Friday, December 22, 2006

Ponca City Christmas

David Myers, Tim Burg and the Ponca City Development Authority sent me the following Christmas Poem. I thought that you might enjoy it.

How the Grouch (Almost) Stole Christmas
(With apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Every one down in Ponca liked progress a lot,
but the grouch on the corner said, “the past this is not.”

The grouch hated growth that was not oil-based,
other work beyond that was to him but a waste.

Seven hundred new jobs in ’06 came to town,
the grouch said, “bah humbug! Things are still looking down.”

Incomes were up by a percentage of eight,
but the grouch grumbled on, “it’s too little, too late.”

Retail sales jumped a bunch, over seven percent,
and the grouch pooh poohed that with, “it’s hardly a dent”

New construction was up, past historical highs,
“It’s not south of South Street,” the grouchy grouch sighed.

“People act different from the world that was mine,
they shop in big boxes, they do business on-line.”

“This may be the way of the world out beyond,
but it is not the way of which I am fond.”

But he watched an election full of passion and clashing,
and thought to himself, “I am done with the bashing.”

As he spied the help wanteds, saw the stores become crowded,
the grouch mused to himself, “Could my mind have been clouded?”

“The is a new town full of life and new faces,
the economy’s growing, we’re off to the races.”

The change in the grouch was a welcome display,
His friends said his heart grew ten times on that day.

As he joined the new world and his spirit did soar,
that part that was grouch was a grouch nevermore.

This Christmas he’ll sing from his heart a new ditty,
“There’s no place I’d rather be than Ponca City.”

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Trees

Hopefully by now your Christmas tree is up and decorated. If you have a ‘real’ Christmas tree you are one of 33 million that will have bought one this year in the USA at a retail value of $1.4 billion (average price of $42/tree). There are 21,000 mostly small growers of Christmas trees in the country on about 500,000 acres, with OR, NC, MI, PA, WI and WA leading the way. Twenty-two percent of the trees are cut-your-own with the remaining 78% being pre-cut. All 50 states produce the renewable, recyclable resource.

The first place to sell Christmas trees was in 1851 in New York City. One of the most famous merchants of the trees was a fishing schooner called the “Christmas Ship” which would sail each year from MI to Chicago to sell trees at the Clark Street Bridge from 1887 to 1933. Thomas Edison was the first person to put on Christmas lights in 1882, but it took about a decade for them to become prevalent.

The White House Christmas Tree started in 1856, but it was President Coolidge in 1923 who started the Lighting Ceremony. Theodore Roosevelt was the only president who didn’t have a Christmas tree, viewing them as environmentally unsound. In 1963, the National Christmas Tree wasn’t lighted until December 22nd because of the 30-day period of mourning for assassinated President Kennedy. The 1979 tree was not lighted except for the top ornament, in honor of the American hostages in Iran.

In 2007, over 70 million new Christmas trees will be planted, with about 1 in 3 making it into a home in about 7 years. Every acre of Christmas trees provides enough oxygen for the daily requirements of 18 people. And, with 93% of Christmas trees ending up being recycled, it is one of the most environmentally friendly products consumed in the USA today.

While, you might not have wanted to know that much information about Christmas trees, I do hope that you have a wonderful Holiday, Christmas and New Years. I will be back blogging with you in early 2007. Have a good one!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Moving Memorial

On a Viet Nam battlefield in 1965 Tom Miller held his mortally wounded friend, making a vow that his death would not be forgotten. Twenty years later he and others who had made similar vows finally selected a spot on the high glacial moraine near Neillsville, WI as the site for the Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Memorial. From those humble beginnings, The High Ground Veterans Memorial Park has evolved into a wonderfully peaceful yet moving tribute to the many who fought and fell.

Run entirely by volunteers, The High Ground is open 365 days per year, with planned events from January through November. The 140 acre park includes over four miles of walking trails and a view of a half million acres of spectacular Wisconsin woodland and glacial moraine from the park’s plaza.

I was impressed with what a group of dedicated, motivated individuals can do without any federal or state funding.

Meditation Gardens at the High Ground Posted by Picasa

Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Posted by Picasa

WWII Memorial Posted by Picasa

Korean Veterans Memorial Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Could This Be the Napa Valley of Cheese?

I often talk about various agricultural clusters, citing one of the most famous in the Napa Valley. I challenge my audience, that Napa Valley didn’t start out as a dominant wine cluster but happened with a couple of wine producers and others followed their lead. I firmly believe that cheese and other specialty ag products have the same potential.

Sheila Nyberg, head of ED in Clark County, WI had written to me that she felt Clark County had such potential and after visiting last week, I would have to heartily agree. Colby cheese was invented in the county, one of the few cheeses that didn’t originate in Europe. Ken Dix, former mayor of Colby told me, “Joseph Steinwand invented it when he mistakenly put cold water on the cheddar cheese he was making. He thought that Steinwand wasn’t a very marketable name and choose the name of the township where he lived.”

Nyberg explained to me, “We have more cows than people. We have about 68,000 cows compared to our 34,000 residents. There are about 1000 farms in the county with 600 or so producing milk with an average of about 100 cows/farm. The largest farm in the county has about 1,800 cows. We have six cheese makers in the county along with the largest family owned butter maker in the country.”

We visited the North Hendren Dairy, a coop of 35 farmers, located just north of Willard, WI (population 539). For 80 years North Hendren has produced commodity cheeses like Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Jack & Colby. Five years ago they decided to specialize in the craft production of Blue Cheese and Gorgonzola. They’ve won over 20 first and second place ribbons in statewide and national competitions since then. I took a wheel of both to our local renowned chef Niall Campbell of the Firefly Grill who told me, “That Gorgonzola was the best I’ve ever had and their Blue Cheese was right up there.”

Nyberg recently organized the Countryside Crafters, a group of 42 county crafters, that she hopes to develop into a tourist draw. I think that she is on the right track, especially if she combines the two into a “Cheese and Crafters” combination and promotes it well.

Chatty Belle, World's Largest Talking Cow from 1964 Worlds' Fair Posted by Picasa

Lynn Dairy's Cheese Plant Posted by Picasa

Barb Lucas of North Hendren Coop Dairy Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 18, 2006

Challenges of Rural Counties

Clark County, WI (population 34,098) is a large (1,215 square miles--larger than the entire state of RI) in west-central WI. There are 12 towns in the county, ranging in size from 203 in Curtiss to 2,731 in the county seat of Neillsville. Sheila Nyberg, Executive Director of the ED Corporation gave me a sheet of the towns that used to exist in the county explaining, “We used to have 71 communities in the county. Today 48 of those are ‘ghost towns’, 11 are unincorporated and we still have 12 towns.”

It was quite sobering to look through that list and to contemplate the dreams of the people that started those 48 settlements that didn’t quite get up to the critical mass of becoming towns and ultimately dwindled away into obscurity. Why did places like Eldsvod, Sterling, Reseburg, Bright, Romeo, Snow and others not make it? How many other small towns will follow them? How can we do more to educate, motivate and inspire keeping more small towns in existence?

I spent three hours driving around the county, visiting seven of the existing towns. Several are going through growth spurts and have some very interesting natural attributes. Clark County is a beautifully scenic area whose geography was shaped by the glaciers which left some wonderful rolling hills and incredible glacial moraines. Hundreds of miles of various trails wind through the entire county.

Ken Dix, president of the County ED Corporation told me, “One of our biggest challenges is that 51% of our high school aged population is not going to high school. We have such a high percentage of Amish youth, coming out of their 44 one-room schoolhouses, that don’t go onto high school. They believe that an eighth grade education is just fine.” We passed many Amish children walking home to their farms from those one-room schools in our tour.

Woodland Hotel available for $250,000 in Owen, WI Posted by Picasa

Timber Baron's house available for $165,000 in Niellsville, WI Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Twenty Years of Main Streets

Iowa is celebrating 20 years of implementing a Main Street Program in the state. Over forty towns have implemented the program from towns as small as Bonaparte (population 458) to Waterloo (population 68,747).

During that twenty year period, 2,819 new businesses have been added, resulting in 7,791 new jobs and an investment of $568,000,000. The number of buildings that were rehabbed is 8,725.

I’ve seen the impact of the Main Street Program in Iowa and other states around the USA. It is impressive what has been accomplished in the towns that have taken advantage of it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Calendars Promoting Towns/Kids

I picked up the Cooperative Calendar of Student Art at the Indiana Statewide Association of Rural Electrical Cooperatives Annual Meeting. After my talk I asked Richard Biever, Senior Editor for Electric Consumer of the coop about the calendar.

“We have 19 of our electric coops that use the calendars. We get art work from school kids from all over the state, have a judging and pick one per class from kindergarten through 12th grade. The kindergarten winner is shown on the cover, first grade is January, second is February; all the way to the senior winner is December. We do about 60,000/year and award cash prizes to the winning artists.”

The next day I received a package of wonderful pralines from Aunt Aggie De’s in Sinton, TX. I was in Sinton in 2005 giving a talk and got a great tour of the town with Eleanor Harren who founded and owns Aunt Aggie De’s. She included the Sinton Main Street Historical Calendar in my package. The cover is a photo of the Sinton Main Street in 1949 and each month has a different historical photo from the town archives.

Could you use a calendar to help promote your town?

Richard Biever of Indiana Statewide Association of Rural Electrical Coops with Student Art Calendar Posted by Picasa

Sinton, TX Main Street Calendar Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nowhere or Now Here?

“You know if you change one space in the Nowheresvilles that you talk about, you’d get a completely different interpretation,” someone asked me after my talk at the Indiana Statewide Association of Rural Electrical Cooperatives Annual Meeting titled Energizing our Blue Ribbon Communities. He was referring to my reference to the national media considering some places to be “out in the middle of nowhere.”

He continued, “You don’t even have to change a letter. All you have to do is add a space in Nowhere after the ‘w’, and you get Now Here! How can we change the concept of rural America to the happening place?”

He had a great idea and I wish that I had caught his name in the crush of signing books, but I didn’t. I hope that he reads this blog. He has a great idea!

Monday, December 11, 2006

101 Quips, Quotes & Concepts for Sustainable Small Town Development

“In an Information Age, leadership, not location, is the most important factor in community survival,” is the first of 100 more 101 Quips, Quotes and Concepts for Sustainable Small Town Development, a new publication that Allan Hooper just published. Allan is the dynamic head of ED for Consumers Energy in Jackson, MI and also on the Rural Partners of Michigan board.

He first talked to me about this project when I gave several talks in Michigan and encouraged Allan to develop his ideas into a book and talk. He has done a great job of putting this project together and there are loads of great ideas for anyone involved in rural ED.

You can download a PDF file of the publication at the Rural Partners of Michigan website. Allan told me, “We want people to have access to the range of ideas in this book. Our experience is that people in small towns "get it", that is, they readily understand their challenges and the need to work toward a better future. Unfortunately, sometimes it just "doesn’t get to them"... small town leaders often don't get exposed to some of the best ideas and concepts. We want "101+ Concepts" to be that conduit to bring a range of new ideas to a community along with the confidence that they are doable and they work.”

You also can communicate directly with Allan at I hope that you will check out his work.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Seethers? You Need Seekers!

Yesterday, as I listened to the press conference by the Iraq Study Group I was struck by a question on the difficulty in accomplishing things in Washington that former Senator Alan Simpson responded to. Here was his answer,

“The sad part to me is that, you know, you see people in this who are "hundred percenters" in America. A "hundred percenter" is a person you don't want to be around. They have gas, ulcers, heartburn and BO.

(Laughter.) And they seethe. They're not seekers. They're not seekers, they're seethers. There are a lot of them out there. And we're going to get it from the right, the far right, we're going to get it from the far left, we're going to get bombs away, and everybody will say it can't work.

Well, we're just sincere enough to believe that it will and that all people with a "D" behind their name did not become a guard at Lenin's tomb, and all people with an "R" behind their name did not crawl out of a cave in the mountains, and that maybe we can do something. And that's what we're here for, people of goodwill in good faith. Maybe it's corny, maybe it won't work, but it's sure as hell better than sitting there where we are right now.”

I’d never heard the term “seethers” before, but thought that his definition fit in small towns also. Too often these “seethers” slow or try to stop progress in towns. I continue to try to figure out how to turn them from “seethers” into seekers, but haven’t figured it out yet. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more seekers in this world?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Working Together

For over 10 years the communities of Edwardsville (population 21,491) and Glen Carbon (population 10,425) have been working cooperatively with a joint chamber and a joint economic development effort. Driving around the two communities, it was obvious this cooperative effort was yielding some incredible dividends for both communities. And, in studying their strategic plans, it is obvious the best days for both communities lie in the future.

Edwardsville is the third oldest town in the state of IL, having been founded by Colonel Benjamin Stephenson, one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. Five governors of the state were originally from the town. Abraham Lincoln litigated in the local courthouse. As you would imagine in a town with that kind of history, the downtown is incredible and they are developing it into one of those “special sense of places” that I’m seeing which are growing in importance for recruiting in young people. The city is making efforts to reopen the old Wildey Theatre, a 1919 Vaudeville Theater that was closed in 1983, which could act as a wonderful anchor for a growing downtown.

Southern Illinois University—Edwardsville, sits on 2,660 picturesque, wooded and rolling acres on the outskirts of town. The campus started 50 years ago when a group of local citizens decided that they needed a local college and worked to establish the campus in Edwardsville. From a small base as a commuter college the university has grown into the largest campus in the St. Louis metro area with over 13,000 full time students. It is quickly developing into a major research institution with the National Corn to Ethanol Research Center and adjacent research laboratory as magnets for the clustering of related jobs and businesses.

The communities are rapidly growing their jobs with two industrial parks of almost 3,000 acres opened within the last 10 years. Already, over 3,200 jobs have been created in the rapidly growing distribution and logistics industries. Another 1,000 acre park is planned by another national company, with plans to open it in 2007.

Rounding out the equation for Edwardsville/Glen Carbon is their wonderful trail system which is run by their transit system. The 85 mile trail system was set up in the early 1990s to preserve rail corridors for future light rail possibilities and has received more than $15 million in federal and state grants to develop. The system includes nine loops of 10 to 30 miles and a way to be able to ride all the way to downtown St. Louis.

Edwardsville/Glen Carbon has all of the attributes that make them an attractive location for expansion. It has a very strong educational system, wonderful housing stock, unique historical buildings and strong recreational assets.

SIU-E Campus Posted by Picasa

Typical Trail Posted by Picasa

Glen Carbon Covered Bridge Posted by Picasa

National Corn to Ethanol Research Center Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Table Decorations Idea

In Harlan, IA the local chamber offers their various businesses a chance to promote themselves at community events by doing unique, permanent table decorations. I’ve shown some photos of those here.

It’s an idea that other chambers might want to copy.

Local Newspaper Table Decoration Posted by Picasa

Emergency Services Table Decoration Posted by Picasa

Curves Table Decoration Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dave Yamada of Harlan, IA ED and Jim Goeser of Jim's Wholesale Meats Posted by Picasa

Therkildsen Activity Center in Harlan, IA Posted by Picasa

Harlan Theatre Posted by Picasa

Harlan, IA Courthouse Posted by Picasa

Former Spec Building, now Shelby Co. Cookers Posted by Picasa

Downtown Harlan, IA  Posted by Picasa

Pride in Harlan

You could tell in driving through Harlan, IA (population 5,282) that this was a town that took a lot of pride in itself. Houses were all freshly painted, yards were well maintained, people waved on the streets.

Dave Yamada, head of economic development, moved here from Denver two years ago to be closer to a son and his young family. He told me, “This is an incredibly friendly town that knows how to get things done. Some of the pride you see comes from our high school, where they’ve won 49 straight football games, winning three straight state championships.” Local testing scores put the school into the top 10 to 20% of national rankings academically also.

Many of the jobs in Harlan are agriculturally related. A spec building, done by Yamada’s organization, sat empty for 4 ½ years but now has over 100 employees in a microwave bacon operation with local ties. Jim’s Wholesale Meats, with 25 employees, is expanding into the rapidly growing organic beef market. They also sell buffalo steak burgers.

Gary Wiehs who grew up on a family farm, worked for Proctor and Gamble, Pepsi and Monsanto before moving home to set up Natural Pork Production in 1998. From an initial site with 2,800 sows he has grown it to over 50,000 sows, producing over 1 million pigs each year at sites in IA, MN, IN, OH AND TX. From that base he has expanded into local production from a 6,000 head dairy and 10,000 ewe sheep operation. His most recent ventures are farming operations in Romania and Brazil. All of this is run from Harlan.

The Therkildsen Activity Center, the facility I spoke at was built through donations from the community, including a major one from Turk Therkildsen, a local boy who made his fortune in Chicago but still had a great love for his hometown.

My one reservation about the town is their median age of 41.3 years compared to the national average of 35.3. Towns like Harlan have to be careful that they don’t just age in place. They’ve got to leverage their resources and find ways to help create opportunities for their kids and grandkids.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Montana Ambassador Program

This morning I received an email and link from Russ Fletcher who runs the Montana Associated Technology Roundtables to Montana’s Ambassador Program, similar to the ones I blogged on yesterday. If you haven’t checked out Russ’ website or don’t receive his excellent MATR ezine, you should.