Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Something Doesn't Jive

I was on my way to Arco, ID (population 1,026) to do a talk and tour for the Lost Rivers Valley Economic Development, a regional ED effort in Butte and Custer Counties of Idaho. Prior to each trip and tour, I spend some time studying and delving into the statistics for the communities and counties that I’m going to be studying.

The data for Butte County (population 2,771) was particularly puzzling for me. The county showed 8,405 jobs (3x the population!) at an average wage of $70,504 (12th highest out of 3,141 counties in the USA!) but median household income was only $31,828 (2,451 in the USA). Something was going on that wasn’t easily understood without being on the ground.

Michelle Holt, Tammy Stringham and Bob Burroughs of Lost Rivers quickly explained to me what wasn’t evident in the raw data. Michelle told me, “The Idaho National Laboratory (INL), which is part of the Department of Energy and focused upon Atomic Energy is located to the east of Arco, but only 2% of its workers live in Butte County. The Nautilus, the first atomic submarine, had their power system developed here. One of our big issues here is that the Federal Government owns 97% of the land in Custer County and 91% of it in Butte County. That really hurts our tax base.”

Arco was chosen as the site for INL in 1949. At the hotel I was staying at in Arco, a framed copy of a newspaper article on the announcement told of plans for Arco to grow to 5,000 to 10,000 in population because of the new installation. It never happened, with the growth in population occurring to the east in much larger Idaho Falls (population 50,730).

INL covers 890 square miles (570,000 acres) in the mountain desert between Idaho Falls and Arco. You seem to drive forever, never leaving their property in the drive from Idaho Falls to Arco. Arco’s sole claim to fame from INL came on July 17, 1955 when it became the first town in the world to be lighted solely by nuclear power for a short period of time as an experiment. Today the Idaho Science Center is located in Arco, with its distinctive “Submarine in the Desert” displaying the sail from the USS Hawkbill, one of the many nuclear subs that had their power sources perfected at INL.

However, the distorted high salaries of INL act as a deterrent to bringing in new industry. As site selectors we often look at raw data from the U. S. Census before ever making contact with a community. Lost Rivers Valley Economic Development has their hands full in getting the message out that INL is an aberration so that people take a look at this wonderful region that I’ll tell you about in the next couple of days.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ten Years as a Community Foundation

The Armstrong County Community Foundation in Armstrong, PA invited me in to help them celebrate their tenth anniversary. The foundation started when the local Merchants Bank pledged $100,000 to be paid over a five year period to help launch the foundation’s establishment.

Today, from that tiny beginning the foundation has grown to over $4 million in assets, set into 50 separate funds and distributing $200,000 in 80 separate grants to local non-profits and scholarship recipients.

Patty Kirkpatrick, president of the board for the foundation told me of a new innovative approach to giving, “We’re starting a brand new grant to help us celebrate our tenth anniversary. We’ve going to give special $10,000 grant to a non-profit in the community and let everyone in the community vote for the winning organization.”

The polls opened on September 22nd and will close on October 3rd to see which non-profit will be awarded the $10,000.

Later in the week, I urged the Lost River Valley in Idaho to look at setting up a community foundation, telling them that it was the top thing that I would do in every community that I’ve visited to date. It is by far the best long term investment that a community can make. I’m thrilled that Merchants Bank had the foresight ten years ago to help set up the Armstrong County Community Foundation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Incredible Industrial Parks

Never in my 300+ tours of the USA have I seen such well developed and extensive industrial parks as I saw in Armstrong County, PA (population 69,059). Patty Kirkpatrick, county board chair and also president of the board of the Armstrong County Community Foundation (more on them Monday), and Rich Pallilla, head of planning and ED for the county, were my tour guides of the county. Patty was the first female ever elected to the county board in the 240 year history of the county, coming in first in vote totals both times that she ran.

The first park we toured was Northpointe, a 900 acre mixed use park which opened in 2001. Today there are 10 buildings with over 600 employees in them. There are another 600 employees in the West Hills Industrial Park. The county also owns the Parks Bend and Manor Township Parks with over 150 acres available and already several hundred employees in each. Parks Bend also includes a business incubator that has the look of a big barn and silo to easily fit into the countryside.

Armstrong has gone through several booms and busts in its history. Patty told me, “Parker City in the very northern most part of the county had a population of over 20,000 in the early 1900s when it was an oil boomtown. Now they are down to only about 750, but because they are considered a city, they get as much federal funding as the rest of the county combined.”

The oil boom was followed by coal, glass manufacturing and china booms which peaked in the mid 1950s with about 30 to 35% of the population employed in some form of manufacturing. As those industries went into slow decline, Armstrong County planned and executed the construction of these four industrial parks.

I’m certain that the decision to build those parks was not without controversy, but if you aren’t planning for the future, you are only going to go backwards. Armstrong County is ready when the next company comes calling.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Restoring Canals in OH

The Miami & Erie Canal was completed in 1845 at a cost of $8 million. The 301 mile canal connected Lake Erie in Toledo, OH with the Ohio River in Cincinnati. Grand Lake St. Marys was constructed adjacent to St. Marys, OH to provide a constant source of water for the canal.

Canals were a cutting edge technology in the mid 1800s but were quickly surpassed by nascent railroad networks. By the early 1900s the Miami and Erie Canal was history. Today there are
efforts to resurrect several sections of the canal for historical and tourist purposes.

Both New Bremen and St. Marys have efforts underway to redevelop their old canal locks into wonderful historical sites. That is me on the left opening one of the reconstructed locks in New Bremen just like they did in the mid 1800s.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We Need a Tourist Attraction--Let's Go Buy It!

In 1895, a thirty-five year old German immigrant, Ignaz Schwinn, incorporated the Schwinn Bicycle Company in Chicago. The company quickly became an innovator in the industry, introducing such innovations as a two inch wider tire than earlier bikes and a larger spring-supported seat, both of which provided a much more comfortable ride. As a kid I always rode a Schwinn and dreamt of riding the new String-Ray model when it was introduced in 1963.

Our first major industrial project was building a new bicycle plant and it always fascinated me to see how a new bicycle was built in my many visits to that plant when it was in operation. A dozen years ago I visited the Schwinn Bicycle Museum, near Chicago’s Navy Pier, but problems at the company still owned by the Schwinn family resulted in that museum closing its doors. I didn’t realize that the famous Schwinn family bicycle collection was still virtually complete until I visited New Bremen, OH earlier this month. It was great fun to see the wonderful collection still intact in New Bremen!

The Bicycle Museum of America, as it is now known, was bought by James Dicke II, in 1997 when he traveled to Chicago, buying 162 of the 178 different lots offered at the dispersal auction of the Schwinn family collection. In all Dicke spent almost $700,000 to buy everything from an 1869 Dexter boneshaker that was made in Poughkeepsie, NY to the one-millionth bicycle to roll off the Schwinn assembly line, a 1968 Sting-Ray Orange Krate.

Although rumors were that either Jay Leno or Clint Eastwood were the big buyers, James Dicke II bought the collection because, “My hometown needs a tourist attraction.”

The Dicke family owns
Crown Equipment, where his son, fourth generation James III is president of the company. The company was started in New Bremen by brothers Carl and Allen Dicke in 1945 to make temperature controls for coal burning furnaces. When TV became popular, they began manufacturing antenna rotators, which helped to give better reception. While those early products are clearly obsolete today, the company continued to diversify, beginning to produce lift trucks in 1957, something that it continues to do today in the USA and overseas.

From humble beginnings in New Bremen, the company is still producing products there and is where its worldwide administration and product development continues to take place. Local firms put down strong local roots, of which the Dicke family is a great example.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Recession in Ohio? Not Here!

I was in Auglaize County, OH (population 48,429) for a great tour of six communities in north-west OH. With 35% of its jobs in manufacturing, the 138th highest percentage out of 3,141 counties in the country, I was concerned about what I might find from what I’d been hearing on TV. But, what I found is that you can’t always believe everything that you hear.

The county has built their manufacturing base upon a broad base of different companies and in a variety of industries. Automotive parts are by far the largest sector and Auglaize County has had their share of closures and downsizings but many of the entrepreneurial companies that have sprouted up in a manufacturing cluster like this have thrived and are expanding.

St. Marys (population 8,342), which sits on the edge of Grand Lake St. Mary’s—the largest man-made lake in the USA before the Hoover Dam was built, has developed a sister city program with a Japanese city that has resulted in a half dozen Japanese manufacturers locating in the town. The lake was the first spot in the world where oil was drilled “offshore”, over 100 years ago during the Ohio oil boom.

New Bremen (population 2,991) has one of the nicest downtowns I’ve seen in my travels, largely due to the redevelopment efforts of the Dicke family who owns Crown Equipment. This maker of forklifts employs 2,000 people in the community, having invested multi-millions into their hometown. More on one of their pet projects tomorrow.

New Knoxville (population 891) is home to Hoge Lumber, a fourth generation company that is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of bowling alley lanes. The Beijing Olympics volleyball, badminton and other indoor sports were played on Hoge Lumber surfaces. Their high school, constantly ranked as one of the top 10 academically in the state, was the state basketball champion last year despite only having 32 in its graduating class.

Minster (population 2,794) is an old German-Catholic town much like where I was raised in Teutopolis, IL, where the church owns the grade school in the town and leases it to the public school system after 9 am each day, allowing religion to be taught before school each morning. Minster Machines, a 109 year old firm, employs 600 manufacturing punch press machines which are used in the auto and beverage industries. Three-quarters of the soda cans in the world are punched out on their machines. The Dannon Company has the largest yogurt plant in the world in Minster, producing 700 million pounds of yogurt in 2007. Another company produces all of the World Wrestling Federation championship belts.

Wapakoneta (population 9,531), the county seat for Auglaize County, has a 500+ acre mega-site (one of the first in the state) that is shovel-ready for the next manufacturer that decides to leverage the excellent manufacturing labor force in the county. Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969, was born 4 miles outside of town. The Armstrong Air & Space Museum is located in Wapakoneta.

It was quite a tour. My notebook was filled with facts and trivia about the many wonderful towns in Auglaize County, OH.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Inspiring Millennials!

“One quick story—the young lady (14 years old) who was in the audience that night was so inspired that she went home and started immediately working on a web business she has talked about for a while. Her mom told me that she commented that if the kids in your presentation could do it, so could she!”

It’s emails like that that really get me pumped up!!! Kevin Sheilley, head of ED for NorthWest KY Forward, which I blogged on last week, sent it to me after I was there. I had picked Heather out because she was the only young person in the room, when I started doing my stories on her generation of 10 to 27 year olds, called the Millennial Generation. As most of you know, this new generation is going to be the most entrepreneurial in the history of the USA.

What if each of us could inspire someone like Heather to start her own business? Think of the impact we could make in our small towns? Will you help me by doing it in YourTown, USA?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Regionalism in AL

This week is my regionalism week. Earlier, I reported on an impressive four county regional effort in NW KY. Today, I’ve found a similar project ongoing in AL.

Wiley Blankenship is the president of Coastal Gateway, a five county ED effort that encompasses 25 towns in southwest AL. They’ve raised $3.7 million for the next five years to promote these five counties in a very focused manner.

Their four areas of emphasis are:

Wood Products
Transportation and Distribution

I am impressed with the Coastal Gateway’s start. I plan to see how they develop and succeed.

Year of Alabama Small Towns

I’m excited about a new program that AL is launching in 2010: The Year of Alabama Small Towns. Preparations are already being made and numerous towns are gearing up for this statewide celebration.

Several statewide governmental organizations are cooperating (tourism, ED, history, Chamber of Commerce, League of Municipalities, etc.). The broad focus is for each town to have:

Special Homecoming Weekend to invite former residents back home
Unveiling of a locally written historical marker
Walking tours of historic sections of town
Dedication of a completed civic project like a park, restored historical building

The state will publish a special book on the towns that participate. They’ve done similar books in the past on the Gardens, Food, Outdoor Activities and Arts of Alabama.

Another previous book that I’m counting on getting sent to me is “The 100 Alabama Dishes to Try before You Die.” I’m certain that several won’t be on my diet, but I’ll plan on trying them anyway.

I hope to get back to AL for their year of the AL hometowns in 2010, with my copy of the 100 Alabama Dishes firmly in hand.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Take Homes from AL

From KY, I was off to AL, for an Alabama Communities of Excellence (ACE) annual conference. ACE started in 1993 as a comprehensive three-phase approach to economic and community development for towns between 2,000 and 18,000 in AL. So far over 20 towns have completed the program, but from conversations with others at the conference, there are a number of others that will be doing so in the future.

Here were some of the great ideas that I picked up there:

Send a birthday and Christmas card to people who no longer live in your hometown to let them know that they are still important to you.

Thirty AL towns do special walking tours in their small towns.

Have a homecoming and interview people who are 90+ years of age. Publish their stories in the local newspaper.

Set up “graduation coaches” from the community for kids who are at risk (AL had 5,440 students drop out of high school last year!—Imagine the ‘8’ ball those kids are at for the rest of their lives!)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ideal ED Model

A trip last week to Henderson, KY for a talk showed me an ED organization model that makes so much sense to me. It is a model that I think you are going to see spreading as regionalism continues to make more sense to more people.

NorthWest KY Forward is a four county effort that started in July, 2005 even though some of the counties first started working together in the mid 90s when they jointly developed the Four Star Industrial Park where they both shared in the costs and revenues from the park. From those first efforts of working together came NW KY Forward, a public/private organization.

What most impressed me with this organization was their simple structure and also their straightforward strategy. The organization is lean with only four employees but the focus is on three areas: 1. Recruitment; 2. Retention and 3. Entrepreneurism. Their strategy is honed onto five industry sectors:

Auto manufacturing parts
Prepared foods

They’ve got strong reasons and logic in supporting each sector. As an example, within sixty miles of Henderson there are 22 companies which hire over 8,000 employees, producing one-third of the aluminum in the USA. There’s similar reasoning for each of the other four sectors.

In a short period of time, NorthWest KY Forward has landed new companies, helped start some new businesses, expanded employment and has a number of future projects on the drawing boards.

Kevin Sheilley, President, told me, “We’ve got four companies looking at doing new projects here that have over 500 acres optioned.”

That is a lot of land and some big projects!
On a side note, Kevin as part of tour, took me by a Tyson chicken processing plant. He told me, “They process 1.25 million chickens per week here. A lot of their production is exported. Surprisingly, the highest value/pound is chicken feet which are exported solely to China.”

Monday, September 15, 2008

End of an Era

This morning Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy with the intention of dissolving itself. What most people don’t know is that the firm dates back 164 years to its founding not in New York City but in Montgomery, AL. I was just in Montgomery last week, so their origin was more poignant for me.

Henry Lehman started as a retailer in Montgomery, an immigrant from Germany. Shortly afterwards he was joined by his two brothers Emanuel and Mayer. The goods that they sold were often paid for with cotton, the currency of the Old South. The brothers were soon making more money in trading cotton than in selling goods.

This same phenomenon occurred with my own grandfather who started in the hardware business, receiving timothy, red top and clover seed at harvest. He also made more money with the seed than he ever did with hardware. The seed business was a family operation from 1903 until being sold in 1987.

The Lehman’s opened an office in NYC in 1858 and moved their operations there during the Civil War, also known as the War of Northern Aggression in the South.

At the turn of the 1900s they were the main investment bank that financed many of the new retailers of the day like Sears, Macy’s, May and Woolworth’s.

It’s a shame to see them go under.

Normandy--Biggest Loss

Good friend Joe Dively recently returned from Normandy with his family, after first visiting the site of D-Day with his father and uncle, both of whom fought their way through the beaches of Normandy. If I ever visit France, it will be one of the sites that I want to visit.

Joe told me, “On this trip, we learned the incredible story of tiny Bedford, VA which lost nineteen sons that day.”

Bedford, VA, sits near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today the town of 6,299 is site of the National D-Day Memorial, but back in the early 1940s it was half that size. Thirty-four young men from Bedford signed up for Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment, the first wave to hit the beaches of Normandy. Nineteen of them died within minutes of landing and another three died only a few days later.

One of those who survived was Roy Stevens, who lost his twin brother in the invasion. Here is his story before he passed away last year.

Alex Kershaw wrote a best seller book of their story, “The Bedford Boys,” which I’ve just started reading. Today most of the heroes from that heroic invasion like Stevens are passing on. Hopefully their sacrifices will live on through the memorial in Bedford. I hope to visit it soon in my travels.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Blowin' in the Wind

Earlier this year, the American Wind Energy Association reported that the USA passed Germany in the production of energy from wind, and now leads the world in wind energy production. And, productive capacity is expected to grow by 45% by the end of 2008 with over 25,000 wind turbines in operation.

Over 200 turbines are under construction in rural ND in four different projects. Both oil production from the Bakken Field which is being compared to Saudi Arabia and wind energy were major areas of discussion at the statewide ED conference I took part in Bismarck. ND has lots of energy!

One of the challenges we face as a country is getting the wind energy that is produced in rural America to the population centers where it can be used. Major enhancements to the electrical grid are going to be required to fully utilize the potential of wind.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Big Cities--Big Problems

Four bedroom, two bath house with 1,249 sf of living space for $1. Nope. That is not a misprint. It was one of many that I found in a quick search of the http://www.realtor.com/ website for Detroit, MI. Actually there were 199 on the site that were for sale in that city for under $1,000. The picture on the right is one of those I found for $1.

Detroit started to boom as a city in the 1910s when the auto industry began to consolidate there primarily because of the genius of Henry Ford and later the organizational skills of Alfred P. Sloan who took a loose collection of auto companies, started 100 years ago this year in Flint, MI, molding it into the colossus General Motors. It was GM’s CEO Charles Wilson in 1952 who uttered the famous words, “What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what is good for General Motors is good for the country.”

Detroit’s population peaked in 1950 at 1.8 million, when it was the fourth largest city in the USA. Today it is down to 834,116, a population it last passed somewhere between the 1910 and 1920 census. Detroit loses population each day and is why there are 199 houses for sale there for under $1,000.

A couple of weeks ago, I compared North Dakota with San Francisco. In my opinion, it was no contest for ND. Can you imagine what a comparison with Detroit would be like?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

AL Passing MI?

“Within the next three years, Alabama is likely to pass Michigan in per-capita personal income,” was the first line in Mike Connell’s blog from Port Huron, MI (population 32,338). He was referring to a Mackinac Center report on the subject, calling it, “Inconceivable. Unbelievable. It’s a stunner.”

He went on, “Fifty years ago, Michigan ranked 11th and Alabama 47th among the 50 states in per-capita personal income. Eight years ago MI ranked 16th and AL 42nd and the idea of the Heart of Dixie eclipsing the Great Lakes State within a decade would have sounded preposterous.

But, seven consecutive years of job losses mostly caused by Michigan’s reliance upon the auto industry have taken their toll upon that state, even as Alabama has made some significant steps upward. Perhaps most telling for MI is the fact that the state ranks second in the nation in the percentage of its college graduates moving out to other states.

Connell goes on, “In Port Huron, one in six workers is unemployed. Macomb County, where subdivisions once sprouted from cornfields, now leads the state in foreclosures. Hundreds if not thousands of area families would hire moving vans tomorrow if only they could sell their homes.”

Unfortunately, MI is in a one-state depression with few prospects of exiting in the near future. The state was the only one of fifty to experience an increase in its poverty rate in 2007. Its jobless rate at 8.5% is the highest in the country. And, it was also the only state that experienced a decrease in its median family income.

I hope that MI figures out that it has to diversify its economy and also figures out new paradigms of how to work with businesses there.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Watch Those Emails!

Last week I received an email that claimed that a new world record in harvesting wheat was set this year near Norton, KS. I’ve learned that a lot of emails, especially political ones, are either blatantly false or only half-true, which is often worse. I don’t check them all out, but this one was one I wanted to share with you, so I did verify its authenticity.

Unfortunately, this is one of those emails that is half-true. The record was set, but it was 900 miles north of Norton in Winkler, Canada. In August, 2006 105 combines harvested 162 acres of wheat in 11 minutes, 8 seconds to benefit Children’s Camps International, a local charity that holds kids camps around the world. An estimated 10,000 people came out to watch the feat.

Here is a great article on the email story and the real story.

Winkler’s response, “To the folks in Kansas, there’s no hard feelings…but please break the record! We had so much fun doing it we want to try again! If there are other communities out there who are aiming for the record please let us know.”

Don’t you love that small town “Can Do” (it again!) spirit?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Burgers 4 Bushels

Fessenden, ND (population 625) has a great idea to help their park district. A group of volunteers is offering to bring a hamburger, chips, cookies and a soda out to the field at harvest. In exchange they’re asking the farmer to dump a few bushels of what is being combined into the volunteer’s pick-up truck as a donation.

Normally, the small town has held an annual fundraiser but decided to try this new approach. Proceeds will benefit the pool, youth baseball programs and also maintenance of the park and cemetery grounds.

It’s an innovative approach for a non-profit, especially with today’s much higher commodity prices, hopefully making local farmers feel a little more prosperous and willing to give a few bushels of wheat, corn or soybeans.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Operation Intern

I’ve seen several communities that have developed an organized program to help create internships for their college students during summer break. However, ND has a special program and with a tax credit bonus, to boot!

Operation Intern is focused upon the five industry groups that Lt. Governor Dayryple stressed in his opening remarks (focus, focus, focus!!) at the ED Conference in Bismarck: Advanced Manufacturing, Energy, Technology Based-Business, Tourism and Value-Added Agriculture.

The program offers a 10% income tax credit of the compensation paid to an intern. Up to five interns per company are eligible for this program.

I’m impressed with both how ND is trying to bring back some of their “brain bank” with an innovative ambassador program and also how they are striving to find ways to keep their “best and brightest” at home. It’s a smart long term investment that they are making.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Entrepreneurial ND!

Each time that I return to ND, I become more impressed with some of their entrepreneurial efforts. I found another one on this trip when I met Barry Stiegel, Director of the University of ND’s Youth Entrepreneurship Education Project. Barry is also a candidate for a doctoral degree in education from UND.

This past summer he conducted four youth entrepreneurship summer camps in Grand Forks, Belcourt, New Town and Dickinson, reaching over 100 youngsters in K-8 with an idea of BYOB. Now in my day BOYB had a different meaning than today’s “Be Your Own Boss!”

Two of the camp’s sponsors are The Dakota Foundation and the Strom Center for Entrepreneurship, both started by two fantastic native North Dakotans who have given back BIG-time to their home state. I wrote about Bart Holaday, founder of the Dakota Foundation, in BoomtownUSA. He gained fame and fortune in Chicago as the head of the largest fund-of-funds venture capital firms. Jerome Strom went west and made a fortune in Palo Alto real estate. Now they are both giving back!

Another renewed contact at the Governor’s Conference was with Esther and Shawn Oehlke of SEO Precision. When I first met them in rural Crosby, ND they had recently moved from Albuquerque, NM with their two sons. At the time they had laser technology which could lock onto a nickel from 20 miles away.

When I asked them about that technology, Shawn responded, “We now can keep it locked onto that same nickel from 100 miles. We also can do a laser scan of an eyeball from 100 meters away to determine friend or foe on the battlefield.”

SEO recently inked a deal with Northrup Grumman to supply them with fast-steering mirrors for use in Northrup’s laser systems. And, as their literature touts from a “woman held, high technology North Dakota Corporation substantially owned by North Dakota farmers.”

Entrepreneurism is alive and well in ND!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Back in ND!

I was back in ND last week, doing my fourteenth talk in the state. I’ve made several swings through the state, logging thousands of miles. Those trips still stick in my mind as being the most memorable ones I’ve done. The state has some incredibly beautiful scenery and the people that I met in my travels have been some of the friendliest I’ve encountered.

There were several hundred economic developers and engaged citizens, in addition to numerous top politicians (including Governor John Hoeven and Lieutenant Governor Jack Dalrymple) and a large group from the USDA Rural Development (including Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, formerly Governor of ND).

Both Governors stressed the state’s focus for jobs in this new century. Here’s how Lt. Governor Dalrymple said it, “We’re concentrating on energy, value-added agriculture, advanced manufacturing, technology and tourism. Right now we’ve got 15,000 job openings in the state. We’re doing job fairs in places like Michigan where they’ve got over 7% unemployment.”

He went on, “In 2007, we had the highest percentage growth in exports of any other state in the nation. And, it looks like we could be number one again in 2008!”

Having over 15,000 job openings in a state with a population of 639,715 is quite a feat. However, ND has a number of job generators like agriculture, drilling, wind and others hitting on all cylinders. Last year the state’s GDP grew at 7.5% compared to 2.2% for the USA. Since 2001, ND’s GDP growth has been over 50%.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Entrepreneurial High School Course

On Friday I took part in a class of the first entrepreneurship course taught in our county high schools. The idea for the course was the brainchild of Joe Fatheree, the 2007 Illinois Teacher of the Year who is a local high school teacher. As part of his award he was given some time and money to help design innovative courses. This is his capstone course which is being offered to 22 high school students from five county schools, some of whom have already started their own business, several of which are on the internet.

Joe funded the course through donations from about 50 local businesses, each of which committed $1,000/year for the next three years. It’s a great case of local entrepreneurs investing back into their communities to help grow the next generation of entrepreneurs. We hope to take the program regionally out to surrounding counties. Cheryl Peters of Generation E, who I’ve written about a number of times, has helped provide curriculum and training for the effort.

On Friday, I was one of nine business people who were assisting on a team building exercise at the course. We broke into groups of three and four and our assignment was to take 25 gumdrops and 25 toothpicks and collectively construct a structure with them while only using one arm each. The photo is the winning team of Allison Donsbach, Joe Balda, Courtney Koester and myself. It is the only time that I’ve ever been on a winning design team, so I’ll let you make your own inference of where the talent for our winning design came from.

This weekend I received an email from a parent of one of the students in the course. Here is part of that email.

At the dinner table this week, I was asking my son how his entrepreneurial class was going; he commented "I love it!” (Keep in mind that he tends to hold back on his emotions - so this is off the charts for him).

“It doesn't even feel like school. Time goes by so fast that when class is over, I get depressed ‘cause I know I have to go back to the 'real school'."

I thought this spoke volumes as to the great job you all are doing!!!!!!!!

Keep it up - the impact you are making on these young people is priceless!

The course is being taught by Craig Lindvahl, a wonderfully innovative teacher who is also an entrepreneur in his own right. He is a film maker who has won numerous Emmy’s for his documentaries. We already have dozens of young people who are working in the film industry because of his passion and ability to inspire. I’m convinced that we’ll also be turning out more local entrepreneurs in addition to the next Steven Spielberg.

If you aren’t working on entrepreneurial programs for your town, you are missing an excellent opportunity to reach out to what is going to be the most entrepreneurial generation in the history of the USA, the Millennial Generation of young people!