Sunday, April 30, 2006

Survey Your Young Left-Homers

Virtually every town that I visit talks about the number of their young people who have left home because of the lack of opportunities at home. I’ve written a number of times about several towns that are reaching out to these “left-homers”, hoping to recruit them back home. It is a tremendous brain bank that every town in America has as an asset.

Has anyone ever surveyed these “left-homers” to see what it would take to get them to move back home? If you haven’t, why don’t you give it a try? What have you got to lose?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Coming Back Home

Paul Shirley is a serial entrepreneur whose most recent company, Qynergy which he started in 2001, is developing compact batteries and micropower systems in Albuquerque, NM. Paul and his wife Wendy, both natives of Rochester, IN (population 6,414) recently returned home to take care of an aging parent. And, while they were home they decided to help change the town for the better.

The Shirleys set up Beyond the Boundaries, a not-for-profit effort to sponsor activities that enable job and wealth creation through life-long learning and entrepreneurial-focused business endeavors. They plan to start their efforts in the school system, but eventually involving the entire community.

Who is in your “brain bank” of individuals who grew up in your town? What are you doing to stay in touch with them? How are you getting them involved in bettering your town?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Need for Parking Downtown

Traverse City, MI (population 14,532) is one of my five favorite downtowns. They have done a wonderful job of creating a special “sense of place” in their dynamic downtown with a mix of retail, restaurants, arts, entertainment and housing. It is the kind of downtown that attracts people to it and is a big regional draw.

I spoke of it earlier this week, when I was doing a talk in Montpelier, VT, a wonderful town in Central Vermont. I got several questions about parking in their downtown, which they will need to look at in the future. The traffic and parking were some of the more congested that I’ve seen in a town its size.

Virtually all vibrant downtowns suffer from a lack of parking, the real Achilles Heel of the redevelopment of Main Street. Traverse City has solved their parking problems by building a couple of parking decks and is in the process of building a third one for 410 cars. The first two parking decks of 540 and 530-spaces were paid for through TIF financing.

What are you doing to solve your parking problems?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Agurbs Growing While Major Cities Shrink

Between 2000 and 2004 twenty-one of the country’s 25 largest micropolitan statistical areas, a new category that the U. S. Census announced after we published BoomtownUSA, had net immigration while eighteen of the 25 largest MSAs had net out migration. Many of these micropolitans like Traverse City, MI; Tupelo, MS; Mooresville, NC and others were agurbs® that I highlighted in the book. Click here to read the sixteen page report.

This latest report documents what I predicted would happen and am observing every week in my travels around the USA. More and more people are getting fed up with the hassles of living in big, impersonal cities and are searching for a more intimate experience like what they can find in smaller, more vibrant cities. The agurbs® that are developing a higher quality of life and a special “sense of place”, are the ones that are making themselves most attractive for these out-migraters from the big cities.

As expected, the areas of biggest growth in the USA are in the South and to a lesser extent in the West (mountain states growing, pacific states shrinking). Of particular interest to me was the fact that while the Northeast and Midwest continued to lose population at an alarming rate, eight of the largest ten micropolitan areas in those regions gained population in the past four years while all 10 MSAs in those regions lost population.

The third wave of migration in the USA is occurring today. What are you doing in your community to attract these out-migraters from the large cities?
This subject was the focus of our weekly e-zine, The Agurban. If you’d like to get on the e-mail list to receive it every Tuesday please email me at

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Great Article on DayJet

“It’s like Donald Trump starting a chain of Laundromats, or Tom Cruise marketing an anti-depression drug,” was the start of a great article in today’s USAToday on the launch of DayJet, the first company to use the new Eclipse jets to set up on-demand air service. They launched this week in FL and expect to expand to 20 towns in the SE in 2007 with plans to grow across the USA in 2008.

Putting the Habit into Downtown

“We are trying to put “the habit” into our downtown. We want people to think of coming here all of the time, not just for special events.” Brett Peach, head of the Cambridge, OH (population 11,520) Main Street Program told me of their approach to helping to keep the downtown booming. He is implementing a farmers market and plans to roll out a Dickens Victorian Village for this upcoming Christmas Season.

“We are going to put up 37 life-sized vignettes along our Main Street at the historic light poles. We are getting sponsorships from local businesses and will have local artists decorate them. There is quite a bit of excitement about the project. We’ve already got 5 tour buses that are coming thru because of it.”

The Cambridge downtown is one of the few that I see that doesn’t have a lot of “missing teeth” in it, where buildings have been torn down, leaving gapping holes. Many downtowns lose their entire feel as a result. Cambridge is fortunate to have most of its “teeth” intact.

Mayor Sam Salupo and Brett Peach have helped to put together a special $3 million loan program with five local banks. Steve Wilson, a dynamic local entrepreneur, has put together several groups of local investors to buy and redo downtown buildings. Plans are in the works to redo the old Hotel Berwick, which has fallen into a state of disrepair. The hotel is on one end of the downtown and will be a marvelous billboard for a wonderful downtown.

I love finding downtowns like Cambridge’s. They’re finding ways to fully utilize one of the most precious assets they possess.

Old Hotel to be redone in Cambridge, OH Posted by Picasa

Downtown Cambridge, OH Posted by Picasa

Refurbished downtown building with upper floor lofts Posted by Picasa

Steve Wilson, Mayor Sam Salupo & Brett Peach in front of the National Road Heritage Museum in Cambridge, OH Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Food Trends

One of the major trends that I’m observing as I travel around the country is the number of entrepreneurial companies that are being started up in the food business. Many of these companies are small, but are in niches that could have huge potential in the long-term. Here are some of the trends in this area:

1. Food Incubators—I saw my first one in Athens, OH two years ago. Since then I’ve seen or learned of over a half dozen others that are being started. These futuristic ventures allow small, local entrepreneurs to have the advantages of big companies in producing their product.

2. Organic is growing at double digit rates. It is starting to spread from the coasts into the heartland.

3. Drive thru coffee shops—I’ve seen them in virtually every small town in WA and OR. They will be coming to a town near you. Great area for entrepreneurial activity. What other food items could have a convenience component added to them, like drive thru coffee?

4. Local & sustainable production—Again a trend from OR that could grow as fast as the organic one. Help your local farmers to get onto this new market with local supermarkets and farmers markets.

5. Chocolate—Local candy shops are hot, making the candy on premises. Dark chocolate is supposed to lower your LDLs and prevent arterial plaque, which is the excuse of why to consume, but it is the taste that keeps them coming back. Super-premium hot chocolates in exotic flavors is another niche.

6. Combination shops of chocolate, coffee and red wine cafes. Add super premium sandwiches and you’ve got a great snacking niche.

7. Bison is the new health food for carnivores.

8. Cheese—I’m looking for the region that picks up the concept of becoming the next Napa Valley of Cheese. It should be in VT or WI but might develop somewhere else.

9. Specialized niche production—Whether it is lavender in Sequim, WA; pistachios in Wilcox, AZ; blueberries in Urbana, OH or Olive Oil in Rutherford, CA, I’m seeing America’s farmers finding unique products to grow and market. There is a much bigger future in these specialized crops for most farmers, rather than trying to be the low-cost commodity producer. Check out the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AGMRC) at Iowa State (, which is developing various economic models for these niche producers.

10. Ethnic Trends—When we moved home 25 years ago we couldn’t find a flour tortilla, now there are numerous varieties and brands to chose from at our local grocery store. Marsha Laux of AGMRC said it best, “Don’t forget the influence of the changing demographics on food trends….Ethnic foods will mean we need to meet the needs of new food consumers. Goat meat is a very good example of this—the growth and interest has been amazing.”

What are you doing to help get entrepreneurs started in this rapidly growing area? Let me know.

Monday, April 24, 2006

It’s the Markets, Not the Production

“We’ve found that our farmers were great at production, but not at marketing. They were getting it backwards,” Ray Hansen of the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AGMRC) at Iowa State said it best when I sat down with him and a half dozen researchers in Ames, IA. I had been following their work with value-added ag and alternative crops in contrast to the more common corn/soybeans/wheat commodity ones.

The change from production agriculture to a marketing focused entitiy is a major shift for a land grant college like Iowa State. But the successes achieved with renewable fuels, niche meat producers, wine, soy milk, organics and others show that not only is such an approach feasible but it is imperative if we are to develop agricultural models which can help to renew our rural towns.

Malinda Geisler is a ½ time grant writer for the center who has taken the lessons learned at AGMRC and started a corn maze and pumpkin patch on their family farm with her husband Darrell. She told me, “We had the next generation returning to the farm and had to find another revenue source. We decided that potential with agri-tourism was tremendous.”

This year they are adding a roadside stand and a second hay rack, which will be ADA accessible. They are also developing a “pumpkin chucker” that they hope to be able to throw a 20 pound pumpkin up to 300 feet. Their website is

I’m convinced that the work of organizations like AGMRC and others will have a tremendous impact upon the way that we view agricultural production and marketing in the future.

The AGMRC Team in Ames, IA Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fiscal Advice for Iowa

I don’t often offer unsolicited advice to a state, but after spending the past week in Iowa there was one piece of information that I learned that shocked me about Iowa and I’m going to suggest that they look at how they tax business in the state. In particular their property tax on business is completely backward when compared to the services received.

As I travel around the USA touring towns (current count is over 200 towns in 40 states), I do a quick calc of the property tax on a new $5 million building. The calc has consistently been in the $190,000 to $220,000 range in Iowa compared to an average of around $140,000 for the rest of the nation, with some towns being as low as $60,000. Last week, in my tour of four Iowa towns I learned why Iowa is consistently in the upper 10% on this property tax calculation.

In Iowa the state legislature has decreed that farmland should only be assessed at 30% of its fair market value, while homeowners are assessed at 40% and business at 100%. This flies in the face of the research we found that shows that for every $1 of property tax paid, business only gets back 27 cents in services compared to $1.17 in services for residents. Iowa has their calc backwards and it is going to take a strong willed legislature to correct their error.

They also might want to look at having the 2nd highest state income tax percentage at 9% of income.

In today’s environment, where companies and knowledge workers can vote with their feet, we are going to have to not only provide quality of life attributes but also fiscal reasons why they will land in our towns or state.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

At a Crossroads

The huge yellow building dominated the view as I flew over Webster City, IA (population 8,176). I learned that Electrolux, who I have written about before when they vacated 2,900 jobs in Greenville, MI (population 7,915), was also the big employer in Webster City. And, they had recently announced plans to move their newer front loader washers and dryers to Juarez, Mexico, leaving the older top-load lines. Seven hundred of the 1,900 jobs were going to be lost soon. As Yogi Berra would have said, “It was déjà vu, all over again!”

As I told them at the talk that night Greenville picked themselves up and had recently announced a new United Solar Ovonics plant with an investment of $1.2 billion, employing 1,200 people. From what I saw in my tour and talks in Webster City, I’m convinced that they have the same opportunity.

Gary Stanholm, head of ED for the city, explained another impact of Electrolux upon the town, “We’ve also got at least six suppliers to them with around 700 jobs that are located in the town. They are trying to diversify to other customers as quickly as they can.”

Webster City impressed me as a community. It is a very neat and clean town with numerous parks, miles of trails, hospital, rec center, modern swimming pool, new spacious library and community theater. It also has one of the nicest intact downtowns that has tremendous potential for redevelopment.

A local family, the Barricks, have developed a wonderful private wildlife reserve on the edge of town that they open to the public. The 7-B Ranch is used for weddings, get-togethers and even the town’s 4th of July Celebration.

Gary and I visited Vantec, Inc., a local plastic injection mold manufacturer that employs 150 people in a modern 150,000 sf facility. Willie & Bev Van Wyhe started the business in 1983 with 2 employees and 2 machines. Today they supply components for engines, medical devices, building products, appliances, etc. on 34 machines. They were a delightful couple who continue to live the business. Willie told me, “Bev and I were the second and holiday shift. I was the truck driver and sold as much product through the back door to plants as I did through the front door as a salesman. We just did what we had to do.” At 67, he’s still having a ball with no thoughts of retirement.

When I asked him of his thoughts on the future of manufacturing in the USA, he responded, “The ones that are going to survive are going to be super successful, even though there are only going to be a limited number. Those that make it are the ones making the tough decisions and figuring out ways to become more productive and cost efficient.”

Willie’s advice could be used for Webster City and many other towns that I visit.

Bev & Willie Van Wyhe and Gary Stanholm Posted by Picasa

Electrolux Plant Next to Downtown Posted by Picasa

The Flower Cart Welcomes me to Town Posted by Picasa

Webster City, IA Downtown Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bring ‘Em Back: Then What?

How are we going to bring our young people back home, is a question that I get in virtually every town that I visit. Last week I met two young people who not only came back home but have developed a new organization to help make the transition a smoother one. They were on the program with me at Alliant Energy’s “Get Your Smaller Community Booming” Conference.

Matt Randall and Kori Heuss are both 30ish young professionals who both moved home to Ames, IA. Ames is one of my golden eagles, so I was particularly interested in their story. In 2002 they and a third individual got together to discuss trying to connect with more of the young people in the community. They grew the group to 12 and decided to go public with a concept of developing a Young Professionals Organization in the town.

They invited 100 people to their initial meeting in 2003, but word spread and over 200 showed up. Within a month they had over 175 dues paying members, aged 21 to 40, and it has grown ever since.

In 2004 they set up YPIowa ( to help foster other Young Professionals Organizations in other towns. Already there are chapters in several other Iowa towns. I have a feeling that this is a concept that will spread throughout Iowa and to other states.

Kori Heuss & Matt Randall of Young Professionals of Ames, IA Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Entrepreneurism in Iowa

When I was in Wall Lake I met a young reporter, Doug Burns, who is the third generation of owners at the nearby Carroll Daily Times Herald. We had a great conversation about rural Iowa and afterwards he shared with me some of his writings. I especially liked a piece he did entitled: “Carroll, Iowa: A future hatchery of entrepreneurs.” Here is a part of it:

“But, like much of the rest of the state, we fall short with entrepreneurship, with ways to harness the imagination and skills of our most talented young people.

This demands attention.

We need to start early in promoting a spirit of risk-taking and connecting the ideas of the classroom to the prospects of commerce.

Our schools and businesses people should work together more closely.

They should plant the seeds of entrepreneurship early, get kids thinking about coming back to Carroll to start their own businesses and companies.

On a grand scale this could involve a sort of local entrepreneurial fund, in which bright, earnest young people from Iowa State University or the University of Iowa or Des Moines Area Community compete for start-up cash to launch small ventures here, dreaming of big things.”

I couldn’t have said it better. I’m detecting a strong undercurrent of entrepreneurial promotion taking place in Iowa. I hope that it continues to build and develop.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

WOW in Wall Lake!!!

An 18,000 sf, $1.2 million community center done thru donations in a town of 800? I hadn’t heard of such a thing, so I was thrilled to get into town early for my talk so that I could tour such a town. And, my tour of Wall Lake, IA (actual population 841) didn’t disappoint me.

“My uncle Gus Schroeder, who was mayor for 10 years, and his wife Lil started off the campaign with a $250,000 donation but we got funds from just about everybody in town. Even Andy Williams, who was born and raised here, gave $25,000 in memory of his mom and dad. In all we raised $800,000 in donations, got $200,000 from the state and still have a note for $200,000 on the building,” Tom Schroeder, City Manager for Wall Lake told me as we toured the town. I did some quick math in my head and calculated that Chicago would have to raise over $1 billion in donations to be able to match what a town like Wall Lake did on a per capita basis. It couldn’t be done, in Chicago that is! And that is why I just love to tour towns like Wall Lake and meet the people who make towns like this what they are. They are incredible!

Tom wasn’t done with only the community center. He also showed me a new $50 million biodiesel plant funded by 600 area investors who raised $22 million in equity for the project in eight days. An old gravel pit is being converted into a 220 acre lake with 125 new housing units planned around it. We also visited a 70 bed nursing home that was built by the town and turned over to the churches in town to run. And, we stopped by the 660 megawatt wind turbine that was funded through a $500,000 bond issue and $250,000 Iowa ED grant. The project supplies 25% of the town’s energy needs.

One of the more colorful businesses in town that I visited was Cookies Best BBQ (, which was started 30 years ago in the town. Speed Herring, who owns the business wasn’t there that day, but when people in other towns around Iowa heard that I’d been to Wall Lake, they asked about Speed. Cookies plant is a modern 105,000 sf facility that includes a test kitchen, production facility and warehouse, employing 12 people.

When 300 people showed up that night to hear me talk, I was really impressed. I couldn’t even come close to doing a calc of how many people in Chicago would have to come hear me talk to get to the ratio of people interested in their town and how they could make it better.

Wow!!! Wall Lake blew me away!

New Wall Lake Community Building Posted by Picasa

Tom Schroeder at Cookies Test Kitchen Posted by Picasa

Wall Lake Windmill Posted by Picasa

New Biodiesel Plant Under Construction in Wall Lake, IA Posted by Picasa

Andy Williams Birthplace in Wall Lake, IA Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Branding Fort Dodge

“The Community Action Network was set up by Trinity Regional Medical Center, the local hospital, which takes 10% of its net income each year to reinvest into the town,” Randy Kuhlman head of the Network gave me a tour of Fort Dodge, IA (population 25,136) prior to my talk. They are helping build replicas of Wrigley Field, Fenway, Dodger Stadium and Yankee Stadium in their local park where the state softball championships are held.

Fort Dodge was an old meat packing town with a reputation for being a rough and tough blue collar town. The last meat packing plant closed their doors 20 years ago, but the reputation lingers.

Today Fort Dodge is going through a transition into a regional economic powerhouse. Newly elected Mayor Terry Lutz was elected with almost 80% of the vote over the incumbent mayor on a platform of creating jobs and opportunities, transitioning the town into the information age. He also has plans to develop the old industrial area along the Des Moines River into a green space.

Fort Dodge was chosen as an All-American City in 2001, one of only 10 in the USA to win that award each year. The National Civic League looks at the quality of life in the town and the way that reinvestment is taking place in making their decision.
Fort Dodge has great potential if you get beyond its old reputation. A branding program for the city might work wonders, because as I’ve told other towns, “If you don’t establish your own brand, someone else will establish it for you and you might not like what they brand you.”

Trinty Regional Medical Center, up on the hill Posted by Picasa

Ft. Dodge Industrial area Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 17, 2006

Do We Really Need a 9 Million Word Tax Code?

Today is Tax Day in the USA. Because the 15th fell on a Saturday, we all got a two day extension on filing our taxes. Whoo-boy! That really got my blood pumping!

No one on earth knows what is in the federal tax code. Its vast complexity plagues the system, and is a burden the tax payers are unnecessarily bearing.

Steve Forbes, testifying before the President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform, put the federal tax code in perspective: “The Gettysburg Address, which defined the American nation, is 272 words in length. Our Declaration of Independence is some 1,300 words. The Bible, which spans several thousand years of human history, is 773,000 words. But the federal tax code, with all of its attendant rules and regulations, is 9 million words and rising.

Since the last attempt at tax simplification was made in 1986 the code has been amended 14,000 times and grown by 3 million words. Today a typical taxpayers filing a regular Form 1040 will spend 26 hours and 48 minutes annum completing his return, that’s up 57% from 17 hours and 7 minutes spent filing in 1988. Americans are spending 6.6 billion hours preparing their tax forms. That’s the equivalent of 3.3 million full times jobs are squandered on tax compliance! Does anyone else see a serious inefficiency here? Think of the lost productivity!

And it’s not just the everyday citizens that are confounded by the tax code. Tax professionals are often confused by the metamorphosing regulations. Isn’t there a way that the people can be relieved of this headache?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Roller Coaster Auction

Santa Claus, IN (population 2,041) is one of my favorite towns. Holiday World, a family owned amusement park is celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. The new season opens on May 6th with the inauguration of the world’s top “air time” wooden roller coaster. Riders will experience 24.2 seconds of weightlessness during the 1.2 mile ride. The coaster will also hold the U. S. record for the steepest drop on a wooden coaster, at 66 degrees from the 173-foot-tall peak.

Holiday World is auctioning off 28 rides on The Voyage for one hour before the park opens to the public. Current bidding is at $150/ticket. Click here to go to the bidding which ends on Wednesday.

The Voyage Roller Coaster at Holiday World in Santa Claus, IN Posted by Picasa

Another Southern Auto Plant

The new Kia Automotive plant announced for West Point, GA (population 3,382) took the assemblage of 36 parcels of land totaling 2,194 acres adjacent to Interstate 85. West Point, sits right on the AL state line in a county of 62,000. The plant is projected to be making 300,000 cars per year in the five million sf under roof, equivalent to 300 football fields.

Already six suppliers have agreements to move into the area and others are expected to make similar announcements. It is those supplier plants that will help to transform the area around West Point. The growth of southern auto plants are transforming that region for the better.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Why Not an Arts Map?

OK has tourist maps for Route 66, The Great Plains Trail and the Wind Power Trail. The state has almost 400 miles of the original Route 66 still drivable, more than any other state. The Great Plains Trail highlights 13 driving loops in western OK that overflow with birds and wildlife. With birding being the fastest growing spectator sport in the USA, the Great Plains Trail map also makes a lot of sense. The Wind Power Trail is a cooperative effort of 24 Chambers and ED groups in OK and TX. It takes you to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, wind farms, vintage windmill collections, a wind-turbine factory and some wonderful small towns. I plan to take the trip on one of my visits to my son at OU next year.

When Randy Cohen of the Americans for the Arts ( showed a map which highlighted all of the arts related businesses in the state, I wondered why a similar tourist map isn’t done in OK for these arts businesses. Wouldn’t it be as much of a draw as a map of birds, old roads and windmills?

OK Map of Arts-Related Businesses Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 14, 2006

Economic Impact of the Arts

“There are 4,193 arts-related businesses in the state of Oklahoma, which employ 22,724 people.” Randy Cohen, VP of Research for the Americans for the Arts (, was one of the speakers at the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Leadership Education and Arts Development Conference.

Cohen has meticulously documented the arts-centric businesses like museums, symphonies, theaters, architects and other creative industries having developed studies by state, county and even congressional district. He also has an Arts and Economic Prosperity Calculator that can show the impact of an organization upon a town or county.

“We measured the impact of the counties that were impacted by Katrina. We found that there were 24,003 arts-related businesses with 108,296 people that were impacted by the hurricane.”

As the arts become a more important economic development tool, Cohen’s site is one that you might want to bookmark.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Long Haired Fashion Photographer to Mayor?

“Boy, you’re gonna have to cut that hair of yours,” was what Alex Damon’s father-in-law told him in his western Oklahoman drawl when Alex decided to move to Cordell, OK (population 2,867). “And, you can’t be wearing that jewelry that you wear.”

Alex was a fashion photographer who was semi-retired in the Virgin Islands. His wife, who was born and raised in OK, talked him into moving the family (children ages 5, 7 and 11) closer to her family in the summer of 2002. He was a speaker prior to my talk at the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Leadership Education and Arts Development Conference.

When Alex was lamenting to a friend that we was moving to rural Oklahoma, his friend gave him some wise advice, “Make it what you want it to be.” Alex went with an open mind, starting a small photography studio and art gallery ( in the town 100 miles west of Oklahoma City. Alex related to the group, “I went there with an attitude of ‘what the hell, it’s only Cordell. I’d been open for two months when someone called and wanted me to fill in for a vacant seat on the town council. The town was facing state foreclosure because we were in such bad financial shape. I said ‘what the hell, it’s only Cordell.’ When the city clerk, city manager and mayor all resigned they choose me as acting mayor. I like to think that I did such a good job that when I ran for the position that no one else ran against me, but it could have been because no one else wanted the job.”

Within a short period of time he got the city finances turned around. The town is hoping to utilize the assets of their historic downtown to turn it into an arts based economy. Mayor Damon has Arts Space out of Minneapolis looking at assisting him with the establishment of artist’s lofts. Already, he has two Texas artists and one Oklahoman who have agreed to move to the town if he gets the project established.

To assist in the quality of life of the town, Mayor Damon set up a recreational board which through private fundraising and public funding is in the process of building a nine-hole municipal golf course. They also are beginning a ½ mile bike and pedestrian trail that will connect all of the outdoor facilities in town and that he hopes to grow regionally. “We’ve also got a great renovated theater. Now we need to bring in a restaurant, so that when people come to it, we keep them in town a bit longer.”

His gallery has continued to grow and he is in the process of moving into an old car dealership in the downtown that is four times larger than where he started. He has big ideas of other changes that he hopes to make.

Alex Damon is one of the best examples of what one person can do in a town. He’s only been in Cordell for 3 ½ years, but he has developed a shared vision of how life could be better for the town. He told me, “I don’t want this to be known as where a town used to be. We’ve got to make it better.” He won the Governor’s Arts Award for the State of Oklahoma in 2005 and I’m guessing that you are going to be hearing a lot more about him. Be sure to stop in Cordell, if you’re ever driving on I-40 in western OK.

Cordell Mayor's Alex Damon Self Portrait Posted by Picasa

Cordell's downtown theater Posted by Picasa

Downtown: 1st Building is bank building which is in use; 2nd building is boarded up hotel and 3rd building (coca cola sign) is old opera house Posted by Picasa

Downtown Cordell, OK Posted by Picasa

Site of future Cordell, OK golf course Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


One of the trends that I’m following as I travel around the USA is the growth in homegrown produce. One of the best guides that I’ve seen identifying these producers I found in my trip to Mount Vernon, OH. The Rural Life Center at Kenyon College has a 40 page bound booklet with maps and descriptions of 44 different producers in the county.

It’s something that you might want to think of doing in your town.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Community Foundations

If there was only one thing that I could help start in every town that I visit, it would be a community foundation. As I’ve traveled around the USA, it has singularly been the one common denominator that I’ve seen which has most positively impacted ever town which has one. I was not disappointed by what I saw in Mount Vernon, OH.

“We are celebrating our 61st year as a foundation. We are up to $28 million in assets.” Sam Barone, President of The Community Foundation of Mount Vernon and Knox County was telling me about the foundation. “Last year we received contributions of more than $1.5 million from over 300 different donors. And, we gave away over $600,000 in grants.”

The foundation was set up in 1944 by the president of the Cooper-Bessemer Company, a Fortune 500 company that started and was headquartered in Mount Vernon. Assets grew to $111,000 in the first 10 years of existence and only passed the $1 million mark in 1974, but since then they’ve more than doubled each decade.

Today the foundation has over 200 separate funds in areas such as: arts and humanities; community improvement; designated funds; education; health and wellness; human and social services; spiritual growth; youth enrichment; donor-advised; scholarships; and unrestricted funds.

There is going to be a monumental wealth transfer taking place in this country over the next decade as the “greatest generation” passes on. If you aren’t capturing a small percentage (5 to 10%) of that transfer for the long term betterment of your community, you are missing an excellent chance to help transform your town. If you don’t have a community foundation, make a pledge to set one up in 2006. You’ll feel good that you did, but your grandchildren will be in awe. It just takes time and generous giving.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Downtown Mount Vernon, OH Posted by Picasa