Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Little Hospital that Could!

Sometimes it only takes one person to turn a situation around. I met such a person in Ruleville, MS. I’m hopeful that his success with turning around North Sunflower Medical Center in Ruleville will serve as a model to help resurrect that town and hopefully spread to other parts of the Delta.

Billy Marlow was born at the North Sunflower Medical Center but worked as a catfish farmer and real estate developer before being asked to step forward in 2004 to run the rapidly failing hospital that was days away from closing. He had no experience in the medical field! But no one else would step into a failing situation.

In 2003 the hospital lost $1.7 million but by 2005 Billy had turned that loss into a profit and last year the hospital earned almost $1 million. As importantly, employment has grown from 180 to 266 and the payroll has more than doubled to $9 million. The hospital is a key driver of economic growth in a very poor community and employment growth at the hospital ripples through the community.

With 82% of the hospital’s business being Medicare funded, Billy’s only option was to diversify and grow into new areas. He has grown revenues from $6 million to over $20 million by growing a rural health clinic, open every night of the week until midnight, which also took people out of the high-priced emergency room and saved operating costs at the hospital. Patient visits have gone from 1,458 in 2004 to a projected 14,500 this year. In addition, he also grew the hospital’s nursing home and home health businesses.

It is an amazing turnaround and one of the beacons of prosperity and hope in the rural Delta.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mississippi Delta

I was back in the Mississippi Delta last week touring Sunflower County (population 31,833) and doing a talk in Ruleville (population 3,234). When you look at the statistics, it is pretty bleak. The poverty rate is 34.3% (8th worst out of 3,141 counties in the USA), they’ve lost 9.4% of their population since 1990 (2,817th) and have only 59.3% of their adults over the age of 25 with a high school diploma (3,046th).

The first two indices are solvable but are directly related to the last one on educational attainment. Digging deeper into the educational shows even more concern. The county has 17% (one out of six) who have less than an eighth grade education (228th in the USA) and 23.7% with some high school but no diploma (42nd).

When I was asked at my talk what is the major obstacle to job creation in Sunflower County, I cited those educational rates telling them that those of us in the site selection business look at statistics like the ones I mentioned to determine whether to keep a community on the list. Unfortunately, Sunflower County’s statistics are so bad that they are rarely going to make it to the next level.

Several groups are working diligently in the Delta to address issues of education, unemployment and poverty. It will be a long, hard journey but there is progress being made. I’ll highlight a couple in the next couple of upcoming blogs.

Monday, July 23, 2007

More Lemonade Stands

Can the world have too many lemonade stands? My answer would be a resounding “NO!!!”

Umpqua Bank from Roseburg, OR has started a campaign to encourage young entrepreneurs to open more lemonade stands this summer. In fact they hope to see over 2,000 new lemonade stands started in the 96 towns where they have branches. Children up to 13 years of age need to fill out an application to receive a lemonade stand kit, which includes a booklet called “How to Become a Lemonaire: A Guide to Starting Your First Small Business,” that includes tips on cash flow, pricing, an advertising plan, general business tips and financial literacy lessons; a yellow, plastic tablecloth; a sign for ‘fill in the name’ lemonade stand; cups; napkins; and a $10 bill for start-up capital.

In addition a drawing will be held to select 105 “lemonaires” who will receive the use of one of the bank’s brightly colored, collapsible, stainless-steel lemonade stands for a week.

“Umpqua’s brand makes it possible for banking to be about more than just suits and handshakes. Unless those handshakes are small and sticky,” Jim Haven, creative director of the Lemonaire campaign said.

Umpqua is a very unique bank that started in rural Canyonville, OR (population 1,293) in 1953. In the past ten years it has grown from $150 million in assets to over $7 billion today as it has transformed itself into a different kind of community bank. It refers to itself as a retailer rather than a bank, offering free Wi-Fi access, its own branded coffee, sewing groups, yoga classes and even movie nights.

They also have figured out that entrepreneurism is the wave of the future and cultivating even young entrepreneurs in grade school makes a lot of sense. Other banks should follow their lead.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Who Knew?

When you travel around the country as much as I do, you see some incredible sights. Last week these water towers in Pratt, KS caught my eye.

Who knew that this was how they kept Hot and Cold water separate?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Progress and Frustrations

In the aftermath of a catastrophe like the EF5 Tornado that obliterated Greensburg, KS there is a great deal of aid that comes into the town from private and public sources. I was amazed by the progress that was able to be made within only two months for beginning the clean-up of the town and in constructing a temporary housing area for those displaced by the storm.

The day that we were there the first 28 residents had moved into a 350 unit temporary subdivision on the outskirts of town, complete with its own concrete storm cellar. The FEMA development was well landscaped and built with sidewalks. Benjamin Alexander of FEMA told me, “It is the nicest one that we have ever done so far.”

Think about the logistics required of laying out a subdivision, putting in all of the infrastructure, moving in housing and doing all of that while trying to move yourself into temporary quarters and dealing with typical government bureaucracy. I’m guessing that could only happen in the USA.

Several of the residents expressed concern about the pace of rebuilding, wanting to get started with putting their lives back together. I cautioned them on rushing too quickly and losing sight of the fact that they have an opportunity to rebuild the town with a vision and wisdom to last for generations into the future. Most towns don’t get an opportunity like this, to rebuild exactly as they want themselves to be.

It is a tough and delicate balance going on in Greensburg. I hope that they are able to balance short term desires with a long term vision of the future.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Not a Typical Storm

The last EF5 storm, the weather service’s maximum level, to hit the USA was in 1997. The EF5 that hit Greensburg, KS on May 5, 2007 was on the ground for 30 minutes as it left a path of destruction for 22 miles throughout SW Kansas. Wind speeds exceeded 200 mph!

Ten people were killed by this storm, the first storm related fatality in Kansas since 1967.

There are several websites that have some incredible pictures of the aftermath of the Greensburg storm. I hope to never go through such a storm myself.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Recovery and Rebuilding

The devastation and aftermath of the tornado that hit Greensburg, KS (population 1,574) on May 4, 2007 was difficult for my wife and I to comprehend and process. We were there earlier this week to do a talk to the survivors who are slowly rebuilding their lives. It was a very emotional tour, especially in talking with many who hunkered down in their basements as winds of over 200 mph whirled above.

Several told of how their ears popped that night with the pressure from the storm and how their hearing had still not returned to normal. The devastation and complete loss of everything that they and their neighbors owned, including baby pictures and other momentos, was obviously painful for several to retell.

It was, by far, the most difficult talk that I’ve had to give in the 300 or so that I’ve given in the past three years. I wanted to share with them the experiences of other towns that have been devastated by fire, floods, hurricanes, tornados and other natural disasters, hoping that the successes that those towns were able to achieve might console and inspire the citizens of Greensburg to envision how they want to rebuild their community. Their response to what I had to say was overwhelming.

Mayor John Janssen, FEMA Coordinator Benjamin Alexander and local banker Steve Kirk, who invited me to Greensburg, spent several hours with us showing us the remnants of the town. They and others in the town are deep into the plans of how to rebuild the community for the future. A land use plan, rerouted roads and a new industrial park are among the items being discussed.

Friday, July 06, 2007


“Few of their children in the country learn English. The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages. Unless the stream of their importation could be turned, they will soon so outnumber us that all of the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language and even our government will become precarious.” Those were not the words of someone in 2007, but rather, those of Benjamin Franklin who found the waves of my ancestors pouring into Philadelphia from Germany “the most stupid of their nation.”

I was reflecting on the Fourth upon the yearning for freedom and opportunity that drove those ancestors to journey half-way across the world in rickety ships. They came with an ideal in their heart, a willingness to work hard and their children and grandchildren quickly assimilated into the “American Way.” Yet, they and every other major immigrant group had to overcome the sentiment of not being welcomed from those firmly planted on American soil.

They say that history repeats itself. Are we witnessing such a repeat today?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

New Ten Commandments

“The Ten Commandments of Community Leadership” is Maury Forman’s newest book, which he co-authored with Michelle Harvey of the Association of Washington Cities. Maury is a good friend who is an icon in economic development in the northwest. This is his ninth book on economic development and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Each of his new ten commandments has a number of sub-headings with ideas and tools that relate to that commandment:

Thou shalt create a vision for the future

Thou shalt develop a strategic plan

Thou shalt build a sustainable economy for the next generation

Thou shalt seek public/private partnerships

Thou shalt invest in education and training

Thou shalt promote respect

Thou shalt demonstrate a high standard of ethical behavior

Thou shalt value history, art and culture

Thou shalt prepare for a global environment

Thou shalt develop future leaders

Maury and Michelle’s book is one that many ED professionals are going to want to buy for their boards and allies. To order contact Linda Alongi at LindaA@cted.wa.gov or 360-725-4031. Cost is $10