Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Booming NE IN

“We got hard hit by the recession of 2001, especially after 9/11. But now we’re coming back better than ever. Today we are on fire!” Lincoln Schrock, head of ED for the nine counties of NE IN was telling me about industrial activity in the region during 2005. I saw Lincoln again at my talk in Huntington after appearing with him on a number of programs in NE IN during the past year.

“We brought in 38 new projects during the year, totaling $182 million of investment and creating 1,573 new jobs. We also had 111 companies that expanded during the year, creating 2,670 jobs with a total investment of $514 million.”

It wasn’t all good news as there were also 25 plant closings with 1,627 jobs lost, but the net result was “one of the best for the region since the mid 90s.”

The region is moving beyond its reliance upon automotive with significant investments during the year in hydrogen ($100 M); paper products ($71 M); plastics ($76 M); metal fabrication ($44 M); RVs ($26 M); food ($20 M); machining ($15 M); medical ($18 M) and several other industries. The fact that this expansion is broad based and deep speaks highly of the region and its workforce.

The NE IN region is a wonderful example of what I’m seeing repeatedly as I travel around the country. There is an incredible vibrancy going on in rural America today!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Huntington, IN VP Museum Posted by Picasa

Entrepreneurial Huntington

“We are taking an entrepreneurial path to economic development. Our new Venture Works project is a cooperative project of four local groups that hopes to encourage the growth of entrepreneurs in Huntington,” Carol Pugh, head of ED for Huntington County, IN (population 38,124 for county and 17,450 in the town of Huntington) told me as she and Mark Stober of Entira gave me a wonderful tour of the community. “We got a rural development grant with plans to connect with 40 serious inquiries for entrepreneurial help. We’ve been open since September and already have 15 inquiries that have turned into 5 clients and one on the verge of starting a new business.” I was there giving my BoomtownUSA talk and new one on Entrepreneurism as the Paradigm Shift in Economic Development.

Huntington is the hometown of former Vice President Dan Quayle. They’ve set up a museum for all 46 of the Vice Presidents in the USA (5 from Indiana), which brings in visitors from all over the world.

Huntington is blessed to have the Huntington University in the community, one of their partners on the new Venture Works. The University has set up a business incubator and hopes to use it to springboard into new businesses in the town.

The State of IN has a new venture capital tax credit program that allows up to 20% of a venture or angel investment to be written off against state income taxes. It is a trend that I’m seeing increasingly as I travel around the country.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Saving the Local Pharmacy

“I had only been on the job for two months when CVS bought the local pharmacy and announced they were closing it,” Linda Baxley explained at the Light The Fire Workshop in Nappanee, IN last week. She was talking about the efforts of the town of Middlebury, IN (population 2,956) to keep a key retailer in town in 2003.

“Most people wouldn’t think much of driving 12 miles to Goshen to the closest pharmacy, but for our Amish citizens that 12 mile ride in a buggy is a half day trip. We knew that for their sake and the betterment of the town that we had to try to keep that pharmacy open. They only gave us two weeks notice of closure, so we had to move fast.”

Baxley marshaled the resources of the entire town; got petitions signed and even lobbied CVS headquarters in Rhode Island. She also got the local media to report the story, which resulted in an AP story going out across the nation with a David (Middlebury/Amish) vs. Goliath (CVS) theme. It didn’t take CVS long to dispatch a vice president to the town to study the situation.

Despite being located in what CVS deemed a “doll store” sized building, the company announced plans to keep the store open. Recently the company announced plans to build a new store with a drive-up window in Middlebury. Linda didn’t explain if the drive-up was for cars or buggies, but either way it is another win for a small town.

Sometimes you’ve got to fight for your town, using whatever resources you can.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Artist's rendition of new Berne, IN Clock Tower Posted by Picasa

Giving Back to Their Hometown—Like Clockwork

“He developed ‘Like a Good Neighbor…State Farm is There’ and Burger King’s ‘Two All Beef Patties’ and he grew up in Berne,” Floyd Liechty, a city councilman from Berne, IN (population 4,150) was telling me about Keith Reinhard, Chairman of DDB Worldwide. Reinhard gave $500,000 and is honorary chairman of a $3.2 million project to build a recreation of the world famous clock tower in Bern, Switzerland in Berne, IN. You can get more information at their website of www.berneclocktower.org.

“We raised $1.5 million, almost half, in only a seven month period. Over $1 million of that is from people who grew up in Berne but now live away. They still have a lot of love for their hometown.”

I’ve seen it time and time again in my travels around the USA. There is an incredible love for people’s hometowns. Many are returning or giving back time and money to where they grew up. How are you taking advantage of that spirit in your town?

Berne, Switzerland Clock Tower Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 24, 2006

Wonderful Clusters

Nappanee, IN (population 6,710) lies about midway between Elkhart (population 51,874) and Warsaw, IN (population 12,415). These two towns have each developed their economies around two wonderful clusters that have generated incredible wealth and high paying jobs for each town and the region. Nappanee has benefited from each cluster.

Elkhart accounts for 52% of worldwide RV manufacturing. The cluster started in 1932 when several of Elkhart’s businesspeople were looking for good investments at a time when the USA was in the depths of the Great Depression. At the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago they saw a prototype for a “trailer coach”—a prototype of the travel trailer.

The early trailers were cheap, retailing for $168, and closely tied to know-how from the auto industry in Detroit, 200 miles to the east. Elkhart had available capital, cheap land for the big parking lots and skilled, dependable labor. From that small beginning hundreds of companies have sprung up, transforming an entire region.

Warsaw’s orthopedic cluster was equally a matter of being at the right place, or rather having the sheriff’s daughter from the right town. Reverend DePuy was a traveling salesman from Niles, MI. He fell in love with the sheriff’s daughter in Warsaw, marrying her. When she couldn’t adapt to life in Niles he moved back to Warsaw starting the company that bears his name.

J. O. Zimmer was a salesman for DePuy who over a disagreement over ownership set up Zimmer, Inc. In the mid 1980s some Zimmer employees set up Biomet. And that is how three of the top five orthopedic device manufacturers are all headquartered in a town of 12,000.

In Warsaw I visited the Kosciusko County Community Foundation, a $26 million foundation that has given out over $1 million in local grants for each of the past two years. I continue to be amazed by the level of giving in so many small towns that I visit.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dennis & Dianne Debelak Posted by Picasa

Embrace the Pace

“Embrace the Pace” is the motto of Nappanee, IN (population 6,710), an incredible manufacturing and tourist centric town. Dianne and Dennis Debelak have fully integrated themselves into the town since moving here from Chicago about six years ago. Dennis is a physical therapist and Dianne was a financial planner when they began searching for a bed and breakfast to buy.

They fell in love immediately with Nappanee and its laid back atmosphere, buying a lawyer’s office and converting it into the Homespun Country Inn (www.homespuninn.com), a five bedroom, antique filled treasure. I stayed there when I was in the town last week.

“The toughest adjustment is that other than the basics, most of the stores I want to shop at, the movie theater and other attractions are 25 miles away. You don’t just jump in your car to do things, like I could do in Chicago. But, other than that the move has been fantastic.”

The Debelaks were counting upon tourists for their B&B, but have been pleasantly surprised by the number of overnight stays generated by the various manufacturing businesses in the town.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

College Experiment into Nationally Known Institution

“It started as a four day Arts & Crafts Event and today brings in over 200,000 people/year,” Dick Pletcher, owner of Amish Acres, was explaining to me how he started this 80 acre historic Amish Farm (http://www.amishacres.com) in Nappanee, IN. “My Dad was in the furniture business in the downtown and I was in college at IU in Bloomington. That was 44 years ago. We were asked to leave by the other merchants because all of these people coming to town wanted to use their bathrooms. The customers kept asking us for Amish goods. Starting Amish Acres was a lifelong dream of Dad and me.”

“Amish Acres started out as a hobby for us. We were in the retail furniture business for 65 years, liquidating it in 1995 to concentrate on Amish Acres. Dad still helps out at age 92. We’re now transitioning the business to my 2 daughters and a son-in-law.”

Pletcher laughingly told of how he violated the three keys to business in turning Amish Acres into a local institution, “First: Location, location, location; Second: Give the customer what they want and Third: Profit should be your number one motive. We didn’t do any of them, but it has all worked out just fine.”

He has written a book on his journey: This Wooden O: The Story of Amish Acres, "Plain and Fancy," and the Round Barn Theatre. He also has started a blog, which you can access at http://wwwamishacrescom.blogspot.com/.

Dick Pletcher & Larry Andrews in Nappanee, IN Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Amish Entrepreneurs

My question of “Where are the employees’ cars?” was met with a laugh from Larry Andrews, head of ED in Nappanee, IN, as we walked into Quality Hardwood Sales. The only mode of transportation on the grounds was several bicycles at the entrance.

Devon Hochstetlar and his two pre-teen boys showed me around his plant, which builds wooden cabinet components. He has modern computer controlled sorting equipment that automatically cuts and sorts wood by color and defect. Hochstetlar is Amish and wouldn’t let me take his picture, although I could take as many pictures of the plant and machinery that I wanted. The plant also doesn’t have electricity, being run off of a generator. A phone booth outside of the building allows Devon to call people back who have left voice mails, but he can’t receive a direct call to him.

Andrews explained to me, “We are on the verge of having an all Amish industrial park that is run completely on generators. Most of the plants start at from 4 to 6 am and end their day at around 1 pm, so that the Amish can get home for their chores. Most of the workers are on a piece rate incentive, earning $28 to $32/hour for relatively low skilled work.”

He explained that many of these Amish workers are retiring from the assembly line, as early as in their mid 40s. Many are setting up their own entrepreneurial businesses, a huge boost for Nappanee.

Workers Parking Lot at Quality Hardwood Sales in Nappanee, IN Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 20, 2006

Amish Buggy & Motor Coach at Amish Acres in Nappanee Posted by Picasa

More Workers than Beds?

I knew I was in a special town as soon as I drove in, passing manufacturing plant after plant. I checked the population again. Was it possible that Nappanee, IN only had a population of 6,710? From the number of plants and workers that I saw on the drive into town, it looked like it could be double or triple that size.

Larry Andrews, head of ED and the Chamber who put on a wonderful regional workshop that I spoke at called Light The Fire, told me, “We’ve got over 12,000 people working in town each day.” I’ve been collecting towns with more workers than residents that I visit. My list is less than 10 and none that have such a high ratio!

“We’ve got a great cluster in the RV industry. We build everything from $15,000 travel trailers up to $1 million luxury motor coaches. Fairmount, with over 2,000 employees, just landed a $521 million FEMA contract. Newmar, which makes the high end motor homes, has over 1,000 employees. We’ve also got a number of smaller companies which supply the industry from everything from parts to components like doors, cabinets and furniture. There are also 130 small Amish “shingle shops” scattered across the countryside and that are growing dramatically.”

Whenever I visit a town I have our research department print me out a census report along with their comments. The data on Nappanee was greatly different from every other town I visit. The average age was 15% below average (good); high school grads 5% below (bad); college degrees 60% below (very bad); in labor force 25% higher (excellent!!!); medium household income 10% higher (wonderful); and families below poverty level 50% lower (superb). Just looking at the data was confusing, but after visiting the town I’ve gotten a much better understanding of what is behind the numbers. I’ll have more analysis and commentary on my experiences in the next couple of days.

Fairmount Trailers for FEMA Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Balloons as Cell Towers?

Wimbledon, ND has a special place in my heart. I got an incredible reception at my talk there and was presented an “I played tennis at Wimbledon” t-shirt. I also subscribed to the Wimbledon Newsletter, a great monthly publication that just went over 300 subscribers, not bad for a town of only 237!

This month’s issue reports on a new initiative in ND led by former governor Ed Schafer which intends to fly nine cell-system equipped weather balloons to provide cell phone service over the entire state. The hydrogen filled balloons will fly in the stratosphere, 20 miles above the ground and above the jet stream. Winds at that altitude are a steady 30 mph east to west in the summer and west to east in the winter. The balloons would be set up to jettison their lunch-box sized electronic gear when they reach the edge of ND, parachuting to earth where it is picked up via its GPS signal. The now much lighter balloon goes higher into the atmosphere, where it expands until it bursts. The equipment is taken to the opposite side of the state; a new battery pack is installed and re-launched. Schafer thinks that the repeater could be used indefinitely, “unless it lands in a lake or gets run over by a truck.”

The economics of this endeavor are something that ND native son Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, and proponent of the “Cheap Revolution” would love. It takes over 1,000 cell towers to cover the state of ND at a cost of around $200,000 each. Many areas of the state never get a tower because of the high cost of these towers compared to the usage in minutes. A balloon (without the equipment) only costs $55. I don’t have to even do a calculation on the back of an envelope for this one. The cell tower calc has 8 zeros behind the 2, whereas 9 x $55 sounds pretty affordable to me. Talk about Rich’s Cheap Revolution!

Trial balloons are going up this month. The system should be operational by this summer.

Ed Schafer holding cell phone computer Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Inherently of No Value?

After my blog yesterday on the last telegram a friend sent me an email reminding me that Western Union, the owner of the telegram, was given the first opportunity to commercialize the telephone. Here was their evaluation of the technology from a company internal memo.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

How often have you seen “the experts” get it completely wrong? I’ve seen it over and over.

My favorite example is Leavenworth, WA which reinvented itself as a Bavarian Village, even though the expert they brought in from the University of Washington to advise them thought that they were all crazy at the time. If you have a vision of where you want to go combined with a passion to get it done, watch out!!!

Ethanol’s Corn Usage

In the last 4 years corn used for ethanol production has increased by over 50% from 996 million bushels to and estimated 1,500 million bushel in this current marketing year. In the last 10 years corn usage for ethanol has tripled, resulting in higher commodity prices for farmers and an alternative fuel source for the USA.

Presently there are 95 ethanol plants in operation with another 31 under construction and nine going thru expansions. It is expected that another 50 to 70 new plants will be built in the next 7 years.

Ethanol production is estimated at 5 billion gallons of fuel for 2006, up from 4 billion gallons in 2005. At $2/gallon that is $10 billion/year that we save in foreign reserves as a country.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Constantly Reinventing Oneself

Did you see that the last telegram was sent earlier this month? Not many people did and with good reason: Telegrams became obsolete decades ago. But, for almost a century the telegram was the preferred method of rapid communication.

The first telegram was sent by Samuel Morse in 1844. The message he sent was “What hath God wrought?”

The age of the telegraph reached its high point in the 1920s and 30s, when they were still far cheaper than long-distance telephone calls. But, the telegram fell to the onslaught of the telephone, fax machine, e-mail and now instant messaging. Even the singing telegram delivery man couldn’t save it from the dustbin of technology.

The message for the agurbs® in this? You’ve got to be continually reinventing yourself as a community. The technology, resource or other driving force in your town might become the telegram of the future. Don’t ever become complacent with where you are.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Have an Ice Day

A recent trip to the Wisconsin Dells impressed upon me the impact of “out of the box” thinking, when I saw how the numerous indoor water parks there had helped to turn a summer playground into a year around tourist attraction. The economic impact has been dramatic.

While a number of towns in the USA are building or studying building indoor water parks, I’ve yet to hear of any that are following the example of Ski Dubai, which recently completed an indoor ski resort the size of three football fields in the middle of the desert.

The 200-foot vertical drop ski area includes a quarter-pipe, frozen waterfalls, a snowboard area, stalactites, an ice cavern and even falling snowflakes. The building is 25 stories high with five ski runs (the longest is a quarter of a mile long). Thirty tons of snow are produced every night, quite an accomplishment in a country where temperatures often reach above 120 degrees.

The next time someone in your town says, “We could never do something like that in our town,” show them these pictures of what someone did in the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai Ski Hill Under Construction Posted by Picasa

Dubai Ski Hill Exterior Posted by Picasa

Dubai Ski Hill Posted by Picasa

Dubai Ski Hill Posted by Picasa

Dubai Ski Hill Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Good News on the Economy???

Good news on the economy? Even though 4 out of 10 Americans think that we are in a recession, the U. S. economy is humming along very nicely. Jeff Thredgold, who I met at one of my talks authors a weekly look at the economy. You can see this week’s edition at http://www.thredgold.com/tealeaf/060215.pdf. Take a look at it.

This week I’ve been in two Midwestern manufacturing operations. Both are booming, growing in the double digits annually. One of the companies had grown their sales from $3 to $50 million since 1999, a 60% annual compounded growth rate! Another contact in the capital good industry told me, “I’ve not seen so much activity in the manufacturing sector since the 1970s.” Companies are expanding, investing in new tooling and becoming much more productive.

Based upon my research, activity that we are seeing at Agracel on companies expanding and my tours of small towns all over the USA I’m convinced that we are in the midst of an economic expansion the likes of which we haven’t seen for several decades. It is going to be a fun several years to be in the ED arena.

Remember where you read it when Lou Dobbs and the elite media “get it” in a couple of years.

Venture Capital in Northern Rural WI

\ A new $10 million venture capital fund, raised from 75 investors in 18 NE WI counties, will provide up to $1 million in early-stage venture funding for about a dozen WI businesses over the next five years. The fund, called NEW Capital Fund L.P., will be managed by a five-member investment board. It is one of the first organizations certified under a new venture bill, which gives investors a state income tax credit for equity investments in such funds. More info on Angel Investor Networks in WI can be found at www.wisconsinangelnetwork.com.

WI is on the cutting edge of a trend I see of more investments in regional venture capital and angel investor networks in rural America. Being able to leverage these investments with state income tax credits only enhances the investments and provides badly needed capital for the entrepreneurial spirit percolating up in the agurbs®. Doing the investing from a regional rather than local standpoint also makes sense and helps to diversify the risks. What are you doing to facilitate entrepreneurial activity in your town?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Rescuing His Hometown

“Tuscumbia was wasting away, and no one was willing to fight for it anymore—until entrepreneur Harvey Robbins came to town. Robins, 73, grew up in Tuscumbia and began his career at his father’s tire and rubber business downtown. He had been away for years, making his fortune in the plastics industry and building National Floor Products, a vinyl floor tile business that he sold in 1995 for $120 million.”

Lyle Hevern, president of North Star Manufacturing and mayor of Estherville, IA sent me a link to the article about Harvey in this month’s MY Business from the NFIB. Be sure to read the entire article at http://www.mybusinessmag.com/fullstory.php3?sid=1325.

Estherville (population 6,656) is a wonderful town that I talked at in 2004 in their new community center, which was built in a combined effort of the town, school and National Guard working together. It took real visionary leadership to work thru the various groups to accomplish a project like this, unfortunately one of the few such projects that I see in my travels.

Two towns.....two great stories!

Small Manufacturers, Small Towns, Big Success

“One promising factor in the struggle to transition from the Old Economy to the New Economy lies in the fact that Wisconsin’s manufacturing firms are small when compared to those in the eight competing states: 82.4% of the Wisconsin manufacturers’ corporate parents have annual revenues of less than $100 million, while all of the other states have percentages less than 65%,” was the key finding that I took from John Brandt’s presentation at the 2006 Governor’s Conference on Economic Development in Madison, WI last week. John is the CEO of MPI (Manufacturing Performance Inc.), which recently completed a detailed study of Wisconsin’s seven economic regions’ manufacturing potential.

WI ranked very high in our research on the top agurbs® in the USA and I’m convinced that part of the reason for their success, is the number of entrepreneurial manufacturers in the state. Brandt pointed out that “every $1 of demand for manufactured goods translates into 55 cents of GDP in manufacturing and 45 cents in non-manufacturing services, the greatest amount for any industry.”
I love manufacturing and continue to see that the continuing high gains in productivity have translated into ever higher wages in the sector. But, it is getting tougher in the sector because of the speed of change and increased competition from places like China. Brandt said it best, “The workforce is exhausted with all of this change. But change is occurring more rapidly than ever before and will only get worse.”

As Brandt was talking about the roll of smaller manufacturers in the WI economy I was reminded of the very wrong prediction of John Kenneth Galbraith, the economic guru of the 1970s. In his famous “New Industrial State” book which he wrote in 1967, he predicated that the future of America lay in “Big Government, Big Business and Big Labor.” He was wrong in a BIG way. Small towns and small manufacturers throughout WI are showing him why.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Even the Amish are on the Internet

Did you know that you can buy a genuine Amish buggy over the internet? I was in Arthur, IL (population 2,203) addressing their annual Chamber of Commerce banquet. I’d been to Arthur many times in the past. It is a favorite spot to take visitors, especially those from overseas. Besides being an Amish shopping center, it is also a very industrious town with 30% of the workforce involved in manufacturing, primarily in various wood working enterprises. Over 1,200 people drive into town each day to work, probably putting Arthur on that shortlist of towns that I’m finding where there are more people working in the town each day than sleep there at night.

Ervin Yoder, whose family helped to settle the region with Amish and local business leader now heads Economic Development for the town, told me, “We are the state’s largest outdoor shopping center. We have 100 square miles of shops.” And, he is right! Virtually every small Amish farmer has diversified into a small business in addition to farming. There are over 200 small businesses in Arthur, one of the highest concentrations/capita that I’ve seen. You will find woodworking, canvas making, quilts, farm produce, candy making, book binding, shoe repair and even buggy building. Paul Schrock told me to check out his website of www.myamishheritage.com where I saw Amish buggies from $429 to $3395.

When even the Amish are selling goods over the internet you know that this is a medium that is going to change how we conduct business.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Tourist Video Idea Taking Off

Doing a video of things to do in your town to air on one of the channels at the local hotels has stirred up a number of emails from towns that are exploring the idea. I blogged on it on January 29th. Here is one such email from the publisher of the Hillsboro Free Press in Hillsboro, KS (population 2,854), Joel Klassen:

“I have already had one volunteer offer to make the video. He is asking the paper for file photos to use in it and I said he could have anything he wants.

Your blog really gets my day off to a good start. Thanks for your efforts on behalf of the communities like ours who are trying to make some progress.”

In brainstorming this idea with the brain trust at Agracel, we thought that such a video could be done on a regional basis. The advantage of a regional effort is that it offers more things to do/see and hopefully keeps people in the motels for several days, rather than just overnight.

The challenge of doing it regionally is trying to get everyone to work together and how to fund. Here is another way to approach. Have each town do their own 10 to 20 minute video and then splice them all together, showing them on all of the motels in the region. You get the positive impact of regionalism but without the hassles of coordinating many different budgets and egos.

If you do such a project, please let me know about it. Email me at jschultz@agracel.com.

Making ED Easier

“It seems fairly common for developers to secure a piece of land, submit some plans, and then quickly threaten lawsuits to ‘bully’ their way to a quick permit,” was how Steve Weitzner worded a question on an ED list serve that I receive. It is a complaint that I’ve heard often in my travels, but the response from Karen Goldner was the best that I’ve heard to this issue.

“I think that the thing that drives most developers the craziest is unclear rules, staff who cannot clearly explain “A to Z” (i.e., there are lots of “gotchas” that pop up), and an attitude by zoning staff of “my way or the highway.” Look at your land use process from the point of view of a private citizen.”

“The best example I could ever find to explain to the land use people I worked with (when I was in economic development for our city government) was to think about how they felt dealing with insurance companies. How does it feel to deal with someone who has enormous power over you, operates in a system that you don’t understand, is seemingly arbitrary in his/her decisions, can decide to make your life miserable if he/she wants, and you are more or less helpless in dealing with them? In my experience, zoning people simply don’t get that this is how they are perceived by most businesspeople.”

“So my advice is that if your zoning folks can be convinced to clean up some of these problems (clear, written procedures; an attitude of “let’s figure out how to get this done right” rather than “to heck with you,” etc.) you will find that much of the hostility disappears. It’s like bedside manner and doctors being sued for malpractice.”

“A spoonful of honey, along with making the pill no larger than it needs to be, goes a long way.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Mom’s Remembrances of My Old Office

Earlier in the week I wrote about having mixed emotions at seeing the original office building that we started Agracel in torn down to make way for a court house in our downtown area. My mother sent me an email about her experiences in the same office with the infamous attorney who originally occupied the same space at an earlier time.

Here is a portion of the email that she sent to me. George Bauer was the attorney and Mr. Griffin was her high school business teacher. Mom had previously worked at a department store for 10 cents an hour, so this opportunity looked very promising. Here is her story:

“Someone told me that George Bauer was looking for a secretary and was paying twenty five cents per hour-he was in dire need as his last secretary had quit-cold turkey on him. (That should have given me a clue!). George asked me my name and could I type. He didn't ask about my shorthand. I probably would have lied and told him I was good at it although I knew I had faked some of the dictation Mr. Griffin had given us in class.

So the first day came and I typed up the three letters he had dictated. Evidently, I wasn't as great at faking it or Mr. Bauer was smarter than Mr. Griffin. He stormed into the room where I was sitting at my typewriter and threw the three letters I had typed from his dictations. Foul curse words flew out of his mouth - he was beet-red in anger. I took the letters and made the proper corrections. He had calmed down by the next time but thru the course of the next two days, I heard him use his "out-house" vocabulary to bawl out the other two secretaries.

The next day when he started on me again I just said, "Mr. Bauer, I am not accustomed to being talked to with such a vile mouth as yours. I will come to work until you can find a replacement but I will not stay in this office and be subjected to your foul mouth".......or words to that effect.

He immediately became very complacent, put his arm around my shoulder and tried to convince me to stay. But I was adamant and refused to stay. In January I left for Terre Haute to begin my nursing career.

There were times in nursing when studies were hard. We had to put in 8 hours of floor-duty each day plus carrying 6 or 7 subjects in nursing. I thought about quitting several times, especially that one moment that stays in my memories even 65 years later.....I was walking down the hallway with a smelly bedpan in each hand on a Sunday afternoon and looking down at those awful bedpans. I said to myself, "I think I'll just quit and go home". Then I looked at those two ugly bedpans and of returning to Mr. Bauer. I said to myself, "Well, it's either Mr. Bauer or these bedpans for the next few years". Somehow the bedpans didn't seem too bad after all.

That day I opted for bedpans and a future in nursing that opened many doors for me.

And that’s what I thought about when I saw the picture and noticed the upstairs windows of the deceased Mr. Bauer! Thanks for the memories Jack!


She never missed a ball game. Doesn’t miss a blog. Tells people, “You can’t own enough copies of his book.” And, continues to share her wisdom with me.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Final Thoughts on Alaska

I told the group in Alaska that if wasn’t for a previous trip to the state, there might never have been the book BoomtownUSA. In my years of traveling around the USA doing industrial projects, I’d found incredible towns that I wanted to write about. We had talked about it at our strategy sessions at Agracel, but didn’t know anything about writing a book. We shelved the project in the late 90s.

My parents took all seven children and their families on a cruise to Alaska in 2002, a total of 35 people. While on the cruise I ran into a professor from SMU who had written a book about writing a book. I bought it, read it during the cruise and brought him to Effingham to do a one day seminar on reviving our book project. The way he explained it sounded pretty simple and we thought that we could crank out a book in about six months. It ended up taking us three years, but once we started down the path of researching the book, there was no turning back.

That trip to Alaska was in my mind when we got the call to do the talk in Alaska. I hadn’t been back since that cruise and told Sarah at my office to change some events around to allow me to go back to the state.

I was a bit apprehensive about returning in February, thinking that there wouldn’t be much daylight and knowing that the temperatures would be well below freezing. I was right about it being cold, the temperatures ranged from 5 below to 12 above, but I was pleased with sunlight until 5 pm.

I took advantage of having the afternoon free before my red-eye flight back home, so I drove down to Whittier, about 50 miles south of Anchorage. I was amazed by the scenery, especially the way that the mounted up ice turned Cook’s Inlet into a moonscape like surface.

Whittier, which is the western most port on Prince William Sound, was set up by the U. S. Army as “the secret port.” The army built a 2.5 mile railroad tunnel that linked the port to Anchorage. In 2000 the tunnel was opened to vehicle traffic, making it the longest vehicle tunnel in North America, albeit a one lane one that alternates directions during the day. Whittier was pretty dead in February but looks like it really bustles in the summer. Gorgeous, quaint town!

I’d love to return to Alaska again soon. Sarah: See what you can do to get me back there. Anytime!

Whittier, AK Marina Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Diversifying From Fish

One of the challenges that a place like SW Alaska face, located a long distance away from any markets and hindered by astronomical transportation costs, is how to develop a diversified economy. Right now, the region is totally dependent upon the fishing industry.

One of the sessions at the SW Alaska Economic Summit dealt with the Oil, Gas and Mining development. One of the mine projects discussed would employ more people than currently live in the entire borough (a county in the lower 48).
The North Aleutian Basin is projected to have reserves of 8.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and possibly as much as 22.3 trillion cubic feet. Of less importance are the oil reserves, calculated at 750 million barrels, up to 2 billion barrels. A liquefied natural gas transportation port would take 5,000 people to build and 600 to 700 employees to run.

The issue of meshing extractive industries with the natural habitat of fishing came up several times. The 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which resulted in an 11 million gallon oil spill, was mentioned several times.

Changing technologies in transportation and communication could make SW Alaska a less remote area, allowing for a growth of more entrepreneurism in the area. The unduplicatable beauty of the area holds even more potential for the long term. There is potential for tourism and attracting people leaving the rat race for the untamed beauty of Alaska. Today’s technologies will allow them to develop and run businesses from remote areas like this.

When I returned home one of my team members told me, “My Dad would love to move to Alaska, if he could only talk my mother into it.” I’m convinced that there are a number of baby boomers out there who would love to try their hand at an adventure in SW Alaska.

Oil & Gas Potential in SW AK Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Off the Grid?

I wasn’t exactly sure what “we’re off the grid” meant until I asked Carol Foster of Sand Point, AK who explained it to me, “We don’t have any roads out here. The only way to get to the towns that are here to is by plane or sea.” I was talking at the Southwest Alaska Economic Summit and Municipal Conference, composed of towns and islands located along the Aleutian Peninsula. The largest town is Kodiak with a population of 6,334.

The main industry is fishing. Carol told me, “We fish for pollack and cod from January to April; halibut in February; salmon from June to September; and then pollack and cod for the rest of the year.

The next time that I have a town complain to me about being located off the interstate grid, whether they claim they are from forgotonia, boonyacksville, can’tget-therefromhere, or any other such place, I’m going to remind them of what I learned from the people of SW Alaska.

“It takes us 2 ½ hours by plane to get to Anchorage. We only have one flight per day. We have a ferry one time per month, only during the summer. A typical round-trip plane ticket to Anchorage is $800 or $900,” Carol Foster explained to me about their isolation. Carol is from Sand Point (population 952), which is 560 miles from Anchorage. Kodiak is the closest at 250 miles. Dillingham (population 2,466) is 350 miles away; Unalaska (4,283) 800 miles; Adak (316) 1200 miles; and Attu (20) 1500 miles. It is 1/3 as far from Attu to the Russian mainland as it is to Anchorage!

Having only one major industry and extreme isolation creates some unique issues for SW AK. Costs of ordinary consumer goods are extremely high, in some cases 10 times what they would cost in the lower 48. I’m not sure how you overcome some of those issues, but tomorrow I’ll talk about some ideas on how this region of Alaska might be able to diversify away from being a fishing monoculture.

Map of Alaskan & Oil Basins Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Where is Lou Dobbs?

When I’m on the road I’ll try to watch Lou Dobbs occasionally, for as long as I can stand it. I find his obvious bias against globalization and shifting manufacturing locations to be disconcerting and fraudulent. If you listen to him too much, I’m afraid that you would see a very dim future for the USA and our workers.

Dobbs surely forgot to report to his viewers that manufacturing production in the USA hit a record level in November, right? The fact that we have never produced more than we are now doesn’t fit with the message that he wants to convey, masking it in a news format. I’m sure that he also found someway to negatively report the 193,000 jobs added to the economy in January or that over 4,000,000 new jobs have been added since the recession of 2001. The fact that unemployment, at 4.7%, is also the lowest in 4 ½ years also is skimmed over. Or, that more people than in the history of the USA are today working in this country!

And, an announcement on Friday in Gallatin, TN (population 22,230) where I was touring and doing a talk earlier in the week surely just slipped below his radar screen. I’m typing this with my tongue firmly in my cheek.

Samick Corporation announced plans to build a 200,000 sf manufacturing and distribution center and 14,000 sf corporate office building in Gallatin. The company is moving 30 people from City of Industry, CA because of the quality of life and lower operating cost structure that they found in TN. The manufacturing jobs of making pianos and guitars are going to be moving from Korea. Once its production achieves full production, Samick will become the largest producer of pianos in the USA.

Clay Walker, head of ED for Gallatin, said of the move, “They found that our labor offered significant advantages to foreign labor.”

The project will start initially with 110 employees with plans to add 25/year for at least the first 3 years. Samick follows Nissan, which recently moved their corporate headquarters from CA to south of Nashville. Forward Sumner has another relocation from CA in the works, also bringing production from overseas.

Makes you wonder why this isn’t newsworthy for Lou Dobbs, doesn’t it?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fabulous Forward Sumner!

With being on the road virtually every week, touring over 100 towns annually I feel that I’m starting to get a feel for the potential of towns and regions. My tour of Sumner County, TN was one that astonished me with its potential. I was there to keynote their Third Annual Meeting of their ED group for the county, which is composed of seven towns in the rolling hills north of Nashville. There was a risk of the county only becoming a bedroom community for the larger city, but my observations are that it will drive its own economic engine, while taking advantage of its proximity to Nashville.

The Dollar General HQ (1,200 employees), The Gap DC (1,400 employees); a recently announced Federated Stores DC (500 employees) and other large employers provide a strong foundation. Local entrepreneurs are adding to the vibrancy. Halo Properties is developing 300 acres of land in a new urbanism style for 1,000 residences, 900,000 sf of retail and 2.3 million sf of offices. The meandering Old Hickory Lake stretches along the entire south boundary of the county, providing an incredible quality of life attribute and dozens of miles of shoreline for homes.

Johnny Cash, Barbara Mandrell, Roy Orbison and Conway Twitty all settled in the county. Twitty started Twitty City in Hendersonville in the early 1970s that should have probably become what Branson, MO has become instead. Charly Lyons, who grew up here and is a VP with Forward Sumner told me, “We used to have tour buses coming through here in droves.”

The Academy Award nominations were announced the day I was in Sumner County and we drove by the lake house that Johnny Cash lived in until he died. One of the more memorable scenes in the recent biographical movie “Walk the Line” was him driving his new tractor into Old Hickory Lake. I’m still upset that “Walk the Line” was not nominated for Best Picture.

Charly told of another memorable event in the town. Kris Kristofferson landed at Johnny Cash’s house in a helicopter to talk him into recording “Sunday Morning Sidewalks”, which Cash turned into a major hit. “At the time Kristoferson was down on his luck and that song saved his career.” Sometimes you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone and sell yourself in an out-of-the-box way like Kris Kristoferson. Agurbs® can learn a lesson here.

Barry Gibbs originally of the Bee Gees recently bought Johnny Cash’s house, sight unseen and has yet to visit. He feels that the house will be an inspirational place for songwriting.

Sumner County has an interesting history, outstanding quality of life and a bright future. I’m glad that I toured it in 2006 because I’ll want to see the progress and new jobs that are going to be created there in the next five years.

Tomorrow, I’ll be reporting on a new project in Sumner County that you probably won’t be seeing on Lou Dobbs.

Johnny Cash's house on Old Hickory Lake Posted by Picasa

Twitty City in Sumner Co, TN Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 05, 2006

End of an Era

I was a little nostalgic when I drove by where our original office was located and found an empty lot. The building that Agracel started out in 20 years ago was torn down to make way for a new court house in downtown Effingham, IL (population 12,384). It was a sturdy but non-descript office that you had to walk up about 20 stairs. It was located on the main street thru the downtown area right across the street from the largest bank in town.

The lawyer who originally occupied our offices and who had built the building was notorious for leaning out of the windows and berating people on the street who owed he or his clients money. A fellow attorney sent his stenographer over to the bank’s front door to transcribe a letter the fellow was dictating because he had such a booming voice. He also went thru a lot of secretaries because he insisted that they take dictation while he was “doing his business on the throne”.

Now it’s gone and instead of having interesting retail shops and the potential for housing on the upper floors, it will become part of a modern office complex. I’m sad to see it go.

Agracel's Original Office Building Posted by Picasa

Magnificent Murals

A few towns that I visit have commissioned incredible murals for their downtowns. These works of art are often part of the ambiance of the locale and help to create that certain sense of place that I continue to find in so many towns around the USA. Here are some before and after pictures from Bucyrus, a north-central Ohio town of 13,224.

Agracel's Origincal Office Site After Demolition Posted by Picasa

Bucyrus, OH Historical Mural  Posted by Picasa

Bucyrus, OH Mural Wall Before Posted by Picasa

Liberty Remembers Before Posted by Picasa

Liberty Remembers in Bucyrus, OH Posted by Picasa