Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bonnie Good Idea!

What kind of brain bank do you have? Scotland’s ED agency set up Globalscot to help it network with powerbrokers around the globe in 2001.

The network is an invitation only one with regular meetings and communication to its 1,000 members. It is an excellent, inexpensive way to leverage those with an affinity for Scotland. Similar networks have been set up for Mexico and Chile.

North Dakota has set one up on a statewide basis. They already have over 1,000 former residents from around the world who are Ambassadors for Economic Development in the state.

Wouldn’t this idea make sense for your town? Let me know if you set one up.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Alfred Mae Drakeford, Camden City Councilperson
 Posted by Picasa

Innovation in SC

I continue to be impressed with the steps that SC is taking in the area of ED. I was in the state last week doing a talk to their Association of Regional Councils, ten regional groups for the 46 counties in the state set up in 1967.

Camden, SC (population 6,682), a town that I’d visited earlier in the year and that we are in the process of making a substantial investment, recently set up a Wi-Fi mesh network over the entire town and each high school student has been given a laptop computer. Alfred Mae Drakeford, a city council member told me, “The school did a special deal with Hewlett-Packard, paying $9 million over a four year period. The city council helped set it up, hoping that it would attract more business to the town. It is already attracting new business to Camden. People are coming in and saying, WOW!!!”

George Fletcher, Executive Director of the new SC Council on Competitiveness, was on a panel with me and talked about the growing importance of the automotive sector on the state as it diversifies away from textiles, “We now have 340 auto parts manufacturers in the state, but only 50 of them are BMW suppliers. 201 of them have over 50 employees and the rest are smaller suppliers. The textile companies that survive are going to be very strong.”

James Clyburn, the third ranking Democrat in the new US Congress, from rural Sumter, SC (population 39,643), commented on the importance of rural America to the new Congress, “The national security of this country is dependent upon the rural revitalization of it. We’ve got to get rid of our dependence upon foreign oil with alternative sources to fossil fuels growing them on the farms of this country.” He sees great potential in SC with soybeans, sweet potatoes, switchgrass and even kudzu.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Are We Disabling Our Children?

Tim Burg, Assistant Director of the Ponca City Development Authority recently put together a white paper on workforce development. The paper addresses public education in a way I haven’t previously heard. Ed Morrison, who was at the Ponca City Economic Development Conference giving a talk, contributed the following analogy to the paper.

“You are the Mayor of a major metropolitan city and I am your Public works director. In a meeting, this morning I have pulled you aside and told you that we have had a problem with our water distribution system and it looks like one third of our population will be permanently disabled.”

“Yes, I said one third of our population would be permanently disabled. Would you be concerned? If you were a citizen in that community, would you be concerned? I’m sure the answer for both is YES!!!”

“What I have just described is the K-12 system in America. Each year over one third of our population is sent to economic poverty, which effectively permanently disables them for their entire lives. Yet we do little about it. We simply shrug our shoulders and say we ought to fix the system. That begs the question of, “Who makes up the WE in our society and why aren’t we freaking out over it?”

Morrison raised some interesting and alarming facts in his talk at the conference, “Dropping out of high school is a $300,000 loss in lifetime earnings and high school is no longer a ticket to a middle class lifestyle. Kids who can’t read by the third grade will probably drop out of school by the 12th. The high school graduation rate is the most important statistic for local economic development and rural areas are figuring this out much quicker than our cities.”

Burg raises an important issue that is going to be of increasing concern in most communities. While I don’t agree that public education is a life sentence to degradation and poverty, I do believe that lack of education can put us as a nation at a disadvantage. Without education we are disabled, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. What are you doing in your community to ensure that education is being provided in its greatest capacity? Reform doesn’t happen from the top down, it starts at the individual.

USA Graduation Rate Posted by Picasa

Lifetime Earnings by Educational Level Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 27, 2006

Diversifying a One Horse Town

I first starting studying Ponca City, OK (population 25,919) just over two years ago when I stopped by the town during one of my road trips through the state. I was intrigued by how the community was working at diversifying its economy after being the headquarters for Conoco for almost 100 years until it was purchased by Phillips Petroleum, which formed Conoco-Phillips, moving the joint HQ from nearby Bartlesville, OK (population 34,748) and Ponca City to Houston, TX. Ponca City was devastated. I was back for their 1st Annual Ponca City Economic Development Conference.

I spent an entire morning in November, 2004 learning of the steps that the town was going through in this diversification drive from David Myers and Tim Burg of the Ponca City Development Authority. I’ve stayed in touch with them ever since and been particularly impressed with how they stay in touch with their stakeholders with a very newsy, humorous and well written ezine weekly newsletter.

Ponca City’s patriarch, E. W. Marland is still viewed with awe in the town even though he died in 1941. Marland made and lost his first fortune in the PA oil fields, moving to Ponca City in 1908 drilling eight dry wells before hitting oil on his ninth, starting an oil boom which swelled Ponca City from 2,500 residents to over 15,000 in a few short years. Marland eventually controlled over 10% of the world’s oil production and refining capacity but overleveraged the company and lost it to J. P. Morgan in 1929, later becoming a Congressman in 1932 and Governor of Oklahoma in 1934. Conoco resulted when Marland Oil acquired Continental Oil, forming Conoco.

Conoco was a wonderful corporate parent, providing very high wages at its headquarters and refineries in Ponca City and still has refining and some support jobs in the town. The average wage for the 1,428 people employed in the oil industry in Ponca City and Kay County was $83,422 in the 2000 census. Mark Snead an Oklahoma State University economist pointed out at the conference that Ponca City has grown their jobs by 3.8% in 2006 compared to 1.9% statewide and 1.4% nationally, while personal incomes grew 8.0% in the past year in the town.

One of the sessions at the conference delved into the University Multispectral Laboratory, a self supporting “trusted agent” R&D and testing center that was announced this fall. The project was put together by the Ponca City ED Team with a 78,000 sf laboratory/data center and $2 million cash donation from Conoco-Phillips, $5 million from the state, OSU Research and Ponca City ED with $2 million. The labs, focused upon Homeland Security, biometrics, petrochemicals, agriculture and defense are expected to generate $79 million into the local economy over the next five years with the creation of almost 200 total jobs. The effort is also part of OSU’s efforts of turning the triangle from Ponca City/Stillwater to Oklahoma City to Tulsa into the “OK Research Triangle”.

Ponca City has impressed me with its willingness to get “outside of the box”, taking a partnering approach to ED. This newest addition to their economy is just another example of the progress that I’m seeing there. I’m very impressed!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Draw of the Cards

“How did you ever get a name like Show Low?” was my question to Mayor Rick Fernau of Show Low, AZ (population 7,695), 175 miles northeast of Phoenix. I love learning the history of town names and am making a collection of them as I travel around the country.

“We were named on the turn of a card in a game called show-low. C. E. Clark and Marion Clark both owned ranches in the settlement and decided that it wasn’t big enough for both of them. The two men agreed to let a game of cards decide who was to move. Clark proposed that they each draw a card and Cooley turned up the deuce of clubs. He said ‘show low it is’ and the town has been named that ever since.”

That was in 1873 and the town wasn’t incorporated until 1953. The main street in town is named for that card…The Deuce of Clubs.

Another attendee at my talk at the APS Community Development Conference was Anthony Peterman who helped to set up the first municipality within a Native American Tribe. He helped to set up Kayenta, AZ and is now project manager for the development of the community. Prior to that he was head of economic development for the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region of AZ. Peterman told me, “There is another tribe in Washington that is looking at doing the same thing.”

Someone who is reaching out to these small towns is the Arizona Community Foundation, which was set up in 1978 and started to reach out to counties and towns throughout the state in 1994. They now have 13 affiliated foundations throughout the state with over $40 million in assets in these community foundations, funding over $2 million in projects in rural Arizona.

AZ is rapidly growing both in the metro areas and in most of the rural communities. If you haven’t been there lately, you should try to visit.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Community Bank Growth Model

The importance of community banks is critical to the future of small towns as they are the ones who often help to finance new entrepreneurs and fund the community wide projects that can help to differentiate a town. The continuing consolidation taking place in the banking industry is a major risk for many communities.

Capitol Bancorp has developed a very unique “franchising” model for the development of community banks. I was at another of their regional meetings in Henderson, NV, sharing my message of the paradigm shift in economic development toward the growth of entrepreneurs in our communities.

Capitol just opened their 50th bank in the USA this past month, with plans to grow to 100 in the next five years. They have new banks planned in small towns in OR, CA, NC and NY in the next six months.

They call themselves “The largest small bank company in America.” But, their results and stock price is anything but small time. Their stock has climbed from $14/share in 2001 to over $45 today. Out of the 270 public banks in the USA they are one of only five that has a net interest margin of greater than 5%, ROA >1% and ROE >13%.

Keep your eye on the growth of this very unique community bank.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hilly, Willie & Wide Open

“We are a tale of two towns. The old one is our downtown area and the new is out by the interstate. We are working on improving our old and cleaning up our entrances into the town to make us more attractive,” Jack Harper, city manager of Hillsboro, TX (population 8,232), was telling me about the community in a tour of the town prior to my talk there for the regional Heart of Texas Workforce Employer Symposium.

Hillsboro has a wonderful downtown area with a massive old courthouse on the square. The courthouse was gutted by fire on New Years Day in 1994 but has been completely restored. The town has been part of the Texas Main Street program for the past 25 years, with some wonderful tax credits and other incentives for the restoration of the historic area.

Harper told me, “We were hit hard by the recession of 2001, losing five industries. But we’ve worked hard to fill all five of those plants and are rebounding. One of those we brought in is the only producer of nails left in the USA.” Hillsboro is trying to refocus from commodity product production to more high tech and value added products.

A few miles up the road from Hillsboro is the Willie Nelson Theater, an 850 seat facility that is being rebuilt at Carl’s Corner, which Nelson hopes to build into another Branson. Willie was born in nearby Abbott, TX (population 300). He also has one of his Bio Willie Diesel Fuel plants at Carl’s Corner.

Hillsboro was identified as one of our “golden eagles” in researching BoomtownUSA. It is strategically located an hour south of Dallas and Fort Worth where the two I-35s merge into one and has some wonderful recreational assets like the 23,560 acre Lake Whitney and 3,020 acre Lake Aquilla; both located less than 15 miles west of town. Hillsboro has some huge potential.

Greenville, TX Courthouse Posted by Picasa

Carl's Crossing construction with new Willie Nelson Theater and Bio Diesel manufacturing Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 17, 2006

Getting Locals Involved

Cape Girardeau, one of my top 100 agurbs® and the focus of an entire chapter in BoomtownUSA, puts out a wonderful monthly email newsletter for their citizens. In it they try to keep people informed about things going on in the city.

On the front page of this month’s newsletter they highlight the various public meetings for the next month and also are soliciting citizen involvement in city boards. Some of the advisory boards that they have include: Airport, Adjustment, Appeals, Examiners, Cable TV, Golf Course, Historic Preservation, Parks, Planning, Zoning, Library, River Campus, Show Me Center, Business District, Trees and Vision 2020.

When I was in the Cape doing research for the book, I was impressed with how the town reached out to its local citizens and tried to make sure that everyone in the town knew where city government hoped to take the town.

What are you doing to make sure that everyone is on the same page in your town?

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Traveling around this big, open country of ours I’m always running into new ideas and activities. Geocaching was a new one that I found in Elko, NV during my recent visit. Geocaching is an outdoor adventure that is like a high-tech, modern day treasure hunt.

Individuals set up or hide caches all over the world and when I clicked upon a map of the area from the geocaching website I saw dozens of caches in Elko County, NV. A geocacher uses a GPS unit and hikes off in search of caches out in the country. When they find a cache they log their findings into the logbook at the cache and also log onto the website to indicate what they found there and the condition of the cache.

Will geocaching catch on?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Geneva Mingee, Pat White, Jo Ann Barnett and Lee Barnett from Friends of Jackpot Posted by Picasa

Friends of Jackpot

A number of people from other towns in Elko County, NV made the drive to Elko for my talk. As I explained in Monday’s blog Elko County is a huge county at the fifth largest in the continental USA, so some of them had to drive 100+ miles one-way.

From the neighboring county south of Elko was a group from Eureka, NV (population 1,651) which sits on route 50 from Reno to Ely, NV, billed as the “Loneliest Road in America” because of it sparse population. Elaine Barkdull told me, “It is a very unique old historical mining town that has some wonderful potential. It is also in the richest county in the state because of all of the gold and copper mines there.”

One of my favorites was four citizens from Jackpot, NV (population approximately 4,000), the most northeastern town in NV right along the ID border. They had recently started the Friends of Jackpot to try to develop a town and a sense of place in an unincorporated area that sits out by itself along highway 93.

Geneva Mingee of the Friends told me about her town, “We were started as a casino town, with five casinos, a liquor store, a grocery and gas station as our only commerce. We’ve now got a destination resort planned which will include a hotel, condos, a sports center, water park and retail mall.”

Mingee and her Friends hope to be able to incorporate into a town and to become advocates for the betterment of the town. She added, “Right now there really isn’t much for our kids to come back to. We don’t have adequate housing and a lot of people are pretty apathetic. We have only 280 registered voters in the entire area. But we are going to make a difference and get things started in Jackpot.”

I love meeting the Geneva Mingees of the world. They are passionate, engaged and committed. And, they are changing the world for the better in their small part of the world.

The Friends of Jackpot are kicking off their efforts at a special birthday party on November 20th. I hope to keep in contact with them to see what they accomplish.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Elaine Barkdull (Elko ED); me and Denise Baumbach (Frontier Communications) Posted by Picasa

Vickie Hinze (Newmont Mining); Brad Woodring (Siera Pacific); Rhonda Zuraff (Lee Enterprises); Zach Spencer (Newmont) and Elaine Barkdull (Elko ED) Posted by Picasa

Diversifying Technologically—Pioneering Approach

Diversification not Development was the key word that I found interesting in the Elko County Economic Diversification Authority that Elaine Barksdull runs in Elko, NV. She was inaugurating one of the building blocks in that diversification the day that I was there with a new citywide Wi-Fi Network in Elko, the first of its kind in the entire Frontier Telephone network in 24 states.

The new service started being planned when, as Denise Baumbach, SR VP and General Manager for the Western Region of Frontier told me, “The company announced funding for ten such networks across the USA a year ago. It was a way for us to offer a big-city service into rural America. Elko was first because of the wonderful collaboration of the city manager, CFO of the county, the mayor and city council and Elaine Barksdull who coordinated all of the efforts. It was refreshing to see a community with a leadership that shared a common vision and got the job done.”

Mayor Mike Franzoia, known universally throughout the town as Mayor Mike, said, “Elko has always been a community of pioneers. Since 1868, when we were nothing more than a group of tents at the end of the Central Pacific Railroad, we have experienced the ups and downs of a growing frontier town—slowly but surely building the infrastructure and community services necessary to support our residents and businesses in a manner that has put Elko on the map as a city that is truly ‘in the middle of everywhere’”

The service, which will allow broadband wireless service anywhere within a five square mile service area (1st phase) to access the internet, goes live tomorrow morning in Elko. It’s an example of what a “can do” pioneering spirit can do when unleashed.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Unique & Diversifying

I visited one of the most uniquely diversified areas of the USA this past week when I flew into Elko, NV (population 16,708) in Elko County, NV, the most northeast county in the state. The county has grown from only 13,958 residents in 1970 to over 45,570 today.

It is also the fifth largest county by size in the continental USA, with 17,179 sq. miles of area. You could fit all of MA, CT, RI and the lower third of NH & VT into the county and still have land left over! There are some wide open spaces out here and it is lovely country with some of the most beautiful mountains I’ve seen like the Ruby Mountains which attract movie stars to Red’s Ranch from Hollywood who go Heli-skiing there. So far though the area hasn’t “been discovered” by too many people.

The area is a traditional ranching and mining center. Basque sheepherders immigrated here and the three best restaurants in the town are all located on the same street in the downtown area. I ate at two of them. Added color is that one block away are working bordellos, grandfathered into existence.

Nevada is the third largest producer of gold in the world, following only South Africa and Australia, although China is rapidly growing in importance. The 100 mile radius around Elko is the center of that production. The average mining wage in the county is $62,705 and Elaine Barkdull, Executive Director of the Elko County Economic Diversification Authority told me, “My 26 year old son who got an associate degree as an electrician is making over $90,000/year working in the industry.”

The key word in Elaine’s organization is Diversification and we discussed at length the importance of the county’s efforts to diversify their economic base, recognizing the continuing importance of mining but also its natural cyclical behavior. She is developing the Northeastern Nevada Regional Railport and Industrial Park six miles east of Elko, with direct access to both the BN and UP railroads, I-80 (two exits), a 100 acre transloading facility and 700 acres of land for development purposes. One of the targets industry clusters is hard rock mining with the many service and manufacturing companies that are involved in the industry, hoping to develop a global focus as the center for technology and manufacturing expertise. Another recent project of Elaine’s is the development of an industrial park that is heated with geothermal energy, including the parking lots and sidewalks.

The area also has tremendous potential with some of its unique history and in the utilization of its natural beauty sitting at the base of those incredible mountains. Elko was the birthplace of cowboy poetry and will hold its 23rd annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering from January 27 to February 3, 2007. Their National Basque Festival, held the first weekend of July each year, is also a very unique event with its traditional Running From the Bulls through the streets of downtown Elko. Elaine confessed to me, “They are really steers.”

Retirees from CA have started to discover the area and nearby Spring Creek, some buying homes that they don’t plan to occupy for five or more years because of the perceived lower cost of housing compared to CA. Birdwatching, the fastest growing spectator sport in the USA, is an untapped market for Elko. The bird migrations that occur thru the county and having one of only two nesting spots for the Himalayan Snow Cock in the entire world will draw birders from around the world, if promoted and cultivated properly.All in all, it was quite a whirlwind tour full of information and interesting facts that Elaine Barkdull gave me of Elko and Elko County. I’ll be back!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Oprah Returns Home

Oprah Winfrey recently returned home to Kosciusko, MS (population 7,372) to dedicate the 32,000 sf Oprah Winfrey Boys & Girls Club of Kosciusko Attala County. Kosciusko was one of the 397 agurbs® we identified in our research for BoomtownUSA.

“What I learned is you dream a big dream and you hand that dream over to a power that is greater than yourself. I call it God.” Winfrey told the crowd of 400 that gathered for the dedication.

Winfrey built the center through her foundation and is one of many examples that I’ve seen of successful people returning to their hometowns to help. What are you doing to cultivate the Oprah Winfreys of your town? You know that they still have a very soft spot in their heart for where they grew up, don’t you?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

USA Today Weather Map

“Eureka, SD (population 988) is always on the USA Today weather map,” someone from the town told me recently at one of my talks. We were talking about the fact that Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today when he was president of Gannett, was born and raised in Eureka. He has returned to the town and bought several houses, including the old family homestead, painted them all red, white and blue and spends several weeks each year in the town with his young family.

When I checked out the USA Today weather map I found not only Eureka, SD but also Eureka, CA (population 25,579) and many other small towns scattered throughout the USA. Many were agurbs® like Elko, NV (population 16,685) which I toured yesterday and will blog on next week. Other agurbs® were Carson City, NV; Cedar City, UT; Bonners Ferry, ID; Branson, MO; Tupelo, MS and Ocean City, MD.

Other small towns on the list are Caribou, ME; Nags Head, NC; Atoka, OK; Fort Stockton, TX; Scottsbluff, NE; Miles City, MT; Rawlins, WY; Salina, UT and Ely, NV.

One of my goals is to find out how all of those small towns have their names prominently displayed in USA Today every day. If you know please let me know.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Marvelous Milan

Usually I mispronounce at least one town in a talk and risked it when I pronounced Milan as My-Lan, rather than Mee-Lan, like in Italy. Milan, MN (population 326) was being honored by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines for how they proactively and progressively were pushing for the betterment of their community. I was impressed with the information that I had read about them, but even more impressed when I talked with several of the townspeople. They brought a whole busload of citizens three hours from Milan to Minneapolis for the conference and award ceremony.

Local residents established the Milan Village Arts School, both as an economic development tool and to preserve traditional Scandinavian arts and crafts. The school offers over two dozen courses that range from an Introduction to Pottery to Norwegian Knife Making to Silversmithing to Rug Weaving. The two incredible murals that celebrate the history of Milan can be seen on their website, which would be the envy of towns ten to twenty times their size.

You could tell that this was a group with a lot of pride in their town. Mayor Ron Anderson told me, “We have our own economic development authority that is working regionally in the areas of economic development and tourism. We saved our elementary school. Our local bank helped to bring in 40 Micronesian immigrants who have been embraced by the town. We have a group of people in town who get things done. We call them the Milan Movers and they work with AT—Audacity and Tenacity.”

For the past three years the town has participated in The Meander Art Crawl the last weekend of September. The Milan Village Arts School has mapped out 45 artists in the region and put out one of the best map/picture/descriptions that I’ve seen. Karen Jenson of Trestuen Gallery & Studio told me, “We had over 560 people show up for this event and I was able to sell $5,000 worth of my product during those three days.”

There are lots of things that I learn from towns like Milan, even if they only have a population of 326. Every one of them was a dynamo!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hip or Declining?

My wife and I always enjoy visiting San Francisco. It is one of our favorite cities but after our recent visit and interviews with several local residents, I can understand why it is losing population.

My wife and I walked from the farmers market on the waterfront to Union Square, a distance of about ten blocks. If all we did was look up as we walked, San Francisco is a marvelous city with wonderful buildings, great views and tremendous ambiance. However, both of us commented in our walk that we encountered over 20 panhandlers, more than we would have found in many 3rd world countries. The streets were dirty and there was a smell of urine in several spots.

We learned later that San Francisco incentivated the homeless, offering them $490/month, until about a year ago. Today there are still 6,200 homeless, down from over 10,000 last year.

There is an exodus of the middle class from “hip cities” like San Francisco, because of an extremely high cost of living and a deteriorating quality of life. People with children are fleeing places like San Francisco. The city is losing 1,000+ school age children/year and only 9.4% of its population are school age (ages 5-17) compared to the national average of 17.9%.

Normal people can’t afford to live in the city. Adam Dauny, a cab driver told me, “The cheapest new 2 bedroom condo, without any parking privileges, is over $900,000.” It is no wonder that 61.8% of residents rent compared to a national average or 30.8%.

From 2000 to 2004, San Francisco lost almost 40,000 in population, falling from 786,733 to 739,426, a loss of 6%. After visiting the city and talking with a number of residents, I can understand why there is an outflow. I’m convinced that more will follow.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Agricultural Specialties & Niches

My wife and I were in San Francisco, CA for the National Association of Office and Industrial Properties (NAIOP) Annual Meeting this past week. NAIOP not only published BoomtownUSA but is also the organization that taught me the most about becoming an industrial developer. I’ve learned a great deal from the many friends in the organization who took me under their wing when I was a fledgling, inexperienced industrial developer. I will be forever grateful.

Across the street from our hotel was a four day a week farmers market adjacent to the Ferry Building which has been converted into a permanent food and restaurant market. We were overwhelmed with the various choices available from a diverse group of farmers and producers. We explored a mushroom store with over 30 varieties of different mushrooms; organics from Tuscany; an organic meat purveyor; a salt tasting booth from the Philippines; three chocolate stores; four or five olive oil producers; a tea shop; a honey tasting booth; an herb shop; artisan cheese; and a caviar café.

There were several farmers offering to deliver farm fresh produce directly to consumers on a weekly basis. One offered to deliver an organic snack pack of fresh fruits and nuts directly to offices. The product offering changed with the seasons, including Satsuma mandarins, peaches, figs, pistachios, melons, walnuts, apples, dried fruit, pears, grapes and almonds.

Janice and Harley Embrey of Embrey Family Farms were offering bottled olive oil from their 140 acre olive tree orchard. They first planted their olive trees twelve years ago in Orland, CA planning to sell the whole olives. Janice Embry told me, “We used the damaged olives to make olive oil. The demand grew so greatly that two years ago we refocused upon olive oil production and started to bottle our own.” They offer several different products, all with their own unique taste.

The Sonoma County Farm Trails organization offered a four color magazine of over 150 farms in Sonoma County with descriptions of the crops they produced and maps of how to find the farms. Farms were sorted by Fruits, Vegetables, Flowers, Herbs, Wineries, Breweries, Hard Cider, Meat, Dairy, Animals, Pumpkins and Christmas Trees.

There is a revolution taking place in the importance people are putting upon both the quality and safety of their foods. What we saw at the farmers market is what I believe I will witness across the country in the next several years. What are you doing to get this movement started in your area?

Honey Tasting Stand Posted by Picasa

Embry Family Farms Olive Oil Stand Posted by Picasa

Far West Fungi Posted by Picasa

Cowgirl Creamery Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ag’s Impact on Rural Economic Growth

“Agriculture in the last half of the 20th century was not sustainable and had a negative impact upon rural economic growth,” Dr. John Miranowski of Iowa State University was one of the speakers with me at the Federal Reserve of Chicago’s Expanding the Rural Economy: Through Alternative Energy, Sustainable Agriculture and Entrepreneurship. I was there speaking on the importance of entrepreneurship in rural America. Another comment he made solidified something that has concerned me about the lack of young, starting farmers, “Farmers who rent land don’t really benefit from all of the government programs because the subsidies get factored into land values, increasing rents. When we started farming government programs we lost a lot of entrepreneurial talent in agriculture.”

Farmers have the second highest median age, following only draw-bridge operators. Miranowski had some graphs which showed the change in age demographics over the past 15 years. In 1987, farmers under 35 and over 65 years of age accounted for 36% of the overall farm population, the same as in 2002. In 1987, 55 out of 100 of those farmers in those two age groups were under 35 years of age. In 2002, it was down to only 3, with 97 of 100 being over the age of 65. Scary!

Another startling statistic that Miranowski cited was, “90% of farmers either work off of the farm or are over 65 years of age.”

Miranowski has researched a number of factors impacting all of the rural counties in IL, IA, MO, KS, NE, SD, MN and WI. Some of his findings were that government programs have crowded out alternative crops, livestock and other value-added agricultural activities. Of the sixty wineries owned in the state of IA, only two are owned by traditional farmers and they are both semi-retired. Another of his findings was that counties with greater recreational amenities were ones that were doing much better than those without. The impact of renewable energy also excited him, “I am the most excited that I’ve been since I started studying the subject as an undergrad in 1962, because of renewable energy’s impact upon rural America.”

I’m convinced that we can do much better with agriculture in rural America, but we’ve got to take a fresh approach to how we change the industry in this new century.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bedroom Community Planning for Future

“One of our biggest challenges is that approximately 75% of our workers drive outside of town to their jobs. Many go to nearby Cedar Rapids, which is the largest manufacturing center in the state of Iowa,” John Nieland, Mayor of Marion, IA (population 26,294) told me when I was in town as the keynote speaker for their annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet. I was impressed with his plans to improve the community, ultimately resulting in keeping more of those commuters at home.

Marion is focused upon commercial and light industrial development. They also have an interesting brownfield redevelopment on the east edge of their downtown that could significantly improve an already impressive downtown. One of the award winners at the banquet was Dan and Sandy Rosenberger who did a wonderful renovation on an old dry cleaners building creating Hearthstone Gifts in the downtown. The new city hall (built with a special 1% sales tax for one year) and library, built 10 years ago, are wonderful anchors for the historic downtown area.

City Council Member Craig Adamson talked about the impact of the redevelopment project on the town, “Dubuque started 30 years ago with an idea of what they wanted to do with their riverfront. Now they are the talk of the state. We have a similar opportunity to shape the vision of our town for the next 30 years.” Dubuque is a wonderful example of what can happen with a shared vision and the cooperation of a number of committed citizens.

Marion has three programs that should be copied by other towns. They do a bi-annual survey of their citizens to get their opinion on everything from the city’s identity to recreational options, quality of city services, neighborhood concerns and capital improvement priorities. They have a 40%+ response rate and have tracked the results back ten years. The mayor also has a Student Advisory Committee composed of 20 students from grades six through twelve. In addition, each city department has a Citizen Initiatives Performance Assessment with a citizen board giving feedback on how they are doing.

Marion is going to continue growing just like a lot of towns. But, Marion is doing more than what I typically see, trying to determine how they are going to grow and in what way. I was impressed with how they are going about developing their vision of what they want to be.

Marion Library Posted by Picasa

Hearthstone Gifts Renovation Posted by Picasa

Downtown Marion, IA Posted by Picasa

Downtown Marion, IA Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Twentieth Anniversary

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Agracel, a company that my wife and I set up with some lofty goals. When we started we had enough reserves built up to be able to go about twelve months without any business. We debated various names for the business, finally deciding upon Agracel rather than Zeebeedo. Several people have told me that they really like Agracel better and with an ‘A’ it gets us listed first on most lists.

We ended up getting our first deal done in June, eight months after starting. I saw it as having four months to spare, but Betinha looked at it in a different light. We had a big celebration the night that I brought back a $10,000 check from Chicago for that first deal. Three days later the check bounced!

From those humble beginnings, we’ve been fortunate to build our team one member at a time and today have what I consider the premier company in mentoring small towns and industrial development in those communities. I believe that we are making a difference in those towns and with the companies that we work with.

Thanks to everyone who has had a part in our success. It has been a fun ride. But, the “Can Do” team is only getting revved up.

New Foods as a Business

Morrisville State College has transformed itself from a two year ag and tech school into a four year college with some very innovative programs. I spoke to about three hundred of their students during my stay in Madison County, NY.

Morrisville State has developed a reputation as one of the premier equine programs in the world (240 students) and recently developed a food development center and dairy products incubator as it has innovatively looked at how to expand its mission. President Ray Cross is taking the college into an entrepreneurial vein, one that I heartily applaud. Students run floral shops, breed horses, run restaurants and have other “real-life” experiences while studying there.

One of Cross’ new programs is Nelson Farms, a food development center located in nearby Nelson, NY that originally was a stagecoach inn and then a restaurant. Dave Evans, who retired from Wall Street and ran a hotel/restaurant in Lake Placid, runs Nelson Farms. He told me, “We’ve got 300 to 320 different products that have been developed by 180 to 200 area citizens in the past three years. Our best sellers are salsas, BBQ sauces, jams and jellies. We’ve got one product that is in over 3,500 stores in only a year and a half.”

Evans spends most of his time helping food producers develop their products. He has set up four production areas in the facility, having invested over $1 million into food production equipment.

“Some recipes have been passed down through many generations and people have acquired a taste for them. But, we do tastings to help them develop them better for a wider market. We don’t allow the developers anywhere near those tastings, so that we can get an honest appraisal of the product.”

Morrisville State also has a separate Dairy Product Incubator to develop specialty dairy products and cheeses. It looks to me like the work of Morrisville State could help turn Madison County into an equine, food and cheese cluster. I was very impressed.

Dave Evans, Rich Isome & Peter Cann in one of Nelson Farms production kitchens Posted by Picasa

Nelson Farms Showroom Posted by Picasa