Monday, July 31, 2006

Leaders from Rural KS

My son James and I drove 650 miles from IL to Hill City, KS for Spotlighting USDA in NW Kansas. We decided to drive because it was actually quicker (2 full days vs. 2 ½ days flying) and much cheaper ($1000 for a roundtrip ticket). I can’t wait until the new very light jet air taxis get rolling. I’ll be blogging on a number of the interesting things that I observed at the USDA event for this entire week.

One of the things that struck me in our drive across Kansas was the number of notable people who hailed from the towns along interstate 70. From Abilene to WaKeeney (150 miles) we saw signs for President Dwight Eisenhower (Abilene—population 6,456); Senator and Presidential Candidate Bob Dole and Senator Arlen Specter (Russell—population 4,404) and Walter Chrysler (Ellis—population 1,827). In addition, two U. S. Astronauts were born and raised in small Kansas towns along that route.

Kansas is not unique. I’ve seen it in other parts of the country. Small towns and rural areas seem to have a knack for instilling an incredible work ethic and leadership skills.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Importance of Quality of Life

On July 25th I blogged on the amateur sports niche that Columbus and Indianapolis, IN have developed for themselves. It generated quite a few comments and emails. I wanted to expand a bit on the importance of these niches upon helping to take a community to a higher level.

One comment in particular from Mark Stober of Huntington, IN was particularly insightful. Here is what he had to say.
“It's possible to explore this niche without making a big investment in facilities, if our experience in Huntington, Ind. is any indication. At an old stone quarry we have small hydroplane races and a distance swim. A 2-day bicycle race goes along county roads. Our nearby reservoir, which has a mountain bike trail surrounding it, hosts various foot and bike races. We had the state wrestling tournament in the high school, which filled the hotels for miles around. The only new facility is a baseball complex which is attracting tournament interest. All of these attract visitors. So for some communities, maybe it's a matter of being creative with existing resources.”

These type of facilities and the resulting level of interest that they generate locally and regionally are not only very important for the generation of tourist dollars into the community, but also to making a locale more enticing for people and businesses to locate in them. With our society becoming more mobile and people being able to “vote with their feet” in deciding where to live and operate, I’m seeing the importance of these quality of life facilities becoming beacons for recruitment.

Let me know what you are doing to make your town one of these beacons.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Employed in the USA Making Cars & Light Trucks

If I asked how many of you think that there are more people employed in the USA making cars and light trucks today than fifteen years ago, I’m guessing that I wouldn’t get many takers. I was equally surprised when my researcher showed me the employment figures for NAICS Code 3363, defined as Motor Vehicle Parts, Motor Vehicle Bodies, Automobiles & Light Trucks. In 1990, 955,100 people were employed in the sector compared to 956,200 in 2005, not a huge increase but much less draconian than I would have guessed from listening to the media.

Granted, there have been some dramatic changes taking place with automotive jobs fleeing traditional upper Midwestern states like MI, OH, IN and others to Southern states such as TN, AL, MS and TX. It has been painful for those who have lost jobs, but given a tremendous economic boost to those communities which have gained new manufacturers in the sector.

A related sector is New Car Dealers (NAICS Code: 44111) which has seen employees grow from 921,600 to 1,138,800 during that same 15 year period. As the number of new auto brands have sprouted and grown, there has been a more dramatic growth taking place in dealerships.

The next time that someone starts bemoaning the loss of automotive jobs in this country, copy down these numbers and show them that conditions aren’t as bad as some would like for you to believe.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Titanic in Branson, MO. Posted by Picasa

Branson Continues to Amaze

Within the past several months Branson, MO, one of my top 100 agurbs®, has opened several new attractions and businesses. Branson Landing, which I’ve written about before, is a $420 million TIF project that includes a convention center, hotels and many new stores including a Bass Pro Shop.

Another new addition to Branson is The Titanic, the largest museum dedicated to that ill-fated ship. A 100-foot-tall replica of the ship with a pool at its base that sprays water as though it were cutting through the ocean and a mock iceberg entrance that juts out of the ships side are two attention getting features of the new museum.

Even though Branson is bringing in over 7 million tourists per year, it isn’t resting on its laurels and is constantly finding ways to reinvent and invest in itself. What are you doing in your town?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Shared Kitchen

Rich Isome from upstate NY sent me some great information on Nelson Farms development of a shared kitchen. Rich told me, “The guy who runs it, Dave Evans, is one of the most interesting folks I've ever met. Sort of a Ross Perot without the billions!”

They’ve teamed up with the local college, Morrisville State to help food entrepreneurs develop their products with crops produced on Nelson Farms. They already have over 300 products in production, with another 80 in experimentation. Several of their products are available nationally, including Currant C and Saratoga Salsa.

It’s a concept that others might want to look at as they develop culinary entrepreneurs.

Test Kitchen on Nelson Farms Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Amateur Sport Niche

One of my favorite agurbs®, that I use in virtually every talk I do, is Columbus, IN. Their development of a vision as an architectural mecca is one that is very unique, but not something that everyone can do. Here is a new one that they are carving out that every town could do…..An Amateur Sport Center.

In 2005, Columbus hosted 35 amateur sports events, which drew over 30,000 athletes and spectators, generating almost $10 million in estimated revenue into the community. This year, they’ve increased that number to 67 events.

In the ten day period from July 21 to 30, Columbus is hosting five simultaneous and concurrent youth sports events, in softball, swimming and tennis.

Nearby Indianapolis has led the way in focusing upon NCAA events. This year’s NCAA basketball championships were held there and several of our Team Agracel were there with other site selectors. It was a wonderful time for Indy to showcase their many attributes. That one event was estimated to have a $40 million impact upon the local economy. The impact of the NCAA relocating to Indianapolis in 1999 is estimated at $629 million.

My own town is in the midst of a study to do an $8 million multi-sport complex. The impact could be tremendous.

Why don’t you look at this niche for your town?

Monday, July 24, 2006

View From Tasmania

Since publishing BoomtownUSA, one of the wonderful benefits has been the number of new people that I’ve met and corresponded with. Rod Brown recently wrote me about some of his experiences with trying to get niche development going in Tasmania.

My own experience is that I’ve seen niche companies develop in such areas as fishing flies, dog sleds and others. I’m sure that you might have others. I hope that several of you will have ideas of what they might look at doing. Please let Rod know. Here is his email.

Hi Jack and friends

I am a long-time reader of Agurban, and run a regional network of ED professionals here in Australia.

Last month I was addressing a local government conference in Tasmania (home of Errol Flynn, Princess Mary of Denmark and the Tassie Devil). My core message was that regions should think about a 'positioning strategy' – just as businesses do – and the creation of a strategic architecture that helps firms capture or create business opportunities. This architecture is a unique combination of physical infrastructure, technologies, core competencies and human capital that can take advantage of a business or trade opportunity.

Well, I got to thinking that Tasmania is a nice compact region, with an excellent brand and credentials in environmental management, a former track record in manufacturing, and the need for value-adding niche industries. I posed the question - could Tasmania develop a strong adventure and leisure industries agenda?

Let me explain. There are three major adventure chains in Australia - Paddy Palin, Khatmandu and Mountain Designs. Three years ago, I browsed around the latter’s Launceston (Tasmania) outlet and asked the manager if there were any Tasmanian products in stock – he could only point to packets of beef jerky. But the shelves were full of high value, foreign and interstate product lines:

1. Hiking boots and thermal clothing – Europe, USA.
2. Hiking and camping cooking utensils – France, Switzerland
3. Specialist measuring and optical equipment - Switzerland, Germany, Japan.
4. Energy food and drink – New Zealand, Queensland, NSW and Victoria.
5. Kayaks and small, specialist boats – New Zealand.
6. Fishing equipment – Japan, RO Korea, Taiwan, China.

The prevailing view seems to be that Tasmania, and indeed Australia, cannot compete against cheap imports in these industries. Well I don’t buy that, and it hasn’t stopped parts of USA and NZ developing a strong presence in adventure products. Indeed, I was in Billings Montana recently where they too are keen to leverage off their mystique and frontier image, and thereby build economic capacity in the ‘adventure’ industry.

Do any of Jack’s readers have any insights in this field? Surely regional towns are well-placed to do smart things in the adventure value-adding, as part of a strong regional brand. Dirty, unfriendly cities should be legislated out of this! Seriously though, would any of you be interested in a cross-country dialogue on what initiatives can be taken to trigger the sustainable growth of regional businesses in this field? We would like to get a real dialogue going on this issue.

Look forward to hearing you, folk. Keep up the great work, Jack!

Rod Brown (The Cockatoo Group), Canberra, Australia

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Back From Vacation

We got back from vacation last weekend and I took this past week off from blogging to catch up on some Agracel issues and to get some new research started in some areas that I studied while on vacation. Hopefully, you’ll see some of that research in future blogs and in our ezine.

We made the 2800 round trip without any major incidents. Our twins and their three friends (Matt, Brendon and Jake) were wonderful traveling partners. While I was hoping to show them this wonderful country we have, they spent most of the time sleeping. I’m still trying to decide if it was because they were really tired or it was an escape mechanism to avoid having to pay attention to how I was driving. They painted (non-permanent) the van with “The Road King and His Traveling Companions” on one side and “Party Barge” on the other.

We were all deeply moved by the Oklahoma City National Memorial in honor of the 168 people (including 19 children) who were killed in an act of domestic terrorism on April 19, 1995. It is a powerful place.

James wanted to show his friends where he was going to be going to school at Norman, OK. We did a quick walking tour of the campus.

Anytime we are in south Texas, I insist on stopping in Kingsville, TX to visit the King Ranch Saddleshop. Their store and 70 page catalog developed out of a small shop on the ranch, which dates back to 1853. My wife lived on the King Ranch in Brazil for 23 years and my mother in law is an authority on their history.

We hadn’t been to South Texas in over five years and I was surprised at the growth taking place in the area. It is obvious that trade with Mexico is a very positive factor as is the number of retirees who are flocking to the area.

The only negative part of the trip was getting caught in a speed trap along with a host of others in East St. Louis, IL. Aren’t there real criminals like drug dealers, robbers, etc. they should be chasing on beautiful Saturday afternoons? I don’t take those tickets well.

It’s great to be back.

James at OU Stadium in Norman, OK Posted by Picasa

Saddles made on the ranch Posted by Picasa

King Ranch Saddleshop Store Posted by Picasa

Catching Crabs in South Texas Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

On Vacation

Early tomorrow morning I leave with my family and some friends of my sons on a 10 day vacation in South Padre Island, TX (1374 miles per my mapping software). We're doing the trip in a 12 passenger church van.

The sons' friends have nicknamed me the road king and presented me with a Road King tractor trailer in honor of the trip. I'll be posting infrequently during this vacation but should have some great stories to tell afterwards.

What a Great Country

On most of my flights around the country I try to get an aisle seat, preferring the extra leg room. Because of runway delays I missed a flight to a talk in Reno, NV last week and had to take an early morning one which was virtually full. Fortunately, I didn’t get a middle aisle seat but a window one. I’m glad that I did.

Instead of my normal habit of burying my head in a book or magazine or working on my computer, I spent a lot of the time looking at the landscape from 30,000 feet. This is an immense country! There are a lot of wide open spaces and room to grow. I’ve often thought that I would love to take one of the many “tree huggers” from cities like New York on a ride in our helicopter to see all of the trees and vastness of this great country.

An article by Robert Bruegmann, a professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago, who recently wrote the book Sprawl states, “The entire urban and suburban population of the United States, could fit comfortably into Wisconsin at suburban densities. Moreover, the amount of land set aside permanently for parks and wildlife areas has grown faster than urban land.”

As I compare us to other countries around the world, from both an economic and sociological standpoint, I can’t think of another one that comes close to what they have accomplished to date nor that has a better future than what exists in the USA. We are truly blessed to live in a country that celebrates and reveres freedom as we do here. Today is a day to reflect upon what our forefathers went through to give us such a place to call home.

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Big-Boxes on the Plains

I was first alerted to an interesting article about the impact of Wal-Mart in Concordia, KS and McCook, NE on Larry Paine’s blog site called City Hall Corner. Larry is the City Manager of Concordia and does a wonderful blog on the inner workings of city governments.

The author, Denis Boyles has lived in Concordia for the past year. As he points out in the article in The American Enterprise, McCook and Concordia are both similar in size, 7,700 and 5,400 respectively.

Both towns went through busts in their downtowns. Kirk Lowell, head of ED for Concordia said it best in the article, “At one point in the mid ‘80s we had 17 or 18 empty storefronts. I called it ‘Tumbleweed Alley’ because there was nothing there…I used to say you could commit suicide by laying down in the middle of the street on a Saturday, buy you probably wouldn’t die until Monday. There were just no cars.”

McCook’s story was very similar. When they appeared to hit bottom, Wal-Mart moved into town and “everyone assumed it would be the final nail in the coffin of local commerce. But, the result wasn’t what anyone expected.”

McCook lost four supermarkets and there was only one left in Concordia. But that lone survivor invested $1.2 million into an expansion and changed the way it did business. A new grocery started in McCook last year with the same philosophy.

Larry Paine is quoted in the article, “I had one person come up to me and say, ‘Larry, this town is dying. Why don’t you just let it die gracefully?” Paine handed him a list of 60 new businesses, local investments and business expansions. “This is what we did instead.”

There is a life with Wal-Mart as this article explains. I see it over and over as I travel around the country. Generally, small towns appreciate their Wal-Marts and the most complaints are from towns that don’t have one or that didn’t allow one to build in their town years ago and today regret having let the big fish swim to a neighboring town.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

My Ducks

The ducklings are about to become ducks. They were born on our boat dock a little over a month ago and after being gone for a week, immediately after their birth have returned each day. We started with eight but lost one a couple of weeks ago. Based upon their coloring we think that we have five females and two males. They’ll be flying off soon.

Mother duck and ducklings at our house Posted by Picasa