Thursday, August 31, 2006

More Branson Incredibles

Most towns would be tickled to do a project like Branson Landing once every 50 or 100 years. Most towns aren’t like Branson. Here are some other Branson projects under development.

“Sight & Sound out of Lancaster, PA is in the process of doing a $74 million theater project that will seat 2001 in a 300,000 sf complex. They are one of the top 5 pageants in the USA. It is an incredible production with over 300 full time employees.” Mike Rankin, head of ED in Branson told me about a new project on the drawing boards in the town of 6,000.

Another incredible project is the 11,000 acre development by Glen Patch, a book publisher from FL that includes a 7,000 foot private airport that will be able “to land anything short of the shuttle.” Patch is building the airport privately with a reimbursement for commercial passengers disembarking. He has already built a $40 million golf course that is ranked the number one public course in the state of Missouri with a second one under construction.

A third project under study is to develop a monorail to link Branson Landing and historic downtown with the strip of theaters. Cost for the deluxe version would be over $500 million.

If you haven’t been to Branson, you should go to visit.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Town That Could!

“Someone is going to write about us someday as The Town that Could!” Mike Rankin, head of Economic Development in Branson, MO (population 6,050) was telling us at a presentation in city hall prior to our tour of the town and new Branson Landing. I was there for a behind the scenes tour of the incredible $435 million Branson Landing project that was built adjacent to Lake Taneycomo and Branson’s historic downtown. Rankin and city engineer Dave Miller were our tour guides.

This is the only town of its size in not only the USA but probably the entire world that could pull off a project that includes: a 220,000 sf convention center, a twelve story Hilton Hotel and adjacent boutique hotel with a combined 525 rooms, a $7.5 million water fountain (which required 130 miles of wiring to build), a $4.5 million one-of-a-kind outdoor lighting system, 3 condo towers and 85 new stores in 466,000 sf.

Miller explained how the project came to fruition, “We started on Branson Landing over five years ago. We had more than 100 public meetings, had to overcome several lawsuits, assembled over 100 parcels of land on 95 acres along 1.5 miles of the waterfront and set up the largest TIF project in the history of the state. It required a paradigm shift on the part of the city to utilize state and federal funds to accomplish.”

Rankin chimed in, “Now that it’s very successfully opened and people can see what it is, we’ve found that success has many fathers. The naysayers of the past several years have become very quiet.”

The project started in early 2001 when an Australian developer who had vacationed in Branson approached the city about the development of a convention center. “It was the ninth proposed convention center that we had looked at as a city, but the only one with a vision to look at putting it next to the downtown. Everyone else had looked at Greenfield sites,” Rankin told me.

The properties were quickly optioned but 9/11 made hotel developments questionable and the city took the project over late in 2001. A developer from Topeka, an architect from Atlanta and the original consultant from Australia worked through a number of hurdles including the US Corps of Engineers to break ground in May, 2004.

The $54 million TIF District required legislative approval, but the bonds for the project were sold in only 20 minutes.

Other incredible projects on Branson in tomorrow’s blog.

Dave Miller (left) and Tom Rankin (right) from Branson, MO Posted by Picasa

Trolly in front of stores on Branson Landing Posted by Picasa

Fountain on the Plaza of Branson Landing Posted by Picasa

View of Branson Landing from the lake Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Importance of Brand

A year ago Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, MO shortened their name to just Missouri State. They felt that the addition of Southwest narrowed its reach too much and made it sound like a much smaller institution than what it is rapidly becoming.

This year’s freshman class is up 1,200 students with that rather small change, a huge increase for a campus with 18,000 students.

I can’t stress how important this idea of brand is for towns and regions. The example of Missouri State is another example of why it can be so important.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Incredible Springfield!

I was in Springfield and Branson, MO this past week at a NAIOP event and got a chance to tour both towns. I was impressed in each town with how local entrepreneurs have transformed those towns.

It seemed like everywhere I looked in Springfield, MO (population 139,600) you saw something that John Q. Hammons had touched from a new minor league baseball field, to hotels, to visual and performing arts centers. John Q. was a school teacher who worked in construction in the summer months. He started building hotels and has built his publicly traded company over the years into sixty some hotels, mainly in the Midwest. He has donated tens of millions of dollars to projects in Springfield.

Other local entrepreneurs who have improved the local community are: Johnny Morris (Bass Pro), Jack Stack (Springfield Manufacturing and The Great Game of Business books) and many others. Morris started Bass Pro as a college student, selling fishing lures in his father’s liquor stores. Stack bought a near bankrupt subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company and instilled a team concept to the business.

If you’ve never been to a Bass Pro Shop, you need to go. They are often the number one tourist attraction in many states and the Springfield, MO headquarters store is the larges of them all. It covers over 350,000 sf and includes restaurants, barbershop, art gallery, indoor archery range and numerous fishing tanks. Their spring Fishing Classic and fall Hunting Classic weekends bring in over 150,000 tourists to the town each year. The adjacent American National Fish & Wildlife Museum was built at a cost of $30 million.

“Springfield is going through a loft craze in our downtown area” local real estate developer Tom Rankin pointed out in our tour. While, Springfield is much larger than most agurbs® I visit, you could tell that it was a city on the move. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the state.

The entrepreneurs of Springfield in cooperation with city government are making Springfield a very attractive location for companies and individuals to relocate to. I’ve often said that you can’t have enough entrepreneurs in your town and Springfield is a great example of what can happen.

Bass Pro Bear in Springfield, MO store Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Credit Questions

“The U. S. credit union industry is shrinking “big time”! From 23,687 credit unions in 1970 to 9,100 as of June 2005.” Mike Wagner writes a great blog, Own Your Brand, that I have emailed to me everyday. He takes a look at some great issues from a marketing perspective as head of The White Rabbit Group in West Des Moines, IA.

“In contrast, the payday lending industry has grown rapidly over the last several years. Explosive growth would be a better term. While credit unions are sliding south, payday lending offices are reproducing like rabbits. From 2000 to 2003 the industry quadrupled in size – and they haven’t slowed.”

A 2003 report from the Center for Responsible Lending stated that “the payday lending industry…was virtually non-existent ten years ago.” An updated 2005 report showed over 22,000 payday loan shops, making loans to borrowers who average more than five payday loans per year at interest rates in the hundreds of percent PER YEAR! It is estimated that five million payday borrowers are caught in this debt trap each year.

I was intrigued by Wagner’s message of why the credit unions have shrunk while payday loan lenders have multiplied dramatically. “The credit union brand is like a buried treasure: It’s there. It hasn’t moved. It’s still valuable, relevant and much needed. Someone needs to dig it up, polish it up and live it again.”

What are you doing to make sure that your town’s brand doesn’t go the way of the credit unions? You’ve got to be constantly reinventing yourselves and keeping your message front and center.

http://whiterabbitgroup.com/

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Incredible Engineering

Earlier this year I blogged on an indoor snow skiing facility that was recently built in Dubai. Today I want to show you something equally amazing…an indoor beach in Japan.

Dubbed the Ocean Dome and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest indoor water park, this incredible facility is located 600 miles south of Tokyo, Japan on Kyushu Island. The 300’ x 1000’ dome features its own flame-spitting volcano, a retractable roof and its own surf.

Some people dream big, really big!

Ocean Dome in Japan Posted by Picasa

Ocean Dome without roof Posted by Picasa

Inside Dome Posted by Picasa

Ocean Dome in Japan Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

One-Song Commute

“I’m fond of telling citified friends that I have a one-song commute, meaning whatever tune is on the radio when I leave for work is generally still playing when I park outside the newspaper.” Douglas Burns is a columnist and reporter for the Carroll, IA Daily Times Herald. He’s a third generation newspaperman at the paper and his roots are deep in Carroll. I enjoy receiving his weekly columns after meeting him at a talk in Wall Lake, IA earlier this year.

His column entitled: We can do a lot of living in the time others commute went on: “Because I rack up just 10 minutes of driving from home to work and back instead of the 90-minute two-way commute I have about 80 minutes more each workday or 400 minutes more a week or 1,600 minutes more a month or 20,000 more minutes a year in Carroll than I did in D.C. That’s 333 hours each year that I get back by living in a place where I don’t have to commute. That’s eight weeks of work at 40 hours per week. That astounding!”

His column goes on to calculate how many movies (166), books (20), time with kids, exercising (running six miles per day plus 20 minutes of sit-ups and pull-ups), play sports, watch sports, drink beer or have more sex. “Hey, it’s your time and this is a free country.”

I did some research and found that there are over 2.8 million Americans who are commuting more than 90 minutes. What do you think of their quality of life compared to yours, living in rural America?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Manufacturing Productivity Gains

Indiana lost 6,711 manufacturing jobs even though the number of manufacturing plants grew by 81. The data was compiled for the 2006 Indiana Manufacturers Directory. The data from IN is similar to what I’m seeing all over the USA. Improvements in productivity and the increasing development of more focused factories are having a profound impact upon the manufacturing sector.

“Manufacturing capacity utilization is at a four-year high and production is climbing,” said Tom Dubin, president of Manufacturing News, Inc. which compiled the data.

Last month the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their manufacturing productivity figures, which have increased by an average of 5.5% annually for the past four years. If this unprecedented improvement in productivity continues it would mean that the USA would double its manufacturing production within only 13 years!

As you can see from the following graph, the level of productivity growth in the USA manufacturing sector is dwarfing what is occurring in other sectors of our economy. It grew at twice the pace! This means that our economy can grow at a faster rate without fears of inflation while allowing workers to make more in real wages. It is the classic win-win.

Our business at Agracel is seeing some of the strongest demand for new manufacturing space in years. The manufacturers that are expanding are smart, focused and world-class.

Manufacturing Productivity in USA Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 18, 2006

August 18, 2006—Viking Grill’s Impact in Greenwood

There is a great article in this month’s Inc. Magazine on how Fred Carl, founder of Viking Grill, has revitalized the downtown of his hometown, Greenwood, Mississippi, a once proud town. I was there a year ago and did three days of blogs on my experiences. I hope that you will go back to read them and read the article in Inc. Here is the start of the first blog.



Who would ever guess that the upscale kitchen range revolution would be birthed in a rural Mississippi town? And by a lowly home builder? And that Greenwood, MS once the cotton capital of the world would become a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity? More on the entrepreneurial hotbed in the next couple of days…..




http://boomtownusa.blogspot.com/2005_02_01_boomtownusa_archive.html

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lemonade Stand of the Week

If you’ve got any budding entrepreneurs in your hometown, have them check out Inc. Magazine’s Lemonade Stand of the Week. The contest is open to ages of 5 to 12. The grand prize winner for the summer will receive a $1000 savings bond.

http://www.inc.com/lemonade/index.html

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Point2Point Air Travel

“We are optimizing our equipment for the passengers, unlike the “Big Iron Airlines” that use theirs for the optimization of their equipment and not the customer.” John Boehle, founder and CEO of Point2Point Airways was discussing one of the critical differences between his new airline and others. Boehle started his new company after Bismarck, ND had trouble landing a scheduled airline. He teamed with NASA, USDOT and the FAA to develop the idea for Point2Point.

“We are going to compete with the big boys, pricing our product with their business class. However, your cell phone is a direct line to your airplane, giving you a lot of freedom as a traveler.”

Earlier this month Boehle announced a 100 plane order with Diamond Aircraft for their new D-JET and DA42 Twin Star aircraft.

Boehle is one of the pioneers on the cutting edge of new technology and the use of it that is going to revolutionize how we travel in the USA in the future.

John Boehle, CEO of Point2Point Airways Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


SD Biomass Potential for Fuel Posted by Picasa

Farmers Powering America

Governor Mike Rounds of SD was a luncheon speaker at the FHLB Conference in Sioux Falls. He cited the increase in ethanol production in the state, rising from 160 million gallons in 2002 to 565 million gallons in 2006 and over 1 billion gallons by 2008.

One of the items I mentioned in my talk was a study I had found that showed that SD’s biomass potential was still untapped. As the graphic shows, SD could become an oil producer on a par with some of the largest producers of OPEC.

There is a lot of potential in the rich farmland of America.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Promoting Arts & Beauty of Area

“What can you do to send gifts of beauty from your town?” was the challenge that Gerald Yoshitomi asked of the participants at the FHLB Conference in Sioux Falls, SD. He discussed a number of innovative programs around the country, including the Paducah, KY one to attract artists into a dilapidated part of town, which has been a tremendous success.

He asked, “Why doesn’t Montana which has more people with hunting and fishing licenses for non-residents than there are residents in the state, promote wildlife art to those license holders?”

Yoshitomi also told of Pittsfield, MA which is taking empty store fronts and giving them to artists for six month periods as a way to generate traffic into an anemic downtown. Could you do this in your downtown?

As he was talking I wondered why we couldn’t each get a photographer in our hometowns to take a weekly photo of local art, natural beauty or other attribute of the area. What if we sent such a photo to everyone in town, asking them to forward it onto those who live outside of the area, but with ties to the area? Could this be used to help generate interest in our hometowns?

Friday, August 11, 2006

McDonald’s Drive Thru Calls from ND

Another state winner at the FLHB Conference was Rugby, ND (population 2,939) which has developed a very innovative program with Verety out of Chicago. Would you believe that they are taking drive-in orders for McDonald’s restaurants all over the country?

Pat Bye, head of the local Job Authority, explained it to me, “They came into town and set up a training center in a vacant building. Once the people are trained they work out of their homes. The only requirement is that they have to have high speed internet access.” The next time you pull up to order a Big Mac, someone in Rugby might be the one taking your order!

There are already 50 workers at the company in Rugby with plans to expand it to 150. It is a model that could very easily be expanded.

Rugby was also recognized for its $1000 grants to high school and college entrepreneurs, encouraging them to start businesses in the town.

Rugby, which sits in the geographical center of North America, is using technology and entrepreneurial spirit to improve the town for the future.

Pat Bye of Rugby, ND and I at the FHLB Conference Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Uranium to Ur-Done to Ur-Turning-It-Around

“We were a uranium mining town from the ‘40s into the early ‘80s when the mine closed down. We still had quite a bit of activity into the early 90s with the clean-up that went on around the mine, but after that we were dead. People moved out of town. Our houses were being bought for pennies on the dollar and being moved to Rapid City and other area towns. We were going downhill.” Mayor Mark Hollenbeck was telling me about his hometown of Edgemont, SD (population 867). Edgemont had won the SD Community of the Year Award at the FHLB Conference I was speaking at.

Edgemont, which means “Edge of the Mountain”, is almost on the state line with Wyoming, but it was more on the edge of failure when Hollenbeck moved back home six years ago. He had spent most of his career in the state capital of Pierre working as a state legislator and lobbyist.

In the year before he decided to run for mayor of his hometown, there had been four mayors and a great deal of infighting taking place. Turning around a place like Edgemont was a formidable task.

“We started out with small wins. We had someone who wanted to start a dinner theater in the old cattle sale barn and worked out a $1 lease for them to get started. They can seat 40 for dinner and another 100 for the shows. They’ve been sold out for every show they’ve put on except maybe two or three. That got people’s attention and started to turn things around. We saw that we could do things to make Edgemont a better place in which to live.”

“When we lost our grocery store, we put together $100,000 in local funds and helped a couple that also had bought an old steak house to take it over. That motivated a gal to open a soda and ice cream shop across the street. It all just started to build upon itself.”

Edgemont is on the main line of the BN, bringing coal trains out of the Powder River Basin, and railroad jobs are very plentiful in the town. However, Edgemont’s reputation (brand) as being a “down in its luck town” caused most to live in neighboring towns of Hot Springs and Custer. But, the efforts of Mayor Hollenbeck and others to start to turn the town around started to make a difference and people are again moving back to the town.

“One of the things that I’m most proud of is that we now have the largest kindergarten class that we’ve had in the past ten years. We’ve got 15 students, which means that we won’t have to have combined classes like we have in the third and fourth grades, where we only have 18 students combined in the two classes. It will help us to keep our school.”

Mayors have to think like real estate developers. The best ones realize that a town can very easily tip from boom to bust or back. Mayor Hollenbeck is one of those who realizes the importance of development and is doing something important for his hometown.

Mayor Mark Hollenbeck & Jim Turner of Edgemont, SD Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Ben Stein Posted by Picasa

Shock Absorber of USA

I just finished a two day annual conference put on by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines that was held in Sioux Falls, SD. Sioux Falls has been ranked by Forbes Magazine as the best small city in the USA for the last four years running. There is a real vibrancy going on in Sioux Falls and other towns in SD.

I spent a lot of time with several very interesting citizens from Aberdeen, SD (population 24,658), which has the enviable problem of having numerous companies looking at locating in the community. However, the prospective companies are spooked by their unemployment rate below 3%. It’s a nice problem to have for a town.

Renowned economist, writer and actor Ben Stein was the keynote speaker last night. He talked about the wonderful drive from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls, a four hour drive, contrasting the beautiful scenery and wide open spaces to the cramped life in the city.

One of Stein’s comments really stuck with me, “The Midwest is the shock absorber for the rest of the country, acting just like the shocks on your car. All of the crazy ideas that come from the two coasts take a while to permeate into the heartland. It allows for some of the crazier ones to be diluted down. Contrast that to France or Italy, which are much smaller in size and as a result don’t have the luxury of contemplating as much what they are going to do.”

Shock absorber? I kind of liked the analogy.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Daily Quote

“All big things in this world are done by people who are na├»ve and have an idea that is obviously impossible,” was the quote on the bottom of an email from Andy Sievers who wrote to me after my talk in his hometown of Mahomet, attributing it to Dr. Frank Richards (1875-1961) English Writer. I’ve known Andy for about 15 years and complimented him on this inspirational quote.

He immediately emailed me back telling me about a great website Positive Quote of the Day which I immediately signed up for. They send you a great quote via email each day. I hope that you sign up for it.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Burn the Beds!

My pre-visit data check showed incredible stats for Mahomet, IL (population 4,877): Medium age below national average; an incredible 96.5% high school grads compared to the national average of 80.4%; Bachelor’s degree or higher at 37.3% (12% graduate degree) also well above the 24.4% national average; families below poverty level at 3.5% compared to 9.2%; and medium household income of $57,574 vs. $41,994 also showed real strength. There really wasn’t any stat that looked bad, not that I expected any. I’d been to Mahomet numerous times and always heard great things about it.

The tour of the village with Mayor Deb Braunig and local residents Jody Wesley, Merle Giles and Russ Taylor also showed off the numerous attributes that had attracted many to the community, making it one of the fastest growing towns in the region. Mayor Braunig told me, “We have had over 100 new homes being built each year for several years. Average sale price is around $200,000.”

Having the right mix of recreational, retailing and educational attributes is becoming more important as people look at where they want to live and work. The 800 acre Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve on the north end of town and a developing forest preserve on the south end of the town that includes a 100 acre lake and seven miles of trails are some of the best recreational assets that I’ve seen in a town this size. Mahomet’s schools are equally impressive, constantly being ranked as one of the best systems in the state.

The challenge that I saw for Mahomet is that they seem to have become content to develop as a “bedroom community”. Proximity to Champaign, Bloomington and Decatur has perhaps made it too easy for them to not spend the time and energy in developing new businesses in the village.

In my talk, I mentioned that an American Farmland Trust study of over 100 towns showed that residents get $1.17 in services for every $1.00 paid in property taxes while commerce and industry gets $0.27 for every $1.00 paid, “It’s a loser’s game to only be a bedroom community. It’s an easy trap to fall into but isn’t good for the long term health of the town.” I went on to explain how I’d seen some towns take a bed up to Main Street and burn it on the square to show their residents that they were no longer going to be just a bedroom community.

The question and answer period after the talk was one of the most vibrant that I’ve had. There is obviously a lot of talent with a great passion for their town in Mahomet. I’m convinced that if they engage in looking at their status as a bedroom town, they will find a way to diversify their commercial base, building a better community. They’ve got all of the pieces to make it happen.

Downtown Mahomet, IL Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 04, 2006

Chinese—How Cool is That!

My publisher, Sheila Vertino, called late yesterday to let me know that BoomtownUSA is going to be translated into Chinese for sale in China. They hope to use it as a resource as their towns go through rapid transition and growth. Isn’t that cool?

If You Don’t Brand Yourself, Someone Else Will

“Frankenmuth is the Christmas Capital of the World, Traverse City is the Cherry Capital, Battle Creek is the Cereal City and Oakland County is Automation Alley,” was how the Jackson Citizen Patriot started out an article about the branding of Jackson, MI (population 36,316). I was there a year ago and challenged them that unless they branded themselves, someone else would brand you. And, you might not like what that is.

In the case of Jackson, unfortunately, their prisons are their most famous identifier, not necessarily what you want to be known as. Jackson had impressed me with their downtown area, burgeoning arts initiatives and expansive parks. But, they were still known for their prisons.

The idea of branding Jackson as something else was confirmed for them when a delegation from the town visited Jackson’s sister city, Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, this spring. Carrickfergus launched a branding campaign a few years ago because it didn’t like being lumped in with its nearby neighbor, Belfast. The city made an old castle its brand, and it uses that image on everything it puts out. Both the self-image of the local residents as well as that of outsiders is markedly different.

I’m glad that I got the ball started on the rebranding of Jackson. It’s a subject I’ll want to return to in the future to see the results.

Do you have a brand? If not, what do you think your neighboring towns have already branded you?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Rebuilding the Theater

“Ten years ago, the old theater’s roof caved in and the owners decided not to fix it. We were without a theater for three years. A group of about 15 of us started to meet on how to rebuild it.” Gary Long, one of those 15, was telling me how the beautiful theater where Spotlighting USDA was held in Hill City, KS (population 1,604) was rebuilt.

“We applied for federal tax credits and got $270,000 which we supplemented with $30,000 raised locally to build this new theater. We opened in November, 2002. We’re all volunteers. The only one who draws a paycheck is our accountant.”

“This isn’t only a theater, but is also a multi-purpose stage. We had a style show here last week. A lot of church groups use it also.”

The theater seats 132 in larger rocker/recliner seats with cup holders. They are the only digital sound theater in the area. Films are shown on a Friday/Saturday/Sunday schedule during the spring/summer and on a Saturday/Sunday/Monday schedule during the high school sports season. Tickets are $4 for adults, $3 for students and a large combo only costs $4.75.

Gary Long and his wife and four other couples are the core group of volunteers who keep the theater running. They’ve averaged 50 seats since they opened, well above their break-even of 20. Recent shows have been Pirates of the Caribbean, Click and Superman Returns.

It’s great to see what a passionate, motivated group can do in a town like Hill City. Having a theater is one of those glues that helps to hold a town together. If they didn’t have the theater, the local kids would have to drive to Hays, which is 58 miles away.

Greg Long in lobby of Hill City Theater Posted by Picasa

Hill City, KS Theater Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Changes in Rural Kansas

“At one time there was a farm on every 160 acres in the township,” Sherda Williams, Park Superintendent for the Nicodemus National Historical Site, was explaining what the landscape looked like in western Kansas at the height of the homesteading of the area. “Today, there are only 14 in the township.”

The township is 30 miles square, which means that it has decreased from 120 home sites down to the 14 today. In Nicodemus, only 3 of those 14 are African-Americans. In the entire state, only 116 African-American farmers remain out of the hundreds that once planted in the state.

Edgar Hicks’ presentation at the Spotlighting USDA Event showed that at one time the county had seven newspapers and a very vibrant trading economy.

Today, Graham County is down to 2,721 residents from 4,751 in 1970. The medium age is 46.5 years compared to a national average of 35.8.

Efforts by Hicks and others to get rural counties to work together is the only hope for very rural areas like Graham County.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Passionate for Rural Kansas

Edgar Hicks didn’t grow up in rural Kansas. He is originally from Shreveport, LA, went to college in NYC and is a grain trader in Omaha. But I’ve yet to meet someone more passionate for an area than him. He originated the Spotlighting USDA Event in Hill City, KS where I spoke.

Hicks’ love of history originally drew him to Nicodemus, KS (population 34), a National Historic Site that is the only remaining western town out of over 100 established by African-Americans in KS, OK and TX fleeing oppression from the Jim Crow laws of Reconstruction following the Civil War. The site is a very unique one, having had over 700 residents at its peak. This past weekend the town held their annual homecoming, bringing in over 500 former residents and ancestors from as far away as Los Angeles and New York.

Hicks also has led an effort to cultivate Teff, an Ethiopian cereal grain that is drought resistant, gluten-free and highly sought after by the Ethiopian immigrant community. Hicks obtained a $197,000 research grant for the project which is supported by Kansas State University.

Teff has the potential to develop into one of those niche products that I’ve seen help to transform regions and allow farmers to exit from the commodity crops with their normal highs and too often, lows. It’s great to see someone like Edgar Hicks have the passion and drive to help make a difference in rural Kansas.

Nicodemus Visitor Center Posted by Picasa

Edgar Hicks, Larry Clark (USDA) and Researcher Merle Vigil at Teff Test Plot Posted by Picasa