Monday, January 31, 2005

Another Law of Unintended Consequences

When is government going to learn? Why don’t they get it? I’m referring to the Law of Unintended Consequences that I’ve written of a number of times. In its worst form it is when lawmakers decide that they are going to change behavior or even worse, “try to make things fair.”

I learned of such a new law being introduced in the Utah legislature when I was there addressing a real estate group. This new proposal would take the retail sales taxes from every city and split it up among all of the cities in the state based upon population. Sounds fair? Right?

Step back and think of what would happen if this proposal became law?

Why no city would want to do anything for retail development. “Let them build in the next town. Why should we let them build here? Etc. etc. etc.” It would kill off retail development as no community would have any incentive to lure retailers to their town. Cities would erect barriers, trying to push retail development onto neighboring communities. It would be a mess.

I hope that this proposed law never sees the light of day.

A Utah Agurb® on the Move

I was in Utah on Wednesday and Thursday keynoting NAIOP’s Annual Real Estate Symposium in Salt Lake City. Utah is projected to be the 5th fastest growing state in the country over the next decade. Several people approached me to talk about St. George, one of my top 100 agurbs®. When I picked St. George I knew that they were good, but my conversations and further research convinced me that it is on its way to incredible growth.

St. George is in Washington County, the southwest most county in Utah. It is only 2 hours east of Las Vegas and is very strategically located to gain the many California companies that are fleeing that state’s burdensome policies and anti-business environment. The state of Utah released their long term growth projections for the state last week and Washington County is projected to grow at 4%/year thru 2050, taking the county population from 125,000 to 607,000 in 2050.

Last year they grew their industrial sf by 14% and already have another 6% growth under construction. Vacancy is at 2.5%. Keep your eye on St. George. It is on the move!

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Freedom’s Beacon

My wife and I went to visit our son at school this weekend in northern Indiana. We dropped him off late this morning and drove back home thru the beautiful, snow covered countryside. We listened to Fox News, CNN, CBS and other newscasts of the historic vote taking place in Iraq the whole way back. I was moved by what I heard.

Despite threats of violence, death and dismemberment to anyone who dared to cast a ballot in today’s elections, the populous of Iraq showed up at the polls. In fact they voted in droves, with a larger percentage of Iraqis voting than Americans in our elections.

To prevent the possibility of car bombings, auto travel was suspended in the entire country. People had to walk to the polls, some as far as 8 to 10 miles. There were stories of old, hobbled Iraqis needing a relative on each side to stabilize them so that they could walk to vote for the first time in their lives. Later they defiantly walked out of the polls, waving their purple stained fingers, dipped in an indelible ink to prevent voting multiple times. What determination! What desire! How many of us would walk even a mile to be able to vote?

The beacon of freedom is a very powerful one. I’ve seen it for myself in Brazil, Russia, South Africa and other countries. Today was a historic day in the Middle East. Hopefully, votes like we witnessed today will become as common there as in the USA.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

California’s Loss is Idaho’s Gain

I was in Idaho yesterday, touring some great companies and communities. I’ll write more on my experiences in this next week as I compose my many pages of notes.

I saw this article in today’s Business Week Online and wanted to get it out to my readers. Buck Knives, a fourth generation company based in San Diego, is moving their production to Post Falls, Idaho. They calculate that they will save at least $3 million per year with this move because of the lower costs of operating (utility costs, workers compensation, etc.) in a rural location like Post Falls. C. J. Buck, 4th Generation CEO, said, “California is not a good place to have a manufacturing business.”

Buck Knives is one of many California companies that are fleeing its anti-business climate. More will follow. States like Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and others will gain as a result.

Friday, January 28, 2005

But We Play Them on Friday Night!

I heard it again last week. “There is too much rivalry going on between our towns. It all goes back to playing each other on Friday nights.”

When are towns going to realize that they have much more in common than they think and that by working together they can accomplish so many more things than continuing to be at each others throats? Towns of 5,000; 20,000; and even 50,000 are too small to try to go it alone. They’ve got to learn to work together, viewing gains for any of the local communities as positive for everyone.

We, in rural America, have too many things that are in our own best common interest to spend so much time trying to fight each other. We have to get over the fact that competition on Friday night doesn’t have to spill over into our everyday life. Let’s get out of our own silos as communities and develop plans that help everyone.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Urban Renewal Wreck Turned into a Sense of Place

Vicksburg was the largest city in the state of Mississippi until the late 1940s. It is an old river town that still has the same population that it had in 1880. It’s not the type of town that you would expect to see new things happening. Or, at least that is what I thought until I visited there and met Vicksburg’s dynamic Mayor Laurence Leyens.

Mayor Leyens grew up in Vicksburg where his father ran the family department store which started in 1881, closing it when the future mayor was a junior in college. Leyens spent 15 years in California but always dreamt of moving back home. He sold his 1200 sf house there, buying an 8,000 sf two story mansion back home.

Leyens decided to run for mayor 3 ½ years ago, vowing to run the city in a more professional manner than the “good old boys.” He’s brought openness to city government, showing all public meetings on the town’s only local TV station. He told me, “It has helped to get people to have a higher expectation of their government.”

What really impressed me during my tour was the downtown historical area. The federal government’s urban renewal programs of the 1970s had “torn down our old vacant buildings with no rational for the outcome,” said Leyens. Today he has developed a special program to buy the old vacant buildings, redoing the facades and then selling them to retailers for $1. That’s right $1! And the occupancy has soared from less than 50% when he started the program to over 80% today. Not only have specialty retailers flocked to the downtown, but it has also acted as a magnet for restaurants and professional offices.

His next goal is to get more people living in the downtown area. Already a dozen high end apartments are completed above the shops, another half dozen are about ready and ground is being broken for 22 brand new upscale houses. Vicksburg is creating a unique sense of place in their downtown.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Leveraging Your Resources

The third key in my book is Leveraging Your Resources, maximizing the natural and political resources that every town is blessed with. Hinesville, GA is such an agurb®. They are well located from a distribution standpoint along I-95 and are close enough to Savannah to offer “strip and ship” options for importers, but far enough from Savannah to offer a much more economical operating model.

Hinesville just announced that Target is building a 1.5 million sf distribution center that will initially hire 500 employees, but grow to 800 over time. Target, Wal-Mart, and other large distribution companies understand why agurbs® offer some big advantages when compared to large cities. Hinesville, like most agurbs®, is a community creating great jobs and opportunities.

Southern Pride

Southern Pride is a dream that has developed into the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial stainless steel B-B-Q smokers. They were honored as the Industry of the Year at the Marion, IL Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards Banquet last week. I was the keynote speaker. Marion is the only Illinois agurb® that made my top 100 list in the book.

The company started in 1976 when President Mike Robertson and his dad Bert developed their first commercial rotisserie, selling six ovens in their first year of operation. This past year they made over 1,000 of their gas and electric smoker ovens selling them to numerous restaurants including Smokey Bones, Chilli’s and Famous Dave’s. They have 15 different models which can smoke from 100 to 3,000 pounds of meat at one time.

Today, they have 58 employees in their state of the art 65,000 sf manufacturing facility in Marion. They are a great example of why maintaining local control by growing your own entrepreneurs as a community is so powerful for a town.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Town Slogans—How Born

I’ve often wondered how towns develop their very unique slogans for their town. Some like Mooresville, NC’s “Race City USA” with their 49 NASCAR race teams are easy to figure out. Some are more difficult.

Florence, KY’s is “Florence Y’all”. It’s not really a southern town, so how did they develop Y’all? I found out today when I had lunch with Gary Turner who grew up there.

Gary told me, “In the early 70s Florence lured a new mall to locate right along I75. The city built infrastructure out to the site and built a big water tower out there. They put Florence Mall on the water tower.”

Evidently, the city put up infrastructure faster than the developers could build the mall. People were exiting the interstate to go to the mall. Some were angry when they couldn’t find the yet-to-be built mall. The city was getting lots of complaints.

Rather than repainting the entire tower, which would have been rather expensive, Mayor Hop Ewing had another idea. He had the painters replace the M in Mall with a Y. TV’s Real People Show did a feature on the change and Florence suddenly had a new slogan that they use to this day.

I Believe in Greenville, MS

Nestled along Lake Ferguson, which flows into Mississippi River, is Greenville, MS. I was there last week to talk at their annual Chamber banquet helping them to kick off a campaign of “I Believe in Greenville”. They found that like a lot of towns, people who move in from outside often fall in love with this community, but the residents have more negative feelings. And, from what I saw, if they can rebuild a belief in their hometown, Greenville has some real potential.

They have a lovely downtown area that needs more businesses and activity, but that has tremendous natural beauty and could be a quaint draw, creating more of a “sense of place” for the community. Greenville has a good industrial base. All of Uncle Ben’s rice is produced in the town. A new Textron plant and a supplier to Nissan are helping to create new jobs and opportunities. The hospital is building a new hospital on a 180 acre tract of land on the outskirts of town. Their airport can handle any plane in the world, including 747s. And, they have a regional draw of 40 to 80 miles for retail trade.

I was pleased to see the new Greenville Higher Education Center, a cooperative effort of Delta State University, Mississippi Delta Community College, and Mississippi Valley State University built to provide higher education in Greenville. All of their campuses were over 30 minutes away and by pooling their resources 4,000 students are today taking classes at home in Greenville.

Although the National Audubon Society has found more species of birds in the county than in any other inland location, Greenville doesn’t appear to be taking full advantage of its bird watching potential, one of the fastest growing leisure activities in the country.

As I left town I put a “I believe in Greenville” sticker on the back of my rental car. I hope that more residents follow my lead and bring an increased “Can Do” spirit to this struggling community. They should be doing better than they are, but need to turn around their own attitudes about their hometown.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Mayberry—Why Not an Agurb®

Everyone who is over 40 years of age probably remembers the TV show Mayberry RFD with Andy Griffith. Some people who I visited with after my talks reminisce about their small towns and how they wish that it could stay the same just like Mayberry.

While it was a great show, the make believe Mayberry wouldn’t make my agurb® list.

Do you remember Mayberry? While it was a wonderful place in which to live, other than Andy, Barney, Floyd, Gomer and the town drunk everybody else drove to Mount Pilot to work. No jobs….no future! And a bedroom town is severely challenged to generate sufficient tax revenue to pay for community services.

Most importantly, a community that is aging in place, without any good jobs, is very slowly and painfully dying.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Johnny Carson—We’ve Lost a Great One

Johnny Carson, 79, passed away today in California. He was a great entertainer who hosted the Tonight Show for 30 years from 1962 to 1992.

He also is a great example of a small town boy who went onto achieve great things in America. Johnny was born in Corning, Iowa and lived most of his boyhood in Norfolk, Nebraska. He started his show business career there at age 14 as the magician “The Great Carsoni.”

He never forgot where he was from, donating to numerous civic projects in Norfolk over the years.

Entrepreneurial Focus in Economic Development

Before each of my talks I try to introduce myself to as many people as possible in the audience. I learn a lot about the community and hopefully get some idea of what makes it tick.

In Mt. Airy, NC I was struck by the number of entrepreneurs that I met. I also was impressed with how youthful many of them were. Too often, I’m going to communities where the average age is north of where I’m at, which doesn’t bode well for youthful, new ideas percolating up.

During the 10th Annual Meeting of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership they talked about their focus upon developing their own businesses and encouraging an entrepreneurial approach. An Angelou Economics CEDS report cited at the meeting showed that “entrepreneurship will be responsible for more than 70 percent of the economic development in the U. S.”

Bill Johnson, Chairman of the Partnership, wrote in their annual report, “Today’s entrepreneurs will grow into tomorrow’s major employers. They need our help with planning, organization and capital.” Surry County is working closely with new entrepreneurs, sponsoring an annual business plan competition along with other efforts to enhance entrepreneurism.

Surry County gets it! Entrepreneurism is the new paradigm shift in economic development.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Andy Griffith’s Hometown

I had looked forward to going to Mt. Airy, NC for sometime. It is the hometown of Andy Griffith and is the setting that he used for many of the places in the TV Show Mayberry. There actually was (and still is) a Floyd’s City Barbershop and a Snappy Lunch (where they still serve pork chop sandwiches). Andy changed neighboring Pilot Mountain to Mount Pilot for the show. His boyhood friend Emmett Forrest, who has a 40 year collection of Mayberry memorabilia that is displayed in a very nice museum at the Mount Airy Visitor’s Center, was characterized by Mayberry’s Mr. Fixit, Emmett Clark. There’s more of Mayberry in Mt. Airy, but you’ll have to go see if for yourself.

I found Mt. Airy to be a very charming town with one of the better downtowns that I’ve seen in my travels. I didn’t see any vacancies and it has a uniqueness that I haven’t often seen in a town of 10,000.

But unlike Mayberry, where Andy always found a way to solve problems, Mt. Airy and Surry County are going thru some tough times. In the past five years they’ve lost 5,000 jobs in the textile, tobacco and appliance industries. And, it looks like they’re going to lose some more in the near future with quotas coming off of textiles and hosiery. At one time 50% of the jobs in the county were in manufacturing, but is down to less than 30% today.

Fortunately, ten years ago a group of visionary leaders set up the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, a public/private partnership focused upon creating jobs and opportunities. They’ve found, as we did when we started our economic development activities, that it often takes a great deal of time to have meaningful progress. But, they’ve had some significant successes in 2004 and have several opportunities that they are pursuing for 2005.

And, I’m guessing that just like Andy who always seemed to figure things out, his hometown of Mt. Airy is on the right track and is creating a better tomorrow for their citizens.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Coming Back After Being Down and Out

I witnessed a county in Alabama that has made the turn and is again creating new jobs and opportunities after hitting bottom in the late 90s. It all started when they decided to do something about it for themselves.

“The Community Development Foundation (CDF) was organized out of desperation due to the great loss of jobs in Marion County. We had been heavily dependent upon the manufacture of mobile homes with 12 plants employing about 3000 employees and several textile companies. We ended up losing 4500 jobs in all in the manufacturing sector when over 10 plants closed,” said David Graham, executive director of the CDF.

But, instead of throwing up their hands and giving up Marion County (population 31,000) stepped forward and set up the CDF, hiring David who had worked for years in economic development for the TVA and the legendary Tupelo, MS EDC. And, he hit the ground running. In the last four years the county has replaced 1/3 of the lost jobs with two computer tech support centers (I thought CNN said all of those jobs were in India?); a tire cord manufacturer; a mobile home company; and several other smaller manufacturers.

Marion County is well situated, sitting in the middle of the five new auto plants that have been built since 2000 in Alabama and Mississippi. The completion of I22 from Birmingham to Memphis will only enhance their situation. They have the lowest property tax rate that I have seen, only $26,000 for a $5 million building compared to $100,000 to $250,000 that I typically see. They’ve got a lot of things going for them. They’re on the way up!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Viking Grills on CBS News Sunday Morning Show

CBS News Sunday Morning will be featuring the Viking Grill Company in Greenwood, MS on an upcoming program. I had the opportunity to tour Viking Grill and Greenwood today and will be reporting on the subject next week.- Jack

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Enthusiasm for VLJ’s (Very Light Jets)

Here are excerpts from a typical email that I get after my talks. This one is from a talk I gave last week.

Mr. Schultz, I would like to thank you very much for taking the time and effort to visit Delphi last Thursday. I came away from the presentation with a renewed vigor that we are on the right track for Delphi and Carroll County. I have been reading in you book over the weekend and find it hard to put down (even with the power of positive thinking, I did not win one at the meeting so purchased it at Rural King the next day) and hope to finish it this week. The can do spirit really does work and I feel that has been helpful for me my entire life. We will succeed in Delphi and maybe we'll be an Agurb success story in your next edition.

In your presentation, you mentioned how much of an influence that the VLJ's (very light jets) will make in our air transportation system in the coming years. I, as manager of the Delphi Municipal Airport, have urged our airport board to prepare for this and have joined forces with Indiana's very own effort in the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS). I know you mentioned that you were familiar with NASA's program but it is expanding to include a number of SATS laboratories around the country to study how the system will work.

Indiana's effort is the fifth charted one in the nation and our task is to develop the economic outlook for the program. I'm sure you will learn more about SATS this spring as the 5 year program draws to a close and the technology demonstration occurs in Danville, VA. While NASA will not continue with the funding in the future, their goal is just to incubate the process; there will be quite an investment by the private sector, state government, and academia. We really will be able to travel from doorstep to destination in just a couple of hours and this will make small communities just an accessible to business as the large urban areas. Thank you again for your presentation, we'll always remember it

It is great to see this type of “Can Do” spirit from the agurbs®. My goal is to reach at least one person with each talk, helping to change the world for the better one person at a time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Money Does Grow on Trees

Who said that money doesn’t grow on trees? Don’t tell that to Joe Hardy, the 81 year old founder and CEO of 84 Lumber. He started the 500+ store chain in 1956 naming it after Eighty Four, Pennsylvania where his first store was located and which still serves as company headquarters.

His youngest daughter now runs the company, but Joe isn’t the retiring type. He became a Fayette County commissioner in January, 2004 campaigning on a slogan that “Nothing is Impossible” and pledging to “bring good jobs to Fayette County.” And now he is delivering on that pledge.

In December he announced that he was going to use $5 million of his own money and would seek state assistance and $30 million in bank backing to create a new company that would fund entrepreneurs in the county. He will focus his efforts in manufacturing, fabrication and technology.

He also has developed the “George C. Marshall Plan II” for Uniontown, the county seat, to redevelop the downtown. George Marshall, the architect of the original Marshall Plan to revitalize devastated Europe after WW II, was raised in Uniontown. Since Hardy started the project he has purchased numerous buildings, spending millions of dollars to renovate them, and pledges to create at least 25 new businesses in the downtown area.

Hardy’s projects will be interesting ones to follow. Some towns get lucky when they grow entrepreneurs like him, returning money and ideas to the community.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Rural County at a Fork in the Road

I spent Friday in Carroll County, Indiana, a rural county that is midway between West Lafayette, Kokomo and Logansport. The county of 20,000 lies about 65 miles north of Indianapolis and 130 miles south of Chicago, just off of I 65 which links those two major Midwest cities. It is well located with lots of potential.

But it has suffered from a loss of manufacturing jobs in the past several years. And, it’s major industrial company is Indiana Packers, a pork processing plant with ¼ of the jobs in the county. Half of the people in the county commute out to jobs in the surrounding area. The county runs the risk of settling for being a “bedroom community”, which as I’ve shown in my book and in past posts is a loser’s game. Counties like Carroll County run the risk of becoming a community that is “aging in place” and not having the opportunities for their young people to return home. I’ve seen it in too many towns.

But Carroll County is taking steps to make sure that they don’t end up on that road to ruin. They conducted an intensive visioning process last summer, identifying 7 areas of concern with task forces assigned in each area. Janet Ayres, a professor in the Ag Econ Department at Purdue, lives in the county and conducts these visioning exercises all over the state. She’s seen how other towns have done and is helping to implement at home.

Some observations from my visit are:

• Recruit entrepreneurial students and start-ups at Purdue, 20 minutes away.

• Promote more widely their wireless broadband county-wide telephone service.

• Recruit in common vendors to Indiana Packers and Tyson Foods, with a similar pork processing plant in Logansport.

Carroll County is typical of lots of rural communities. They are at a fork in the road and have to make some key decisions for their betterment and future.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

True Cost of Tort

Yesterday, I wrote about the ends that companies will go to in order to try to avoid litigation from trial lawyers. The cost of tort in this country is incredible, even though most people don’t see the true cost of it in their everyday lives. I seldom get questions about tort reform during my talks, especially compared to the number of questions I get about Wal-Mart. Let me show you the difference.

The lack of meaningful tort reform is costing our country approximately $230 billion per year, equivalent to $3000 for every family of four in the country. This cost is reflected not just in legal actions but also in the added costs built into products to avoid or pay for expected litigation.

Compare that to Wal-Mart’s domestic profit at $8 billion, or $100 for a family of four in this country.

I look at my own family and question the value we get from spending $3000 per year for tort compared to $100 in profits to Wal-Mart. It’s not even close. We definitely get over $100 in value from the products we purchase from Wal-Mart, but don’t from the added costs built into products due to the lack of tort reform.

I’m very hopeful that we will see meaningful tort reform in our country very soon.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Wacky Warning Labels

The absurdity of our litigious society really hit home to me when I read the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch’s “Wacky Warning Label Contest.” I have to question how much lower we can go as a society when companies are forced to label their products to protect their clients and avoid lawsuits.

First prize was a label on a toilet brush saying, “Do not use for personal hygiene.” Huh? Please don’t show me a picture of someone trying to do that.

Second prize was on a child’s scooter saying, “This product moves when used.” And third prize was a digital thermometer saying, “Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally.” Don’t spend much time visualizing that one either.

The response from the trial lawyers supportive group Center for Justice and Democracy wasn’t unexpected, “It’s much better to be very cautious.”

I think that we are carrying our litigious nature a bit far.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

What is Your Town’s First Impression?

Incredible attention to taking care of tourists was what my wife and I witnessed this past week when we attended a National Speakers Association course in Cancun. We had been to Cancun about 10 years ago and were overwhelmed by the changes that we had seen since we were last there. It is a community on the move.

The growth there has been incredible but what really shocked us was the people. They have obviously been well trained on how to offer outstanding service to the many people visiting them. And they do it very well, better than I have ever seen.

Cancun has obviously decided that the best way to grow their tourist trade is to make sure that the front line, people of first contact are the best that they can be. They spend a lot of time and effort making sure that these front line Heros know and understand what little things can make or break a vacation. And, their first class training shows!

Whenever I stop in a town on my travels, I’ll usually ask the first person that I come in contact to tell me about their town. Too often, and sometimes even at Chambers of Commerces I’ll hear, “This is a dead town”, “There’s nothing to do here” or “Man, I can’t wait to get out of here.” Why don’t more communities realize what a turn-off hearing that about your town can be? The first impression of the town is ruined and you can never redo that horrible first impression.

More towns need to study what a place like Cancun is doing to make sure that the first impression your town projects to a new visitor is a very positive one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Is it Magic?

Economic Development isn’t magic. But magic isn’t magic either

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Water, Water Everywhere Water

“We are currently building 16 high rises on the Gulf Coast that will sell for $350/sf and yet a house is selling for $150/sf in the same location. What does one have that the other doesn’t?” asked Leland Speed, head of Economic Development for the state of Mississippi.

He answered his own question, “Water! They can look out at water!” And he is right. It is a phenomenon that I’ve been noticing in my travels all around the country. Water, or the lack it, is going to be one of the key economic development issues of the future.

Leland went on to explain to me, “As you look at land values in our more rural counties you can see that it is not being priced upon the value of the timber or the value of the crops that you can grow on it. It has a premium built into it for the recreational value of the land. The market is saying something. We have to figure out how to give the market what it wants.”
I like how he thinks!

“I’ve got a topographical map of the state that we are going thru right now. We are going to find 25 to 50 locations throughout the state where we could put 150 to 400 acre lakes. Wouldn’t that be a great way to provide a boost to some rural counties?”

He’s onto something. Leland is a “big picture” thinker who could revolutionize economic development in any state. He’s doing it today in Mississippi!

Monday, January 10, 2005

A Winery Retirement

Pam and Larry Satek always dreamed of moving out of Chicago back to Pam’s hometown of Freemont, Indiana on the northeast edge of the state. Pam was a school principal and Larry was a PhD chemist with BP Amoco. He was also an amateur wine maker.

In 1993 they decided to plant some vines on an old orchard on the banks of Lake James that was owned by Pam’s great grandfather, Fred Kreibaum, a German immigrant who planted apples on the land in 1915. They started with 1250 vines on 3 acres. By 2001 they had built a winery right along the Indiana Toll Road in Angola, IN, giving them excellent visibility. They moved back home and now run the business full time. Pam said, “I retired to get up at 6 a.m. in the morning and work until 11 at night? That doesn’t exactly sound like retirement, does it?”

And, when I visited their operation last month it didn’t appear that retirement was on their minds. They talked of their dreams and vision for their relatively new winery. They were another great entrepreneurial success story that I found so often in my travels of the past year.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Angel Investor Tax Credit

New Mexico’s governor Bill Richardson understands the importance of fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in his state. It is a welcome move for a state that has one of the highest percentages of government jobs in the country. This move and other changes that I’ve seen in the several visits that I’ve made to the state during the past several months lead me to believe that New Mexico is on the verge of breaking away from the pack in job creation.

Richardson’s proposal would allow private investors an income tax credit of $25,000 per investment, with a maximum of $75,000 in credits per year. Such a move would spur new investment, ignite entrepreneurial endeavors and be a tremendous job generator. The long term benefits to the citizens of New Mexico and the state would be substantial.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Lost Job, Create New One

He lost his job and his daughter just got accepted to a private college. What would you do? Russell Forquer is like a lot of people I’ve met on the road over the past year. These are people who don’t give up, but when the chips are down decide to become their own boss, taking the entrepreneurial plunge. Russell is such an entrepreneur.

He worked for GE, IBM and DEC for 25 years, developing an expertise in computers and technology. When DEC closed their Erie, PA office he was suddenly out of a job. So he started Forquer Group, Inc. with three goals: “No debt; No inventory; and Work only with good people.” Today, 10 years later, he’s grown the business from a one-man show into a company with 29 employees. He’s recruited employees back home to northwest Pennsylvania, many who got tired of the rat-race of the big city.

Why has he been successful? He told me, “I’ve dealt with the way things were vs. the way I would like them to be. I unequivocally believed that I could continue to sell to my customers. And, I had a great deal of help and support form my friends and customers. I have learned that where there is change, usually there is opportunity. The challenge is to embrace the change, locate the opportunity and reap the rewards!” Great vision, from an inspiring entrepreneur!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Lose Local Control, Lose Everything

“The money that built the East St. Louis area was not local, but rather from prominent northern and eastern industrialists and financiers—Carnegie, Mellon, Gould, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Morris, Swift. East St. Louis gained national attention for its problems in the 1880s, and was known for similar problems in the 1980s.” These were the words from “East St. Louis Made in the USA: The Rise and Fall of an Industrial River Town,” a very interesting book I read over the holidays.
Maintain Local Control was the sixth key that I found in my book research. River towns like Cape Girardeau, MO and Quincy, IL, both Mississippi River towns within 100 miles of East St. Louis, showed the advantages of having local control. It can transform a community, for the better.
I’ve been to East St. Louis many times and have several friends who grew up in this industrial city. They all raved about life there. It was an All-American City in 1960, but never developed strong local control. Today, it is one of the most distressed small cities in the country. It never shook the legacy of not having local control.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Children 100% of Future

“Children may be 20 percent of our population, but they are 100 percent of our future,” said Senator Ben Nelson who founded the Nelson Institute in 1998 in Nebraska, to support community and rural development initiatives in rural areas.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Come Home—Free Land

Free residential lots, $500 in cash, country club membership, and free one-year passes to a half dozen local entities are some of the incentives that places like Crosby, ND are offering for people to move there. This past week CNN ran a story on the efforts of NW North Dakota to attract people to the state. It generated over 400 inquiries from people who are looking at getting out of the rat race and back to places like Crosby (

I’ll be there in April giving a talk and have read quite a bit about the town. It sounds like a great small town from what I’ve read about it.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Rebirth of Small Independent Retail

“We found a continual rebirth of small independent retailers in America. We found successful retailers in almost every classification of merchandise.” Both were statements from the introduction to “Challenges of the Future: The Rebirth of Small Independent Retail in America” ( that looked at very successful retailers from all over the country that have found ways to compete with the big boxes.

Retailers can be so important to agurbs® as they tend to be a strong small business base for many communities. More than 95% of retailers have only one location, 90% have sales of less than $2.5 million, and 98% have fewer than 100 employees.

John Clarke is a third generation grocer in South Dakota. He believes so strongly in the power of superior customer service that his employees all answer the phone by saying, “The friendliest store in town.” He said, “If you say something often enough, the more apt you are to do it.”

Donna Hogan owns the Fickle Frog in Corning, Iowa (population 1,800), a destination specialty gift store that sells an array of original artistic products. She remodels her store every year because, “why would someone keep coming to your store if it always looked the same.”

She saw the trend of high end coffee bars so “I had the idea of opening an espresso bar in my store and I don’t even drink coffee!” But it brought new people into her store and developed a niche for her. She also does a newsletter that is personal and chatty about new things in the store. Always on the lookout for new niches, “right now we’re working on creating something for the Red Hat Society, which has 300 members within 90 miles of us.”

As this report and my personal experiences of traveling all over the country have shown, there are some very innovative people in retailing. There are many that are going to survive and thrive, even as there are others that are going under.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Economic Freedom

“What do these cities have in common: Albuquerque, Austin, Bentonville, Dayton, Denver, Omaha, Racine, and Tacoma?” asked Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes Magazine. “They are the birthplaces of firms that created 17 of the top 25 personal fortunes in the 2004 Forbes 400 annual “Richest Americans” List.”

Karlgaard wrote the forward for the U. S. Economic Freedom Index, pointing out that while a funny American myth is that you go to big places like New York or California to make your fame and fortune, Forbes has found that fortune is often made in more out of the way places. Why? Our most valuable natural resource of today, the brains of smart people, are mobile and often moving to where they are attracted. And, Economic Freedom is one of those key attractions.

Kansas finished at the top of the heap, followed by Colorado, Virginia, Idaho and Utah. At the bottom of the list was New York, followed by California, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Illinois.

It is an interesting study, found at