Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Fourteen Year Old Doll Doctor

Fourteen year old Melissa Yates has built an eBay based business by re-engineering Barbie-type dolls into high-end masterpieces, a business she started when she was eleven.

She buys her raw material of highly articulated dolls from around the world, including Japan. She changes their appearances and repaints them with delicate tiny brushes, some with only one bristle.

After reworking the bodies of her dolls she clothes them in meticulously sewn costumes that transform them into everything from an ancient Egyptian princess to fairy brides.

Calling her business Beketaten’s Jewels, named after a real Egyptian princess, Melissa does most of her business on eBay. Some of her creations have sold for up to $200 to clients in Germany, England, India, Hong Kong and other countries.

You can’t start these entrepreneurs too early. Are there Melissa Yates in your hometown?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Teenager Thriving Online

Even though he still can’t drive for a year, 15 year old David Orr has built up an interesting online business in my hometown of Effingham. He and a friend started, choosing the name because it rhymes with super. The company sells consumer electronic items over the site, and its slogan is “Fruper Duper Deals”. Orr told me, “We have a deal a day on the site.”

I’ve been saying for sometime that this next generation, the Millennium Generation, is going to be the most entrepreneurial generation in the history of the USA. What are you doing to encourage the young entrepreneurs in your town?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Seventeen Year Old Grocer

One of the emerging trends that I’m seeing in my research and travel around the country is the rapid emergence of young entrepreneurs from the Millennium Generation. Keep your eye on the “kids” in your town. This next generation is going be the most entrepreneurial in the history of the USA. What are you doing to cultivate them? I’m going to be posting stories of a few of the ones that I’ve found over the next couple of days.

When most kids are sitting in class, seventeen year old Nick Graham is greeting customers at his own grocery store in Truman, MN (population 1,259). Graham is a hero in the town and is given a bit of slack for being truant from the start of classes.

Graham was born and raised in Truman and lived there until his dad was killed in a snowmobile accident when Graham was four. His mother remarried and moved to Iowa where Graham lived for ten years. He raised turkeys, saving money from each sale.

Graham decided that he wanted to move back to his hometown for his senior year of high school, living with his grandparents. When the local grocery closed its door, Graham’s entrepreneurial bug engaged and he decided to open the Main Street Market. He did his homework, figuring that enough people would prefer to buy their groceries in their hometown rather than driving the twelve miles south to Fairmont, a town of 10,000.

He bought the building on October 1st and opened for business 34 days later on November 3rd. A lot of local people pitched in to help him get started.

Don’t you love young entrepreneurs like Nick? Even if they are sometimes a bit late in getting to class?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Spain, Portugal & Gibraltar

We’ve now been a week on the road and having a wonderful time. We’d been calling this our belated honeymoon after 25 years of marriage.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been calling it. On our drive to Chicago, early on the first day Betinha informed me, “Let’s not be calling this our honeymoon. How about calling it The Queen B’s World Tour? With her entourage!”

“Entourage! But there’s only me? Entourage conveys the fact that I will be at your beck and call?”

“That’s right! Hope you don’t mind being the only member of my entourage? You are all that we could afford.”

So we’re now on B’s World Tour. Sorry…Queen B’s World Tour. And, I’m on it!

On landing in Madrid we had trouble getting around the airport, always getting detoured around an area that appeared to be being demolished. It was only after we were on the road, that we realized that the area being demolished was actually where the bomb had gone off in late December. We were shocked by the destructiveness of that car bomb.

We headed for the coast of Portugal, stopping in Guarda, which is the highest elevation town in Portugal (3,000 ft) and spending the night in Aveira, which was known for its salt production from seawater. Today it’s cheaper to import salt but they’ve maintained the infrastructure in the marshes around the city and are trying to turn it into more of a tourist attraction. They also have a wonderful canal system and are called the Venice of Portugal.

Another interesting small town was Obidios which is self contained within the walls of an old castle. Only about 200 people live there. Cars aren’t allowed on the streets, like they could have possibly fit if they were allowed! People were very friendly.

We noticed quite a change in our drive from Portugal back into Spain. There was more activity in Spain, particularly on the farms and in the number of small manufacturing operations and shops. Even though there are right next to each other, share similar climates and land, and both were world powers in the 1400s and 1500s, Spain is much more advanced. Betinha and I both commented on the fact that the Spanish seemed to see the glass half full, whereas the Portuguese we met saw it as half empty. It would be interesting to look at.

Gibraltar was something we decided to do at the last minute, as we were driving up the coast of Spain. As many of you probably know, it is British colony on a very small peninsula that sticks out into the strait between Africa and Spain. Actually it is just a big rock, The Rock of Gibraltar, which I was surprised Betinha had never heard of. Spain has been mad about Gibraltar for centuries, closed the border for decades and threatened to take it by force during WWII. It is a totally self contained town of 30,000. And things are very compact. As an example, their international airport shares its runway with the main road leading onto the peninsula. We were briefly stopped by flashing gates, watching a jet take-off on our drive in.

We were enamored by some of the old castles like Alhambra and Alcazar, which were originally built by the Moors, an impressive feat of 1,000 years ago. Betinha pretended she was the queen and I devised ways to defend her as we climbed through the ruins.

While I thought that “the rain in Spain falls mostly in the plains,” I didn’t know that it also snows there. And, they were the biggest flakes that I’d ever seen. One waitress told us she had never seen snow before. And judging from some of the drivers, I wasn’t surprised. We plowed on, often passing white-knuckled drivers who thought that the speed limit was 10 mph.

After the snow driving experience, I saw an olive factory and decided to stop in. In the office the gentleman I found didn’t speak English and I sure don’t speak much Spanish, but he let me know that they were closed. Sometimes it helps when they know you either can’t understand or aren’t going away.

“Este fotographia aqui” in my best Spanish version of Portuguese. I should explain that when I try to speak Spanish, I’m really speaking Portuguese with what I think is a Spanish accent. No one understands but me, but it makes me feel better and I get it honestly. When my Dad didn’t understand someone he just talked louder to them. It is the same principle.

Anyway, back to “Este fotographia aqui---This photo here,” pointing at an aerial view of his factory. “Is this where you receive them?” He either thought that it would be much easier to show me the factory, rather than try to explain it to me, because off we went on a tour.

Jose Miguel Blanco, manager of Aceites MonteOlivo (I got his card afterwards), showed me how they received in the raw olives, which was very similar to how you would take in grain. They cleaned them and then put them into the crushing machines which crushed up the entire olive. Then they heated up the mash to 32 degrees Celcius (90 degrees) and put it through a horizontal centrifugal machine which separated the mash from the oil. Then the oil was refined.

The plant produced 5000 tons/year from 600 farms of about 20 hectares (50 acres) each. Afterwards he gave me some of his oil in some fancy bottles and I gave him a copy of BoomtownUSA. Betinha didn’t think he looked very impressed and thought that he asked for one of the bottles back, but sometimes its better when you don’t understand the language.

I’m convinced that niche crops like olives are going to be in much greater demand. If I were in a region that could produce olives, I would be over here trying to learn some things from them.

We ended our trip back in Madrid visiting the Prado Museum, having spent 6 days on the road, traveling 2,700 km (1,600 miles). It was a lot of fun and we learned a lot. We’re off to Greece.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Kalamazoo’s Promise

Every once in a while an idea comes up that is so wild, audacious and awe-inspiring that you can’t believe that someone could possibly do it. Kalamazoo, MI came up with such an idea two years ago. They agreed to pay up to 100% of the college tuition and fees for graduates of Kalamazoo’s three public high schools, funding it from local philanthropists. I’ve spoken with numerous other towns that are looking at doing something similar and reported on one, Newton, IA, that has already launched a similar program.

Kalamazoo was a town down on its luck. It was losing population, unemployment was rising, housing prices were falling and poverty was up. But in the past year, the city has seen an influx of families from over 30 states and housing prices increased by 4% in the past year. School enrollment increased by the largest percentage in the state. The year before the program started 265 students dropped out of Kalamazoo high schools. Last year only 21 did and 23 who had earlier dropped out re-enrolled.

Jeff Thredgold, an economist who writes about a number of economic development issues wrote his weekly newsletter last week on this program. I hope that you will read his report.

Website is

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Katrina’s Lingering Affect

“Even though we are over an hour away from the Gulf Coast, we probably had 75% of our buildings damaged by Katrina. We also had about 20,000 refugees here after the storm and still have about 14,000 of them living here,” commented Annie McMillan of the Area Development Partnership of Hattiesburg, MS (population 44,779), as we were on a tour of the city along with Dr. Argile Smith of William Carey University, which brought me in for a couple of talks.

William Carey University had a satellite campus in Gulfport, MS that I drove by on my tour of that area when I was on the Gulf Coast shortly after Katrina. It was completely devastated, even though it was on one of the highest spots on the coast. William Carey is not going to rebuild in Gulfport because of the dramatic increase in insurance costs. However, their main campus in Hattiesburg is in the midst of a building boom as their enrollment increases.

Hattiesburg proactively decided about 10 years ago to try to attract affluent retirees to the community. McMillan explained, “We received designation as a Certified Retirement Community, signed up a number of Retirement Connectors, who are trained to help new retirees become acclimated to the community, and already we have over 1,000 new retirement households. In addition to retirees from Mississippi, we have a large group from Florida and also from places that get cold.”

Hattiesburg is going through a growth spurt as evidenced by the renovations going on in their downtown area, a push for more cultural activities and increasing retail presence. It’s a neat town with great potential

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Manufacturing—Gazelles Growing—Dinosaurs Dying

When I returned from my three day trip to PA and OK, I picked up the local newspaper which headlined a 50 person expansion at Peerless of America. The company makes heat exchangers and extruded aluminum products with 138 employees, so a 50 person expansion is major.

As I was reading that article I reflected upon the number of companies I had seen on my trip that were expanding. This was a trend that wasn’t just localized to my hometown.

In Grove City, PA both GE and Pine Instruments are going through expansions due to an increase in exports.

In Duncan, OK Halliburton had grown their manufacturing employment from 800 a year ago to 1250 in 2007.

In Stillwater, OK Mercruiser was undergoing a $15 million expansion with 100 new jobs added, winning a corporate battle for expansion in Mexico and China.

At the Stillwater Economic Summit, Dr. Mark Snead, research economist at OSU asked David Myers of the Ponca City, OK Development Authority, “What is your view of what is happening in manufacturing and why is it growing in Ponca City?” Myers said it best when he said, “The gazelles are growing but the dinosaurs are dying.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

State Universities

My favorite columnist and economist is Rich Karlgaard, who writes for Forbes magazine. Rich is also the author of Life 2.0: How People Across America are Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of Their Happiness. He has written extensively about the power of State Universities with their engineers, scientists and technical approach as opposed to liberal arts colleges.

Stillwater, OK (population 42,946) is such a college town being the home of Oklahoma State University. I identified it as a top 100 agurb® in BoomtownUSA. I was back in Stillwater for the fourth time in the past three years.

Owen Rock of the Stillwater Chamber gave me a tour of the town, which continues to develop and grow because of the companies that are growing there driven by the scientists at OSU. One of the major areas of growth is in the area of sensors, which have become a major cluster in the Stillwater/Ponca City corridor.

A $750 million Athletic Village is being built adjacent to the OSU campus with donations from alumni, led by T. Boone Pickens' $150 million donation. The day before my visit Sherman Smith announced a $20 million donation toward this project.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Citizen of the Year!

On Saturday night Mom was chosen as Citizen of the Year in Effingham. Mom raised eight kids born over a twelve year period. She was a registered nurse, anesthesiologist and writer. She also was a tutor, inspirer, disciplinarian and counselor. She and Dad were married for 53 years until he passed away in 2003.

Mom is going through some tough times since she was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago. Having to go through Chemo Therapy is not a pleasant experience but Mom is doing it with her typical positive and cheerful approach to life.

I’m glad that she was honored with this award.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Long Overdue Honeymoon

Today, I’m leaving on a five week honeymoon with my bride of 25 years. When we got married in 1981, I thought that I couldn’t possibly take off for something like a honeymoon. We got married on a Friday and I was back to work on Monday. We always talked about taking that honeymoon and are finally getting around to it today.

We are going on an around-the-world jaunt that will take us to a dozen countries. We intend to drive around a lot of them, visiting small towns in many. I’m taking my computer but Betinha has told me, “What kind of a honeymoon is it if you are doing blogs?” So, we’ll have to see!

I have done a number of blogs in anticipation of this trip and Lisa Huston from my office will be posting some of them over the next month. I hope to add to them from the road, but am not guaranteeing anything.

I will tell you that it would have been much cheaper for us to have taken that honeymoon 25 years ago. But, I’m guessing that we will do a lot more touring that what we would have done then.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Help Your Neighbors

Several people have given me subscriptions to their hometown newspapers, which I really enjoy reading. It is great learning of new things going on in small towns all over this great country of ours. One of those is the Perkins, OK Journal. As a result, I decided to visit Perkins (population 2,272) on my way from Duncan, OK to Stillwater, OK.

Local developer Harland Wells and new city manager Peter Seikel agreed to show me around Perkins early in the morning. Perkins is going through a housing boom, due to its proximity to Stillwater. The opening of a new four lane highway to Stillwater in 2006 will keep that momentum growing.

One of the couples who moved to Perkins is Mike & Martha Larsen who wanted a more rural setting than Oklahoma City. Martha’s sorority sister lived in the town, doing sculptures and enticed them to also move to Perkins. Mike Larsen is a renowned Chickasaw painter and was recently chosen as the fifteenth Oklahoman to be named the Oklahoman of the Year. His painting of a sunrise over the Cimarron River near his home was launched as the Centennial stamp for Oklahoma’s centennial in 2007 the day before I arrived. The Larsen’s opened their studio for my early morning visit.

An advertisement from the Perkins Community Foundation really caught my eye in the Perkins Journal. It showed a picture of the local fire department fighting a fire in the community with this caption,

“If you have a fire, you need help and you need it quickly. Every time you shop in Perkins three cents of every dollar goes to keep our city government running—including our Fire Department. When you spend your dollars elsewhere, your money goes to equip somebody else’s Fire Department. Be smart. Shop Perkins first. It helps you and it helps your neighbors.”

It is one of the best explanations of why it is important to shop locally. You might use it yourself.

Oklahoma Centennial Stamp done by Mike Larsen

Harland & Beverly Wells, Leana Leatherbur, Martha Larsen and Peter Siekel in front of Pistol Pete (OSU Mascot) done by Mike Larsen

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Generous Locals

“We raised $9 million for the Simmons Center plus a $2 million escrow account, which has grown in size…..Our Chisholm Trail Heritage Center was built with $7 million raised locally….We raised $4 million in only sixty days to build the new cancer center that you see going up over there…..We’re also building a new nursing school.” My head was swimming as Jimmy Collins and Lyle Roggow, head of the Duncan Area EDC, showed me around town and pointed out some of the wonderful projects that were completed in the past fifteen years in Duncan because of the generosity of the local citizens.

One of my favorites was the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center which started when a local oil family commissioned a $1 million sculpture depicting the cattle drives of the 1870s which ran through Duncan. Bill Benson, Executive Director of the Center, gave me a tour of the museum which depicts the world famous Chisholm Trail which flourished from 1867 to 1875 until the railroads and barbed wire civilized a Texas frontier. During those 8 years over 6 million head of cattle moved from south Texas up to the rail lines of Kansas.

Benson explained one famous drive by Dr. Richard King of the King Ranch in 1873, “He shipped 30,000 head in 2,500 head herds up the Chisholm Trail. It took them four months to get up to Abilene, KS from South Texas. From the time when you saw the first head go by it would be 18 days until you saw the last. Those cattle drank 35 to 40 gallons of water/day so it required about 1.2 million gallons of water every day to keep the herd moving. Think of the logistics of moving that many cattle over the thousand or so miles. It was the first and only interstate for cattle.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Heritage Center was the Experience Theater, a sensory experience that only Disney could match. A film depicting a cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail allowed you to smell the bacon cooking on the campfire, smell the dust and weeds from the trail, feel the wind rustling through your hair and even get sprayed with water during a river crossing. The storms and stampedes on the screen were as lifelike as though you were on the trail.

The Simmons Center, located across from the junior high school, includes a 750 seat theater, convention center and recreational center with basketball courts, running track and Olympic sized pool.

Duncan also boosts a new championship golf course, The Territory, that was ranked as the 10th best new golf course by Golf Digest in 2005. As you would expect, it was built by a local family, reinvesting into their hometown.

I told my audience that night, “If Dallas tried to do what you’ve done they would have to raise about $1.5 billion dollars in donations. It wouldn’t happen in a million years.”

Bell Benson presenting me a book he wrote on the King Ranch

Chisholm Trail Sculpture

Simmons Center

Duncan Hospital

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pictures from Duncan, OK

The following pictures show Erle Halliburton's house in Duncan; Jimmy Cooper, Lyle Roggow and I in front of one of Halliburton's original pumping truck; Lyle Roggow & Greg Culp in front of a new Halliburton truck under construction; A Fracturing Job--note the number of pieces of equipment required; Erle P. Halliburton in front of his first pumping truck.

Impact of One Person

“If it wasn’t for Erle P. Halliburton we’d be just like Comanche or Marlow with only 1,500 to 4,000 in population. All of the towns on the rail line were set up about 10 miles apart and each is about the same size, except for Duncan,” Jimmy Collins told me during my tour of Duncan, OK (population 22,505).

Halliburton was an area manager for the premier oil well cementing company, Perkins Cementing, in California. He tried to talk the company into opening operations in burgeoning TX and OK and quit when they refused. He landed in Duncan when the Empire Field was discovered there in 1920. Jimmy told me, “He pawned his wife’s wedding ring in 1921 to build the Halliburton measuring line.”

“One of the key breakthroughs was the development of the fracturing process in 1948, where you pump solvents with proppants into the formation to spread it out.”

Erle P. Halliburton was a consummate entrepreneur. He started an airline (later sold to a predecessor of American Airlines), a department store, a cement plant, a gold mine and even an aluminum luggage factory. His entrepreneurial spirit seemed to spread through Duncan and there are a number of incredible projects done in the town that I’ll talk about tomorrow.

Even though the corporate headquarters of Halliburton was moved to Houston in 1962, there are over 2,500 employees of the company in the town. I toured its 770,000 sf manufacturing center (1,250 employees) where virtually all of its big red oilfield service machines are manufactured and visited its 500 person worldwide R&D Center.

Greg Culp, director of manufacturing told me during the tour, “We have doubled our productivity in the past six years, since we started doing LEAN Manufacturing. Today, we can build a truck in 12 days, down from five weeks before. We’ve gone from 800 employees a year ago to 1,250 today.”

Duncan is becoming a magnet for oilfield suppliers and manufacturers as a result of the cluster started by a decision made by Erle P. Halliburton almost 90 years ago.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Eighter from Decatur

On my way to Duncan, OK for a tour and talk I stopped briefly in Decatur, TX, one of my top 100 agurbs®. It is a picturesque town that has been going through a growth spurt that in some ways started when the citizens of the town voted to tax themselves an extra half-cent sales tax for the purposes of economic development.

Thom Lambert, Executive Director of the Decatur EDC, told me of how they developed the slogan, Eighter from Decatur, “There was a cowboy shooting craps in Dallas who needed a ‘hard eight’ (two fours). There was a lady of the night who he liked in Decatur whose name was Eighter. He yelled ‘Eighter from Decatur’, hit the number and it stuck.”

He went on, “It is a way for us to differentiate ourselves from the twenty other Decaturs in the country.”

Monday, January 15, 2007

Niche Retailers

Generally I’ll find one very unique retailer in the towns that I tour on my jaunts around the country. I found three in Grove City, PA, all of which are still owned and operated by their founders’ families.

For over 80 years Wendell August has been hand forging works of art—out of aluminum, pewter, bronze and silver. They still do it in Grove City on the oldest and largest forge of its kind. Their gift catalog is very impressive.

Joden World Resources specializes in antique estate modern jewelry. My tour guide, Leann Smith, Executive Director of Grove City Chamber, told me of going to museums in London and not seeing the same quality that she could see in Joden’s showroom in Grove City.

Slovak Folk Crafts started when Dave and Anne Dayton spent four months in Slovakia in 2000. They quickly fell in love with the people and were charmed by the folk art crafts, but were distressed by the difficulty that the country was having in moving toward a free market economy after more than 40 years under communist control and domination.

They returned to Grove City and began importing folk crafts with a mission of creating jobs in Slovakia, investing the proceeds back into the country and educating Americans about the eastern European country.

I’ve often thought that if we could reach out to countries that are struggling and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in their citizens, we might be able to change the world for the better. I hope that the Slovak Folk Crafts idea is something that others will do with other countries around the world.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Pictures from Grove City, PA

I'm using a new version of Blogger which doesn't allow me to put captions under the photos like I've done in the past. These are photos from Grove City, PA.

The first is of Karen Palmer, Lisa Pritchert, John Stillwaggon & Leann Smith in front of the Wendell August Forge.

Next is the Guthrie Theater.

Last is the results of renovation in the downtown area.

Pictures from Grove City, PA

Friday, January 12, 2007

Globalization’s Positive Impact

“Several of our local manufacturers have really been positively impacted by globalization,” Leann Smith, Executive Director of the Grove City Chamber in Grove City, PA (population 8,000) was telling me as I toured her picturesque town in western PA. Several of her local companies are in growth spurts.

“GE is building their new green engine here. They build big diesel locomotive engines and other big engines here. They’ve been here about 25 years and continue to expand. They recently shipped 350 locomotive engines to Kazakhstan and are doing a similar export order to China. We also are seeing several of their suppliers move here because of GE’s Lean Manufacturing focus.”

“Another company that is exporting more is Pine Instruments which makes testing systems and components. They have 100 employees and are also growing.”

Grove City went through some tough times a decade ago when their major employer, Cooper Industries, which at one time employed over 2,000, closed their doors. At the same time their downtown retail stores were decimated by the opening of a major outlet mall on the outskirts of town.

However, the town has rebounded with growth in the manufacturing sector and a downtown that today has very few vacancies. Restorations at the Guthrie Theater, a 1920s Vaudeville Theater, Burdick’s Men’s Clothing and other downtown institutions have the downtown rebounding.

It helps that the 2,500 student Grove City College, an “authentically Christian” college abuts the downtown. Grove City College was founded in 1876, bringing in students from 48 of the 50 states and from a half dozen foreign countries.

Grove City impressed me as one of the more balanced towns I’ve seen from a commercial standpoint. They’ve got some great retail, large concentration of manufacturing jobs (18% of the workforce), a superb college, wonderful location and beautiful scenery.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Labor Shortage Follow-up

Yesterday I wrote about the looming labor shortage in rural America. Today I learned of how acute this is becoming.

John Francis, who owns the local McDonald’s in Sidney, MT, recently ran a quarter-page ad in the local newspaper offering wages of from $7.50 to $10/hour, including medical coverage, a 401(k) and sign-on bonus. He got zero applicants!

In desperation, he has signed onto a program I wrote about several months ago, in which his drive-up orders are taken by at-home order takers (homesourcing trend) who are linked to his McDonalds via the internet.

Francis said, “We don’t use it all of the time, but it’s one person we don’t have to worry about.”

This is a B-I-G Country!

One of the real joys of traveling around the country is seeing what a diverse and beautiful country we have. I wish that others had the chance to see it the way that I’ve been given the opportunity to do.

In my drive around MT last week I was impressed by the natural beauty of the state with vast plains on my right and the soaring Rocky Mountains on my left. One thing I didn’t see was a lot of people. MT is one of the most sparsely populated states in the country with only 910,000 people living in the 145,000 square miles of the state, or 6.3 people/square mile. A state like OH by comparison has 11 million people in 45,000 square miles, or 248 people/square mile.

I wondered how many people would live in MT if it had the same density as OH. A bit of time on the internet and a handy Excel spreadsheet gave me a figure of 36 million!

Now before you get up in arms, I’m not in anyway proposing that MT be populated to that density. It would destroy that natural beauty that I loved to see. I only did the calculation as a curiosity.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Canary in the Mine Shaft

“You are a mature region in a mature state and Montana has the fourth oldest population in the country.” Dr. Brad Eldridge, Chief Economist for the Research and Analysis Bureau of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry was telling the North Central Montana health care conference I spoke at last week. He went on, “Compounding that is that we have an unemployment rate of only 2.8% for the entire state. And, projections show that our labor force will peak in 2012 and start to decline. It will be a tipping point for Montana.”

One of the new trends that I mentioned in my annual Rural Trend Watch earlier this month was the idea of a growing labor shortage in many rural areas. I’m concerned that it is going to be one of the major impediments to realizing the potential of many towns.

After my talk, I got the chance to drive around north-central MT. I head north from Great Falls to Glacier National Park, spending all afternoon seeing some of the incredible scenery of MT in my 300+ mile tour.

When I’m driving around on trips like this, I try to listen to the local radio stations, hoping to get a better feel for where I’m at. Several stations were advertising for workers. A Canadian station (I was only 50 miles from the Canadian border) bemoaned the fact that Calgary’s unemployment rate was down to 2.0% and economic growth was being threatened by this shortage of workers.

If you aren’t starting to look for solutions to the growing labor shortage, you should be.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Montana Regional Initiatives

The regional healthcare conference that I spoke at on Friday was their fourth annual one of tying together the fourteen small hospitals in Northcentral MT, covering an area larger than the three states of MA, CT and RI combined. Each of these hospitals, located in towns of from 800 to 5,000 populations, is the glue that helps tie their small towns together. Great Falls (population 56,690) and its hospital, Benefis Healthcare, is the large anchor for these towns, acting as their regional center.

I was pleased to see the spirit of cooperation that was displayed in talking with the various hospital administrators and others at the conference. We talked about the barriers to having more regional cooperation like demonstrated at the conference, in my question and answer period. I talked about the FNL Syndrome (Friday Night Lights) and how we need to try to work together on Monday mornings after competing against each other on Friday nights in our small towns.

There were other great signs of regional cooperation in the region. The Hands of Harvest booklet highlighted almost 100 local crafters and cultural offerings with maps of where they are located. Burgeoning birding, dinosaur and historic ranches were also being done on a regional approach. The main story on the front page of the Great Falls Tribune on Saturday was on the sighting of a rare yellow-billed loon on the Missouri River near Great Falls.

North Central MT has learned of the importance of leveraging their wonderful natural assets with a regional approach.

Monday, January 08, 2007

You Aren’t From Around Here, Are You?

“When the Red River Flood hit and many people were without any place to stay, Mrs. Sorenson went to the Red Cross shelter and offered to take in three people at her home. A reporter who overheard her asked, ‘Why are you doing that?’ Mrs. Sorenson’s response was, ‘You aren’t from around here, are you?” Emily Friedman told that story in her talk at the Northcentral Montana Healthcare Alliance Regional Governance Conference on Friday in Great Falls, MT. Many urban dwellers have a tough time understanding how rural folks have learned to help each other and to reach out to those in need.

I witnessed that same spirit on my plane ride out of Great Falls on Saturday morning. The flight attendant announced that the cargo hold was full and several gate-checked bags would need to be stored under the seat. I always carry on my bags and wasn’t surprised when my roller-board was wheeled down the aisle toward me. We somehow squeezed it under the two seats in front of my seat and my seatmate’s. He didn’t object at all to having his leg room cut off.

A few minutes later they brought his roller bag down the aisle and there was no way that we were going to be able to cram both of our bags into the space that barely held one. Every one of the neighboring passengers offered to put his bag under their seats, even though it was going to be a very cramped and full flight.

I wondered if you would find the same spirit on the shuttle between Washington, DC and New York.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Blog-tagged on Personal Things

Becky McCray has the wonderful Small Biz Survival blog, which she does from Alva, OK (population 5,288). I was in Alva in May, 2005 doing one of four regional events in the four corners of Oklahoma.

Becky blog-tagged me to tell you five things about me that you probably didn’t know about me and I’ve found that you don’t ever tell Becky ‘NO’. Here they are:

1. My first entrepreneurial endeavor was when I was 18 and started a tree trimming and spraying business, which grew into an exterminating and house painting business. I hired about 15 high school and college students during each summer during college.

2. I wrote my thesis on the future of soybeans in Brazil and when I graduated raised funds from family and friends and started a farm and seed business there. I lived in Brazil for seven years.

3. I’ve started 13 different businesses in my career. Seven of those were unmitigated disasters, but I learned more from those failures than I did from the successes. Henry Ford, who failed twice before starting Ford Motor, said it best, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

4. I met my wife in Brazil where her father ran the King Ranches from Kingsville, TX. We adopted our twin sons in Brazil. One is freshman at the University of Oklahoma and the other is at Monmouth College.

5. Since launching BoomtownUSA on Super Bowl Sunday in 2004, I’ve toured and talked in over 250 towns in 42 states. I’m still having a ball seeing wonderful things all over this great country of ours.

I’ll be back in Oklahoma on Thursday and Friday, doing talks in Duncan and Stillwater.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Project Firefly

Ely, MN (population 3,724) is located in the heart of the Superior National Forest, best known as being the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The Canadian border is only 17 miles away, as the crow flies. It is very rural and very dependent upon seasonal tourism.

Pat Henderson of Ely has a different idea for the economic future of the area. This year, with help from a $50,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation, she has started Project Firefly to develop economic development from the inside-out as opposed to the more traditional outside-in.

The idea of Project Firefly is to shine the light of innovation upon the many inventors, machine shop operators and other innovators in the Ely area. The hope is to seed the development of a new company like Polaris, Toro and Medtronics, all of which grew from simple Minnesota roots.

Already a dozen local innovations are in the pipeline. They include large machines, fabricated accessories and even a retail product.

A local Innovators’ Group critiques each project to determine which go to CAD design and finite element analysis.

The project is an innovative one that will bear watching on the development of entrepreneurs and inventors in rural America.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

IT Jobs Going Rural

Russ Fletcher runs one of the best newsletters in the country focused upon the area of economic development. He runs Montana Association Technology Roundtables (MATR) from rural Montana where I am today. He compiles one of the best listing of articles focused upon technology in rural areas.

One of the stories that Russ sent me recently was from Information Week, highlighting a study done by the Boyd Company on the ideal location for data centers. One sentence in the article really caught my attention, “The best talent generally succeeds and is rewarded regardless of the person’s geographic location, and smart businesses will always find ways to accommodate those individuals.”

According to Boyd, it costs 45% more to run a similar-sized facility with like-sized staff in New York than in Sioux Falls, SD. John Boyd says, “Businesses are being priced out of locations like Boston, San Diego and New York.”

Fletcher wrote to me, “The buzz is growing…The idea of attracting and retaining a workforce in a small city in the Midwest today is actually quite appealing.”

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Malcolm Baldrige for Small Town

A Malcolm Baldrige for a small town? I’ve never heard of it, but why not?

Larry Paine, City Manager of Concordia, KS, does a great blog on his town. In his blog last week he laid down the challenge to his town to win the award.

When I asked him if he knew of any other towns that have gone after this very prestigious award, he told me, “The International City/County Management Association has told me that Coral Springs, FA submitted an application. They have a 2002 population of 132.776 according to their online application. They are just a little bugger that we are - just 24 times bigger.”

I’m rooting for Concordia and will be following their progress.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Agurban Ten Trends for 2007

Last year’s top ten trends was embraced by many of you, so we are doing a new top ten trends for this new year. I’m looking forward to meeting many of you in my talks and tours around this great country of ours. I start off the year this Friday in Great Falls, MT. I’ll be reporting on these and many other trends I see during this next year.

1. Sense of Place--What unique attributes set you apart from other towns? It started in the revitalization of downtowns and has spread to arts and recreational assets. Trails, agri-tourism, recreational land, bird watching and other non-traditional assets are becoming increasingly important in developing a special sense of place for a community.

2. Green—Alternative energy such as wind, solar, ethanol and biodiesel are changing communities and creating some very unique new opportunities. Green products and buildings are gaining in usage. Branding examples like Bio Town, IN are leading edge.

3. Art Meccas—Emerging art towns that are actively recruiting in artists who want to own their own studio/house, which an amazingly small number of artists are able to do in larger cities. Paducah, KY is the best example but much smaller towns are emerging (e.g. Cordell, OK and Palestine, IL).

4. Third Coast—Led by “halfbackers” who moved to a coastal state but because of rising costs, congestion and other headaches are moving half-way back home. Draw a line from ID down to AZ and across to NC. These states/regions along this line have some unique opportunities to take advantage of this trend.

5. Non-PMS Entrepreneurs—The traditional “Pale, Male & Stale” entrepreneur is being supplanted by females, minorities, immigrants and others. This trend will explode with the millennial generation, the most entrepreneurial generation in the history of the USA.

6. Taste of Place—People are beginning to value the place through its products, mostly food related. It started with wine but is spreading to cheese, honey, maple syrup, olive oil and other products.

7. Labor Shortage—Quickly developing into a major impediment in many rural towns. Some are starting to tap into their “brain banks” of former residents to solve.

8. Angel Investor Networks—Growing from only 20 to over 250 in the last 10 years, these generally regional initiatives are growing in importance. States like WI and IA have incentivated with investment tax credits, which more states will follow.

9. Local—The spinach scare followed by the green onion debacle at Taco Bell’s in 2006 is causing people to reevaluate their food sources. Local production is going to be increasingly prized.

10. Regionalism—As the world becomes smaller, the political boundaries of the 18th Century become less important. Visionary leaders are embracing the concept of regionalism to enhance the opportunities for their citizens.