Friday, June 30, 2006

Rebuilding a Theater

I’ve written about Kingfisher, OK (population 4,380) before. I was there on my way to a talk in Enid. I stopped to see how the town recognized its most famous citizen, Sam Walton, who was born there in 1918.

The town’s only movie theater, an old single screen, was destroyed by fire in 2004 and the owners decided not to rebuild. A lot of towns would have just moved on and chalked it up to bad luck.

But, Kingfisher is not a normal town. A small group of citizens got together and decided that for the betterment of the community they had to rebuild. Here is how Tim McKay of First Capital Bank and project manager (read ram-rod) told it to me.

“Many possibilities were discussed and eventually led to a meeting with an architect from Texas that had done some renovations jobs at theatres in Oklahoma. The original cost estimate was around $500,000 for the project. At that point investors were sought and we were on our way. The story from that point is one of the most fascinating tales of community pride and commitment that I have had the good fortune of having been involved. The project cost almost doubled, but the group remained committed for the betterment of the community. Each investors return on investment can be measured by the quality of life for our community not by some rate of return. Since the theatre has opened it has been extremely popular and been a source of vibrant activity in downtown Kingfisher.”

Those dozen investors understand the importance of institutions like a local theater. I find them in every town I visit around the USA. Today I salute those in Kingfisher.

Kingfisher, OK 89er Theater Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Interstates at 50, National Road at 200

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 which established the interstate system. The idea for such a system began when a young Lieutenant Colonel Dwight Eisenhower took part in a grueling 3,251 mile military convoy from Washington, DC to San Francisco in 1919 which took 62 days. His experience with the German autobahn system in WWII convinced him of the need for such a system in the USA.

Less well known is that the National Road, or U. S. 40, turns 200 this year. Long before railroads linked the country, this 700 mile dirt road was the first federally financed interstate, opening up land to settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve given probably 10 talks in the past two years in towns like Frederick, MD; Cambridge, OH; Vandalia, IL and others that developed because of being on the National Road. Many are utilizing the historical attributes of the road to enhance their tourism advantages.

I have many fond memories of both the National Road and the building of the interstates. When I was growing up in Teutopolis, IL we lived a half block from the National Road. One of my earliest memories is of going up to the “hard road” on Memorial Day to watch the steady stream of cars driving back from the Indianapolis 500. I was pretty easy to entertain!

We would make trips often to St. Louis when the Interstate 70 was being built in stages. We would speed along on a stretch of the new four lanes for five or ten miles and then have to drag behind a lumbering truck for the next non-interstate stretch. We always stopped in East St. Louis at a new restaurant called McDonalds, which had how many millions of hamburgers they had sold in lights.

My, how times have changed! But, progress is a continuum. Some towns will gain with it and some will lose. And, it will continue to change.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Missing Teeth

One of the saddest things I see in too many towns that I visit is the missing teeth in the smile of the town. No, I’m not in some really backwoods towns that bring back memories of the movie Deliverance. I’m talking about the torn down buildings that are in too many downtowns.

The program for my talk in Logansport, IN showed a downtown scene from the 1800s. Judi Barr of the Logansport-Cass County Economic Development Foundation had scanned the image from postcards her great-grandmother had saved. She later sent me a photo of the same street today. See for yourself the two photos below.

In my travels I’m beginning to see towns that are filling in those missing teeth. Some of my favorites are Oxford, MS and Traverse City, MI. These towns and others are creating a special feeling in their downtowns. They are vibrant during the day and late into the night. Residents are returning to the downtowns and condos are being built in close proximity.

What does your downtown look like? What could it look like?

Logansport postcard from earlier era (note same church in following photos)  Posted by Picasa

Downtown Logansport (note church) Posted by Picasa

Downtown Logansport (note church) Posted by Picasa

New building in Oxford, MS downtown that looks like it is rehab of an older building Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

People Who Shape Towns

“The McHale Performing Arts Center was built from a fund put together by Frank McHale, who was born and raised in Logansport and became a very prosperous railroad attorney in Indianapolis.” Skip Kuker showed me the 650 seat center along with a century old carousel that is prominently located in Logansport’s Riverside Park that was also supported and named for Mr. McHale.

Cole Hardwood was another stop on our tour of the town. “They are the third largest hardwood company in the country. They burned down seven years ago, but the owner Milt Cole kept every one of his 85 employees on the payroll while he rebuilt. He paid them for 14 months, without any revenue coming in.”

Logansport has teamed up with Ivy Tech, the state technical school, to begin offering entrepreneurship classes beginning in the fourth grade. The curriculum culminates in a business plan competition at the high school level which awards a $1000 scholarship to the winner. “We have a middle school student who has a patent pending on a stabilizer bar for bow hunting. He is selling it all over the country and is only in the eighth grade.”

It only takes one or two passionate people to influence and change a town for the better. Educating, cultivating and encouraging those few can make a world of difference for a community.

Logansport's Carousel Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 26, 2006

Manufacturing Clusters Help Build a Town

I was in Logansport, IN (population 19,684) last week doing a talk for their ED group, which is run by a dynamic Skip Kuker. Logansport’s downtown sits at the confluence of the Eel and Wabash Rivers.

Dave Kitchell, newspaper editor and local historian explained how Logansport might have been Mouth of Eel. “The only alternative proposed was to name it for John Logan a War of 1812 Native American hero who was killed in that war. They had a shooting contest and a French trapper won the contest and liked Logansport better than Mouth of Eel.”

Logansport High School’s mascot is the Berries. I wondered if it wouldn’t have been different if Mouth of Eel had prevailed.

Kitchell talked about different boom periods for the town. “The first was when the Erie Canal stopped here in 1840. We would get products shipped in from as far away as Plymouth, IN (50 miles to the north). It opened up trade with the east. The second was when the railroads developed in the 1950s. We had the second largest crossing of railroads in the state. Only Indianapolis had more. WWII got manufacturing started in the area and we became a major producer of springs and other products for the war effort. The last boom was when Wilson Foods located here with their packing plant in 1970.”

The packing plant is now owned by Tyson, processing 15,000 hogs/day with 2100 employees. Hartz Mountain which turns pigs ears from the plant into pet treats and Cass County By Products are located in the town as a result of the Tyson plant. Another manufacturing cluster in the town is in the multi-slide area where eight companies use hydraulic presses to stamp out parts.

Kuker, who used to work as sales manager for one of the eight, Logan Stampings, explained to me how that industry has refocused, “We lost about a quarter of our business to China but we refocused and started producing metal roofing clips and recovered all of our lost business.” I’m seeing that kind of resiliency as I travel around the USA.

Logansport's downtown where Wabash (rear) and Eel (front) come together Posted by Picasa

Logansport's new ethanol plant under construction Posted by Picasa

John Smith and Skip Kuker (right) in front of dated stone on Erie Canal warehouse, now a construction company office Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Connecting to Your Customers

Every Sunday, Laura from Dakota Cabin Quilts sends out an informative ezine newsletter about shows that they are attending, new quilting patterns and general info on Laura and Wesley’s two children Mathew and Micaela. I’m not a quilter but my wife is and has become a big fan of their quilting store. She calls them the best that she has seen and after doing over 40 quilts, she is my quilting expert.

I was in Hettinger, ND (population 1,307) a year ago and was so impressed with what Laura and Wesley have been able to build in a remote area of ND. Hettinger is the largest town for a 40 mile radius, so developing a retail store specializing in a tiny market like quilting requires selling beyond the normal trade area of a typical store and required innovatively thinking “outside of the box.” The innovation was the Internet and Laura and Wesley have built a great business by using the Internet to connect to their customers all over the USA and world.

I’m not a quilter myself, but I enjoy reading their ezine each Sunday. Sign up for it and see for yourself.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Inspiring Young Entrepreneurs

I love the name CANDO Youth Business Camp, mainly because we’ve billed our company as the Can Do Company since we started 20 years ago. CANDO is an acronym for their full name, Converse Area New Development Organization in Converse County, WY (population 12,766) with the biggest town, Douglas, having 5,288.

CANDO will hold their fifth annual entrepreneurial skills camp for 100 teens aged 14 to 18. The curriculum was developed by Paul Guinn, a serial entrepreneur who worked with Michael Dell when he started Dell Computers. The week long camp takes the young people thru how to organize a business, marketing, finance, sales and the building of a business plan. The winning business plan for the week receives a $250 cash award.

What are you doing to encourage the entrepreneurial spark in your community?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Wanted in Wimbledon

One of my most memorable talks was one I did in Wimbledon, ND (population 237), which brought out over 100 people to listen and learn about what they could do to improve their town. I’ve subscribed to the Wimbledon Newsletter, a monthly publication, ever since. You can see the front page here.

A recent issue celebrated plans for the reopening of a community café. A local board has been formed and a recent pot-luck supper brought in $5,000, which inspired two local entrepreneurs to start it back up. In their first two weeks in operation they averaged 125 customers/day. Not bad for a town of 237!

Unfortunately, as plans for the café were taking shape, the local grocery store put up a for-sale sign. Mike & Judy Schlecht, who have owned the store for several decades are both in their 60s, and are wanting to slow down a bit. They have set a July 1st deadline for selling their store. If you are an adventuresome entrepreneur you might give them a call. Remember, Wimbledon, ND is the only spot in the USA that you can play tennis at Wimbledon. I’ve got my own t-shirt that advertises that fact.

Towns go through ups and downs. Wimbledon has been through their fair share. I hope that they get the café started and that someone steps forward to buy the grocery store. Their future as a town probably depends upon it.

This is their website for the newsletter

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Mike Harvey is one of the most thoughtful people I’ve met in my travels to over 40 states in the past two years. He helped to coordinate several events in Winfield, KS (population 12,206) where he works as a financial planner. He also publishes a weekly ezine newsletter that he is in the process of converting to a blog. Here is some of what he had to say about our immigration debate in a recent writing.

“An important part of my job as an investment advisor is to support the principles of economic freedom and capitalism. These are inseparable from liberty itself, and they are critical to long-term wealth creation. I do not support any of the current immigration proposals for the simple reason that they are logically opposed to those principles. I make no apologies for my position on free immigration, and I encourage my friends to research the subject further.”

“Among the things you will learn are that most of the accusations being leveled against Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal, are slanderous. The truth is:

· 62% of illegal immigrants pay income taxes.

· 67% of illegal immigrants contribute to Social Security.

· The national unemployment rate for Hispanic workers is only 5.5%.

· Hispanics start new businesses at 3 times the national average rate.

· In 2002, 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses generated sales revenue of $22 billion.

· Only 5% of illegal Mexican immigrants receive food stamps or unemployment benefits.

· Only 10% of illegal Mexican immigrants have children in our public schools.

· National surveys of crime statistics show that Mexican immigrants are generally less involved in crime than other similarly situated groups.

· Arab terrorists are among the people least likely to sneak across the Mexican border.”

If you’d like to read his blog, click here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Priest and Six Old Ladies

A group of volunteers, nicknamed “A Priest and Six Old Ladies” worked for two years to raise $52,000 to develop the first of what they hope will become a sculpture park in Sugar Grove, OH (population 448) along Rt. 33. The priest, Father James A. Geiger, 80, is pastor at St. Joseph Church in the town. He said of the project, “As people come into the area, they will see this as the entrance to this part of the state.”

They commissioned local artist Ric Leichliter, a nationally recognized artist for the first sculpture, a 40-foot, galvanized-steel red-tailed hawk. It weighs 2,500 pounds and has over 3,000 separate painted metal feathers. Plans are to add similar pieces of deer, wild turkey and other wildlife to the park.

The local parks commission plans to add a parking lot, landscaping and walking trails to the site. They hope to use it as a lure to get people to look at their community as a destination.

What are you doing to make your town stand out?

Sugar Grove, OH sculpture being mounted Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Original Check to Charles Lindberg in Racquet Club Posted by Picasa

Historic Racquet Club

Creativity and the visualization of seemingly impossible endeavors seem to happen repeatedly with certain people and regions. I’ve often wondered why. Last week I was at such a place giving a NAIOP talk, the St. Louis Racquet Club.

The Racquet Club was where the Walker Cup, Davis Cup, Orteig Prize and X-Prize all originated. The Walker Cup, played on odd numbered years by amateur golfers in the U. S. vs. England, was named for George Herbert Walker, the grandfather of former president Bush and great-grandfather of our current president. The Davis Cup is a premier event in tennis, with teams from around the world competing for the prize. Last year 134 countries entered the competition.

The $25,000 Orteig Prize was put up by St. Louis hotelier Raymond Orteig and “Doc” Lambert (Lambert Field in St. Louis is named for him) in 1919 to the first person to fly from New York to Paris. Charles Lindberg collected the money at the Racquet Club in 1927 when he flew 33 straight hours and ignited an interest in aviation that continues today.

The X-Prize was a $10 million prize offered to the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. The prize was won on October 24, 2004, the 47th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, by the Tier One project. Tier One was funded by Paul Allen with a Burt Rutan designed spacecraft.

What causes one location to develop four such events of world-wide magnitude? I’m searching the country to try to understand and find other examples.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Training Angels

Tomorrow, The Power of Angel Investing Workshop is being held in Grand Forks, ND. It is the fifth such seminar aimed at prospective angels in ND/MN, having trained 300 angel investors in previous workshops. There is a great deal of interest in entrepreneurism with “angel funds being organized in Bismarck, Grand Forks, Fargo, Fergus Falls and St. Cloud in this region,” wrote Bruce Gjovig, Entrepreneur Coach and CEO of the University of ND Center for Innovation.

RAIN (Rural Accredited Investor Network) Source Capital out of St. Paul, MN is the lead investor in these rural initiatives. They have 13 angel investor networks established to date with funds in MN, IA and ND. These funds range from 7 to 61 members with investment pools of from $500,000 to $2 million.

The care and feeding of entrepreneurs is going to grow in importance for rural areas. Entrepreneurs are mobile and will go where they have access to capital, are well treated and can put down roots. What are you doing to cultivate your entrepreneurs?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Adopt a Tree

Connecting to your customers and making them customers for life is one of the keys to building a great small business. Finding innovative ways to finance start-up and growth is another key factor. Several farmers have found ways to combine both keys through “adoption programs” for their productive assets.

St. Helena Winery in the Napa Valley allows wine lovers to adopt a vine for $79.95 per year, which gives them a certificate of adoption, a name tag on the vine and a choice of one or two bottles of wine. In addition the winery has a guest cottage for their “partners.”

A similar program is offered by WineShare for French and Italian wines. Nudo, started by two former British television producers, has had 548 of their 881 olive trees adopted at $110/year. Yachana Gourmet does the same thing with coco trees.

Could one of your new farmer entrepreneurs use this model to help finance their fledgling operation?

Friday, June 16, 2006

ArtsBuild a Winner!

With a long term goal of helping artists evolve into entrepreneurs, ArtsBuild was set up in 2004 by the University of Wisconsin—Platteville to encourage artists in the seven counties of SW WI. Their plan was to increase the professional and business capacity of these artists through workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities. The effort was recently awarded the top award in Rural Development by the Wisconsin Rural Partners.

ArtsBuild has worked with over 200 artists in the past two years, sponsored 45 classes on the business of art and published a directory of artists in the region. The effort has created a new entrepreneurial climate in the artist community and I’m convinced will have a huge impact upon the area in the long term.

I’m continuing to see the impact that a vibrant arts community can have on rural communities. There are lessons to be learned from programs like ArtsBuild and others sprouting up around the USA.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

How About a Spec House?

Crosby, ND (population 1,089), lies 7 miles south of the Canadian border in the NW part of the state. I was there last year to do a talk and tour the town. It has been featured in several national publications, including a story last month in the NY Times, on their attempt to stop their population slide by offering free building lots in the town.

Now the Crosby Housing Authority is exploring the novel idea of building a spec home with the support of local bankers, builders and suppliers. The Kiwanis Club has offered to coordinate community volunteers to assist on the project.

Crosby impressed me with their ability and willingness to pull together as a town. Spreading the risk by getting the support of various entities is also a very positive move.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hey! This is the Country!

“Wells can go dry. Septic tanks can leak. No one likes it when the family pet gets eaten by a cougar or shot by the sheep rancher up the valley. You should also expect some potential annoyances if you move next to an orchard or vineyard. Wind machines as loud as helicopters can blow all night to keep the frost off fruit trees in the spring. And what’s that smell? Sulfur sprayed to control mildew on grapes.” Those are just some of the potential pitfalls mentioned in the new Jackson County Rural Living Handbook. The 28-page guide was prepared by the local Soil and Water Conservation District to remind city slickers escaping the rat race of the realities of rural life.

The southern OR county printed 3,000 copies of the handbook and is reprinting more this month. In the handbook they point out that 70% of the private rural land in the county is composed of small ranchettes of less than 50 acres.

The booklet has been a big hit at feed stores and coops but has not been embraced by the local real estate community.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Early Show in Cape

The CBS Early Show is going to be in Cape Girardeau, MO tomorrow doing their show from the Mississippi River waterfront. Cape Girardeau was one of my golden eagles, ranked as one of the top 100 agurbs® in the USA and I did a whole chapter in the book on their story. I hope that you can tune in.

CBS Early Show in Cape Girardeau, MO Posted by Picasa

New Honda Plant

I’d like to think that Honda bought my book when they announced their three finalists for their next major plant. They chose Van Wert, OH; Greensburg, IN; and Fithian, IL. The first two are both agurbs® and Fithan is only 15 miles from Danville, another agurb®. I’ve spoken in all three over the past two years.

Van Wert is making a grassroots effort to lure the company to town. A local printing company has printed up 500 signs which are sprouting up around the community inviting Honda to locate there. Nancy Bowen, local ED head, has collected over 300 letters to Honda urging them to locate in Van Wert.

Honda’s first plant was built in Marysville, OH (population 15, 942). They obviously fully understand the value of locating in smaller towns like Van Wert, Greensburg and Fithian.

Van Wert, OH Honda Campaign Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 12, 2006

Country Scribe’s Entrepreneurial Cry

The Center of Innovation at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks is run by Bruce Gjovig, a dynamic, innovator who understands the importance of entrepreneurism to states like ND. I read everything that he sends me and a recent email from him told me, “Eric Bergeson operates Bergeson Nurseries near Fertile, MN. He also writes a weekly column for rural newspapers in the area.” You can read his past columns and daily blog at

Here is part of Eric’s column on the importance of rural towns spending less time on recruiting in the next big company and instead spending that time on growing their local entrepreneurs.

“No, the businesses which have truly transformed a lucky few declining small towns into bustling, growing, vigorous communities have been home-grown.

Some local kid decided to stay around home and try out a crazy idea. A window factory. A snowmobile plant. An electronic parts distributor. A fishing-lure manufacturer. A curtain factory.

People thought he or she was nuts, but the dreamers just kept chasing their dream, sticking to it through thick and thin.

Perhaps they had a friend or two around town who helped them out and later became an employee. Perhaps some of the people down at the cafe resisted the urge to criticize and instead offered encouragement.

But when the business took off, after years and years of debt and struggle and trial and error and sleepless nights and failures by the dozen, the home-grown entrepreneur remembered those who helped him out.

He remembered the teachers who believed in him, so he set up a fund for the school. He remembered playing football on the old cow pasture, so he built a nice new field.

Most importantly, the home-grown entrepreneur sticks around. He is loyal to the town. He’s not going to demand tax breaks from the local municipality because he knows that paying taxes is one of his main functions, a way he can help sustain the infrastructure which he uses to make a living.

The home-grown entrepreneur isn’t so short sighted as to move to the first city which offers him a temporary break on taxes. He is stubborn enough not to sell out to the first mega-company which offers him millions to give up local control.”

Pretty good thinking on Eric’s part. I hope that you will bookmark his blog and check on it regularly.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

What are you Overlooking?

“John Cilagi eliminated seven million people in the U. S. in one fell swoop. It took him four years to convince his superiors at the IRS but in the end he convinced them that all of the dependents that were listed on people’s tax returns with names like Fido, Poopy, Duchess, etc. weren’t really their children. He got them to require a social security number next to the name and suddenly 7 million people disappeared as dependents.” Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, used this as an example at a talk I attended last week.

“The U. S. government saved $3 billion in tax revenue in four years as a result of this one obvious item. Yet Cilagi only got a $25,000 bonus for suggesting it and fighting to get it put onto tax returns.”

Are you overlooking any obvious flaws in your hometown? What are you doing to correct them?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Small Business is the Heart of the USA Economy

“Small business is the heart of the United States economy. For example…small businesses make up almost 98% of all employers; creates 65% of net new jobs; 10.5 million are minority and women-owned; account for 97% of America’s exporters and 26% of export value.” Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx made a great speech on the importance of small business at a U. S. Chamber event in May. Click here for the full speech.

Smith talks about how his company, which he started 33 years ago, delivered only 189 packages in its first night of operation.

I loved his quote from Will Rogers, “If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.”

What are you doing?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Internet Growth

The latest survey from Harris Interactive shows that 172 million Americans over the age of 18 are online, 77% of the adult population. Ten years ago only 17 million were online, which grew to 113 million by 2000.

Local towns can no longer look at their market being a 20, 30 or 50 mile radius around their community. The market is the entire USA and world. I’m amazed at the number of companies that I see in virtually every small town that are doing business over the internet.

What are you doing to assist your new internet based businesses to expand and grow? You don’t want them to miss this opportunity.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Twenty Percent Cost Savings by Moving from Philly to Upstate NY

“He estimates that he has saved 20% by moving to Canastota,” Rich Isome emailed me about JumoUSA moving their operations from Philadelphia to the upstate NY town of 4,425. The German company had been in the large city since 1990, but made the move in hopes of beginning manufacturing and doubling from its current 15 employees. The company was started by US President’s Carsten Juchheim’s grandfather in 1947, specializing in measurement and temperature controls.

“He left Philadelphia because of A) the high cost of living including health insurance B) high employee turnover because he couldn’t compete with companies like Merck and Boeing for talent and C) the cost of real estate. Carsten says in moving to Canastota, he built a new building double the size of the old one at the same cost. Instead of living 45 minutes away from work, he built a home 8 minutes away.”

It makes you wonder why there aren’t more big city companies that make the same move, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Regionalism, Convergence & Home Town Competitiveness

Regionalism has become one of the recurring themes that I see as I travel around the USA. Tom Christoffel of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission does a wonderful weekly compilation of articles on the subject.

Some of Tom’s thoughts from his website and ezine are right on the mark, “Today the local scale is often too small to address today’s needs and opportunities. “Think Local plane, act regionally,” is my candidate paradigm.” Another is, “An effective multi-jurisdictional regional community has DNA: it is geographically Defined; has a common Name and its Alignment is inclusive of smaller communities and participatory in larger communities.” Or, “Once people discover something in common, inclusive boundaries can be used to cooperate regionally.”

Sign up for this ezine here or go to his website at

Another blog that has caught my attention is Convergence by Tom Fellrath. He is focused upon the growing alignment of workforce and economic development. Be sure to check it out here and bookmark it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Beware of the C.A.V.E People

The following editorial appeared in the Daily & Sunday Jeffersonian in Cambridge, OH after a recent talk. I thought that you would enjoy reading it.
“Beware of C.A.V.E. people”

Addressing a sizable local audience at the Pritchard Laughlin Civic Center last week, Jack Schultz – expert of big success for small towns – said virtually every community has within it a toxic infestation that can literally wipe it out.

We have it here in the Cambridge area.

Schultz calls it C.A.V.E. people.

It’s an acronym for “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”

Here are some ways to recognize C.A.V.E. people:
• They attend no public meetings and criticize the way “they” do things.
• They always remind others about the hot summers, cold winters and general tough conditions for those who live here.
• They complain about the quality of police, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, firefighters and EMTs.
• They have convinced themselves that it’s not important to attend school programs, concerts, ball games, etc. They won’t be missed.
• They knock the local town council and county commission, and gossip about “kickbacks” elected officials must be getting.
• They stay away from church, believing all who regularly attend are hypocrites.
• They make purchases out of town without first checking local stores that contribute to the community.
• They’re always reminding others that the local newspaper and radio stations are no good and have less local news than out-of-town media.
• They believe all kids are delinquents, all businessmen are crooks, and bad remarks about the community are the order of the day.
• They, above all, are skeptical, cynical and negative about anything and everything meant for community betterment and progress.

If any of this sounds like you, there is hope.

Try helping to build your community, instead of tearing it down.

You really can make a difference.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Eating Your Way down this Alabama Trail

Too often in our small towns we try to do everything ourselves, rather than reaching out and trying to do things on a regional basis. I’ve seen so many regional efforts allow individual towns to leverage themselves so much more than what they could do by themselves. I saw an example of this in Eufaula, AL when I stopped there on a refueling stop coming back from Key West.

Eufaula, AL (population 13,908) sits pristinely along Lake Eufaula, built in 1963 by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is one of my top 100 agurbs® and I’ve used it several times in my talks as an example of how a town can determine their own direction. In the case of Eufaula they’ve leveraged their natural resources tremendously, building upon the lake and wildlife. The town is a major bird watching paradise, the fastest growing spectator sport in the USA.

The first time that I used them as an example I was corrected on how to pronounce the town. I learned that it is pronounced “you-fall-uh”, with a very long a-a-a- in the faul.

But back to my original theme. Alabama has produced a brochure of 100 dishes to eat in Alabama before you die. I learned where to eat crawfish pie, JoJo potatoes, L. A. (Lower Alabama) caviar, fried rabbit, smoked lettuce salad and black-eyed pea cake & trout. It is another great example of how working together can enhance tourism and sales for everyone.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Making a Difference

“You are making a difference, where indifference is the norm,” was how Marjorie Cizek of the Greenup Chamber ended her email to me. What are you doing to make a difference in your hometown?

Bobbie Goodman & I in Greenup, IL Posted by Picasa

I Love the Bobbie Goodmans of Small Towns

Bobbie Goodman, a spry lady walked up to me after my talk in Greenup, IL and told me, “I really liked your Can Do Poem, but I’d like for you to listen to the one I use to guide me.”

“Be not dismayed
Not be surprised
If what you do
Is criticized.

Mistakes are made
We can’t deny
But only made
By those who try”

I just love talking in small towns like Greenup and meeting people like Bobbie Goodman. It makes my day, every day!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Village of the Porches

Greenup, IL (population 1,532) certainly lives up to its billing as the “Village of the Porches,” which predominates in the downtown area. It is a very unique feature of their downtown that they are trying to capitalize upon. When I was in town giving a talk to their growing Chamber of Commerce, I told them that I had only seen one other town that compared….Oxford, MS, one of my favorite downtowns.

Greenup has a number of other attributes for a town its size. They have a wonderfully restored soda fountain and confectionery; vineyard; and a new covered bridge. Being on the old National Trail also offers some interesting tourist potential.

But it is those porches that I kept thinking about as I drove out of town. How could Greenup brand itself more with those porches and use it as a springboard to new opportunities?

Porches in Downtown Greenup, IL Posted by Picasa

Covered Bridge in Greenup, IL Posted by Picasa

Cameo Vineyards in Greenup, IL Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 02, 2006

Positively Spencer

I am rejuvenated when I meet young people like the group of 10 from Spencer, IA (population 11,317) who formed Positively Spencer a couple of years ago. I met them at the Alliant Energy Conference in Okoboji, where I was speaking.

“We don’t have any elected positions within the community. We don’t even have a bank account, but we are a group of people who care deeply about the town. We’re not doing Positively Spencer to benefit the town for 2006 or 2007. We’re hoping that what we are doing is affecting Spencer in 2015 and 2025 and 2030.” Kevin Robinson, a local banker, who is one of the original 10 explained to me about the group.

The group has identified a significant number of people in the 22 to 40 year age bracket who have moved to the town because of jobs and chosen to stay because it was where they wanted to raise a family. Robinson went on, “We think that we are the fourth leg of economic development. The quality of life is so critical for our future.” He was referring to my earlier talk in which I stressed that ED is dependent upon three legs: Job Retention, Job Recruitment and Entrepreneurism.

I couldn’t have agreed with them more and enjoyed talking with them about what they are doing to create a positive environment in Spencer. It is a model that other towns could and should copy.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Cultivating Interns

Virtually every town I talk in is struggling with how to recruit back their best and brightest back after college. Algona, IA (population 5,741) has developed a very innovative program aimed at their college students. Scott Curtis of the Kossuth County Economic Development Corporation talked about it at the Alliant Energy Conference in Okoboji, IA.

They assist in placing college students with local firms and then hold weekly meetings with the interns to both allow them to network together and to instill job enhancements. They also hold a CEO luncheon with the interns and do a golf outing with the interns and their employers.

The program has already had 48 interns participate in the program. It is one that I’m going to follow and track the positive impact in the long term for a community. Stay tuned.

Betinha with University of Okoboji towel for yesterday's story. Couldn't get to post yesterday. Posted by Picasa