Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Innovation in Madison County

“Our president, Carsten Juchheim, had enough of trying to operate in an expensive place like Philadelphia and moved Jumo here a couple of years ago.” Sales Manager Robin Talukdar explained how the American division of a global German company moved their operations to upstate NY.

“Carsten started our US operations about 10 years ago when he moved to this country. His grandfather started the business in 1946 when he left East Germany and walked across the border to Fulda, Germany and started to make thermometers, which were a specialty in his region of East Germany. Today, we’ve got 1,700 employees and sell temperature related products all over the world.”

Another company that Peter Cann took me to tour was Ferris, a Briggs & Stratton division that makes commercial lawn mowers. Jerry Dawes, VP of Finance, explained the origins of the company, “Jesse Ferris and William Uebler set up a company in 1909 to exploit the milking machine that Uebler invented.”

The company moved into an old high school built in 1928, transforming it over the past eight years into a world class manufacturing center. The building has grown from an original 120,000 sf to over 215,000 sf in 2007. Sales have grown from just over $10 million in 1998 when they made the move to over $100 million today.

How the company has recycled and transformed this old school was amazing. The old gymnasium is used as a showroom.

Madison County also is home to Copesetic, an industrial design and engineering proto-type show and Dielectric Laboratories, a producer of ceramic components.

Ferris Mowers in old school--Note the seperate girls and boys entrances in school! Posted by Picasa

Ferris Showroom in old school gym Posted by Picasa

Carsten Juchheim's, Jumo President's new log home in Madison County, NY Posted by Picasa

Robin Talukdar of Jumo & Peter Cann in front of Jumo products poster Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 30, 2006

Geographic Center of New York

“You are an economic honey bee. You fly around the country picking up economic development pollen and dropping it off in small towns all over the USA.” Those were Peter Cann’s, head of Economic Development, first words to me as I got into his car to tour Madison County, NY (population 70,337). I gave two presentations, one to a packed auditorium of college students at Morrisville State College, and spent the rest of the day seeing an incredible county.

Cann explained to me a little of the early history of the county, “We were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. The many streams and rivers and the power that they produced helped to develop flour, saw and textile mills along with foundries for a rapidly growing country. Transportation was also critical and started with the building of the Erie Canal through the county and later the development of several railroad lines.”

To build one canal required the building of numerous lakes, still in evidence today, and some incredible engineering to build hundreds of locks to elevate and take boats down into the river bottoms.

Some of those early industrialists founded Colgate University in picturesque Hamilton (population 5,733). The town is one of the prettiest that I’ve seen and Colgate has a huge influence in the county. Surprisingly, Cann could only think of two Colgate grads with major businesses in the county. “Too many of them only come here for school and never come back except for homecoming.”

Morrisville State College and Cazenovia College add to the higher education institutions in the county. Total enrollment of the three is over 6,000 students. More on Morrisville’s innovative food and dairy incubators on Wednesday.

Pratts Hollow, NY--Geographic Center of NY--200 Years Old this past Saturday, on Oct 28, 2006 Posted by Picasa

Incredible View from Peter Cann's home Posted by Picasa

Madison County ED Head Peter Cann in front of the old Erie Canal Posted by Picasa

Redone Hamilton, NYMovie Theater Posted by Picasa

Hamilton, NY downtown Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 27, 2006

Impact of One Movie

“The biggest image buster for our state was the movie Fargo. I can’t tell you the number of times that people will cite the scene where the guy is burying the ransom money along that snowy fence-line and the remoteness of it.” Pam Trhlik, with the Department of Commerce for ND, was one of the other speakers with me in Devils Lake. She moved back from AZ and NM after leaving the state in 1986 when she graduated from college with an attitude of, “The only way to make it is to get a diploma and run as far away as you can.”

While 96% of ND residents think that the state is a good or great place in which to live, 80% think that the national perspective is indifference to negative. The state boosts the safest ranking in the USA, second lowest cost of doing business, fifth lowest unemployment rate, second fastest per capita income growth since 2000, eighth highest life expectancy and many other positive attributes. Forbes Magazine ranks Fargo (no. 3) and Bismarck (no. 4) in their top 10 ranking of small metro areas in the USA.

“We have the potential to become the Saudi Arabia of wind energy. Renewable energy and petroleum are going to be huge job generators in the next several years. Marathon Oil is getting ready to sink 300 oil wells in the state in the next two years,” Trhlik mentioned in her talk.

North Dakota has a shortage of workers and the state is trying to recruit back former residents like Trhlik. There are a lot of things that I like about the state as I’ve gotten to know it better over the last couple of years. It’s too bad that one popular movie gave it such a bum rap.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Turning a Town into a Garden

What would you think of turning an entire town into a garden? That is what Holly Mawby and her husband Barry did when the town of Churchs Ferry, ND was bought out by FEMA due to the rising Devils Lake waters.

Today they’ve planted several city blocks of the abandoned town with arbors, herbs, rhubarb, vegetables, flowers, etc. They sell at farmers markets and hold an annual “Produce Party” on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend. During the summer they host tourists and hold classes on such things as Flower Pounding, Cooking with Herbs, Gourds for Birdhouses and others. The name of their farm is Gardendwellers Farm.

I was in Devils Lake, ND (population 7,222) for a workforce training conference at Lake Region State College which Holly runs as her full time job. Barry is pressman. Gardendwellers Farm is their labor-of-love after-hour’s passion.

The Devils Lake flood story was an interesting one. The lake is a “terminal” lake, which has no river outlet, collecting all of the regions surface runoff but without any outlet the water level rises and falls greatly. And, this is very flat country. North Dakota had one tourist billboard which comically touted, “Mountain Removal Project Successfully Completed.”

The water level has ranged from 1402 feet above sea level to 1460’ when the water would naturally flow into the Sheyenne River but run at 20 times the capacity of the river channel and flooding hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. It is a big issue in this part of the state and one that is not without a great deal of controversy on how to solve.

Devils Lake was ranked as one of the Top 10 Best Walleye Lakes in the USA by Field & Stream Magazine. It also is a favorite fishing spot for perch, northern pike and white bass. With all of the natural lakes and water, it is also a birding paradise and The Lake Region Birding Trail Map is a wonderful regional approach to leveraging another fantastic natural resource.

It was my eleventh presentation in ND in the past two years and each time that I return to the state I fall more in love with its natural beauty and the friendliness of its citizens. I hope to get back soon.

gardendwellers Farm garden walk Posted by Picasa

gardendwelllers Farm in Churchs Ferry, ND Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Love These Towns!

“Fifteen years ago, a group of us in town got together and bought the combination café and grocery store in order to keep it in business. The grocery operates on an honor system where you write down what you’ve bought and they bill you for it,” my seatmate on my plane ride from Minneapolis to Grand Forks, ND, Jeff Ryan was talking about his hometown of Hannah, ND (population 20—median age 64.5 years).

Hannah sits up against the Canadian border and has been on a population slide since the early 1900s when it peaked at 1,000 residents, sitting at the end of the railroad line. Ryan was born and raised there, graduating from high school in 1972. There were 10 schools in the county back then. Today they’ve consolidated down to only one.

He told me of the neighboring town of Rock Lake, ND, “If you are over 65, you get to eat free at their diner. Larry Hendrickson, grew up there and moved to CA where he got into the waste hauling business. Several years ago he decided to let the elderly eat for free back home. They send him a bill once a month for those meals.”

Even when people move away, they keep a little bit of their hometown in their heart.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Marshall, MN tour group in front of Red Baron Plane Posted by Picasa

In front of replica of Marvin Schwan's first delivery truck Posted by Picasa

Bucking a Trend--Changing a Town

In 1952, twenty-three year old Marvin Schwan bought a 1946 Dodge Panel Truck for $100 and on a slow day in March at the Marshall Creamery he loaded 14 gallons of ice cream into it and went out to try to sell it door-to-door. He returned later that day, having sold all of the ice cream and that is how the Schwan Food Company began. At the time, door-to-door milk delivery was being replaced with purchases at self-serve grocery stores. The trend wasn't toward more home delivery but away from it. But, young Marvin Schwan probably didn't know that.

Today, Schwan’s has 2,500 employees in Marshall, MN with 24,000 in the USA and Europe. The company has given back greatly to its hometown and helped to shape the community into an incredible town.

Marvin Schwan was a first generation American. His dad, Paul, immigrated to the USA from Germany in 1921 and went to work at the Marshall Creamery in 1922.

Schwan’s has been very generous to the town, giving generously to the many projects that I discussed in my post yesterday: $5 million and 60 acres of land for the new high school, $5 million for the YMCA and help for many other major projects in the town.

Schwan’s has the Red Baron Museum at the Marshall Airport, where they showcase their fleet of Red Baron airplanes and Red Baron NASCAR race cars. Schwan’s launched the Red Baron pizza brand in 1976 and began the Red Baron biplane Squadron in 1979. The Boeing Stearman biplanes were used in WWII as the primary training aircraft for fighter pilots. Susan Mory, the curator for the Red Baron Museum told me, "The planes that we own were built between 1941 and 1943, the newest engine was built in 1953. It takes us 2,500 man-hours to rebuild one of these planes. We have the longest serving civilian air squadron in the world. We do about 17 air shows/year."

Many people in Marshall thank their lucky stars that Marvin Schwan didn't know that home delivery was a dying idea when he started Schwan’s.

Student Housing at SW MN State in Marshall, MN Posted by Picasa

Marshall, MN High School Posted by Picasa

Marshall, MN YMCA Posted by Picasa

Marshall, MN Airport Posted by Picasa

Marvelous Marshall

"We are the only regional hub in the state that isn't on a four lane highway," was how Tracy Veglahn of the Marshall, MN (population 12,735) Chamber of Commerce started our tour. Tracy, Mike Johnson, City Administrator, and Mark Hanson, head of ED for Marshall, a new position, gave me a tour of the town prior to my talk in the community. I often hear complaints of lack of four lane roads as a reason why a community isn't doing better. Marshall is an example of what can happen in a progressive community which lies over 2 hours away from the Twin Cities on a mostly two lane road. I remind my audience that 59 of our top 100 agurbs® lie over 25 miles away from a single interstate. Marshall proved to me what you can do even if you have a certain remoteness.

We drove by a brand new high school, built at a cost of $43 million after going through a number of failed bond referendums. The school has 900 students. Citizens of Marshall lobbied the state to build SW Minnesota University here in the late 60s and today has 3,500 full time students. Mike Johnson told me, "In the last two years we have annexed in over 750 acres into the town with the residential and commercial growth that we've had."

Later, when we were visiting the brand new $3 million airport terminal, which provides an incredibly positive image for first time visitors, Johnson explained, "We've invested more than $20 million into the airport since 1994. We are in the process of taking the runway from 5,000 to 7,000 feet."

The downtown is going through a transformation, anchored by a wonderful white table clothed restaurant that would be a major plus in Minneapolis or any other major city. A mixed use project is in the works in the town.

The town isn't without its challenges. It is six miles/hour windier at 16.4 miles/hour than Chicago's Windy City reputation. Floods have ravaged the town in the past even though the Redwood River, which runs through the town doesn't appear very threatening. But, Johnson explained to me the problem for the town, "There is more fall from the Buffalo Ridge, about 25 miles south of Marshall, than there is from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to New Orleans." On the surface it seemed incredible to me, but having driven the route earlier in the day from Sioux Falls, SD I could understand it.

One tremendous asset in the town, the 51 acre Independence Park, was built despite tremendous resistance from local residents who thought that it was an extravagance when it was first proposed in 1980. The city bought the park on contract, local residents mounted a referendum to kill the project, but the city council persevered and found a way to develop the park without going through a bond referendum. Today, none of those opponents can be found as the park is tremendously popular. The town's unemployment has varied between 1.6% and 2.7% over the past several years. There is currently a shortage of hundreds of workers in the town, especially in the IT and marketing areas.

Marshall has recently been recognized as the Top 25 Micropolitan Community for quality of life in 2006; Top 100 Micropolitan Area in 2005; and Best 100 Commmunities for Music Education in 2005.

I told them at the talk, that after taking my tour, I could assure them that they would make my next book. Marshall is on the cusp of some great things.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Capturing Some Part of Wealth Transfer

Avera Healthcare is a Sioux Falls, SD based hospital group of the Benedictine and Presentation Sisters with hospitals, clinics and partnerships in over 80 communities in SD, MN, IA, NE and ND. I was in Sioux Falls for their Rural Health & Community Vitality Conference, where I met a number of very passionate health care providers and ordinary citizens from small towns from those five states.

Bob Sutton, President of the South Dakota Community Foundation, presented a new study on the $38 billion transfer of wealth that will occur in SD over the next five decades. Their findings are not unlike what is occurring in many other states and is why I've continued to stress the importance of community foundations in our small towns. Many times I've made the statement, "If I could do one thing in every town that I visit, it would be to help set up a community foundation in each one."

The South Dakota Foundation was set up in 1982 with a $5 million donation from William McKnight (one of the M's in 3M) with the intention of helping the many rural areas of the state. That $5 million has grown to over $50 million today with partnerships in towns the size of Alpena (population 247) to Aberdeen (population 24,098).

One of Sutton's best quotes was, "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. But, if you didn't plant a tree then, plant one today." Another was, "The number one indicator of great wealth in rural SD is Buick Centuries. The WWII generation is very thrifty and they drive Buick's. I guarantee you that there is someone with a $1 million net worth, when I spot a Buick Century and pick-up truck in the driveway."

He went on, "Each year an average of $760 million will be transferred from one generation to the next. The majority of that is in land and buildings in the state, but also includes stocks, bonds and CDs in the local banks. Unfortunately, most of those heirs don't live on the farms and they aren't coming back."

"Forty two of the 66 counties in the State of South Dakota will have less net worth than they have in 50 years, unless they start to do something today about this transfer of wealth. Are they just going to passively watch as that wealth gets transferred to Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco and other places?"

Sutton challenged his audience to develop a wealth retention strategy of getting part of this wealth transfer converted into Community Foundations in rural South Dakota.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Best Practices From Bedford

Bedford, PA impressed me with a couple of unique programs that they are doing, which I hope other towns will copy. Whenever a new plant manager moves into Bedford, they hold a get together with all of the other plant managers to allow them to introduce themselves. It has opened a lot of doors and allowed for synergistic increases in business for their local manufacturers. The plant that we brought into town just landed a $1+ million local contract and is working on others.

The local newspaper designates one page/month to Bedford’s leadership class. The students use the space to write articles, including photos, about what they are studying and projects they are working on. I've found that many towns don't educate their citizens enough about the benefits of economic development and think that this idea has some wonderful long term potential.

The Bedford Chamber is sponsoring a series of seminars called "Spring Into Prosperity" on how to capitalize upon the Bedford Springs project, which will bring a higher income, more desirable demographic into the community. All in all, some pretty impressive programs for a town of only 3,141.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Old Course at Bedford Springs Posted by Picasa

Keith Evans at Bedford Springs restoration Posted by Picasa

Bedford Springs Hotel under construction Posted by Picasa

Pete Ellis & Bette Slayton in front of a JLG Platform Posted by Picasa

President George Washington's Putting down of the Whiskey Rebellion in Bedford in 1771 Posted by Picasa

Downtown Bedford, PA Posted by Picasa

A Community Altering Restoration

As I've traveled around the USA over the past several years, touring hundreds of towns, I've become more convinced that communities maybe get six to ten community altering opportunities that can significantly change the community for the better. Some towns take full advantage of those unique opportunities but unfortunately many miss their chance to improve. Bedford, PA had just such an opportunity, worked hard to make it happen and are already reaping the benefits for the restoration of the Bedford Springs Resort, a 200 year old historical landmark, which has been closed since 1990 but will reopen next summer.

The original native stone building, a 24 room hotel, was built in the early 1800s and is one of the historic buildings being restored into the new 216 room Bedford Springs Hotel. Developer Keith Evans was in Bedford when I was there and gave me a tour of the project. He and Ambassador Mark Langdale (ambassador to Costa Rica) have been working on the project for over a decade.

Evans explained to me, "We took all of the original columns, windows, doors, rails, and other items off site and completely renovated them for this project. We've spent over $1 million on the restoration of Shober's Creek, a gold medal trout stream that runs by the front door. We got the state to reroute Route 220, which used to run right by the front door with trucks and all sorts of traffic so that our guests would have a more tranquil setting. Our golf course, The Old Course at Bedford Springs, built in 1896 and completely redone in 1923 by Donald Ross is being redone. We have a 2,200 acre canvas to work with."

The project's $110 million cost, originally estimated at $37 million, was assembled like a jig-saw puzzle with funding from traditional sources, tax credits, state tax credits and federal redevelopment funds. It took years to put the project together after the resort closed its doors in 1990.

The Bedford Springs Resort was in its prime in the 1800s, hosting seven US presidents and serving as the summer White House for President James S. Buchanan. In 1858 President Buchanan received the first ever transcontinental cable from Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Future president Ronald Reagan visited the resort in 1975.

One very trivial change occured in 1902 when the order of meals was changed from breakfast, dinner and supper to breakfast, lunch and dinner. I didn't find out what the order will be at the new hotel, but plan to return to find out.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Gem in PA

We stumbled upon Bedford, PA (population 3,141) when we were doing a site search for one of our industrial clients at Agracel. They were looking for a site in the NE for contract production operation. We had done projects for the company in the Midwest and SE.

Todd Thoman who handles virtually all of our site selection work kept coming back to Bedford in doing this project and when he would return to the office would rave about the town. We ended up doing the project there and I was there last week doing a tour of the town and giving my Boomtown presentation. After I took the tour I understood why Todd was so excited.
Bette Slayton, Kathy Davis and their staff are top notch economic developers. They were recognized as the best ED organization in the state in 2005 by the Pennsylvania Economic Development Agency for having the highest percentage job growth in the state, $98 million in investment and assemblage of a package over $100 million for the restoration of the most endangered historical landmark in the USA (more on that tomorrow).

Wal-Mart had chosen Bedford in 1998 for one of their three distribution centers in the state of PA. Their 850,000 sf facility has 650 employees and has won Wal-Mart's Grocery DC of the Year Award for five of the past six years. Our research has shown that Wal-Mart overwhelmingly sites their DCs in rural communities and various experts have indicated that other companies will follow their lead in where to put distribution. It has been my contention for sometime that Wal-Mart is an average retailing company but is a "light-out, world class" distribution company. I did a calculation of the tax payments vs. services of a project like
Wal-Mart, which was given a graduated 10 year tax abatement. Net gain for the taxing bodies with this project was $19.8 million over a 50 year life of a building.

Recreational Equipment Company, a recreational distribution co-op out of Seattle recently decided to locate their east coast 550,000 sf, 300 employee operation in Bedford. Others will follow.

Bedford is a quaint town that dates back to the 1750s. Sitting in a valley with wondrous wooded hills, in the full bloom of fall foliage, it has a very inviting appeal. Its historic downtown is one that has a very special feel to it, with numerous shops, restaurants and a wonderfully restored hotel added to its appeal. Some wonderful brochures on birding, historic area, covered bridges, orchards and fall foliage enhance the image of the town and region.

Tomorrow, I'll blog on the renovation of a 200 year old resort hotel that is going to totally transform Bedford.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Regional Focus

I’m increasingly seeing the growth and importance of a more regional approach to economic development. Too many towns and groups try to stay in a “silo-mentality” rather than reaching out to the natural partners that they should have.

Columbus, IN is one of the towns that I talk about in my presentations because of what they did to shape a special vision for their community with their special architectural focus, which has resulted in them being ranked the 6th most architecturally significant city in the entire USA.

Columbus is now taking a visionary approach to ED, joining eight local and regional groups together into a federation focused upon economic development. The new group, called the Columbus Area Economic Growth Council, will have board members from each of the eight organizations.

Mayor Fred Armstrong said of the new organization, “Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. When organizations collaborate, pool resources and form partnerships with education, workforce training, and economic development agencies, we can better compete globally.”

The council has already secured nearly almost $1 million in grants for job training in its first month of existence.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Step into the Arena or Sit on the Fence?

One of my favorite talks and tours was in Wimbledon, ND (population 237) where over half of the town turned out to hear me speak. Wimbledon is 30 miles north of Jamestown, ND, (population 15,527), its closest city. It is like a lot of small, rural towns, well past its prime and slowly aging in place. Wimbledon’s median population age is 42.5 years compared to the national average of 35.3. Most communities are content to let that aging process continue, slowly watching small businesses close their doors as the population continues to dwindle. Wimbledon is not such a town.

When their local café announced that it was closing its doors, a local group of citizens set up a local corporation to buy and run it. An area resident heard of their efforts and stepped in to buy and run the Wimbledon Café which is open for Sunday dinners, and Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Recently their grocery story, which had been owned by the same couple for 51 years, announced that it was closing after they couldn’t find a buyer. The same group stepped up, raised $100,000 in an equity drive and re-opened the grocery last week.

Now the local leaders are wrestling with a school consolidation and additional housing for the tiny town. Armed with their recent successes they are exploring Renaissance Zones, assisted living for seniors, child care and recreational options.

Mike & Judy Schlecht said it best in their thank you to the community after 51 years in the grocery business. Here is what they had to say about the ad hoc committee that saved the local grocery, “We need more people like them to ‘step into the arena’ rather than ‘sit on the fence’.”
Wimbledon doesn’t have many fence sitters. I’m glad that I was there and hope to return soon.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Second Anniversary of BoomtownUSA Blog

Two years ago today I introduced the BoomtownUSA blog, explaining in that first blog that I had done 100 talks in 20 states up to then. Since then I’ve done about 250 talks in 42 states and written about the wonderful towns that I’ve gotten the privilege of visiting.

In the past two years I’ve written about 670 blogs about those experiences. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

Generosity in the Heartland

I’ve always thought that rural folks and people from small towns were more giving that those in large cities. I’ve not been able to quantify that conviction and still can’t but a new report by the New Tithing Group shows that rural states tend to be the biggest givers on a per capita basis.

New Tithing measured the giving of affluent taxpayers (those earning more than $200,000) and looked at that giving in relation to the aggregate wealth of each state over a six year period. Here are their rankings of the top 15 states: UT, OK, NE, MN, GA, WY, SC, CO, MS, NC, ND, SD, IA, AL, OR and AL.

The five wealthiest states of CA, NY, FL, TX AND IL ranked 21st to 41st in their level of giving.

While not a definitive study that supports my premise that rural is more giving than urban, it sure is some good ammunition for me until I find a better study.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Regional Impact of Jobs

We just held our Second Annual Business Awards Presentation in conjunction with East Central Illinois Development Corporation, a nine county ED group. It is an idea that impressed me in Idaho and we copied it for our region. I hope that you might use it in yours.

We had each county ED group select one business that they wanted to honor with the criteria that they contribute to the economic growth of the county, are environmentally conscious and are a good neighbor. We give each of them a plaque and have them say a few words about their company after lunch. It is a wonderful event, I always learn something new.

This year’s winners included a local newspaper, a couple of retail businesses (restaurant, candy kitchen and auto dealer), two high tech businesses (photonics and software design) and three manufacturing companies. I was very pleasantly surprised at the two high tech companies, Trace Photonics and Software Solutions Integrated, which have 60 employees but had flown under my radar screen until this event.

When I added up all of the jobs represented by these companies it totaled 716. Putting that number of jobs through an economic development metric shows that those jobs turn into 2971 total jobs due to the multiplier effect; $91 million in more personal income/year; $36 million in more bank deposits; 50 more retail stores; $55 million in retail stores; $3.87 million in added tax revenue; and $14 million in additional service receipts. All in all, quite an impact in our area!

We often overlook these type of businesses in our communities, but their impact is incredible.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Wait 10 or 15 Years or Invest Now?

Branson continues to amaze me! I’ve written a great deal about this town of 6,000 deep in the heart of the Ozarks, which transformed themselves into the live music capital of the USA. And, they aren’t just sitting still now that they have achieved great success.

I was there in August, touring and writing about the $430 million Branson Landing Project, a TIF supported lakefront lifestyle center and convention center. At the time I learned of a new $78 million pageant style theater complex, regional airport and $500 million transportation system are all either being constructed or in various stages of planning.

This past week a $250 million European-themed Pinnacle Falls project on 300 acres west of town was proposed to the city. The project would include an indoor water-park and aquarium and be partially financed through tax increment financing (TIF) on land that currently pays $115 in property taxes. This is rough, rolling land!

The public hearing was attended by 75 local business owners and residents who showed their approval for the TIF in an applause poll during the meeting. Having a broad base of support for projects like this is important for a community. I wrote about what can happen if you throw cold water on each such project in my blog on Friday. Branson is not such a town.

Ed Akers, a longtime insurance agent in Branson, spoke in support at the public hearing, “TIF is a very emotional issue. Every business benefits from tourism in this community. We can wait 10 or 15 years to see if something develops there, or we can develop now so it brings in a return.”

Branson is on a roll. Sales tax revenue has been up 16%, 10%, 21% and 12% in the last four months of this year when compared to the previous year.

If you haven’t been to Branson, you need to visit there to see what they are doing.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Throwing Cold Water?

What could a group of monkeys have to do with your town? And, cold water? I hope you read this blog and see if it applies to you.

In a famous experiment, five monkeys were placed in a room with a bunch of bananas hanging from the ceiling. Beneath the bananas was a ladder. It didn’t take one of the monkeys long to figure out how to climb the ladder to get a banana. However, every time a second monkey tried to go up the ladder, all of the others were hosed down with cold water.

Eventually, whenever a monkey made a move for the ladder, the other four monkeys would physically prevent him from reaching his prize. Eventually none of the monkeys ever made a move for the bananas.

One by one the original monkeys were removed from the room and a new monkey was introduced. Each time that the new monkey in the room made a move for the ladder and bananas, the other monkeys would beat him up. After several beatings each monkey decided not to go near the ladder.

Eventually all of the five original monkeys were replaced by new monkeys. None of these new monkeys were ever sprayed with water, but none of the five new monkeys would go near the ladder or bananas.

Does this lesson apply to your town? Do you “beat up” anyone with a new idea that could assist your community to reach a higher level, until eventually no one is willing to try anything new because they know how they will be treated?

Isn’t it time to stop throwing cold water on any new idea? What have you got to lose?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Railroad Crossroads

I was in Chicago for the Illinois Municipal League (IML) Conference to give my Hometown Entrepreneurs: Your New Paradigm Shift in Economic Development presentation. One of the honorees was the Greater Rochelle Economic Development Corporation (GREDCO) which has made great strides as a community in marshalling resources from various entities to be able to build a strong economic base.

At a time of political turnover and transition within the town, Jason Anderson who took over as head of GREDCO in 2004. He organized a strategic planning process which helped to prioritize projects for the community in addition to a number of other key initiatives. His resulting plan could have read from my BoomtownUSA book, but the common sense approach today has Rochelle poised for tremendous new jobs for its citizens.

I’ve visited and toured Rochelle probably a half dozen times in the past dozen years. I hope to get back again soon to see what new things they have going on as a town.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Contract Production as Strategy

I’ve known Steve Hageman since my days in the seed business in the early 80s. At the time he was developing a new concept in the seed business, being a contract producer for seed companies that wanted to focus upon research and marketing. It was a new concept in manufacturing and especially in the seed business. And just as this outsourcing concept has grown rapidly in the general manufacturing field, Steve has had huge success in the seed business with it.

Steve is on the board of the Jasper Co, IN ED where I was giving a talk in Rensselaer. His company, Remington Seed Company, has 22 production facilities in seven Midwestern states stretching from Ohio to North Dakota. They produce corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa seeds with corn and soybeans being the most important.

If you are a farmer you might never have heard of Remington Seed Company even though they produce between 10 and 20% of the corn and soybean seed sold in the USA today.

What other contract production opportunities are there in the USA today? Any potentials that you have in your town?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Niche Milk & Cheese Tourism

I was in Rensselaer, IN (population 5,294) doing a talk for their county ED annual meeting (Jasper County—population 31,876). The north part of the county is booming with new housing sprouting from urban sprawl from the Chicago metro area. The south is still very rural. Rensselaer sits in the middle, typical of a county seat town.

Orville Redenbacher popcorn is packaged in Rensselaer. White Castle buns are baked there. A new 40 million gallon ethanol plant is under construction. The town has a strong industrial base. St. Joseph College, with 1,000 students, is also a solid asset for the town.

One of the interesting places that Valarie Hunter, head of ED, took me on my tour was Fair Oaks Dairy, which sits right along I-65. The dairy was started by Tony & Mary Bos who moved here from El Paso, TX in 1999 when the USDA did a cow buy-out along the TX-Mexico border in the late 90s. They came with a vision of rebuilding their dairy as not only a modern one, but developing it into a specialized niche marketer.

They bought 5,300 acres of land along I-65, built their own interstate exit and started construction of two 3,500 head dairies for their son Steve and a son-in-law. Other sites have been added since then. Today 27,000 cows are milked on 9 separate sites, which is approximately 400 million pounds or 5 billion cups of milk/year.

In addition to the milking operations, the dairy has a a deli, ice cream plant and cheese plant as well as hosts the Fair Oaks Farms Adventure Center which shows how milk goes from “Grass to Glass.” Their master cheesemaker Randy Krahenbuhl has won numerous awards for his Emmentaler, Asiago, Havarti Pepper and Sweet Swiss cheeses.

The Bus’ are one of those farming families that understand that there is great potential for both ag-tourism and also the development of specialized food niches.

Valarie Hunter, Gustie Unkraut and Fran Schultz (Mom) in front of Fair Oaks Dairy Posted by Picasa

Cheese making at Fair Oaks Dairy Posted by Picasa