Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Unexpected. Unforgettable.

Columbus, IN (population 39,059) was ranked as one of my top 100 agurbs® in our original research for BoomtownUSA. I use Columbus in most talks I do, citing how the community is ranked as the sixth most architecturally significant city in the USA by the Architectural Institute of America.

Recently Columbus unveiled a new brand for the community…Columbus, Indiana. Unexpected. Unforgettable.

Mayor Fred Armstrong said of the new brand, “We will be able to promote our community more effectively, with a single, well-researched message that is true to both our community’s assets and aspirations.”

What is your brand?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Developing Tech Jobs in Rural Communities

One of my favorite email news lists is Russ Fletcher’s MATR Newsletter. It is a twice weekly compilation of several dozen interesting articles on items of interest in the area of economic development, primarily in rural areas. If you aren’t a subscriber, you should be. Sign up here.

An interesting section of his website is where he archives articles within a specific area of interest. One of those areas is Developing Tech Jobs in Rural Communities. Two articles on that site that were particularly interesting were: Microsoft expanding operations in North Dakota and Average Seattle worker can’t afford to live here.

In the first article, Microsoft announced plans to increase their 1,200 employee campus in Fargo, ND from two to three buildings because of the lower costs of operation. The second article bemoaned the fact that the typical school teacher in Seattle can only afford to buy about half of a typical house or face a commute of over one hour.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Making a Difference

I thought that this true story of how one person can change attitudes was excellent. Please take three minutes to view it.

If a simple bagger can change an entire store, imagine what you could do!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Fifty Story Farm?

I’m a sucker for new ideas, but I’m not buying what Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University is trying to sell to people in New York City. Dr. Despommier is getting serious consideration and a number of articles written on his concept of implementing Food Production Skyscrapers in NYC and other urban centers. He thinks that “it would only take roughly 150 such buildings to feed the entire city of New York for a year.”

Dr. Despommier and others in urban centers really need to get out and see the vastness of the U. S. and other countries. They need to fly over the country, not at 30,000 feet but a few thousand feet to get a feel for the amount of land that is available in places other than New York City.

They also need to realize that world agriculture is evolving, very productive and innovative. Comments they make, such as, “__________xxx acres of new land will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today,” don’t take into account progress being made in crop production around the world.

As an example, when I was growing up 100 bushel/acre corn was considered a good yield. Today, on those same fields, 200 bushel/acre is the norm and scientists are getting over 400 bushel/acre with new experimental hybrids and production techniques. In addition, new technology will allow corn and other crops to be raised on much less water than is normal today, opening up vast amounts of new land all over the world.

But, take a look for yourself. It is fun to see some of these futuristic ideas, even if they probably don’t make any sense.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Family Business Moves

I mentioned the impact that Bob Potter, an 80+ year old former VP of sales for AT&T, was having on recruiting in new businesses to Coeur d’Alene, ID in BoomtownUSA. Potter continues his tireless efforts, concentrating mostly upon family run businesses.

In the past fifteen years, he has brought in 70 new businesses into the Inland Northwest area of WA and ID. Of those 66 were family run businesses that relocated for lower operating costs and a better quality of life.

He talked about this importance of quality of life for family businesses, “family members of succeeding generations have different lifestyle interests and seek a quality of life different than that of their parents and grandparents. They not only seek bottom line dividends through relocating their business, but lifestyle dividends as well.”

If you’ve got tremendous quality of life attributes like the Inland NW, you might want to think of targeting second and third generation family businesses.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

More Corporate Headquarters?

Michigan has been in a funk for the past six years, with growth at half of the U. S. average. That lagging was the focus of the Detroit Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference last week. Edsel Ford II and others urged business and political leaders to collaborate in order to diversify the region’s economy away from its reliance upon the industry that his great-grandfather launched into overdrive a century ago, pushing for a regional effort under the banner of One D (for Detroit).

Most of the sessions centered upon the changes in the automotive industry and its deterioration impacting so much of the Michigan economy. Several suggested that Michigan needed to focus upon bringing in more corporate headquarters. The loss of headquarter companies like Kmart, Crowley, Gantos, Old Kent, Michigan National, Standard Federal and others has very adversely affected the state’s ability to withstand this recent automotive downturn.

HUH!!! Recruiting in HQs is old thinking, of people wishing that they could turn back the clock. Instead, the focus should be upon the development of entrepreneurs from the core of talented people who have been building products like automobiles for their entire life. Unfortunately, many of them learned their craft in a tightly controlled, non-entrepreneurial environment. They’ve got the skills, but need encouragement to make the entrepreneurial leap. Until Michigan figures out how to move from a corporate, bureaucratic, headquarters mentality into an entrepreneurial model, I’m concerned that they will continue in their economic stagnation. I hope that they embrace entrepreneurism quickly.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Magnet for CEOs

“I moved back here in 2003 to start this business with my brother, who was living in Los Angeles but he and his wife didn’t want to raise their young daughter there.” Quay Chilcott was explaining to me how he started By the Bay Shuttle in Traverse City, MI as he drove me up to Petoskey, MI. Both Traverse City and Petoskey were rated as Golden Eagles or top 100 agurbs® in BoomtownUSA.

Chilcott explained to me his newest venture, “We found that we were increasingly transporting CEOs and their families around the area. One of them suggested starting a specialized service for them, using late model SUVs. We started that last year and I’ve been amazed at the way it has taken off. We’ve already signed up 83 CEOs at $3,000/year.”

Chilcott didn’t have any idea that there were that many presidents, CEOs and business owners in the area until he started the business. He’s finding that more are moving in, choosing to raise their families in a more tranquil, rural setting even as they are jetting off each Monday to their offices.

The development of broadband, video conferencing and other distance-reducing technologies have spurred this search for better quality of life alternatives for these CEOs. The advent of the new Very Light Jets (VLJs) with their dramatically lower costs will allow for VPs and others down the corporate ladder to also make such choices.

Chilcott is already looking at how he might be able to incorporate the VLJs into his burgeoning shuttle business. Areas like Traverse City/Petoskey and others that offer a higher quality of life will be the big beneficiaries of these new technologies.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Entrepreneurs from Corporate Bureaucracy

“We’ve had our wheels on Orange County Choppers and other shows,” Rob Rodems explained to me as he gave me a tour of his manufacturing operations in Jacksonville, IL (population 18,940). “I started this with my brother and sister in 2000.”

The company has over 50 different wheel designs, selling mostly to Harley Davidson riders through a series of over 3,000 dealers in its database. Increasingly the internet is becoming an important marketing tool for them, with over 500,000 hits per month on its website.
The company is an offshoot of JMI (Jacksonville Machinery Incorporated), a custom machining company that does specialty parts for companies like Caterpillar, Owens-Illinois and others. However, its main customer for many years was Pactiv, which has a major presence in Jacksonville.

Another entrepreneurial company in the town that Terry Denison, head of Jacksonville ED, took me to visit was CCK Automations. The company was started by J. J. Richardson and his wife Sherry when J. J. became disillusioned with his engineering job at Pactiv in 1994 and took the entrepreneurial plunge.

CCK has developed into a leader in the engineering, design and manufacturing of circuit boards and control panels. Its boards cover a wide range of uses as evidenced by a price range from $2.16 to $3500.00 per board.

Both companies are competing in a global marketplace but both came out of corporate bureaucracy of a big company like Pactiv. I’ve seen a number of entrepreneurial firms spawned in such a manner. They often result in other start-ups, the clustering of similar new companies and can help to shape job growth and economic prosperity in a region.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Manufacturing Exports

“We are losing all of our manufacturers and manufacturing jobs!” You can’t imagine the number of times that I hear that every month. It grates on me to hear such statements. I blame their misinformation upon our news media and a few pundits who prefer to prey upon fears rather than look at facts.

I patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, respond that we are today producing more manufactured goods than at any time in the history of the USA. I also add that we have more people working in the manufacturing of automobiles than at any time in history. I hope that I’m having a small impact, but based upon the sometimes dumbfounded look on their faces, I’m not so sure. Here’s some new ammunition that I’ll be able to use.

Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis shows how exports of manufacturing goods are soaring in the USA. Look at the graphic which shows the percentage increase in manufactured goods exported on a state by state basis.

The largest states for manufactured exports are (in order): TX, CA, NY, WA, IL, MI, OH, FL, PA and NJ. All showed gains in 2005, 2006 and in the first quarter of 2007. The states that showed a decrease in 2006 with state rank in parenthesis were: GA (15); SC (24); VT (39); WV (43); AK (52) AND HI (54).

U. S. exports grew from $805 billion in 2005 to $923 billion in 2006, a gain of 14.5%. In the first quarter of 2007 they were up another 9.6% when compared to the first quarter of 2006.

I love manufacturers and the jobs that they create. There are many that are growing and prospering in today’s economy.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Entrepreneurial America

Each year the Kauffman Foundation ranks states on their entrepreneurial activity. This past year MT was ranked as the most entrepreneurial with 600 entrepreneurs for every 100,000 residents (0.60 percent). The others in the top five were MS (0.52%), GA (0.44%), OK (0.43%) and ME (0.42%). The lowest levels of entrepreneurism were in MI (0.16%), PA (0.17%), SC (0.18%), IL (0.18%) and DE (0.19%).

The states that have experienced the largest percentage increase in entrepreneurism over the past decade we MS, HI, RI and AR. Those with the largest decrease were AK, ND, NM, TN and KS.

Entrepreneurism is the key driver of future economic development in rural America. Those communities, regions and states that have it is a priority are the ones that will thrive.