytics, which already has a global presence, is doing business in rural Ponca City Oklahoma. He qualifies for incentives from the State of Oklahoma and our community as well. Jim plans to reach a work force level of 50 to 60 employees in our community over a three to five year period. The average pay range will be in the high $50k to mid $60k range, plus benefits.

To expedite his growth of new employees faster, we were able to connect him with a local VC group that will be supporting him financially to help him reach a higher hiring rate of new employees. This cash infusion will allow him to ramp up much faster. Good for him, good for us.

Jim has shared with that he has now hired his initial group of team members or the pros as he calls them and will now start to hire the rest of the “farm team”. Using a baseball analogy he intends to have the pro’s train the rookies and grow from that point. He has connected with the university and will be able to share his companies needs, regarding specific disciplines and training with them. He has been asked to come speak with several of the accounting and business related classes at the OSU.

So what did we do?

We were friendly and believed in ourselves and our community/region.

We used the tools already in place to help the existing businesses, in helping prove that the employees he needed were here.

We knew what our resources were and who to contact to access them.

We analyzed what he needed and matched them up with the resources. We used empty space to help him get started. We acquired furniture that was drawing dust and gave a corporation a tax write off.

We matched him with companies that can use his product and we helped him create jobs that will allow our children to remain in the community.

We provide him with access to incentives that we already had at both a state and local level.

The key point is we did this. A team of community minded folks who believe in the American Dream and why it still makes sense to be located in a rural setting.

I could write volumes more of this developing opportunity, as everyday we find new ways to help Host Analytics and he in turn helps us by introducing us to companies looking for the similar things we have to offer.

Next time your in the area let us know ahead of time and we can get you and Jim together. He is exactly what Rich Karlguard describes in Life 2.0.

In my mind it’s this entire process has been a match made in heaven."

eBay Stuffer Idea

My wife bought a Fiesta bowl for her collection on eBay. When she opened the package, lying on top was a tourist brochure for Mullica Hill, NJ. This town of 1,658 was placed upon the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

How many people in your town are selling things on eBay or running an internet based business? What if each one had a flyer insert that they could put in their packages, promoting your town?

It wouldn’t cost much and you never know how it might have a positive impact.

Best Program We’ve Done

On Friday, we hosted our First Annual Business Appreciation Award Luncheon in cooperation with our regional ED organization, which covers nine counties in East Central Illinois. We modeled the program after a similar one that I saw in ID last year. Of all of the different ways that our company has tried to reach and honor companies, this one was the best. By far!

We asked each countywide ED organization to nominate one local company for the award. We held a simple lunch at the local community college, asked each ED group to briefly tell us of the importance of this company, and then had a representative for the company talk about their business. It was very moving experience for many in the room. The companies loved being honored, something that we do not do enough of, in my opinion.

The firms ranged from very small companies to plants of large multi-national ones. Overall, we had about 4,000 jobs represented in the room.

Mat Michaels of TRW talked about his company’s focus on “offering the lowest cost, best quality, newest technology and with a global reach.” The manager of Lyondell Chemical Company talked of safety as a value, not a priority. They have gone 800 straight days without a workplace injury. They also have a program to get local children more involved in science and math, key subjects that they are concerned we are falling behind in. Simonton Windows gives 2% of their operating income back to non-profits in the Paris, IL. Art Hightshoe, Plant Manager said, “It comes back to us in better employees, infrastructure and other good things.”

If you would like to do something similar give Coleen Phillips, our VP of Marketing and Research, who organized the entire event, a call at 217-342-4443 or email her at She put it all together and did a great job.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Casino or Bordello?

Several months ago I blogged on the large number of casinos that I drove by in a trip across the state of Louisiana. I recently received a very interesting email commenting on my blog from Rabbi Daniel Lapin who is the author of a number of books. Rabbi Lapin also does a weekly radio call in show on Seattle’s KTTH, which covers from British Columbia down to Portland, OR. Check out his website at

I loved what he had to say.

“You commented on the proliferation of casinos in Louisiana and how their numbers seemed to correlate inversely with successful towns if I understood correctly.

To the shock of our Sabbath dinner guests, a couple of years ago I asked my six daughters aged (at the time) 8-18 whether, all things being equal, they’d rather marry a guy who earned his living by owning a casino or a bordello? Assuming that in both cases the guys were nice and neither sampled the wares at his own establishment as it were.

I was impressed when after much discussion the girls agreed the bordello was a far more honest enterprise. They based it on the thought experiment of asking departing clients in the parking lot whether they’d happily return the next evening for an identical experience at the same price. Of course the casino client wanted a different experience—next night he hoped to win not lose. The bordello client on the other hand, got what he came for and what he paid for and was a satisfied client.

Not that I think bordellos are great for towns wishing to grow, but maybe marginally better than casinos!! Casinos may be the only win/lose business transaction that I can think of.”

Signs to Downtown

Numerous signs that point the way to downtown were prominent in Jackson, MI. I thought that they were a great idea and don’t know why more towns don’t make this user-friendly move. It is relatively inexpensive and should help to channel more travelers into downtown shops.

Downtown Jackson, MI Signs Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hard Disk Recovered—Pictures Back

On Friday afternoon, I got back my computer from Computer Recovery Heaven with all of my files and pictures. I waited with posting some of the things that I saw on the MS Gulf Coast because I thought that the pictures really tied in well with the stories. Hopefully I’ll get some time on the planes this week as I travel from IL to MN to TX to DC and home to get those stories written and posted. I’ll be giving some 6 talks in the next week and lovin’ it!

A word of warning to those of you who don’t give much thought to backing up your data. Just do it! It cost us $1800 to recover my files. We’re now researching a portable system for me to use when I’m on the road. I know that it is like “closing the barn door after the horses have run away,” but we hope to prevent future sleepless nights with our new system of back-ups.

Trees Forever in IA Posted by Picasa

Bruce Rasher & Al Hooper at Chairman's office Posted by Picasa

Consumers Energy Open Areas Posted by Picasa

Consumers Energy HQ Building; Jackson, MI Posted by Picasa

The Commercial Exchange, Former Jackson Automobile Company Posted by Picasa

Student Interns working in Studio Z Posted by Picasa

Steve Sayles of Studio Z; Jackson, MI Posted by Picasa

Al Hooper in front of ART 634 Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 28, 2005

Watch What You Wish For

I learned at the Alliant Energy Conference that Nevada, IA chose to become the county seat for Story County, giving neighboring Ames the second option….Iowa State University. You see, 100+ years ago a county seat was viewed as being more valuable. It was where everyone in the county came on a regular basis and generally was the center of commerce. Colleges were unproven.

I’ve heard similar stories in other states. If you have a similar story, please email me at

I wonder how decisions that we are making in our towns today will be looked at in 100 years. Will they viewed as visionary, helping to transform our towns or will they be based upon the paradigms of the past?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Raising Up Strong Leaders/Trees Forever

Leadership Iowa’s ( presentation at Alliant Energy’s Conference in Marshalltown, IA was a good demonstration of how to develop young leaders in rural America. This eight month program is conducted around the state in three to four day blocks of time. They concentrate on studying regionalism, diversity, economic development, government, agricultural specialty crops, entrepreneurship, leadership and planning for the future.

Another Iowa program that I became reacquainted with at Alliant’s conference was Trees Forever ( I’ve been a member of their organization since 1988 when I planted 80 acres of walnut trees in Floyd, IA. My wife thought it was pretty cool retirement account plan when I showed her the financial projections of what they would be worth. She became less enamored with the investment when I told her that they took 80 years to reach maturity. By my calc, we are only 53 years away from being able to retire. Hopefully our sons will appreciate them.

Trees Forever is focused upon the planting of trees in cities and towns in Iowa. It is a wonderful program that would make sense in other states.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

From Autos to Arts

“At one time we had 23 automobile manufacturers here in Jackson, including the Hudson. We're also home to the Michigan International Speedway, which was built by some locals in the 1960s.” Allan Hooper told me on my tour of Jackson, MI. “When the two NASCAR races are here in June and August our population soars to 160,000, making us the third largest city in the state for those two weekends.” We toured the Commercial Exchange, an incubator of sorts that started out as the Jackson Automobile Company.

Automobile manufacturing developed here because of its proximity to Detroit and its early cluster (in the days before they were called clusters) as a carriage manufacturing center. Many carriage manufacturers added a gasoline motor to their buggies and became cars. The conversion of one of these old carriage manufacturing plants into an arts center really caught my attention.

Steve Sayles, the owner of ARTS 634, told me about the colorful history of his building, “The building is over 150 years old. It was built here because of the state prison next door offering them cheap labor. When the laws were changed which didn’t permit prisoners to work outside the prison, they built tunnels under the prison walls so that they could continue to work here clandestinely, paying the warden under the table. In 1857 this was the largest carriage manufacturer in the world, making 7,000 carriages.”

It went thru various phases of manufacturing and storage until the place was virtually abandoned in the 50s. Then the story got really interesting, “John Brown bought it in the 1980’s to grow pot in it. The second floor of the factory was full of grow lights. We found all of this out after he died. After his pot phase he turned it into a speakeasy gambling hall. It had all sorts of steel doors, big locks and passageways. When I moved in it was all boarded up.”

Steve originally brought in Art Space out of Minneapolis to develop it into an art community, but took it back over in 2004 and now has 30 artists located in various spaces in the building. The weekend before our tour they had 1,500 people in for an open house. Sayles is taking his concept to other cities, hoping to gain synergies from multiple locations. He is doing a duplicate project in Albion, MI where he already has 20 artists signed up to locate in an old Masonic Lodge. Check out his website at I hope to have pictures of this place next week, if I recover my hard drive.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Florida or Kotkin?

Christian Gibbons who initiated the concept of Economic Gardening in Littleton, Colorado asked his email group of ED people

“Interesting article in The American Enterprise (July / August 2005) by Joel Kotkin. For those of you following the Richard Florida / Joel Kotkin debate, you know that Florida favors creative urban environments and Kotkin argues for low cost places to do business, among other things.

What’s interesting about this article is that Kotkin points out that the upper plains states (NE, ND, SD, IA) have the highest scores in national tests, the highest number of students taking upper level courses, the highest graduation rates and the highest percent in college.

This is not new info, but Kotkin argues there is a new movement called “home shoring” (as opposed to off shoring). Some quotes:

“For generations, much of the educated young talent from the Great Plains and the Mountain West has bled away to more promising locales on the coasts or to large regional centers like Dallas, Chicago, Denver or Minneapolis. For the most part these migrants never returned.”

“But that’s now beginning to change. Remarkable young people more often stay or come home again. Others, including some immigrants from abroad as well as families fleeing the crowded coastal regions, are heading into these new comfortable economic hotbeds, bringing with them fresh energies and ideas, and an appreciation for the wholesome values that people in these places hold dear.”

“A backlash against overseas “help” desks, with which many Americans have had unhappy experiences, is demonstrated by a little-known decision by Dell Computers. One of the early pioneers of off shoring, Dell recently home shored its business-tech support center to Twin Falls, Idaho. Many other similar operations have been set up in the vast, largely uncrowded, low-cost “Mormon belt” which runs from Boise down to the Utah heartland.””

Several people weighed in on the subject. Here was my response to Wayne Pantini who very nicely mentioned my book in a positive light during the discussion.

Wayne: Thanks so much for mentioning my book. I published it in 2004 after spending 3 years researching what I and a number of other researchers see as a third wave of migration back to small towns. I call them agurbs®, but people like Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes calls them the booming boonyacks. My book focuses on towns below 52,000, while his Life 2.0 is geared more toward towns of 50,000 to 100,000.

Currently, I’m having a ball traveling around the USA touring incredible towns and giving talks on the vibrancy of small town America. By the end of this year I’ll have been to almost 200 towns in almost 40 states, seeing some awesome towns. An example is David Myers of Ponca City, OK who has posted in this email thread. He is doing some incredible work in transforming a “one horse town” completely dominated by Conoco Oil into a thriving, diversified place.

I’ve read both of Florida’s recent books and also Kotkin’s city book and several of his recent articles. I have to tell you that I initially was very impressed with Florida’s work, but the more that I’ve seen as I’ve traveled around the country and looked more deeply into his top cities, the more that I come down on Kotkin’s side.

Let me give you a couple of quick examples: If you take Florida’s top 50, Karlgaard’s top 50 and my top 100 towns and look at what has happened in their populations from the 2000 census until the most recent estimate done in 2004, you find that Florida’s grew by only 1.9%, Karlgaard’s by 2.7% and mine by 7.0%. Most interesting is that both Florida’s and my towns with populations from 50,000 to 100,000 grew the fastest with Florida’s growing at 4.1% and mine at 11.1%.

Another interesting comparison for me was to look at Florida’s big cities. His top 10 big cities that were hip and happening actually grew slower than his bottom 10 big cities from 2000 to 2004.

My take is that we are in the midst of what Karlgaard calls the “cheap revolution” and that the cities that are hip and happening are pricing themselves out of the market, driving those who want to settle down and start families out of town. I’m seeing it in virtually every town that I visit. Entrepreneurs are cashing out of the high cost cities and returning to their roots to start new businesses. Technology is allowing them to start operations in out of the way places that wouldn’t have been feasible even a few years ago. Examples are: Home in Winthrop, WA (population 300); Dakota Cabin in Hettinger, ND (population 1,300); and Bless My Bloomin in Enderlin, ND (population 947). Each does their business over the internet, focusing way beyond their community’s normal trade zone. There are numerous other examples that I’ve found which I report on daily on my daily blog (

One final comment is that I often counsel towns to push their young people out of the nest, encouraging them to move to Austin, SF, NYC or some other hip city when they are young. But, when the time comes for them to settle down, raise a family and perhaps start a family, don’t forget to come back home. And, by the way, bring another entrepreneurial friend with you.

Investing in Their Hometown

“We could have saved about $15 million by building our new headquarters on the outskirts of town, along interstate 94. Instead the utility spent $70 million and the city paid $30 million for parking decks and the uncapping of the river and we built this.” Bruce Rasher of Consumers Energy said as we rounded the corner and the full impact of their new office tower came into view. The 12 floor, 350,000 sf building was constructed adjacent to an old WPA Post Office project that had sat vacant for several years. Consumers spent $10 million turning the old post office into their main entrance and a conference center that can seat 550.

“In our old building 90% of the people were in closed offices. Now we’re 100% in open offices. Even the Chairman is in an open office.” Bruce told me as he proudly showed me around the office tower which was completed in 2003.

Today 1,500 people work in the complex, filling the downtown with office workers at lunchtime and after work. It is a great example of how a local company, committed to its hometown, often makes decisions that are as important for the town as they are for the company. That’s why key six in my book is “Maintain Local Control”. Consumers Energy’s headquarters project is a great example of the benefit to its hometown of Jackson, MI.

I’ve got some great pictures on the hard drive of my computer which is now being worked on. I hope to be able to post them sometime next week, IF they are able to recover the contents.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sinking Feeling

Have you ever had that feeling that everything is falling down around you? Today is one of those days.

I’ve been running very hard for the past several weeks, gathering great info for my blog, along with some incredible photos. I had great stories and photos from MI, IA and MS. This morning I learned that my hard disk in my computer is busted and we “might” be able to recover the information within the next week.

Also lost were a number of emails that I needed to respond to. If I haven’t responded to your email, please resend to me.

To add to my distress, my phone also crashed last week and I was planning on pulling all of my phone, email, addresses, etc. off of my now-busted computer to download onto my phone this morning when I was back in the office. Now I don’t have anything.

I’m feeling kind of lost and it is going to take me a couple of days to recover. I hope to post again soon, later in the week. Please bear with me.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Computer Problems

My computer crashed on the plane Friday afternoon on my way back from FL at the NAIOP Annual Meeting. It had all of my files, stories, etc. I'm hoping to get fixed on Monday. I will be a few days behind on postings. I am sorry for this glich.

I want to thank all of you loyal readers who get on this site on a regular basis. I really enjoy staying in touch with so many of you.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Wilma & Hollywood

“Hurricane Wilma is located near latitude 18.9 north, 85.7 west. The Westin Diplomat is located at latitude 26.04 north & longitude 80.12 west.” The letter under my door this morning went onto tell me the speed of the hurricane, wind speed (150 mph) and category (4). The entire letter explained what the hotel was doing to prepare for this newest disaster. Fortunately, my wife and I are scheduled out on a plane this afternoon, at the end of the NAIOP Conference that I’m attending. I’ll have some blogs next week on some of the futuristic items discussed here.

Last night we went out to dinner with my sister-in-law, mother-in-law and friends in Hollywood, FL (population 139,537). They have lived here for the past 15 years and related how the historic downtown area has gone from being a boarded up ghost town into a bustling, vibrant center for the town. It is now full of small shops, galleries, restaurants, nightclubs, etc. There are old oak trees that overhang the street, adding a very unique sense to the place.

I’m hopeful that other towns can turn around their downtowns like Hollywood has been able to do. It really adds to the perception of the community.

One final note: Hollywood is the demographic profile of what the entire USA will look like in about 20 years. It has a medium age 10% greater than the USA as a whole, is more diverse and with more of an international flair. If you get a chance to visit it, check out its downtown and observe what the country will look like in the future.

Literally Swam For Their Lives

I heard numerous stories of how people escaped from their houses or climbed into their attics, frantically trying to get out of the rapidly rising water. One person told me of a friend who couldn’t get their mother into the attic with them, losing her to the swirling water in their home.

Another relayed the story of their single-parent son having to wade and swim across the street from his house with his three daughters aged 16, 12 and 11. The water was waste deep in the front of his house with waves four feet high in the back. And, he lives ¾ of a mile from the beach!

A next door couple was not so lucky. Both perished in the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina.

Many lives were lost in this catastrophe. I was in awe of what I saw this week.

Son's house from which they escaped as water surged Posted by Picasa

House where couple drowned when water rose into house Posted by Picasa

Governor Granholm’s Approach

Michigan’s Governor Jennifer Granholm was in Jackson, MI the same day that I was there doing a talk to a Consumers Energy Conference. I got a chance to sit in on a roundtable discussion that she did with local residents at a downtown coffee shop.

She is very preoccupied with the recent Delphi bankruptcy and its long-term impact upon the Michigan auto industry. I would agree with her as I view auto suppliers, not assembly plants as key drivers for small towns. I didn’t agree with her anti-globalization stance though.

Her solutions to solve Michigan’s 6.7% unemployment rate:

1. Make taxes more competitive for small business and manufacturing.

2. Accelerate state infrastructure projects for next ten years into next three.

3. Give every Michigan resident a $4,000 scholarship for his or her first two years of college. An interesting observation on this point by her, “It’s not in our DNA for us to go to college here in Michigan. Many of us came here for that $5/day wage of Henry Ford’s.”

4. Divide states into 13 regions with an emphasis upon unique job needs for those regions.

5. Set up a $1 billion investment fund from the Tobacco Fund for investment in alternative energy, life sciences, homeland security and advanced manufacturing.

Several of the unemployed workers in the room mentioned that they either were in college or had a strong desire to return to college. Most were focused upon medical careers.

Jim Jansen commented on his needs as a local manufacturer, “I don’t have a problem with the wage differential of other countries. We can compete because we are more productive. However, to stay productive, we have to constantly invest in new capital equipment, which we are taxed on as personal property in Michigan. I don’t object to paying taxes on income but it is a big deterrent for us to pay taxes on these productivity enhancing capital assets.”

Dave Mengebier, VP for Consumer Energy pushed for restoring funding for the State ED group to allow them to reach out to more foreign companies.

We have to take care of the businesses that we have in our towns. The governor’s tax cuts are to be applauded along with an emphasis upon education. I’m not as positive about the government increasing spending and getting involved in making investment decisions. I would rather see the funds go into entrepreneurial endeavors, perhaps with a tax credit for investments in venture capital pools or angel investor networks.

Michigan Governor Granholm in Jackson, MI Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Projectiles of Katrina

I have never seen objects that weighed hundreds if not thousands of tons thrown around as if they are tinker-toys, as what I witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There were numerous casinos located on barges as long as city blocks, that were moved thousands of feet. One landed on a Holiday Inn, another next to a high-rise condominium complex. Boats were thrown around, as though they were paper airplanes. The following photos are what I shot, but I’m not sure that you can capture it all on film.

Mississippi is going to take the casinos off the water, allowing them to build within 800 feet of the coast. Governor Haley Barbour signed this new law in Biloxi earlier this week, so there will not be as much devastation in a future hurricane.

The power of nature is incredible.

Casino pushed next to a hotel in Biloxi Posted by Picasa

Grand Casino, bigger than a football field, ends up on dry land over 1000 feet from its moorings Posted by Picasa

Where Grand Casino Started Storm and was lifted up and over the pilings without damaging the pilings Posted by Picasa

Sailboat in Living Room in Ocean Springs, MS Posted by Picasa

Ocean Springs, MS Posted by Picasa

Boats in Ocean Springs, MS Posted by Picasa

Totally Fiber Optic

In my opinion, broadband connectivity is as important to a town as water, sewer and electrical service. In the early 1900s, I’m sure that there were towns that didn’t see the importance of utilities like water, sewer and electricity for industrial development. “We’ll get it someday,” might have been their attitude. My guess is that they were passed by and eventually whittled away to practically nothing. That same attitude is prevalent in some of the towns that I visit when they talk about broadband connectivity. I see it differently. Today it is as important as other city services and is becoming even more important with each passing day.

Columbus, KS (population 3,396) is fortunate to have Columbus Telephone, a member owned cooperative, headquartered in the town. Jim Dahmen of Columbus Telephone told me, “With the fiber optic network, we are now able to offer every member broadband connectivity for voice, video and data. By burying the entire plant, we have also increased our network reliability by not being exposed to all types of weather situations.”

Columbus hit my radar screen last year when we used a Columbus based company to do a construction project for us. I found it to be a very entrepreneurial town. Jim told me, “We presently have a number of downtown properties available. In addition, we have 187,178 sf and a 20,000 sf plants available.” If you are an entrepreneur, you might want to check them out.

Columbus, KS Billboard Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rumor Mill Killer

One of the most frustrating subjects that often comes up when I talk with city leaders is the constant coffee-shop rumor mill and how devastating it can be to a town. Larry Paine, City Manager for Concordia, KS (population 5,714) has a couple of innovative ways that he tries to counter this often-negative coffee-shop chatter.

He has a blog ( which keeps citizens informed about what is happening in the town. Recently he has been trying to hire a police chief, a frustrating experience for him. His blog relates the steps that he has gone thru and progress that he has made to date.

Concordia also has a “Tuesday Morning Coffee” for local citizens and chamber members. Larry told me, “It is designed to inform everyone about the week’s activities. It is a rumor-mill killer. Anyone can ask anything.”

An initiative that he started in the spring of 2004 at the Tuesday Morning Coffee has grown into what locals call the “Larry Paine Sign of Life List”. He has compiled a list of entrepreneurial companies that have grown in the past five years. Today he has 90 companies listed that fit his criteria of “starting a new business, expanded, built new, and those that purchased a business. We’ve found that a community that produces business growth like that is not dying.”

Some great ideas from Kansas! Try them in your town.

Tipping Point to Small Towns

Ernst & Young, one of the big four accounting firms, is closing its Little Rock, AR office to open one in Rogers, AR (population 38,829). I see this as one of the first signs of the “tipping point” of movement from old, big cities to newer, more vibrant ones like Rogers.

Little Rock is the state capitol and has been the economic center for the state since its founding. However, the balance of power in the state has slowly but relentlessly been shifting to northwest Arkansas for the past twenty years. Entrepreneurs like Sam Walton, J. B. Hunt, Don Tyson and others created an economic powerhouse there and the shift to the NW is becoming more rapid.

E&Y’s move is just another indication of the power of entrepreneurial towns like Rogers surpassing the more bureaucratic ones like Little Rock.

Need for Regional Approach on Gulf Coast

Regionalism was one of the sixteen focus areas of the Charrette. Each of the eleven towns had a specific team and other general topics were architecture; coding; transportation and environmental.

George Schlogel, President and CEO of Hancock Bank, a locally headquartered $5 billion bank with 105 branches in four states, told me, “With our individual towns it is tough for us to think beyond our picket fences. This event has really brought people together, working toward a common goal.”

His love for the Gulf Coast was quickly evident in my talk with him. He was born and raised here and summed up his feelings about it, “It is a fine place to make a living, but a wonderful place to make a life.”

George talked about how infrastructure and access to capital are some of the first priorities that need to be worked on in the region. “We had been looking at regional issues prior to the storm, but Katrina has brought our need for more regionalism into focus. We’ve got to take this regional approach if we are to remain connected. We have to remember that the roads don’t stop at our town boundaries.”

He clicked off a number of areas of commonality between communities that could be regionalized, “We duplicate a lot of services in each town. Some that could be regionalized are the fire department, wastewater, water service. Police is probably too controversial.”

Leland Speed, head of the Mississippi Development Authority, talked about regional approaches to economic development with me, “The Stennis International Airport Business & Technology Park is a wonderful example of our approach to regional economic development. Stennis has 37 entities that are involved in its success. Moss Point is looking at doing something very similar on the east end of the Gulf Coast in a joint project with Grumman.”

I saw an incredible amount of sharing and commonality of interests at the Charrette. If that spirit continues on the Gulf Coast, you are going to see what can happen when a region looks at itself as a whole rather than in pieces.

George Schloegel, CEO & President of Hancock Bank Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Charrette—Or Mississippi Renewal Forum

“It is unprecedented in its size. It’s ten times larger than any such planning exercise every attempted,” was how Jim Barksdale, Mississippi native, former Netscape CEO and Chairman of the Mississippi Renewal Forum (
characterized the one week Charrette that I participated in this week.

A Charrette is an intensive, creative work session that involves professionals along with public workshops and open houses. It is a collaborative planning process that harnesses the talents and energies of the many interested parties to create and support a feasible plan for transformative community change.

And with Hurricane Katrina having “wiped the slate clean” for many of the Gulf towns, this event pulled together many diverse people in a positive way. Governor Haley Barbour led off the Charrette mentioning that Mississippi had gone thru four major catastrophes in its history: The Civil War, The 1927 Flood, Hurricane Camille in 1969 and this year’s Hurricane Katrina. In the first two events, little help came from the rest of the country and Hurricane Camille only resulted in “Business as usual. There were building service stations on the beach two months later. This is our fourth chance, and I’m determined that we are not going to miss that chance.”

Renowned architect and planner Andres Duany of Miami led the Charrette. Everyone came with their own ideas and several were initially leery of how it would all work out. But by the end of the weeklong process, I believe that most if not all were impressed with what was accomplished.

One of the first items that quickly came to the fore, was the nearly universal dislike for all of the 11 Gulf towns for the CSX RR which ran lengthwise along the entire coast thru every town, usually about a quarter of a mile from the beach. Virtually all of the rail crossings are at grade and the constant freight trains thru the towns were a major complaint. Even though CSX had already started rebuilding its line, including the reconstruction of two major bridges, as Chester “Rick” Chellman of TND Engineering said, “There were some very high level discussions that got CSX to stop their reconstruction that was starting at Bay St. Louis and moving east.” That rail line will probably become a light commuter rail, trolley line, bike path, or arterial roadway. Or some combination of those items.

The Charrette was a chance for a clean slate to be looked at and for dreams to be shared. Susan Lunardini summed it up best for me, “This Charrette has been a wonderful experience. We have teams from all over the country, the state and from every town on the Gulf Coast interacting with each other. We will build something magnificent that will be livable, walk able and attractive.”

Governor Haley Barbour Posted by Picasa

Andres Duany talking with Jim Bardsdale (in tennis shoes and hat) Posted by Picasa

From Cow Chips to Computer Chips

When you are home to the “World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo” and were the stomping grounds of the legendary Western author, Zane Grey, your brand is probably more closely attached to cow chips rather than computer chips. But, Payson, AZ (population 13, 620), located 90 miles NE of Phoenix has moved from being a hick town to one that has embraced technology. And, many of the new companies are entrepreneurial ones that are homegrown.

Precision Intracast, Inc., an orthotics laboratory and manufacturing operation moved from high cost CA to Payson. The president of the company, Paul Rasmussen said, “Our business could have gone most anywhere. We came to Payson because it offered the ideal lifestyle for our family and our employees.” His response is one that I’m hearing repeatedly as I see more families and companies moving out of the rat race of bigger cities to places like Payson.

Other recent additions to Payson are: ILSC, a manufacturer of avionic digital processors; TGen, a bio-superstar: G-CRT, a company focused on the global transition to sustainable economies and ecosystems.

Economic Developer Scott Flake told me, “We are utilizing the “economic gardening” method of economic development along with the “hunt and kill” approach.”

I love that western terminology toward ED!

Monday, October 17, 2005

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Rockaway Beach—What Could Have Been

“When we moved here nine years ago, it reminded us of Daytona Beach Shores, Florida,” Joe Szabo told me as he took me of a tour of Rockaway Beach, MO (population 537). “We were the first resort town built west of the Mississippi River. We were named for Rockaway Beach, NY.”

Joe and his wife Carol (who was elected Chamber president when I was there) own and run Kerrs Kountry Kabins ( They have eleven 50s style cabins that they rent from $40 to $99/night. The $99 cabin sleeps 10 and has a full kitchen. They are also trying to lead an effort to lift up this vintage town, creating more opportunities than there are today. I loved their enthusiasm!

Branson is 11 miles away by road and 5 miles by boat on Lake Taneycomo, but it is light years away in mindset. It doesn’t look like much new has been built since the 50s, except for a condo complex and an occasional house. Virtually all of the retail space in the town is vacant. A few bars and restaurants are hanging on.

Roberta Mesenbrink, who moved back here nine years ago after retiring from education in SC, told me, “I grew up north and east of here. I remember coming down here as a child. This was a booming place where you could only buy property if someone died. Our biggest problem today is that we don’t think that we need anyone to tell us what to do. The town fathers feel like we can do everything ourselves.”

How did a town that was light years ahead of Branson, that hosted Harry Truman and Al Capone, that got Bob Barker started in entertainment lose its way? Is there hope for them?

I counseled them to work with Branson on promoting the town. There seems to be a lot of jealousy of Branson’s success, something that Rockaway Beach needs to get past. They’ve got a potential to sell themselves as “Branson of the 50s”, hopefully convincing a small percentage of the 7 million Branson tourists to pay them a visit.

Rockaway Beach also has potential with its proximity to the new Branson Landing. It is the closest town by boat from this new $420 million development and if I were them, I’d develop a shuttle boat system to bring visitors the five miles to Rockaway Beach.

Rockaway Beach,MO Posted by Picasa

Newest Hotel in Rockaway Beach, MO Posted by Picasa

Rockaway Beach Condos Posted by Picasa