Friday, September 29, 2006

Immortality in the Rich Fields Left Behind

We were in Mansfield, OH at the inauguration of the new visitor’s center at Malabar Farms, the dream of the local Pulitzer Prize winning author, Louis Bromfield. He set up the 900 acre Malabar in the late 1930s to showcase the sustainability of a balanced agricultural approach. The farm was left to the State of Ohio, which has continually expanded the programs and buildings on the farm.

Bromfield’s daughter Ellen Bromfield Geld and her husband Carson moved to Brazil in the 1950s at the same time that my in-laws, Pete and Mary Lee Emmert, moved there. I’ve known the Gelds and their family since the late 1970s and it is always a treat to spend some time with them, which is why we made the trek to Ohio to visit with them at the inaugural festivities.

During its prime, Malabar Farms was the most famous farm in the USA. Many celebrities, including Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s wedding took place on the farm. Today the farm has become an educational treasure.

Bromfield wrote, “Rarely does the good farmer long for any immortality better than the rich fields he has left behind.”

Mary Lee Emmert, my mother-in-law, on left and Ellen Bromfield Geld on right Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 28, 2006

$100k/Year in Manufacturing?

Advanced manufacturing jobs making $30,000 to $106,000 caught my eye as a studied the various booths at the Synergy Conference in Menomonie, WI. Gerald Munyon of OEM Fabricators was there looking for workers. The company, set up in Woodville, WI, is a full service job shop that design/builds medium to heavy gauge components, subassemblies and turnkey products. A new plant is coming on line in 2007 that will require several hundred new workers.

In my travels around the USA, I’ve found that one of the critical shortages facing the growth of industry is a well trained, motivated workforce. Dan Clancy, Wisconsin Technical College president said it best, “Manufacturers are looking for a new type of worker, one who can think critically, make decisions independently and work productively in teams.”

OEM Fabricators was advertising for machinists and industrial workers at $30 to $40,000 salaries up to group leaders and engineering managers at over $100,000/year.

From my view point in industrial development I’m seeing great companies like OEM that have a bright future in front of them, limited only by the quality and availability of their workforce. It is a very bright future!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gen X View of the World

Rebecca Ryan of Next Generation Consulting is the best that I’ve seen talk on what drives the Gen X generation. She was on the program with me at the Synergy Conference in Menomonie, WI (population 14,937), one of my agurbs®. The Synergy Conference is put on by a nine county regional ED group in western WI.

“These Gen Xers are free agents, who by age 32 will have had nine jobs on average. The males are waiting to age 27 to marry and the females to age 25. There are more Gen Xers who believe that they will see a UFO in their lifetime than who believe that they will ever get any money out of Social Security.” Ryan rolled off statistics such as that in addition to advice on how communities might make themselves more attractive to this newest demographic group.

“You’ve got three ways to grow your community. You can attract in transplants, who are coming for either love or money (marriage or a job); you can get back the boomerangers; or you can keep the homegrowns, with their deep bench of history on the area.” When Ryan asked for a show of hands the nine county region had about 1/3 of each group represented at the conference. “The extremes of this are Washington DC where everyone is a transplant to the deep South where virtually everyone is a homegrowner.”

Ryan has identified seven indexes of what constitutes a “cool community”, to set you up to be an attractive destination for the Gen Xers.

1. Vitality—Parks, trails and recreational areas. Nashville, TN has a bold vision of putting everyone within a ten minute walk of a recreational area.
2. Social Capital—How well do people play together? Diversified?
3. Cost of Lifestyle—Can I afford to live here?
4. After Hours—What’s there to do in town?
5. Around Town—How easy is it to get around town and out of town?
6. Earnings
7. Learning

Western WI ranked a four or five out of ten on all of the indexes, slightly above the national average. Eights are the highest that they have ever scored a region. Interestingly, when each of the nine counties was scored individually, they didn’t score as high as the nine county region scored collectively, which again points out the importance of taking a more regional approach to the whole notion of economic development.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Why Buy Farmland?

I was in Jacksonville, FL for the New Horizons Summit of AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, a $25 billion asset institution which is the main lending source for rural areas in 15 southeastern states and Puerto Rico. They have recently expanded into “Mission Related” investments, which are infrastructure investments for rural areas and are expanding their loans for recreational land.

I related to them in my talk that I am amazed at the growth in demand for recreational land, especially from the baby boomer generation. I’ve seen it first hand out on the road in my talks around the USA and also in a number of research studies.

One of those sources, which is an excellent resource for information and data on rural America is the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. We eagerly await their monthly newsletter, The Main Street Economist, and other publications.

A recent survey by the organization on why people purchased farmland was revealing to me. For the first time in probably the history of mankind, the response “for recreational purposes” outweighed “for investment purposes”. And, the recreational response has almost doubled since the 2002 survey!

The survey results were not surprising to me. I’ve been noting and chronicling the impact of the demand for recreational ground around the country, starting to find pockets where recreational land (we would have called it wasteland 15 years ago) is worth more per acre than the best local farmland. Initially, the farmer in me refused to believe it, but I’ve become convinced that this is a trend that will only grow in importance.

With 72 million baby boomers nearing retirement age and in many cases on the verge of inheriting unprecedented wealth from their frugal, depression era parents the demand for recreational land is going to skyrocket. If the property also has water access or a view it will multiply many times in value.

As an example, the USA has 750 million acres of forestland. Every 1% of the baby boomers, who buy 100 acres of land for a house, cabin or hunting/fishing get-away, would take up 10% of that land! I’m not sure what percentage will buy that 100 acres, but a very small percentage could have a huge impact.

Are you in a position to take advantage of this demographic change occurring?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Why Not?

“It all started when our school superintendent asked, ‘What is the state dessert for South Dakota?” Wanda Jundt, Executive Director of the Eureka Community Development Company, was explaining how her small town of 1,101 in rural SD got started trying to get the locally produced kutchen, a custard dessert from the town’s Russian/German heritage, named the state dessert.

“We went down to Pierre but couldn’t get them to name it the state dessert, so we went down again the next year with even more kutchen and got them to name it the state dessert of South Dakota in 2000.

Eureka now has three bakeries that make kutchen and other sweets: Eureka Bakery; Prairie Treasures and Eureka Kuchen Factory. The Kuchen Factory is owned by a local farm wife and a retired NYC Pathologist who retired to Eureka. Most of their business is over the web, selling products like cheese buttons, kraut strudels and pfferenuse cookies.
Eureka is the hometown of Al Neuharth, the former publisher of Gannett and founder of USA Today. He has come back home, bought several houses and visits often with his young family from his home in Coco Beach, FL.

The town was originally known as St. Petersburg and for 15 years from 1887 to 1902 was the largest primary wheat market in the world. In 1897, two-thirds of the world’s wheat crop was shipped from Eureka.

For a small town, Eureka is very impressive. They also have a program aimed at their alumni to lure them home and have a four color brochure on the seventeen home based crafters in the town including jewelry makers, quilters, framing, iron works, sculptures and others.

I hope that I can get a chance to visit Eureka soon.

Kuchen....State Dessert of SD Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Richest State?

“When people become rich, they tend to give things away. We in South Dakota must be some of the richest in the country, because we keep giving away the great minds of our young people. The saddest day of the year for me is graduation day at South Dakota State University, when I see $2 million in lifetime payrolls walking across the stage to get their diplomas, and then moving out of state.” Al Kurtenbach, Chairman of publicly held Daktronics, headquartered in Brookings, SD, was addressing the Regional Economic Summit in Aberdeen.

He told of how he started Daktronics which has grown into one of the larger firms in the state with 2,200 employees, “I was a professor at SDSU for 10 years when I met another fellow professor in 1968 who also saw an opportunity to start a business to take advantage of the things being researched at SDSU and the talent that was graduating in engineering.”

Later at lunch about that start-up, “We raised $200,000/year from local people for a four year period. We started in biomedical devices but found it to be too costly and with too long of a lead time to allow us to survive. We switched to scoreboards when a SDSU wrestling coach came back from a national wrestling tournament and told us of the need for a scoreboard specifically for wrestling. Today we are the largest scoreboard company in the world. Our products are used at the Olympics, by the Chicago Bears, the coke sign in Times Square and other locations. Right now digital billboards are a big growth area for us and we are starting a new plant in Sioux Falls to take advantage of that market.”

Another luncheon partner was Valerie Kuhl from Citibank in Sioux Falls. She explained how Citibank, with its 3,200 employees happened to come to SD, “Governor Bill Jankow and Walter Wriston did a handshake deal in 1981 when the prime rate soared to 18%. Jankow agreed to get the state law changed on usury rates when Connecticut, where Citibank’s credit card operation was headquartered refused to raise its maximum interest rate of 18%.”

Today Citibank is the largest credit card operation in the world; South Dakota developed a niche in the rapidly growing cluster. Its 3,200 employees in Sioux Falls provided over 50,000 hours of volunteerism in the region.

It continually amazes me how towns develop and companies are started in the strangest of ways. The impact upon towns, regions and even states can be incredible!

Al Kurtenbach of Dakotronics Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rebounding Rurally

Fulton County, KY (population 7,217) lost a number of sewing operations in the past ten years. I was there to talk at their first industry appreciation dinner. They had held an industry fair earlier in the day, mainly for their two high schools in the county.

Penny Morgan, head of ED for the county, gave me a tour showing both the older, closed plants and the new ones that she has recruited into the community. “We have a new 55 million gallon ethanol plant that will have 52 employees. They are making a $95 million investment, have bought our spec building and have plans to bring in a couple of other companies to process some of their by-products.”

She also showed me the site for a new $2 million, 35 employee Jameson Bourbon Distributors processing plant and tourism center and a Burke-Parsons-Bowlby $15 million wood treating plant for railroad ties which will employ 52.

One of the companies at the industry fair, Dana Corporation had been looking for a company to do some of their aluminum dye casting. Another company there, Bermaq, a local 17 employee firm specializes in dye casting. They hadn’t connected until then. Sometimes the best things are in your own back yard.

Fulton County is making the difficult, but necessary transition from labor intensive assembly operations into more high tech, capital intensive ones. It is a track that many other areas are going through.

Fulton Co Courthouse Posted by Picasa

Fulton Co Port Posted by Picasa

Fulton Co's new wood treatment plant site Posted by Picasa

Fulton Co, KY's spec building and site for new ethanol plant Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Working Together

One of the surprises I found as I did research on BoomtownUSA was that only eight facilities in the country have been done like the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, where a university and a city worked together. I found that too often different entities stay in a “silo-mentality” rather than working together to accomplish much larger projects.

Mayor Levsen of Aberdeen explained to me how three groups came together to build an incredible, state of the art athletic field, “We got together with Northern State University providing the stands and lights at a value of $1 million, the local high school coming up with $1 million in cash and the city providing $200,000/year for a five year period. We felt that Northern’s 10% of our population made it an important economic development force for Aberdeen.”

The field is not only the home field for football and soccer matches on an artificial turf but also hosts three practice fields and a complete track and field complex. To keep the field adequately maintained, a special $1/head tax is set aside for future additions.

“When we started this project we had a group that started a petition to kill it, but they came up 100 signatures short of being able to get it on the ballot. Now it is viewed as a model by many and other towns are looking at doing it also.” Mayor Levsen explained.

Working together, whether it is with other area towns or with other entities is a very positive trademark of progressive towns. Aberdeen, one of my agurbs®, is such a town.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Center of Everything

“If you drove from Minneapolis to Fargo and on to Bismarck, down to Rapid City and from there to Sioux Falls and back to Minneapolis, we are the biggest town in that circle,” Mayor Mike Levsen of Aberdeen, SD (population 24,658) was talking about the 1,400 mile trip around his town. “John Sieh, who started the artists’ Granary in town always said, ‘It’s not in the middle of nowhere, it’s in the center of everything.”

I was in Aberdeen for a Regional Development Summit for NE SD that encompasses a 12 county area. Population in the region peaked at 140,000 in 1940 and has fallen to 88,000 today, about where it was in 1920. The purpose of the conference was to explore ways that the region could work together, something that I’m seeing more of every day.

Aberdeen has lent support for a plant expanding in Britton and a new ethanol plant in Mina, both in neighboring counties. Mayor Levsen, “It’s hard for local people to understand why $1 of tax money is good if it is in our town or a neighboring one. But we have to understand that everything we can do to grow the pie bigger will benefit everyone, even if your slice is slightly smaller.”

More and more areas are starting to understand the importance of a regional approach. Aberdeen is on the cutting edge of a growing trend.

Aberdeen, SD Museum Posted by Picasa

Renovated Aberdeen Hotel  Posted by Picasa

Aberdeen, SD Court House Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 18, 2006

Biggest Small Town Bank in the USA

Joe Reid didn’t start out to be a banker. For the first 20 years of his career he was a lawyer but started Capitol Bancorp in 1982 when a friend pointed out that all of the deposits in Lansing, MI (population 119,675) were controlled by large banks from outside of the town, without any local control. His second bank was started in 1988 in Portage, MI (population 44,897).

Today he has 47 different banks, scattered all over the country with a goal of reaching 100 in the next five years. What makes his banks different is that they are all run from the local market. He starts with the funding for a new bank, with half of the equity capital coming from the local community. Capitol supplies the other half and has only one board seat.

Reid told me at breakfast last week, “Our focus is upon the creation of community within the bank and in the community. We don’t want to get too big and we don’t do branching. When the president of the bank says that he has to move upstairs because the customers are bothering him, we know that the bank has gotten too large.”

“The local bank is one of the key pieces of infrastructure in a town. All of our directors own their own businesses and are part of the local market. It is those local, personal relationships, our human capital that allows us to grow our lending. We’ve got 47 banks with 47 different brands.”

“We don’t have a 1-800-I-Can’t-Help-U phone number. You just call the bank president if you’ve got a problem.”

Reid has grown Capitol from $384 million in assets to $4 billion today, all with local bankers and local boards making decisions to help fund and grow their local economies.

I first heard of this unique bank a couple of years ago and bought some of their stock because I loved their concept of locally run banks. I’m thrilled that I got a chance to meet Joe Reid and to share the vision of BoomtownUSA with his directors. There are a lot of similarities between his banks and Boomtown’s concepts.

Capitol's First Employee Linda Pavona, myself and CEO Joe Reid Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 15, 2006

Final Thoughts on Tupelo

I’ve been writing about Tupelo all week and still haven’t told you all of the things that impressed me about the town. My blog today is a compilation of some of the highlights of those items that I didn’t tell you about earlier.

David Rumbarger told me, “We suffered greatly in the recession of 2001. We lost 6,800 manufacturing jobs but have already gained back 4,500 new ones. We have had some great success in bringing in auto parts manufacturers with over 1,000 new jobs in that sector compared to only 200 five years ago.”

The CDF, which David runs, owns three industrial parks with over 3,000 acres that are strategically located around the county (that regional thing that they are famous for). They also put together a 1,500 acre auto super site in cooperation with neighboring Ponotuc, Union and Lee counties. David told me, “We’ve had three auto companies look at the site in the last two years.”

Tupelo is a strong manufacturing town, with over 30% of its employment in that sector. Some of those manufacturers have struggled, even as others have prospered. David told me, “Take the case of Omega Motion, which makes the movable parts on an easy chair. They have over 450 employees and are doing over 50% of their business internationally now compared to less than 10% only five years ago. They were one of those companies that came out of another furniture company. They only started operations in 1992.”

The town is also home to a number of major public companies (Hancock Fabrics, Action Furniture (Lane) and two major southern banks. It also has an incredible automobile museum, the largest buffalo park east of the Mississippi River and is home to the Tupelo Furniture Mart, a 1 million sf complex that has two week long shows each year that bring tens of thousands of furniture store owners into the town.

The CREATE Foundation, which George McLean set up at his death, continues to have a very positive impact upon the community. A hometown boy, March Banks, who went west and got into construction recently left them an $8.5 million bequest, so CREATE’s best days probably lie in the future.

Tupelo is beginning to brand: The Tupelo Story—A Community that Works!

If Elvis came back today, I’m not sure that he would ever leave Tupelo for Memphis. I hope to get back to Tupelo soon.

Hancock Fabrics HQ Posted by Picasa

Tupelo Furniture Mart From Air Posted by Picasa

Tupelo Furniture Mart Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Women With Passion

Entrepreneur Lisa Hawkins, who sponsored my talk in Tupelo, wasn’t as interested in showing me her 200,000+ sf Room to Room Furniture Showroom as she was in showing me the Sanctuary Hospice House, “Room to Room is where I make a living, but Sanctuary House is my passion.”

It wasn’t hard to pick out the new $1.7 million (all done with donations) hospice house. It is a bright, inviting yellow on the outskirts of town. The front lobby had a family feel to it.

Lisa told me, “When Jack Riley died, his wife decided to have all memorials go toward a hospice house. No one had talked about such a facility until then. In November of 2000 a group of women got together and decided they were going to build it even though nothing like this had ever been done in the country.”

The effort required congressional approval to qualify for hospice funding. Operations began in February, 2006 and guessing from the memorial plaques in an outdoor gazebo, I’d guess that over 100 have already passed through the facility.

Lisa told me, “We have 16 beds and they are all occupied. We’ve got 20 people on a waiting list. We’ve got a little girl of 9 to someone 102 out here right now. We’ve had 72 physicians refer to us from 21 counties in the state. We’ve had very rich people and also some who are destitute. Death is a cruel equalizer.”

I’ve never seen such a facility nor such passion as I saw in Lisa and several of the other volunteers at the Sanctuary. It is amazing what can be accomplished if you have enough passion.

Sanctuary House's Courtyard Posted by Picasa

Lisa Hawkins & David Rumbarger in front of Sanctuary House Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Redoing Downtown

The last time that I was in Tupelo, the old fairgrounds on the edge of the downtown was being converted into a mixed use commercial and residential development. The changes that are occurring in that area are dramatic! I was very impressed with the new houses and condos that are being constructed with a new urbanism design. The new commercial buildings are also impressive.

The new Renasant Center for IDEAs (Innovation, Development, Entrepreneurship in Action) is a $4 million business incubator that the Community Development Foundation put together with funding from eight different sources including the TVA, USDA, the county, city and state.

Martha Swindle, Administrative Manager for the Center, gave us a tour of the facility, “Our focus is upon entrepreneurs in the health care, manufacturing, business services and retail industries. We also hope to recruit in some artists.” One of the unusual spaces in the Center is a restaurant space, which is going to be occupied by P. B. Loco, a peanut butter focused deli. I didn’t know that you could have 35 different flavors of peanut butter until I took the tour.

The first tenant in the space is Residence Hospice Care, Inc., owned by Debi Wheeler. She has four full time employees, providing home hospice care in the region.

Tupelo is taking a proactive, positive approach to the development and redevelopment of the town. It is a town on the move!

New houses sprouting up in downtown Tupelo Posted by Picasa

New Condos in Downtown Tupelo Posted by Picasa

Renasant Center for IDEAS Posted by Picasa

David Rumbarger & Martha Swindle in Renasant Center for IDEAS Posted by Picasa

Debi Wheeler of Residence Hospice Care Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Elvis’ Hometown

If George McLean hadn’t moved to Tupelo and had such a passion for economic development it wouldn’t be the booming town that it is, it wouldn’t be the furniture capital of the south and it wouldn’t have the second highest per capita income in the state of MS. Probably its only “claim to fame” would be that Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo.

Elvis’ parents were both born in Tupelo and lived in the poor part of Tupelo next to the cotton gin. Their two room house was built for $165 in lumber and family labor. His dad drove a milk truck.

Elvis’ first guitar was bought when he was seven. He had saved up $18 and his dad was going to take him downtown to buy a 22 rifle. Destiny intervened and his dad had to drive the dairy truck that Saturday morning. Instead his mom took him to Tupelo Hardware, talking him into buying a guitar instead. The rest is history.

David Rumbarger told me, “Around here, everyone wonders if he would have become the best shot in the world.”

David Rumbarger & I in front of Elvis' birthplace Posted by Picasa

Tupelo Hardware--Where Elvis bought his first guitar Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 11, 2006

What One Person Can Do

Tupelo, MS (population 34,211) is a story that I use in every Boomtown talk. I tell about how George McLean, the owner of the local newspaper, was one of the first people in the country to take a regional approach to economic development. And, he started it all with a bull! You ought to see what it is today!

I was in Tupelo on Friday for a talk and tour. It is days like this that I pinch myself….it is hard to believe that I get to travel around the country touring towns like Tupelo. I’ll be talking about Tupelo all of this week and could go on with many more stories.

After George McLean revolutionized the dairy industry in northern Mississippi with his bulls, he gathered 150 people together to start the Community Development Foundation (CDF) with $25,000 in donations. The organization continues today with a staff of 20 and an annual budget of $4 million. David Rumbarger, only the third CEO in the organization’s history, was my tour guide for the event filled day.

David told me, “I was preceded by Harry Martin who ran CDF for 43 years. He was an agricultural extension agent when he was hired to run the organization. I’ve now been here for six years and came looking for a great family setting for my wife and two children. Tupelo has it all!”

David explained to me how George McLean got started getting his word out about the need for economic development in the Tupelo region, “He would rent recent movies and go out with his projector into some of the rural towns on Saturday night. He would give a 20 minute talk before he would show the movie. He also had a tote board in each town to show them how they compared to other towns in the region. He had them cooperating as a region but also competing with each other to try to do better. He charged them two bits to watch the movie.”

One of McLean’s best moves was a trip that he and five other businesspeople made to Chicago to try to talk Morris Futorian, an innovative furniture manufacturer to look at Tupelo for a new concept he was working on. Prior to Futorian’s innovation of mass producing furniture like Henry Ford did with autos, furniture was made piece by piece. Futorian’s Stratford Industries was convinced that Tupelo had potential and opened a plant in neighboring New Albany, MS, which had better logistical characteristics at the time. McLean didn’t care that the plant was going to a neighboring town…remember he was focused upon the region!

That single plant soon grew into a number of Stratford plants in the region. More importantly it clustered an industry in the Tupelo region. At least 12 major furniture companies trace their roots to that New Albany plant and today “26% of our total jobs are in the furniture industry with 35% of all of our manufacturing jobs in it.” Rumbarger showed me over 20 major plants in the town that are there because of that long train ride to Chicago by George McLean. Today, Tupelo is the furniture capital of the south.

What decision that you make today could have the impact on your town or region that George McLean’s did over 50 years ago?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tuscola, IL - A Great Agurb®

I was in Tuscola, IL giving a talk this week as a follow up to the community’s Boomtown Boot Camp. I love visiting Tuscola, I’ve been there many times in the past few years working on various economic development projects. Tuscola has a lot of great attributes, that each lend to its being an agurb®. First, they have a lot of Can-Do Attitude. Tuscola, with a population of 4,580 and a single paid employee of the Tuscola Economic Development Inc. (TEDI), is one of four national finalists for the FutureGen Coal Gasification project. The community pitched in – county board, city council, mayor and administrator, TEDI, citizen volunteers and many more – and logged a lot of man hours to beat out 8 other communities across the nation to get into the final four. They couldn’t have done it without their can do attitude.

Tuscola also has a great downtown. Their anchor is Flesor’s Candy Kitchen, a great entrepreneurial success that is run by two Tuscola natives returned home. Flesor’s Kandy Kitchen opened in 1901, but closed in the 1970s when Gus Flesor’s family decided they didn’t want to continue. A few years ago Ann Flesor Beck and Devon Flesor Nau, Gus’s granddaughters saw the building was up for sale and new they had to resurrect the candy kitchen. After an 18 month renovation that included reinstalling the original cashier cage, marble soda counter, furnishing and fixtures, the candy kitchen is running strong. They’ve even expanded to a branch sales location and have an internet store. A few of the folks here at Boomtown Institute never pass up the opportunity to visit!

We did our first Boomtown Boot Camp in Tuscola this past spring. The community is chipping in to implement the strategic action plan. They’ve broken the initiatives into divisions, which volunteers will be working on in the coming months. I’m excited to see what Tuscola can accomplish!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Future of USA Manufacturing

“More than 218,000 small businesses export. That is nearly triple the number that exported 10 years ago: 62,000 of these exporters are small and medium sized manufacturers.” The Future Success of Small and Medium Manufacturers by the Manufacturing Institute cited this along with other information about our US manufacturing economy in a report released last month.

They defined small as being less than 500 employees and medium-sized as being less than 2,500 employees. Their data showed that small manufacturers account for 298,000 companies, medium for 3,000 companies and large for only 1,000 companies. “Standing alone, the U. S. manufacturing sector would represent the eighth-largest economy in the world, nearly equal to China’s entire economy.”

USA manufacturing suffered greatly during the 2001 recession when general operations turned negative. However, since then manufacturing profitability has turned up to over a 5% profit/sales ratio, one of the highest levels of the past 30 years. Our company, Agracel, is seeing increasing activity in manufacturing companies looking to expand, a trend that we think will continue for several years into the future.

The USA manufactured more goods in 2005 than at any time in its history and I’m convinced that 2006 will be an even better year, setting a new record. You don’t want to give up on manufacturing, which has many great years ahead of it in our country.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Halfbackers? Surely this has something to do with football, was what I thought when Brett Higgs, whose wife Lynn is office manager at Agracel, told me about a recent trip to Eastern TN, “We were in a rapidly growing town east of Knoxville that is filling up with halfbackers. Halfbackers are people from the upper Midwest that moved to Florida but got fed up with the hurricanes, heat and congestion and decided to move halfway back home.”

I’m guessing that many of these people are still very active. Some are probably running or starting new businesses. A strategy for some towns might be to target these halfbackers to move to their town.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Why Branson?

I use the example of Branson in virtually every talk that I do. I ask my audience, “If 30 years ago a group like this had been asked to select the ideal location for the Live Music Capital of the USA, not one person would have selected little Branson, MO. Here was a town of 3,000 that was an hour from either the interstate or commercial airport. But they didn’t know they couldn’t do it.”

Both Branson and Springfield, MO are examples of communities that have excelled because of the attitude of their residents. Both towns are dominated by local entrepreneurs who not only have developed their own businesses well but also helped new entrepreneurs get started.

Despite the typical naysayers (every town has them), both towns have developed and built projects that would be virtually impossible to do anyplace else in the country. Hard work, vision and determination have allowed them to overcome the many obstacles placed in their way to help build communities that offer increasing opportunities for all.

What are you doing to create those opportunities for your children and grandchildren and those of your friends and neighbors?