Wednesday, February 28, 2007

No Farming Subsidies?

One of the things I wanted to get a first hand look at on our trip was New Zealand agriculture. Even though we saw plenty of sheep, more than my wife says she ever wants to see again, we found the country to be the most diverse agriculturally that I’ve seen. Within a few miles drive it was not uncommon to see farms advertising honey, vegetables, llamas, wine, deer, fruit, cheese and of course sheep. New Zealand also has the second largest number of acres devoted to organic production, following only Australia.

One of our stops was at a wool buying station that also sold some wonderful sweaters where we bought too many to fit into our roller boards, shipping home one of two boxes on the trip. Gordon Riach has been in the business for 54 years. He buys from about 300 farms, each about 600 to 800 acres. He told me that 50 years ago the average was 200 to 300 acres/farm.

He told me, “Farmers used to shear twice a year but now the cost of shearing has gotten so high that they only do it once a year. Shearing is a very physical profession. The only thing worse is coal mining. You can get about 3.5 kilos (7.5 pounds) per sheep and we’re buying for NZ$2.40/kg (US$1.70). The shearer gets NZ$3.25 and with everything it costs about NZ$4.00 to shear. That only leaves a little over NZ$4.00 to the farmer. Of course he also can sell for butcher, which helps.”

In 1984 New Zealand made the radical decision to do away with all government subsidies, which at the time would cause over 20% to exit the profession but in fact only 2% did so because they adapted and diversified. At the time New Zealand lambs were worth $12.50/carcass with the government giving then another $12.50/carcass subsidy. Even with the subsidy it was a hand-to-mouth existence. Farmers were scared and many marched in the streets fighting the cuts.

Today, over 20 years later, we didn’t find any of them that wanted to return to the pre-subsidy days. Lamb was worth $56/carcass when we were there with a better, bigger carcassed animal and New Zealand having over 50% of the premium lamb market worldwide. They are doing the same thing with deer today.

Gordon Riach said of the experience in cutting the subsidy, “It has been good for us. Our farmers have learned to stand on their own and it has made them more self-reliant. We have also diversified our agriculture as a result which has been good for the countryside.”

“It has made farming more competitive and caused those who weren’t stepping up to the mark, to do so. The outlook for New Zealand ag is very bright. But, we’ve got to stay on the cutting edge by continuing to improve our efficiencies.”

I wondered what American Agriculture would look like if we were able to wean ourselves away from our very expensive subsidies. Might it help to resurrect many rural towns by helping to diversify what we produce?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Toyota to Tupelo

Toyota announced this morning that it is going to build its next $1+ billion plant in Tupelo, MS. Tupelo is a town I use in every presentation as an example of what is possible. I was there in mid September doing a talk and tour. I have five blogs in the September, 2006 archives about what I found when I was there. You can access on the lower right of this page.

Shepherd for 35 Years

On our trip of the past five weeks we met some incredible people and learned of some wonderful stories. I’ll be blogging on a few of them over the next couple of days.

We were looking for a spot to do a picnic and drove down a back road, turning around in a farmer’s yard. Betinha said, “They have a wonderful flower garden. Let me jump out to take a couple of pictures.” In all of our travels we’ve never seen better flower gardens. Virtually every house than what we passed in our 1,300 mile driving trip in New Zealand had beautiful flowers. Very English!

The farmer was standing in the yard and was pleased to allow his flowers to be photographed. While Betinha wondered around snapping photos I carried on a conversation with him about his farm. Frank Brady admitted that he was in his 80s although he looked many years younger. He ran a few sheep on his small farm and had kept a herd of sheep dogs from his days of working sheep for a living. He told me that he got as much work as he wanted in retirement since, “The young people don’t seem to want to work too hard.”

“I worked for 35 years on Ngamatea, a 250,000 acre sheep operation. Would you like to see the recent book written on it?”

Frank pulled out a very nice book that had many pictures, some of him as a young man.

“The whole place was about 250,000 acres. It was 35 miles long by 25 miles wide. We raised about 30,000 ewes (mother sheep) and 10,000 weathers (castrated males). We had to pack it in and stayed out there for about nine months. We all lived in a small hut with bunks that was about 12x15 and had a dirt floor. We dug holes in the hillside where our dogs stayed to keep them out of the snow.”

Frank showed us one picture in the book of him taking a bath in a small tub out in front of the hut, laughingly telling us, “They should have gotten me in the all-together.”

Delightful man with many memories.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Final Thoughts on Trip Around World

After five weeks on the road we got back on Friday night to home and I leave again this afternoon to start doing talks on Boomtown and also Entrepreneurism as the Paradigm Shift in Economic Development. I’ll have some observations from this trip that I’ll be able to use for those talks.

The trip started out as our 25th Anniversary and we billed it as our honeymoon trip since we didn’t take one 25 years ago. Betinha suggested that we change the name to B’s World Tour with me as the entourage, which I reluctantly did. I’m now calling it the Hot Flash Honeymoon.

We might have also called it Eating Our Way Around the World as we had some wonderful and sometimes interesting meals. Eating the fish eye had to be a highlight. We noticed that all of our clothes shrunk during the trip so the food seemed to sit well with us and we were never sick. We also observed that with few exceptions, we were always the first to eat at the restaurants at night. Most eat much later than what we were accustomed to.

I was disappointed to bring back my fake billfold, which I had loaded with expired credit cards and driver’s license. I had hoped to have it pick-pocketed from me but not once did we feel threatened or in any danger even when we were watching the Greek students protest the governments wish to privatize education.

People all over the world were incredibly friendly. You could see where serious training of first line workers could be so positive. The contrast between Dubai (good) and Doha, Qatar (bad) was particularly striking. One very nasty cab driver in Lisbon made a lasting impression. Several people, especially in New Zealand and one in Doha went above and beyond and made great impressions.

Road signs were remarkably good with New Zealand’s the best and Greece’s the worst. New Zealand had wonderful directional signs in all of their towns that pointed out the downtown area and also major spots in town (YMCA, Post Office, etc.) which were very helpful. Greece’s signs were way too small and hard to find.

We loved the hot hand towels at the registration desk in several hotels and wonder why we don’t do that in the USA. We also enjoyed the many international channels and didn’t find Al-Jazera to be as radical as it is portrayed in the American media.

Entrepreneurism is alive and well in all 12 countries we visited. Hong Kong, New Zealand and Dubai were particularly impressive. The marvelously diversified ag economy in New Zealand, led by an entrepreneurial bent was to die for. And, done without any ag subsidies!

Countries we visited were (in order): Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Greece, Qatar, Dubai (UAE), Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. We hope to return to visit Spain, Greece (island cruise), Dubai, Hong Kong (always), Vietnam, Australia (separate trip) and New Zealand (south island). But probably not on one trip and not for soon.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Zealand and also Sydney and Fiji

I was most excited to see New Zealand when we were planning our round the world trip. I’d heard so much about the country and wanted to see for myself why it is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the developed world.

Day One & Two—Wellington, New Zealand

It was a VERY long day when we flew from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand where we changed planes to fly overnight to Sydney, Australia. We decided to break up the day a bit, doing a tour of Sydney Harbor before we flew onto Auckland, New Zealand. We had debated adding Australia to our tour plans but decided to make it a separate tour at sometime in the future when we would have more time to properly tour the country.

The Sydney Harbor is the second largest natural harbor in the world and our three hour tour of it from a tour boat was very interesting. The Opera House, Harbor Bridge and other architectural wonders make Sydney a delight.

I learned on the three hour flight from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand that it is closer from London to Moscow than from Australia to New Zealand. There is a lot of water between the two.

New Zealand stretches from the 34th to 47th parallels (1,000 miles from north to south), divided into two major islands. The country covers 100,000 square miles, about the size of Colorado, but with 9,000 miles of shoreline. Auckland and 2.5 million out of 3.5 million total residents occupy the north island where we landed. We had planned to drive our rental car down to the southern one, which is supposedly the more majestic but learned that you can’t easily ship a car between the two islands. Instead you leave your rental car on the north island and pick up a different car on the south one. Unfortunately, when we made the inquiry we learned that there were no rental cars available on the south island. So we made the most of touring as much of the north island as we could.

The rental car incident was our first indication that New Zealand didn’t quite have this tourism thing quite figured out, something we would see during our trip. We learned that tourism is not generally considered a thing that decent people do in NZ. Driving around the country was a bit of time warp, reminding us of the USA in the 60s or 70s. The roads were very well marked but driving was very slow and people generally obey the top speed limit of 100 km/hour (60 mph), usually taking twice the time we had expected to drive between locations. Popular music was from the 70s. It was just kind of weird.

But, we found the scenery to be incredibly diversified and the people the most friendly we had found on our entire trip. Numerous times we had people go way out of their way to help us solve an issue that was major for us and a time consumer for them. We also found their roads very well marked with the best directional signs within towns that I’ve seen anywhere.

Our first stop was in the town of Rotorua, which didn’t become an official town until 1960. It sits above a fissure in the earth’s plates, resulting in a number of geysers, hot springs and boiling pools. The town has turned these natural assets into a tourist draw and a number of local farmers and other entrepreneurs have established their own special attractions. We saw a CAT tractor demonstration that showed how NZ had cleared its bush land, a sheep farm, native dance area, etc.

NZ has the highest propensity of entrepreneurism in the developed world and was one of the reasons I had wanted to visit. More on that phenomenon in future posts.

Taupo was where we spent the night. It is a very nice town on the banks of the largest natural lake in NZ, which was formed by a volcano crater many, many years ago. There is still volcano activity in the area, with the most recent eruption taking place about five years ago. The mate who checked us into the hotel asked if we had ever tasted NZ lamb, which we told we had. He insisted on giving us three of his own lamb chops, to prove to us how good it was. That was typical of the friendliness we found in the entire country.

A very unique town we visited was Napier, a seaside town that could have come out of 1960s. It was totally destroyed by a devastating earthquake on February 3, 1931 and was built as an Art Deco town. We learned that it has the second largest number of Art Deco buildings in the world, second only to Miami Beach.

The capitol of New Zealand was moved to Wellington in 1865 from Auckland when there were fears that the southern island was planning to set up a separate country. Wellington sits at the southern edge of the northern island, a three hour ferry ride from the southern one but one that has to cross the roaring 40s parallel which can make for some very rough seas. Most people fly.

It has suffered through seven major earthquakes in the past 150 years with the last major one in 1942. Available hotel rooms were non-existent when we pulled into town. In driving around it appeared that my hometown of 12,000 has more hotel rooms than what we saw in Wellington.

Day Three & Four—Russell, New Zealand

The drive back up north from the south turned into a very long day when we couldn’t find ANY empty rooms within a 50 mile radius of Waihi, an old gold mining town, despite numerous calls from a very kind hotel proprietress who couldn’t believe that we had driven from Wellington in less than a day.

Betinha’s response was, “You’ve never ridden with my husband.”

The slow roads and low speed limit started to wear on me after a few days. When we passed Waiouru, one of the highest elevation towns in NZ the road opened up into a dry, dusty plateau. Traffic was sparse and we finally had a flat downward stretch of road. On the horizon I spotted the flashing lights of a police car that had pulled over an unfortunate soul. Traffic tickets are major issues in NZ and the guide book warned us numerous times of the potential fines from excessive speed, something that Betinha invariably read to me as the speedometer started to inch up.

“That’s got to be the only cop around here. We should be able to make up some time,” I relayed to Betinha as she again read me the speeding warning, “No leeway is given to the speed limit anywhere at anytime. You will get stopped doing 62 in a 60 zone. Tickets can be in the hundreds of dollars. SLOW DOWN!”

“You are going to get a ticket. And you aren’t going to get any sympathy from me.”

I just hate it when she is right, but I didn’t know it as I sped ahead flashing my headlights at the line of cars headed my way. I stopped my signaling at the fourth car, when I noticed that it had two small bubbles on the top. Those small bubbles started flashing red and blue before long and the driver started to brake to turn around on the highway.

“Do you know how fast you were going? I had you clocked at 122 (73 mph) in a 100 (60 mph) zone. Why were you flashing your lights at the cars in front of me?”

I didn’t think that he would buy that I was celebrating a flat, straight highway so I admitted that I was trying to warn my fellow drivers of police action up ahead, hoping that this didn’t compound my already precarious position. Evidently, either my honesty or sad puppy dog look resonated with him. We had a nice conversation about speed limits in NZ compared to the USA, I spoke of the wonders we had seen in NZ and he relayed to me that he didn’t want to discourage tourism in his country. He informed me he was going to write me up for only doing 110 (66 mph), which resulted in a fine of NZ$30 (US$21). I slowed down for a few miles as Betinha expressed her outrage at my low fine.

Day Five & Six—Auckland, New Zealand

Russell was a lovely small town right on the water. It was New Zealand’s first capital before moving to Auckland and we stayed in the tiny Duke of Malborough Hotel right on the waterfront. The hotel dates from 1827 and holds the oldest continuous liquor license in the country from 1840. The town reeks of charm and history from that time.

At the time it was known as the wicked city because of the various incidents that occurred when the numerous sailing ships anchored in the bay, much to the consternation of the English missionaries. One native Maori said of the missionaries, “They have faces so solemn that they looked like a relative had just been eaten.” Probably a big concern in those days!

The most infamous incident occurred in February, 1830 when two Maori girls fell for the same whaling captain. Their cat fight soon turned into a full scale war between their competing tribes, resulting in over 100 warriors killed on the beach at Russell in the first day and 40 on the second day, before those solemn faced missionaries intervened.

New Zealanders have always had a very close relationship with Great Britain. In both WWI and WWII the country declared war within minutes of Britain’s announcement. Many third generation New Zealanders still considered Britain home. New Zealanders were devastated when England joined the EU and they had to fill out custom forms just like any other foreigner. The country appears to be redefining itself as a leader in the region.

Auckland is a wonderful waterfront city of 1 million. The city is sailing mad with an estimated 80,000 boats or 1 for every 12 people in the city.

I’ll have blogs specifically on some interviews and thoughts about NZ as a model that could be used in the USA and other places.

Last Day—Los Angeles, CA

We made it! Almost. We still have one final jaunt to Chicago to complete our journey of 30,000+ miles, roughly calculated at 28,000 air miles and 3,200 driving miles.

In leaving NZ we met a large group of travelers who had made two failed attempts to take off for Los Angeles. Both times, about an hour out of Auckland, the pilot found a problem with their fire detection system and turned around, dumping over 150,000 gallons of jet fuel into the ocean before landing. Glad I didn’t have to pay that bill!

We found Fiji to be like many islands. It was a beautiful hotel on a nice beach. We chilled most of the time at the hotel, taking one day tour to some nearby places. I knew it was time for us to head home when Betinha ordered a drink with an umbrella in it.

Fiji gained independence in 1970 and has had four coups, the most recent of which was in December. Every Fijian we spoke with applauded the coup feeling that the elected government was very corrupt and that they had let local security deteriorate greatly.

Fiji has a unique political structure with about half of the population native Fijians who own 90% of the property on the islands and half immigrant Indians who are the merchants and control most of the economy. The land is controlled by loosely defined tribes that flows through the father’s side and are only allowed to lease out the land.

Fiji’s economy was not impressive, especially the agricultural part that we saw. There was a sharp contrast between Fiji and neighboring New Zealand.

Today is Betinha’s birthday, but with a twist. We celebrated it yesterday in Fiji, leaving the country at 11 pm. Shortly out of Fiji we passed the International Date Line and landed on the same day at 1 pm in Los Angles. I’m trying to see if she wants to count it as a special birthday of 48 hours or if we should count it as two birthdays. The thrown shoe just missed hitting me. We’ll call it a special birthday.

I’ll be doing some blogs this next week on some final thoughts, summary of the trip and a couple of interviews with some interesting people.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

One of a Kind Downtowns

Chris Gibbons, the originator of economic gardening, had a great idea on his list serve yesterday about networking among historic downtowns.

“For those of you working with local downtowns, you may be interested in a movement here in Colorado. A number of historic neighborhood shopping districts have banned together in an organization known as The Original Shopping Districts. They tout the fact that they are all independent shop owners with no Gap or Starbucks among them. We have kicked around the idea of calling it The Indie Scene based on the idea that independent films are referred to as Indies. Our first name for the group was Authentic Shopping League….meaning people could find one of a kind merchandise. We have great independent restaurants with metro reputations in these districts and we have outstanding shops like Ambience de Provence (whose owner is from Provence, France and imports bolts of cloth and glassware from his former towns people) and Pinon Art (art and bronzes costing upwards of $10,000).

We have generated quite a buzz in Denver with 7 media articles and TV coverage and calls from other historical shopping districts to join the group. Energy and investment are flowing into our downtown. Denver’s mayor Hickenlooper, who is gaining national attention, was at one of the roll out extravaganza’s and was very enthusiastic about the whole idea.”

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

Last year I wrote about state and national affinity programs in ND and Scotland. My blog prompted Monica L. Babine of Washington State University’s Center to Bridge the Digital Divide to email me with a community workshop that they have developed to help communities set up their own ambassador program. I love what they call their program: Who Loves Ya, Baby?

She wrote me, “We too have been following the ND Ambassador program and looking for other affinity type marketing models (States - Come Home Montana, Move Back to Nebraska, Come Back to Maine; Cities – Spokane, WA, Louisville, KY; and a ton of college alumni associations). As you’ll recall, our case studies demonstrate that common theme – these businesses are where they are because of a personal relationship or affinity for the area. We see affinity as one of the greatest assets rural communities have to offer. It also eliminates pitting communities against each other during recruitment efforts since you target those who are interested in your community. And, unlike companies that select a town based on incentives, those with an affinity who locate there tend to also work to make the community a better place.”

I couldn’t have said it any better. Check out the great things they are doing at the Digital Divide.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wind Power

One of the trends I’m seeing in my travels around the country is the growth of wind power. Several companies are making an effort to utilize wind in their operations, viewing it as a long term renewable resource.

One such firm is Coldwater Creek, located in Sandpoint, ID, and a firm that I often use in my talks about entrepreneurs helping to transform communities. The company was started by Dennis and Ann Pence after they moved from NJ to Sandpoint for quality of life issues, like getting stuck in the Holland Tunnel for the 17th time.

My wife’s recent catalog had a card in it from Dennis Pence informing his customers that as of August 2006 100% of Coldwater Creek’s U. S. facilities are being powered by wind power through the purchase of renewable wind-energy certificates.

I think that you will see others follow their lead, helping to grow this burgeoning wind power industry.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rebuilding America's Productive Economy

“We believe that a new vision of the Heartland is taking shape. In contrast to the emptying towns and embattled farmers so often conveyed in the media, we see the Heartland as a potential hotbed of capitalist creation and innovation.” Joel Kotkin and Delore Zimmerman of the New America Foundation wrote in a fascinating report that I just finished reading.

They went on, “America’s economy may well be on the verge of a great resurgence largely unacknowledged by pundits, academics and the media. The Heartland will play a critical role in that resurgence.”

Some of their other points in the report are:

• “Over the past two years, North Dakota has in fact gained population, while Massachusetts, which few would describe as “forsaken,” was the only state to lose people.”

• In talking about rural areas in the Heartland they point out, “They are exploiting their advantages, which include a lower cost of living, good public schools and universities, and quality-of-life attractions for middle class families, to lure high-end business and professional service firms, information service companies, and diversified, innovative small manufacturers.”

• “Recent surveys of adults in the USA reveal that as many as one in three would prefer to live in a rural area.”

• “As one demographer suggests, ‘America’s love affair with suburban life may be winding down in favor of the countryside.'”

• “In contrast to the old industrial paradigm, where jobs were clustered in the most densely populated areas, economic growth now tends to move toward less dense areas.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

How to Build a Community

I thought that this card from the Syracuse Cultural Workers said a lot about building a community.

*Turn Off Your TV*Leave Your House*Know Your Neighbors*Look Up When You are Walking*

*Greet People*Sit on your Stoop*Plant Flowers*Use your Library*Play Together*Buy from Local Merchants*Share what you Have

*Help A Lost Dog*Take Children To The Park*Garden Together*Support Neighborhood Schools

*Fix It Even If You Didn’t Break It*Have Pot Lucks*Honor Elders*Pick Up Litter*Read Stories Aloud

*Dance In The Street*Talk To The Mail Carrier*Listen To The Birds*Put Up A Swing*Help Carry Something Heavy

*Barter For Your Goods*Start A Tradition*Ask A Question*Hire Young People For Odd Jobs*Organize A Block Party*Bake Extra And Share

*Ask For Help When You Need It*Open Your Shades*Sing Together*Share Your Skills*Take Back The Night

*Turn Up The Music*Turn Down The Music*Listen Before You React To Anger*Mediate A Conflict*Seek To Understand

*Learn From New And Uncomfortable Angles*Know That No One Is Silent Though Many Are Not Heard-Work To Change This

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Far East Blog

We have now completed the fourth leg of our journey into the Far East. This was the most exotic part of the trip and one that we had been looking forward to, especially Viet Nam. We were not disappointed.

Day One—Hong Kong

Hong Kong was the only country that we put on our trip itinerary that we had visited previously. We had to connect through it in order to get to Viet Nam from Dubai and it is one of our favorite cities so we extended the connection a few days.

It was particularly interesting to visit Hong Kong immediately after Dubai because the cities are very similar in that they were both developed into trading communities for the region and as a result both are very entrepreneurial in nature. Hong Kong is much older and has lots more people, but Dubai has the more spectacular architecture and at 6 million tourists/year has plans to make a move upon Hong Kong’s 25 million/year.

It contrasting the two, Hong Kong seemed to be more individually entrepreneurial by nature. Everyone was selling something. No one was sitting around waiting for something to happen. Dubai’s seemed more “command and control” orientated probably influenced by the number of paid guest workers who were there only to do a job, not be entrepreneurial. At the end of the day, my thoughts were that Hong Kong’s was a better model for the long term.

Years ago Betinha and I had one of our worst fights over her desire to buy me a Rolex watch. I told her that I didn’t want one, that a Timex would be just fine. We have joked about it ever since and I threatened to get one the next time we were in Hong Kong. At one of the many open markets we visited in our long walks through the city I asked one of vendors about the price for one of his Rolex watches.

“$60! Very nice. You like? I make very good price for you. $45. How much you pay?”

By the end of the negotiations, as I was walking away the price was down to $20. I still don’t have a Rolex, much to Betinha’s relief even though I tried to convince her that these were poor souls who had lost their leases. She wasn’t buying what I was selling either.

In our walks we stopped at a second floor restaurant which advertised Dim Sum, a smorgasbord of dishes that you order that is very popular with the office crowd. This restaurant seated over 500 and every seat was filled. We were the only westerners there. Fortunately they had an English version of their menu, which featured everything from shark’s fin to chicken feet. We ordered enough for a family of six, enjoying the food as much as the atmosphere.

On the walls were giant flat screen TVs, broadcasting the noon news or at least it appeared to be, as we didn’t understand anything. We were impressed with the number of ads that featured children on the TV after having seen the number of children’s stores and also the way that children seemed to be coddled. We speculated that the “one child policy” of China was driving much of this children-centric behavior on the part of the Chinese. Later we learned that last year 80,000 Chinese made the trek to Hong Kong to have their babies because having a baby in Hong Kong exempts the one-child rule. Amazing how people everywhere get around government regulations.

The night before we left we ventured down to a fishing market town that features food stalls with live fish, including some several feet in length. There must be a hundred of these fish sellers. You pick out the fish that you want to eat, bargain with the merchant on price and have your still live fish sent to one of the dozens of restaurants on the docks. The restaurant fixes the catch however you want it and charges you a per person fee for cooking. It was a very interesting and unusual dinner as we eat our way around the world.

Day Two—Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (formerly Saigon)

The airport was a sea of people as many overseas Vietnamese were returning home for the Chinese Lunar New Year, which is this week. They were stacked 10 deep outside of the airport waiting on loved ones.

As we drove into town we were glad that we had been talked out of renting a car. This was the most intimidating roads that I’d ever seen! There were motor bikes everywhere. They were like bees swarming around and traffic lanes didn’t seem to be used. At times there were bikes coming at you on both sides. It was incredible!

Vietnam has gone from the bicycle to the motor bike with a vengeance. We learned that there are 8 million people in the Ho Chi Minh metro area and there are 4 million motor bikes. It seemed like we saw all 4 million on the first day. The proportion of cars would seem to indicate that there are about 100,000 cars and we couldn’t imagine what it will be like when they graduate from motor bikes to cars.

It literally took us 10 minutes to get the courage up to cross one street on foot. The guidebook advised to ease out into the street, moving at a slow pace, neither dashing forward nor stopping, which were two urges once you started. Motor bikes zoomed around you but surprisingly missed us each time.

We hired a bicycle taxi, which puts you on a basket in the front of the bike, to take us around to some of the typical tourist spots and have a couple of incredible videos of trying to peddle and weave our way through this sea of motor bikes and cars.

The War Remnants Museum (also called the War Crimes Museum on one map) was a very moving experience. This war is still very vivid in the memory of Vietnam.

Day Three—Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Vietnam covers 339,000 sq. km (about 100,000 sq. miles) and has 82 million people. The Mekong Delta is the breadbasket of the country and we took the 3 hour drive from Saigon out there. There was an incredible amount of development going on the entire way, but especially in closer proximity to HMC/Saigon. Lots of rice fields are being converted into subdivisions.

All of the rice is harvested by hand in relatively small sized fields. Quite a bit seems to be intercropped with permanent tree crops which have irrigation ditches on one side of the tree. Rice is harvested two or three times/year. It is a very labor intensive agricultural system but appears fairly productive.

The Mekong Delta is a series of nine major rivers, some wider than the Mississippi, that is interlaced with a series of smaller tributaries that are depicted well in any one of the many movies made on the Vietnam War. We took a small boat and spent about four hours traveling on several of them.

In the Mekong Delta everything is done on water. There are few major bridges and various types of boats are everywhere. We visited a floating market where boats would bring in melons, pineapples and other produce to sell as they anchored in the bay. Buying boats would cruise from boat to boat to negotiate and then transfer to their boat the product for shipment to the cities.

Our tour guide, Ans, was an interesting young man of 32 who started as a teacher but moved into tourism for the higher pay. He had been married for 4 months. His wife is a secretary for a Singapore Company, making $150/month, which he indicated was an excellent salary. Her sister, who lives with them, works in factory where she makes $70/month for 7 days/week.

Ans comment about the best jobs, “The best is working for the government, next is having your own business and next is working for a multinational company.” He relayed to us that most of the government jobs go to Communist Party members, of which there are about 2 million members. They check back three generations on the background of each family member before being admitted to the Party. Any service for the South Vietnam regime, USA or France is a black ball on admittance. He was not a member and seemed fine with it.

“Prior to 1986 we were completely closed. China had always been a big brother to us and we saw what they were doing and started to follow their lead. Israel was the first to make an investment in us. Others followed. Things really started to take off in the early 1990s. By 1997 we were exporting rice! Today we export over 6 million tons/year.”

Rice was important to Ans. He talked of being very poor and having to get by on vegetables, without any rice.

Lunch was on one of the remote islands of the Delta. We had eel, a vegetable from the water lily and of course fish. The fish eye was in our soup, which I was given the honor of eating first. Tasted like chicken.

The overseas Vietnamese used to be ostracized for their ties to previous regimes but are now embraced and even allowed to buy property in the country. They are remitting $3 to $4 billion/year back to relatives in Viet Nam.

On starting a new business Ans related to us, “It used to take a half year up to three years to start a new business. Now you can start one in less than a week and you can have as little as $35 in capital to start.” Entrepreneurism is alive and well in Vietnam!

One of his heroes is the richest man in Vietnam who started an IT company and is today worth $160 million.

He was very conversant about motor bikes, “The cheapest bikes are imported from China. You can buy for $300. The best bike is a special new one that costs $6,000.”

When I asked him about cars, he didn’t know what they would cost but thought around $25,000. He hoped to be able to buy a car in about 20 or 25 years. My guess is that it will be much sooner.

Betinha and I couldn’t imagine what the streets will look like when they move from motor bikes to cars.

Day Four—Vietnam Airport

We are on our way to Siem Reap, Cambodia for our next tour. We did a city tour and then went out to the underground tunnel system about 20 miles outside of town that helped the Viet Cong win the war.

Local open stall markets rule the roost in Vietnam. We saw them everywhere. We spent about an hour walking through one with over 2,000 stalls in the downtown area. There were specialized stalls for everything. For example, there were some that specialized in certain types of peppers and there was one that only did ground peppers.

Within the city certain streets seemed to specialize in certain products. One street would be shop after shop of power tools and the next would be stand-up fans.

Our drive out to the tunnels took over an hour. Even though it was a Sunday morning, traffic was dense and our driver seemed to drive with his hand on the horn, as did most drivers. I’m guessing that he used the horn more in our two day excursion than I will ever use in my entire time driving a car.

The tunnel system was incredible with over 150 miles of tunnels that were really underground towns. Tens of thousands of soldiers were able to hide in them, springing out when the order to engage was issued. After the battle they would go back underground until nighttime.

Both Betinha and I crawled through one of the old tunnels that was about 100 feet in length. It was about 3 feet tall and about 2 feet wide. Betinha was able to run the maize in a crouched position while I was on my hands and knees moving as fast as I could. It didn’t help that our guide killed a 2 inch long insect that looked like a scorpion to me but Betinha claims was a centipede. At least that is what she had read in her guide book.

Vietnam was a very interesting country to visit and one that appears to us to be on the verge of some incredible growth similar to what China has gone through for the past decade.

Day Five & Six—Cambodia

How would you feel if 3 out of 7 people in your family were killed? What if it were 3 out every 7 in your hometown? How about in the USA? Think about it!

That was the message that our guide Sam left with us about Cambodia, “We had three million people killed and there were only 4 million left in the country when the Khmer Rouge wrecked the country. They sought out in particular anyone who was educated. My grandfather, who was a teacher, and my grandmother were killed by them.”

When I asked him long the Khmer Rouge ran the country he quickly responded, “Three years, eight months and 20 days.” That was from 1975 to 1979 and virtually everyone in the country was affected. Even now, almost 30 years later, the signs of disabled people are apparent. What a trauma to go through!

We were in Siem Reap in northern Cambodia to see the Angkor Wat, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. In a 12x18 mile preserved park area they have over 200 temples that were built in the 600 to 1400 time frame with most built in the 900 to 1200 period. These are massive structures that defy explanation as to how they were built.

At the height of the Angkor period over 1 million people lived in the surrounding land, using a herd of elephants that is estimated to have numbered 40,000 to construct these structures in addition to working the land.

The most imposing temple has a moat dug around it that stretches 20 miles in length by ½ mile wide, all dug by hand.

One of the temples was used as the set for the Angelina Jolei and Brad Pitt movie “Tomb Raider”. After it fell into disrepair incredibly large trees grew up into the middle of the ruins, creating an impressive sight.

Cambodia today is still mostly rural, with 80% of its current 14 million population living in rural areas. We visited one such small town, near Siem Reap, that is 100% on water. The Tonle Sap Lake grows to over 4,000 sq. miles during the rainy season, but then falls some 20 feet and covers only 1,000 sq. miles during the dry season. We passed everything from schools and churches to pharmacies and barber shops that were all set up on floating bamboo trees. Quite a sight!

The excitement of the Cambodian portion of the trip was on our trip to the airport as we were getting ready to leave. Our tour guide asked us to double check our plane tickets, passport, etc. Betinha responded, “I don’t have my passport. It is lost.”

We made a quick u-turn back to the hotel hoping that it was in our room. No such luck. We retuned to the airport, hoping to convince the authorities to let us take the flight to Bangkok with just my passport. It was a long ride there, with neither Betinha nor I even looking at each other, knowing that if we weren’t successful in talking our way through passport control we were facing a long six hour bus ride to Phnom Penh to the U. S. Embassy.

While I stood in line to check in bags, Betinha tore everything out of her suitcase, fortunately finding her passport hidden in a side pocket for safekeeping. We had a few good laughs after that.

We are off on our final leg of the trip with stops in Sydney, New Zealand and Fiji.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fresh Ideas from Minnesota's Downtown Revival

One of the best foundations I’ve seen focused upon rural revival is Minnesota’s Initiative Foundation. This foundation was set up by one of the founders of 3M and their name should be Innovative Foundation for all of the innovative programs that they have seeded in small towns throughout the state.

Their Winter 2007 edition of their IQ (Initiative Quarterly) magazine was focused upon Minnesota’s rural resurgence. One of those articles laid out 10 ideas for a Main Street Makeover.

Fresh Ideas from Minnesota’s Downtown Revival

1. Facades can be renovated and designed to reflect the community’s vision and historic flavor. Nisswa boasts a charming atmosphere with up-north facades.

2. Parking must be close to shopping or in well-marked areas such as behind stores, where visitors can be sure they’ll find a spot.

3. Brick Pavers, benches, clocks, streetlights, and unique artwork attract visitors and encourage them to stay awhile. Little Falls installed old-fashioned lamp posts and artistic murals.

4. Preserve or restore historic buildings. Staples is working to reopen an opera house and return a historic railroad depot to its original splendor.

5. A downtown area shouldn’t be independent of its unique natural assets. Walker connected a city beach and harbor to its downtown.

6. Use open space to create parks and relaxation areas. Park Rapids transformed vacant lots into flower gardens and pocket parks.

7. Adjacent neighborhoods can feature attractive gateways, inviting residents to walk downtown.

8. Create corridors that lead visitors through the downtown to outer commercial zones. Bemidji’s main entrance flows through the downtown before it reaches other business districts.

9. Make your downtown pedestrian-friendly. Lower speed limits and install attractive lighting and well-marked cross-walks.

10. Consider higher-density housing. Crosby planned for senior housing near its downtown, so seniors can walk, shop and enjoy a sense of community.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Never Give Up

One of my favorite sayings is, “You are only beaten, if you give up.” I’ve seen too many towns that have mentally given up when confronted with adversity. But, I’ve also seen some that just don’t have the words ‘give up’ in their vocabulary. Let me tell you about one of those towns today.

Langdon, ND (population 2,101) is the county seat of Cavalier County (population 4,330), located on the Canadian border. It is the largest town in the area within a 50 mile radius. It is a very remote area of the country.

The community went through a boom in the 1960s and 70s when the Stanley R. Mickelson Safeguard Complex, the nerve center for the U. S. anti-ballistic missile defense system was built 12 miles to the south of Langdon. The population of Langdon nearly doubled from 1960 to 1970, to nearly 4,000. The facility was officially open for only five days, before the federal government announced in 1975 plans to shutter it. By 1980, the population has fallen back to 2,335.

The Cavalier County Job Development Authority (CCJDA), an Economic Development organization, was set up to help create new economic opportunities in the county. The historic Roxy Theater, a seventy year old building on the National Registry of Historic Places was purchased in the late 1990s, was refurbished and was up and running in only 8 months, showing first run movies. Another jewel is the Vic Sturlaugson Learning Center, which was built in 2001 with $700,000 raised in local donations over a 15 month period.

A Labor Day weekend fire in 2004 is the impetus for Langdon’s most ambitious project. The fire destroyed the historic limestone Boyd Block landmark. Rather than leaving a gap in their downtown where the Boyd Block building sat, Langdon decided to rebuild a new landmark, one reminiscent of the old. The new building will house the Spirit of the Prairie Cultural Center, a cultural/interpretive center that will feature cutting-edge technology to provide three-dimensional tours of the region’s rich history.

Some towns just never give up. Langdon is one of those towns.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Halfbackers to Third Coast

One of the trends that I identified in my annual Top 10 Trends of the new year earlier this month, is the idea of a third coast developing in the USA. Here is what I wrote earlier this month about the trend, “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.”

A recent census report showed AZ as the fastest growing state in the country, while NC replaced NJ as the 10th most populous state. The three states losing the most population in the past year were CA, LA and NY. AZ was followed by NV, ID, GA, TX, UT, NC, CO, FL AND SC.

The in-migration to AZ is visible in motor vehicle licenses. During 2005, 117,500 people from CA surrendered their drivers licenses in the state compared to second place IL with 23,200 licenses surrendered.

Towns along this “third coast” have the wind at their back in recruiting in new citizens.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Middle East Observations

We have now completed our third leg of our journey. We had hoped to visit Beruit where a childhood friend of Betinha lives with her husband, but after their recent problems it was strongly suggested that we not go there. We next tried for Saudi Arabia but couldn’t get a visa without a personal invitation from a Saudi. We added Doha, Qatar to Dubai, UAE, which was one of top picks to go visit on this trip. Here are my observations as we journeyed through two Arab countries.

Day One—Doha, Qatar

Our flight landed in Doha at about 10 pm, after almost missing our connection in Bahrain due to a late take-off from Athens. Fortunately, we were carrying all of our bags and were able to make the connection without having our bags on a later flight.

One of the strange things at both Bahrain and Doha airports is that we had to use stairs to board and leave the plane, something I haven’t done at major airports in years. The reason for this became apparent at the Doha airport when a family of four and another group of two bankers were met at the base of the stairs with waiting limos which whisked them away without having to bother with luggage, customs and other trials of modern travel. We were not so blessed.

We hired a driver at the hotel who gave us an interesting three hour tour of the town, seeing a falcon center, US base and incredible building before leaving us at the old market in the downtown. It lived up to our expectations of an Arab bazaar.

Qatar built some incredible stadiums for the Asian Games which were held here in December. The main stadium included a 400’ tower that must have had an incredible Olympic Flame from the size of the tower. They had hoped to showcase the country for 50,000+ tourists but only about ¼ of that number showed up.

Henry Ford would be proud of Qatar. Every woman is decked out in black, although the men are a bit more colorful. Red and white checked head dresses seem to be the popular item for them. The women’s headgear is black.

The country is only about 4,000 sq. miles in size with a population of about 800,000. Half of them live in Doha and there must be several million guest workers, from what we saw. Our driver from Nepal makes $400/month, working 12 hours/day for six days/week. He was very diplomatic about his feelings about Qatar.

The country is awash in oil and gas. They have 900 trillion cu. feet of gas reserves and gas products make up 60% of the GDP. Oil reserves have increased from 4 billion barrels in 1999 to over 27 billion today. Production in 2006 was over 800,000 barrels/day.

When we were trying to find a restaurant at noon I asked a young driver where we could find one. He responded, “Jump in and I’ll take you to a nice one.” He was a computer programmer for Qatar Customs and in hopes of entering college. When I asked him about their exports and imports, he responded, “We export petroleum, petroleum products and gas, nothing more. We import everything else.”

Qatar was a British protectorate until 1971. It is ruled by Shiekh Al Thani and an elected Advisory Council. The sheikh is determined to diversify the country away from its dependency upon oil and gas. He started the Al-Jazeera TV network, developing its financial infrastructure and attempting to develop its tourism industry.

One project is visible from our hotel room where tens of thousands of acres of land have been reclaimed from the Arabian Sea, moving desert sand. The Pearl Qatar is in the shape of palm trees and several dozen construction cranes were visible from our room. I would estimate that we saw 300 to 500 construction cranes in our tour of the town.

Our one disappointment was not being able to watch the famous Qatar camel races which weren’t being run on the days we were here.

Day Two—Doha, Qatar

The headline in this morning’s newspaper is “Severe sand shortage hits Qatar’s construction sector.” You can’t make things like this up. It would be like saying Alaska is facing an ice shortage. Actually the country has plenty of sand, but it is treated sand that they are lacking because of the demand they are having because of the massive construction boom.

We spent last night at their major mall, walking around a huge mall in which 99% of the goods are imported. We were surprised that we haven’t seen anyone out praying when the call for prayers comes on over the loud speakers. We thought that they all prayed at the right times. Hmmm!

I wanted to go talk to a guy who obviously had five wives (several pregnant) and several children trailing him through the mall. Betinha suggested that I take a look at the jewelry store instead.

We’ve now talked to several workers from countries including Nepal, Indonesia, Nigeria, Philippines and India. To a person they have seemed to be discontented with their situation. They are living four to a room, working 6 days per week and making around $400 to $600/month. They are not allowed to marry nor have children.

We also are amazed at the construction going on but are not at all impressed with the quality of it. It looks great from the outside, spectacular in fact, but doesn’t look as good in a couple of years.

Both Betinha and I have a funny feeling about Qatar. Something just doesn’t seem quite right even though in looking at it you would guess that they are really booming. My guess is that they will do well for the next five to ten years, but I’m not sure beyond that.

Day Three—Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Wow! Wow! Wow! It was all we could think as we drove from the airport to our hotel on the beach of the Arabian Gulf. We had never seen so much building going on at one time in one city as we saw in Dubai. And, unlike Doha which struck as being very artificial, this city seemed to have neighborhoods and the buildings flowed with it. Betinha said it best, “This looks like a real city. Doha looked like a Lego’s city that someone had decided we’ll put this building here and this one over there.” There wasn’t any continuity to it, unlike what we were seeing in Dubai. It felt to us that Qatar was a Dubai want-a-be, but didn’t have it quite figured out yet.

I’m writing this from the pool deck of our own private tent or at least what it is supposed to look like in Bedouin Time, except we have a full bathroom, king sized bed, TV, mini-bar and also a temperature controlled pool something that every self respecting sheik should have when the temperature gets over 120 degrees.

We had a rough landing at the airport yesterday because of a sandstorm, which gave the town the appearance of dusk at 4:30 in the afternoon. A later thunderstorm, which only lasted a few minutes, resulted in the lights going out at our restaurant. Evidently they don’t get much rain, because a short rain seemed to flood everything. Someone told us later that they had gone five years without any rain, but that they had started to get some rains in the past two years.

Dubai’s history is one of taking on impossible projects that many thought were foolhardy and then proving the so called “experts” wrong. Let me share some of the early history of the Emirate. The town was formed at the mouth of a six mile long creek and developed into a fishing and pirating town. The British got tired of the pirating and cracked down on the region in1820.

In the late 1800s the local ruler decided upon a novel approach. He exempted ½ of the local pearl divers from paying the normal pearling tax. The industry boomed and many divers from other Gulf areas moved to tiny Dubai. In the early 1900s the neighboring Persians (now Iran) increased their import taxes and the Dubai ruler who had seen the impact of lower taxes upon pearl production decided to set the city up as a duty free zone. Dubai’s population doubled to 20,000 by 1920 as traders flocked in from all over the region. The 1920s were the first of many boom times in the area.

The 1930s worldwide depression hit Dubai particularly hard. Demand for luxury pearls plunged and new Japanese technology for the production of cultured pearls greatly diminished demand for natural pearls. But trade in other goods continued to flourish, creating a deep rift between the native pearl divers whose living standard was plunging and the newer immigrant traders. The first democratic advisory councils were set up to try to alleviate some of the tensions that resulted.

The 1950s saw the start of the massive oil boom in the region, although Dubai’s oil production was miniscule when compared to neighboring countries. In the late 1950s, Dubai decided to borrow $850,000, an amount greater than the entire income of the Emirate, in order to dredge the Creek for ocean going freighters. The decision was ridiculed. “Who is going to want to ship things here?”

But, the need for heavy equipment for the oil industry and Dubai’s strategic location and low taxes made that decision appear as a stroke of genius, with shipping revenue quickly becoming the Emirate’s main source of income. A decision to build an airport (really only land strip from the hard desert sand) in 1960 was also derided but Dubai’s open skies approach quickly turned it into a favorite hub for several carriers. Other projects such as a 1967 decision to spend $40 million on a new seaport and a 1976 decision on a $2.5 billion container port which required building the world’s largest man-made harbor were called “ridiculous” by the experts. The container port sat virtually empty for almost ten years before taking off.

In each case Dubai, a relatively small country that was not much bigger than a fair sized city has made some audacious decisions which have worked out for them in the long term. They took chances that other similar places passed upon. And their population doubled by the early 1970s, shot up to 250,000 in 1980, 700,000 in 1995 and passed the 1 million mark in 2004. Only 20% of that total population are citizens, with the remaining 80% being workers who are needed for its growing trade and industrial base.

Today they are taking even more chances as they try to position themselves as the London, New York or Hong Kong of the Middle East.

Here are some of the projects that they currently have underway:

• Building 300 islands in the Arabian Sea with hundreds of miles of new high-valued shoreline, creating a new area greater than Manhattan. One project is in the shape of the world map.

• Burj Dubai is being built as the world’s tallest office tower. It is half completed and work goes on 24/7.

• A Tropical Forest is being built in the desert

• Dubai Silicon Oasis is being set up to manufacture semiconductors, following upon successes in Internet City and Media City within Dubai.

• They are completing a new airport that will be the size of London’s Heathrow and Chicago’s O’Hare combined.

• Dubai is building a shopping mall that will be two or three times larger than Mall of the Americas. They will issue Segways and GPS monitors to shoppers to help them in navigating the mall.

There are also projects on the drawing boards to build an underwater hotel, take people into space and the manufacture of jumbo airplanes and their parts. Any one of these projects would be over-the-top for most countries, but all being done in one country and with only 1.5 million people! It is incredible.

This is a city that never stops dreaming. A local person told me, “We are going to be New York without the traffic, Miami without the vice and Las Vegas without the casinos.”

Already the country is bringing in 6 million tourists/year with the UK, Germany, Russia and France leading in visitors to the country. Hopes are that both the U. S. and China will become the new visiting countries, taking their number of visitors to over 15 million within 10 years.

“The national bird of Dubai is the crane….the building crane,” was an often made joke during our stay. In traveling around it was quick to see why. Over 25% of the world’s 100,000 cranes are located in Dubai. Presently over 2,000 office and residential towers are under construction.

Betinha and I are off to ride camels.

Day Four—Dubai Airport

Camel riding consisted of two rows of camels that were led out into the desert. We were in the second group at the end of the line, not a position that I like to be in. It is a particularly bad spot as your view is multiple rear ends of other camels. I tried to coax our camel further up in the line, to no avail.

Last night Betinha slept, dreaming of a young Omar Sharif as Lawrence of Arabia galloping across the sands in front of our Bedouin tent. I slept with one eye open after we were informed after our camel ride that camels wait until you are asleep, find you in your tent and sit on you if you have been mean to them during the previous day. I hoped that our camel knew I was only kidding when I was urging it onto the front of the camel line.

Early this morning we embarked on a falcon hunting demonstration. Falcons and Arabian horses are the popular animals of choice in Dubai and other Middle Eastern countries. The falcons were domesticated over 2,000 years ago when the Bedouin herdsmen jealously saw the migrating falcons feasting upon freshly killed birds as they survived upon dates and camel milk. Once they learned how to capture these magnificent birds and turn them into their hunters, their diets improved dramatically. Working together with Saluki dogs which helped to flush birds in the bush and to track down the kill of the falcons, falcons became an important and revered part of Middle Eastern culture.

The birds we watched in training weighed from 770 to 1050 grams (about 2 pounds) and the trainers are careful to keep the weight within 20 grams of its ideal hunting weight. Too heavy and they fly away because they aren’t hungry enough and too light and they run out of energy for the hunt too soon. The birds eat about 10% of their body weight each day.

A pure white or black falcon can bring up to $300,000 and even a common bird will bring $3,000 in the falcon market in Dubai. Emirates Airline will fly the birds in first class seats with their handler. Each bird takes up one seat.

One final interesting point made to us was that the male is usually the smaller of the species and must be careful in the wild in its mating process. If the female doesn’t find your mating skills up to snuff, she will kill you and eat you. I didn’t particularly like Betinha’s comment of, “As it should be.”

We found the Al-Maha Resort to be extremely well thought out, developed and run. The 100 square mile property was set aside by a prior sheik as a reserve for the preservation of the natural desert. A South African company was hired to develop and run the facility something that they do with many South Africans who have grown up in the safari business.

We found in our quick trip to Dubai that this approach of finding the best in the business to run the local operations in Dubai to be standard operating procedure in the country. The staff were very well trained, seemed interested in their jobs and were fully engaged. There was a night and day difference between Dubai and Qatar in our experience.

Overall we were very impressed with Qatar and Dubai, but uneasy about the “Command and Control” sense of these Arab countries. In particular, we question the long term strategy of bringing in alien workers without their families. These workers make up 80% of the population but probably 95% of the workforce. Not allowing these workers to unleash their natural entrepreneurial talents is something I think they will regret.

We are off to Viet Nam, Cambodia and Hong Kong.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Connect the Dots

Bill Kurtis, acclaimed journalist, is a native Kansasan who has returned to invest for the betterment of the state. I’ve written numerous times about his efforts in Sedan, KS in SE Kansas to revitalize the town. When he first bought a ranch there that reminded him of the Serengeti of Africa, he was inspired by a small group of local citizens’ efforts for their town. He helped them expand their vision of developing more tourist based business by reaching out in a regional approach.

Kurtis was back in Kansas this month giving the keynote talk at the annual meeting of Southeast Kansas, Inc., a regional ED group. I thought that some of his words on the importance of a regional approach were right on the mark.

He started by talking about the Little House on the Prairie, a redevelopment project of he and his sister. “People don’t come to see the Little House on the Prairie alone. It is part of a larger tour that includes other regional attractions like the Dalton Gang shootout, a working cattle ranch or a famous Civil War battlefield.”

He went on, “We’ve got to do what Africa did. We’ve got to connect the dots. The real attraction of the game preserves of Africa, isn’t the sites, it’s the experiences. We should do that in Kansas.”

Kurtis is right on the mark. We in rural America have to sell our experiences, but do so on a regional basis. We can’t each be promoting our own limited attractions, which might be able to bring in someone for an hour or two. We’ve, instead, got to promote multiple towns and numerous experiences that will allow people to come and spend days or weeks. It has been done in other areas. Why not in Kansas? Why not in your region?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Recreational Land as ED

Several communities have embraced the idea of developing recreational land and lakes into second home sites, hoping to develop it further into a proactive economic development effort when those second home owners decide to set up new businesses. Ludington, MI (population 8,357) got such an opportunity last fall when Consumers Power decided to unload excess land around one of their power plants on Lake Michigan.

Dividing the property into 35 parcels that ranged in size from 1.7 up to 7.7 acres, Westchester Real Estate sold the property from $33,800 to $208,000/acre for a total of over $15 million. More importantly, 35 new upper end homes will be built in the community, adding to its economic base, and, hopefully resulting in more new businesses in Ludington.

Monday, February 05, 2007

BioTown USA

“The long term expectation of the BioTown USA project is to completely meet all the energy needs of Reynolds via biorenewable resources, including electricity, natural gas replacement, and transportation fuel. Meeting the energy needs of this town with renewable sources will be the first of its kind in the world, while using environmentally friendly technologies that will convert animal and human waste to biogas, which translates into energy.”

That is quite a set of goals for a town of only 547, but Reynolds, IN has already had some huge gains as a result of setting that big goal for their town. General Motors noticed and donated 20 E85 vehicles to local residents.

In January, VeraSun announced plans to build a 110 million gallon ethanol plant on 260 acres near the town.

If a town of 547 can figure out how to brand themselves so that General Motors and VeraSun notice, what can you do for your town?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Athens, Greece

We had a great flight from Madrid to Athens, with clear skies which allowed us to see numerous Mediterranean islands, arriving on time. We were shocked that we didn’t have to even go through any customs and since we were only carrying a backpack and a small roller board suitcase we quickly whisked to the Hertz counter for our car. The Hertz directions to both our car and hotel were vague at best, but we set out for our hotel in downtown Athens in a small Hyundai that was already fast idling. Not a great start!

Our supposed ten minute drive turned into a two hour adventure, including me slamming on the brakes once and shouting, “Listen if you can’t say something positive about this experience, then just be quiet!” It was a quiet, but long ride after that outburst, other than a few shrieks when I tried to enter an interstate going in the wrong direction. That little Hyundai never went so fast in reverse!

To say that the Greece alphabet is difficult to understand is an understatement. It put real meaning into the old saying, “It’s Greek to me!”

To get me to admit that I stopped to ask directions at least eight times shows you how concerned I was. Even though most of the locals spoke English, they could only generally point me in the right direction, not exactly the most encouraging thing that you want to hear when you are seriously lost.

When we finally showed up at the hotel, the bellman was shocked that we had come with a car, “We don’t have a garage but you can park it here for two hours.”

Great! The hotel won’t park my car, the signs are written in Greek and Betinha has just informed me that she is not getting back into the car. However, she let me know that I was welcome to drive out in the country by myself, as we had planned but she wanted to pin a sign on my coat (like when you were in kindergarten) that had my name and the phone number of the hotel so she could know where to come find me. Evidently, trying to enter the interstate going the wrong way was a bit traumatic.

So I surrendered and agreed to take the car to a nearby Hertz agency, taking the bellboy with me. He got lost, which made me feel better. However, we were gone long enough for me to learn that he was 28, single, had studied English for seven years and lived in a small town about 30 miles from Athens. Their main local company went bankrupt about five years ago and so most of the locals like him drove to Athens for work. I could go on with more information because we were lost for sometime.

We walked today to the famous spots in and around downtown Athens. We climbed up to the top of the Acropolis; saw their first Olympic stadium, Temple of Zeus and other really old sites. Incredible what they could build back then!

At the outdoor market I must have looked like an easy mark because there were about a half dozen little Greek ladies, who appeared to be in their 70s trying to sell me table cloths. Do I look like a table cloth buyer to any of you?

In pretty good English they all had a very similar spiel, “Look. Very pretty. For you only 65 euros (about $100). Here feel it. Open it up. Nice, isn’t it? Ok, ok because I like you only 40 euros. What you pay me? You give me 30?”

Up to now all I’ve said is, “Thank you. Very nice. I’m not interested. Thank you.”

But, by now we have the entire table cloth open, blowing in the market air. Thank goodness Betinha didn’t have the camera. When I wouldn’t buy it for 15 euros, the old lady finally gave up on me, trying to find someone else. It was kind of cute the first time, but got a bit old by the sixth.

DAY TWO AND THREE: We went on a tour of three Greek Islands, which was an all day affair and extremely interesting. First stop was Hydra, an island of 3,000 that doesn’t allow any wheeled vehicles of any type including cars, motorbikes and bicycles. Everything was hauled with little burros. They did allow hand pulled utility carts for hauling construction material, but after walking the steep hills of the town, it would have been a small consolation to be able to use one of those.

Second stop was Poros which was what I had in my mind as a typical Greek fishing village. It was very quaint with some wonderful views from the clock tower that was about 200 steps up.

The final island (15,000 people on 85 sq. km) was the most interesting, the island of Aegina which was divided into three parts: Modern, Byzantine and Ancient. In the modern portion olive and pistachio production was a major part of the economy. We saw pistachio trees planted in people’s front lawns and I even have one that they put a coke machine under.

The Byzantine and Ancient sections were defined by temples that had been built. The Ancient one pre-dates the Acropolis in about 600 BC.

We got awakened the next morning with glorious news that we were the winners of the government’s survey, which Betinha took very well for early in the morning. But first let me give you some background of how we entered this competition. We were wondering around in the open square in front of our hotel. We’re pretty sure that we had on our “Dumb tourist” attire because we were quickly approached by a very nice young man who asked if we wouldn’t mind taking a survey about Greek tourism.

Here was my chance to let them have it about their lousy signs! “Sure, we’d love to fill out your survey.”

He relayed to us, “Oh thank you so much. For doing this you will be entered into a drawing for one of three prizes. Ninety to ninety-five percent of the people win a free tour of Athens. But second place is two nights and three days on a Greek Island and first prize is seven nights at an exclusive resort here in Greece.”

We took the survey and I very diplomatically relayed to them why “it’s Greek to me” was not what you wanted tourists to be thinking when they tried to drive in their country. He was very thankful for our frankness.

Back to the phone call this morning. “Mr. Schultz, I wanted to let you know that your name was drawn and you won the second prize of two nights on a Greek Island. However, the first place winner already left the country so we are moving you up to first, which is a seven night stay at an exclusive Greek island for four people. We need for you to come here to claim your prize. It will take about an hour. We’ll send over a Mercedes taxi to pick you up.”

There’s an old saying, it must be Greek also, about something smelling fishy. This was beginning to have a bit of an odor, especially that it was going to take an hour for them to explain this prize to us. Thinking quickly on my feet, I said, “Oh sorry, my wife’s asleep. Can you call back in two hours?”

When the lady called back I was ready for her. “Sorry, but we are booked for today and are leaving town tomorrow. Could you please drop off the information and award to us at the hotel?”

No dice. If we couldn’t go there, we wouldn’t win a prize. Hmmm!

Today we wandered the city, visiting museums, museums, museums. How many old broken clay pots can you possibly see in one day? I lost count at about 13,457, which Betinha didn’t find very amusing.

The one bit of excitement was a student protest and march in front of our hotel. They were upset because the government was wanting to allow private universities and not publicly pay for college education. Any time you try to take something away from people that is free, they are bound to be upset. About 10,000 of them were not in a real good mood and marched, chanted and yelled at the riot police. It was kind of exciting when they approached the police line, where the police were lined up behind their Plexiglas shields wearing gas masks. Everything ended peacefully although I had my camera at the ready in case things got out of hand.

The garbage is piling up on the streets because their only garbage dump is full, we’ve seen all of the museums we need to see and now students are rioting on the streets. I think it is time to get out of Dodge. Or at least I think that I’ve got Betinha convinced that we ought to give it another whirl with me at the wheel. I bought a $10 map and hope that we don’t get too lost, too often. Hopefully, we get a chance to get out into the country tomorrow.

DAY FOUR: Betinha couldn’t figure out how to get our shoes on with toe tags attached, so instead she put stick-on name tags with info about where we were staying, whom to call, etc. on our shirts. But even she had seen enough cracked pottery and was willing to chance driving with me, despite not being able to read the road signs, knowing it would bean adventure.

“We’re going to get lost” was stating the obvious as we left the Hertz counter on our way out of Athens. Betinha obviously had it correctly figured out but it would have helped my confidence a bit if she had kept her thoughts to herself.

We made it out of town without any problems from the directions given to us by Hertz and when we got out into country I opened my new $10 map. It was written in Greek as well as Latin, like that helped a lot!

Somehow we made it to the town we had intended to visit, although not always on the roads you would have normally expected. One promising road quickly became a graveled road which turned into dirt. We pushed on, eventually ending up on another paved road.

Passing wonderfully small farms of grapes, pistachios and oranges on the dirt road, we stopped to look at the view. A nearby elderly farmer and his wife were trimming their grapevines, or rather, it appeared she was trimming and he was supervising. He yelled something to me, which I responded to in my best Clark Griswald impression, “Nice to meet you too! We’re the Schultzs from Effingham, Illinois America. How are you doing?”

There must not be a lot of traffic on that back road. He looked at me and yelled at his wife, who seemed to work a little bit harder.

Unfortunately, we left our guidebook in Athens even though we did have my worthless, expensive map. We visited a number of neat rural towns but discovered we were close to Sparta, although we didn’t know that at the time. The guidebook said that there wasn’t much to see in Sparta, but it would have been interesting to contrast it to the development we saw in Athens.

We made it back to Athens (370 km—200 miles—30 liters of fuel—E25), only having to ask directions one time, much to both of our surprise. Now about Betinha’s insistence that we not drive in Cambodia….

But first we are headed to Doha, Qatar and Dubai, UAE, our Arab countries on this trip.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Teach a Man to Fish

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you can feed him for a lifetime.” It’s one of my favorite sayings. But what if he can’t afford a fishing pole?

Muhammad Yunus recognized that inherent problem of trying to help people exit the persistent poverty trap; they often didn’t have the small funds needed to buy a loom, plow, ox or even a fishing pole. Thirty years ago, the Bangladesh economics professor set up the Grameen Bank, setting up a new lending paradigm of lending to the poor for productive projects, in values as low as $50.

Microcredit, as it’s now known, has grown dramatically since then. Over 100 million of the world’s poor now have outstanding microloans. Yunus, 66, and his bank shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, honoring his grassroots strategy as “development from below.” The microfinance revolution was shown to reduce poverty rates by 3%/year for the direct beneficiaries of its loans in his home country and had similar impacts in other countries where it has been used.

The largest such program in the USA is run along the Texas/Mexico border by Accion Texas, which has grown its portfolio of such loans from $610,000 in 1995 to more than $8 million in 2005.

And the impact?

Between 1992 and 2002, the number of one-person microenterprises along that border rose by 113% between 1992 and 2002, compared to a 32% growth of such enterprises in the state of TX and 25% in the USA.

Many of these new entrepreneurs are Hispanic, one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial groups in the USA. In the Accion Texas market area there was a 44% growth in Hispanic business ownership during the period from 1997 to 2002, compared to only a 17% increase in the region’s population during the same time period.

As I’ve said many times, the entrepreneurs of the future are going to come from many non-traditional backgrounds. The more that we are able to encourage the growth of an entrepreneurial spirit, the better we will be able to improve our country. Keep your eye on the growth of microlending. What could be the impact upon your region?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Young Food From the ‘Hood Entrepreneurs

A local teacher, Joe Fatheree, was named Illinois Teacher of the Year last year. As you would imagine, he is the type of teacher who inspires his students and has a real love of teaching. The award includes some free time for him to creatively work on teaching projects for the future. One of those is in developing an entrepreneurial curriculum for area schools.

He sent me an example of students in the inner city of Los Angeles. As he said, “The students go to Crenshaw High School (one of the worst neighborhoods in the country). The students have created and are currently marketing their own brand of salad dressing.”

Since being set up in 1993, the program has awarded over $140,000 in college scholarships to 77 student-managers who have worked at the students’ company. I loved their slogan, “Buy our dressings, send us to college.”