Friday, October 31, 2008

Magnificent Mangum--We Specilize in Solutions!

We’ve loved generating a number of inquiries and stories from recent Agurban articles. One of the many that we received was from Maxine Thomason, Mayor of Mangum, OK (population 2,900). She told of the resurgence in her hometown, adding a dozen new businesses to their downtown in the past year. The closing line of her email really piqued my interest: “Our motto is “We Specialize in Solutions.”

After several emails back and forth, here is what I learned about Mangum from her.

In 2004 The Mangum Star News was the only business operating in one entire block in our downtown district. That year a building on this block was purchased and the owner began to renovate a long neglected section of the building that faced an alley. It was his dream to make some small business spaces with an upstairs loft apartment.
At the same time, a potter and her husband had retired and moved back home. She had lost her lease on a space and was looking for a new location. Bingo! Problem solved. During this same time period we had begun to seek out other artists living in our area. We were astounded to find how many there were. Soon 3 more galleries had opened in the same alley. The City Commission renamed the alley--Artists Alley. They are featured on the cover of this year's Oklahoma Travel Guide for Great Plains Country. They are award winning and will be doing an exhibit at the Governors' Gallery at our state capitol in December.

With this experience Mr. Kane soon renovated the front spaces for a new coffee shop known as The Latte Da. Within the span of a year we have added Reelz, an arcade and movie theatre, Tumbleweeds, a computer service business, and the Mangum Tag Agency. With new windows, awnings, sidewalks and landscaping the block now became a great place to locate.

AdCraft Signs, a large sign business from Phoenix, purchased the remaining two buildings on the block and are creating spaces for both the sign business, an ice cream parlor, and one additional office space to be rented out.

Where are the other 2 businesses? On the next block, Mr. Kane has just purchased and renovated another building and Movieland is opening this weekend. Two blocks away, Laurel and Taylor, a beauty salon has opened for business. Cactus Jack's, an antique and photographic restoration business joins The Quilt Whisperer, an antique quilt restoration business, as two of our newest businesses. Did I say 2? There are even more. Each a small wonder.

Someone once told me that for small towns survival is not a given-you have to work for it. We believe it! And we are!

I’ve said it many times. All it takes is just one or two people with a passion in their town to really make a difference. Fortunately, Mangum has them. Do you?

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Becky McCray writes a wonderful blog on small town business survival from Alva, OK. She keeps me informed about some of the wonderful things that are going on in north-central OK. Recently, she sent me an email on a program in nearby Enid, OK. Here is what she told me:

ROOTs, which stands for Recognizing the Opportuni-ties of Tomorrow, is a local organization comprised of volunteers who want to show the bright students of Garfield County they don’t have to leave the area to find bigger and better things.“Our goal is for them to complete their education and come back to Enid to start their families and careers,” said ROOTs volunteer Jennifer Kisling.The organization began in 1996 when the group’s founders noticed the top students in the area were going away to college and then moving to larger cities searching for opportunity.“(ROOTs) is designed to show (high school) juniors in Garfield County what Enid has to offer,” said Kisling.

The two day program is aimed at the top juniors in the local high school. How about doing something like this in your town?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Love Those Tours

Handmade in America in western NC was the first group that really turned me onto the power of tours. Those 21 counties turned an independent bunch of artisans into a coordinated marketing effort that today has evolved into a $500 million industry, positively impacting hundreds of small towns.

In Wausau, WI, I was excited to find tours of maple syrup producers, dairies and cheese, orchards, beer and wine.

I didn’t know until last week that you could visit 116 different cheese producers in WI, 60 orchards, 116 maple syrup boilers, 26 vintners and even 25 brewers. Throw in Lambeau Field in the ‘frozen tundra’ and you’ve got weeks of exploring that you can do in the state.

While dairies, cheeses, maple syrup and beer probably don’t shock you about WI, I’ll bet that you didn’t know that central WI is THE market for ginseng. Over 95% of the ginseng root exported from the USA, mostly to the Far East, is grown here. Ginseng berries turn red in August and harvested in September. The roots are harvested a month later.

There are a lot of niche producers in WI. If you get a chance, pick up one of their tour maps and explore.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Far-Away Place

“We really got everything going in 2003 when we decided to put a parking garage in the downtown area in conjunction with a new office building that today has over 350 people working in it. It has been affectionately called ‘Garage-mahol’ ever since.” Jim Rosenberg, a long time city council member and my tour guide of downtown Wausau, WI (population 38,426) explained to me on our walking tour.

Wausau has always stuck in my mind, from watching the wonderful ads that Wausau Insurance used to run on TV with the local train depot as their background. Do you also remember their, “W-A….USA (in the middle) and then a ‘U’…for Wausau?”
Jim explained to me the origin of the name Wausau, “It is Indian for ‘a far-away place’,”

From that first project, Wausau has completely redone their downtown area with a theater renovation (1350 seats), new condo hotel project, and many historic building restorations.

Recently, Lawrence and Jane Sternberg left a $1 million legacy gift through the local Community Foundation (280 funds--$29 million in assets) for a river walk along the Wisconsin River, which sits adjacent to Wausau’s downtown.

The river is becoming a destination for whitewater enthusiasts, having hosted the Junior Olympics earlier this year.

It was a brisk and informative tour of a very interesting downtown.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Rice to Riches

From the founding of the USA up through the late 1800s, the center for rice production was in SC. The crop gilded the lowcountry of the state as Europeans clamored for the nutty-tasting rice that quickly turned SC into one of the richest areas in the New World, as the Europeans referred to us.

However, the opening of the Suez Canal allowed South Asian rice to flood the European market and SC quickly lost its competitive edge as the low-cost producer of a product that it excelled at, something that recently repeated itself with textiles.

Campbell Coxe of Darlington, SC is determined to bring SC back to its past glory of rice production. This fifth generation farmer who operates out of one of the state’s oldest antebellum plantations started planting rice to help attract waterfowl to his commercial hunting operation, Roblyn’s Neck Hunt Club. Each hunter would receive a Christmas gift of his hand grown rice, clamoring for more.

In 1997 Coxe began to commercially cultivate his Carolina Plantation Rice. Today he raises 200 acres of Basmatic aromatic and 30 acres of Carolina Gold, selling his production through specialty retailers like Whole Foods, Fresh Markets, Viking Culinary, Charleston Cooks and others. You can also order it directly online at his website.

American Farmers…finding new ways to develop unique niches. There are lots of Campbell Coxes in this country!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Love Dakota Cabin Quilts Ezine!

Every Sunday, I enjoy reading Dr. Laura Walker’s ezine from her Dakota Cabin Quilts. While I’m not a quilter, what she has to say from very rural Hettinger, ND (population 1,307) is always of interest. Here is what she had to say this morning.

Friday morning at 9 am sharp, I drove down Hettinger's Main Street, and pulled up to park in front of Dakota Cabin Quilts. I paused to enjoy the beautiful autumn morning and noticed other merchants arriving at their shops, keys in hand, opening up for the day. Across the street, someone swept leaves from the sidewalk in front of the insurance agency. To the north, I heard the wet sound of a window being washed, followed by the squeak of a squeegee. I gazed with pride at our storefront, our pretty window displays (thanks Ellen!), and saw some of my favorite quilts hanging from the ceiling near the front of the shop.

Our small town is blessed with a vital, healthy, busy Main Street. Hettinger has very few vacant buildings compared to communities of a similar size. Our Main Street businesses include: a grocery store, a variety store, a NAPA, a print shop, an antique shop, White Drug (with great gifts too), a KB Jewelers (with gift and books), Prairie Rose Floral, three hair salons, two banks, three insurance/investment agencies, three bars, two restaurants, and a dry cleaner.
Main Street Hettinger has a couple of great non-profits, including the "Clothes Closet", a second-hand shop staffed by volunteers, stocked with clean, inexpensive clothing and housewares. Profits generated by the Clothes Closet are donated back to the community. And, a few years ago, the Hettinger Theatre Board and local tradespeople came together to build a wonderful theatre in an empty building on north main. On the weekends, the smell of popcorn wafts up and down Main, and local teenagers have a tradition of meeting at the Sunday matinee.

I like to think of our end of the street as the "Arts & Crafts" area, as the Music Studio, Fried Photography/Scrapbook Shop, Wild Crocus Embroidery, and the Quilt Store are clustered together on South main.

Just north of us, the largest building on Main is KMM, a manufacturing company, and the second largest employer in town (after the medical center). KMM is a family-owned high tech manufacturer, based in Kildeer, ND, and one of their regional facilities is in Hettinger. At KMM, workers assemble small components that go into military equipment and air craft, and the company has contracts with Boeing and the US Department of Defense.

The phrase "From Wall Street to Main Street" has been ubiquitous this Election cycle, endlessly repeated by politicians, pundits, and news reporters. There is no doubt that the economic downturn is directly affecting Main Street businesses across the nation. As a business owner, I can't help but worry about the economy. But, as a consumer, I know that I can make a difference by carefully choosing where I spend my dollars. From groceries to gasoline, clothing to housewares, and for holiday gifts, I have renewed my commitment to shopping at the small businesses in our region, and plan to do my online shopping at small specialty e-stores rather than large chains.

If we all work together to support "Main Street USA", we will make a difference.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


They don’t grow much corn in western ND. It doesn’t rain enough, irrigation water is not readily available and the soils are not prime. However, there are some new technologies and crops which could open up areas of the Great Plains for biofuel production and hopefully positively impacting rural towns in ND and other states.
An article in ScienceDaily last month cited one of these crops, “In the largest field trial of its kind in the United States, researchers have determined that the giant perennial grass Miscanthus x gignateus outperforms current biofuel sources—by a lot.”

To offset 20% of U. S. gas production with corn or switchgrass would require taking about 25% of U. S. cropland, but Miscanthus could do it with only 9% according to research from the University of Illinois. By being a perennial, Miscanthus gets an earlier start on the growing season, starting to produce green leaves about six weeks earlier than corn and staying green well into October when corn starts shutting down in August. It also requires little fertilizer for optimal production.

One of their key findings was, “Our highest productivity is actually occurring south, on the poorest soils in the state. So that also shows us that this type of crop may be very good for marginal land that is not even being used for crop production.”

Key your eye on this crop, miscanthus.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Small Town Brewer Passes On

Any fifth generation business goes through a number of critical events in its 100+ year life. Most don’t make it to the third generation, much less the fifth. A business like beer brewing which had to live through the thirteen years of prohibition from 1920 through 1933 was especially hard hit. Thousands of local brewers never reopened their doors with the repeal of prohibition.

One of those that did reopen was the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, WI, which survived during prohibition by brewing soda water and near beer. The company dates to 1867 when Jacob Leinenkugel traveled to Chippewa Falls, WI (population 12,925) in the northwest part of the state to serve the large lumberjack population.

Fourth generation brewer Bill Leinenkugel who ran the company from 1971 to 1986 passed away last month in his hometown at the age of 87. He orchestrated the transition of his brew from largely a local into a regional one. During that time the number of brewers in the country fell from 350 to less than 40, as national companies like Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller transformed the industry. When Miller’s new budget brand Old Milwaukee threatened the Leinenkugel brand, Bill successfully repositioned his beer as a classier and more expensive alternative.

Even though the company was sold in the late 80s to Miller Brewing, the brewer is still run by fifth generation cousins Jake and Dick Leinenkugel in Chippewa Falls.

Bill Leinenkugel still sipped a bit of his favorite brew until a few days of his death. When asked his favorite, he responded, “I’ve got two. Leinenkugels and a free beer.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Movement and Change

When I was in Arco, ID, a participant enthusiastically gave me a Horizons brochure from the Northwest Area Foundation, a foundation that I’ve seen making some great progress in a number of towns along the northern tier of states.

I loved the opening shot from Horizons:

From waiting to leading…from talk to action…from poverty to prosperity…from a few to many…from despair to hope…from indifference to pride.

Horizons is a visioning and action plan on how communities in the eight states that it serves can take proactive steps to reduce poverty and help to build the type of community that they want to live in. To participate, towns must be less than 5,000 in population; have a poverty rate above 10%; and be broad based in the community.

This wasn’t my first view of the programs of the Northwest Area Foundation, a foundation set up in 1934 by the son of James J. Hill who was known as the “Empire Builder” for what he accomplished in setting up the Great Northern Railroad. The Foundation serves the eight states that the railroad crossed (MN, IA, ND, SD, MT, ID, OR, and WA). Last year the foundation gave out $24 million from an asset base of $465 million.

One of the very innovative parts of the Horizons program is their blogs from the towns that they are working with. You can see their blogs here. Check out places like Cando, ND (a shout-out to my favorite named town!) which talks about their farmers market, children’s summer theater and parades.

I love researching people like James J. Hill who was a farm boy from Ontario who wanted to be a sea captain. He arrived in St. Paul, MN but missed the last ox-cart caravan of the season heading for the west coast in July, 1856. He got a job for the winter as a shipping clerk at a steamboat company, never leaving. From very modest railroad endeavors he assembled The Great Northern Railroad in 1889 which stretched from St. Paul to Seattle, the northernmost railway in the USA. His fiscal conservatism allowed the railroad to escape being one of the few to not go bankrupt in the general Panic of 1893.

Today, the Northwest Area Foundation is still doing good and giving back to the region that helped it achieve success.

Monday, October 20, 2008

We're in Webster's! How Cool is That?

My wife Betinha was doing some research for me the other day for a talk that I’ve got to do overseas next year on BoomtownUSA. She ran across Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary, a dictionary of new words in the new century.

Guess what was one of the new words that Webster’s selected?


Her comment, “Our grandkids (still unborn) will think that is really cool!”

I was hoping to not have to wait so long to think it is cool. Or, as we say at Agracel, “It sure beats a sharp stick in the eye.”

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Great Flood of '08

While it made headlines during June, other than in IA the memories of the Great Flood of 2008 have largely been ignored by the media. It seems to be much more newsworthy to continue to study a big city like New Orleans still living with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina rather than with the “git ‘er done” approach of rural IA.

I was in Cedar Rapids recently for a board meeting, seeing first hand the devastation that was wrought upon that city and neighboring towns along the Iowa and Cedar Rivers.

Mark Hanson, VP of sales for the local Caterpillar dealer, explained what happened, “We got around 70 inches of snow last winter and had snow on the ground from Thanksgiving until April. Then we were hit with huge rains during all of April and May. The river started rising in early June and by June 9th they estimated that it would crest in Cedar Rapids at 20 feet, about a foot above the previous record set in the floods of 1993. By the 11th they were estimating 24.7’ which would have made it a 500 year event. On the 13th it finally crested at 31.3’. 1,300 city blocks were flooded, including the entire downtown.”

It is estimated that over 2,000 houses will need to be demolished because of the devastation of this flood. Six to seven thousand people lost their jobs. For a town of 130,000 it was truly a 500 year event, one that they hope never to repeat.

And, what happened? Well there wasn’t any looting that took place. Neighbors helped neighbors. Strangers helped strangers. The city pulled together.

Companies like Hy-Vee and Aegon set up massive kitchens to serve meals to volunteers and those without homes. Caterpillar donated the use of over 50 earth moving machines to non-profits in the community to assist in their clean-up efforts. Other businesses also pitched in to start the rebuilding.

It’s similar to what I heard in the aftermath of Katrina on the MS Gulf Coast, when those in need generally cited the efforts of Home Depot and Wal-Mart for helping them in the immediate aftermath of their disaster.

Would the USA be better off “outsourcing” disaster relief to the Red-Cross and private industry?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Incredible Restoration

It was called the “8th Wonder of the World” when it was built in 1902, having the largest free-standing dome in the world. It wasn’t until the Astrodome was built in 1965 that a larger dome was built!

West Baden Springs was built in less than a year at a cost of $414,000. It was a world famous haven for celebrities, politicians and underworld figures until the Great Depression when it was sold to Jesuits for $1 and was operated as a seminary for 30 years. Then it fell into disrepair.

Fortunately, in the mid 90s Bill and Gayle Cook from nearby Bloomington, IN together with the Historic Landmark Foundation of Indiana purchased and stabilized the rapidly deteriorating masterpiece. My wife and I were there in the early 90s and it was way beyond what I ever thought was salvageable. But thanks to the Cooks, West Baden Springs is back to its old glory.

The Cooks have invested over $500 million into the preservation, restoration and revival of both the West Baden Springs Hotel and the nearby French Lick Springs Hotel, another turn-of-the-century destination hotel/spa.

Only a local couple like the Cooks would have dared to take on a project like this, pouring their heart and soul in addition to their money into a project that restores a wonderful part of southern IN history.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tinkers Camp

“I want to instill mechanical curiosity!” That was the goal of Charles Holder, CEO of Hol-Mac Corporation on why he started Tinkers Camp this past summer. He went on, “The camp offered hands-on activities relating to the concepts of hydraulics, machines, electricity, welding, physics, math and drawing.”

Holder started the camp together with Jones County, MS Junior College. Twelve eighth and ninth graders from two local schools took part in the camp with each two students working together with an experienced mentor on real-world projects.

The camp was such a success that the MS Development Authority (MDA) is looking at how they roll it out throughout the state.

Who comes up with ideas like this?

Joy Foy from MDA filled me a bit on Mr. Holder, “His parents died when he was a teenager and he sent his younger sister to live with relatives but he stayed on the farm. He kept the cows milked and made a living for himself from that young age, going on to put himself through college. He has started his own business making heavy agricultural equipment and has made a very good living all these years and is a man of his word.”

We need more Charles Holders in this world!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Who Pays?

During this election cycle, there has already been a great deal of talk about “the rich vs. the poor”, especially as it relates to income and income taxes. I decided to try to figure it out for myself rather than only listening to the politicians and talking heads on TV. Here is what I found.

The IRS does an annual study on whom and what is paid in income taxes. Their latest study is data from the 2006 tax period. They break down their data by percentiles.

To get into the top 10% of taxpayers you needed to have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $108,904 in 2006. That group of taxpayers earned 47% of the income but paid 71% of the taxes.

The top 1% of taxpayers, which required an AGI of at least $388,806, earned 22% of income but paid 40% of the taxes.

The bottom 50% of taxpayers earned 13% of AGI and paid a record low 3% of the taxes.
Most surprising to me was the way that the various percentiles share of taxes have changed over the past twenty years. In 1986 the top 1% paid 26% of the total tax compared to 40% today. The top 10% paid 55% compared to 71% today. And the bottom 50% paid 6% compared to only 3% today.

I wonder what will happen to our country when the bottom 50% doesn’t pay any of the income tax?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hadn't Thought of That!

Dean Samuel, a good friend and long time partner, recently sent me an email that was one of those “ah-ha” moments. His son, David, a serial entrepreneur who has successfully started and sold two companies to Time Warner and Sony for tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, recently moved from Silicon Valley to NC for quality of life reasons for his young family.

In David’s early research of the Research Triangle there is one glaring shortfall, despite its many successes. Dean wrote, “Few companies have gone public. When a company goes public, it spawns hundreds of high achieving millionaires who in turn break out on their own to create new companies. Think Microsoft, Oracle, etc. The whole area explodes with innovation and risk taking. If they stay private, no one leaves and no new companies are created.”

Interesting thought that I’d missed up until that email. I’ll check it out in my travels around the USA.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fourth Year Anniversay

Today marks the 4th anniversary of when I started doing my blogs. Since then I’ve posted 1852. Thanks for reading them and sending me your comments (both good and bad) about what I’m seeing in my travels around the country, research that we continue to do and my observations on our societal and political life in the USA.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sustainable Small Town Development Series

Allan Hooper of Consumers Energy in Jackson, MI has one of the best feels for economic development in small towns. He has been very instrumental in pulling rural MI together for an annual summit on small town development, one of the best that I’ve seen in my travels around the country.

Allan has compiled a number of great papers on the subject from around the country on their website. You can read about small town trends, community survival, local entrepreneurs, using community assets, economic gardening and engaging community alumni. Alan’s great book on “101 Quips, Quotes and Concepts for Sustainable Small Town Development” is also there.

I hope that you’ll check it out.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Promise!

“Ten years ago we lost 14,000 jobs over a four year period. This year we’ve already added 5,500!” Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First was addressing our quarterly Community Celebration of Excellence event in Effingham County, IL.

He used a sailing analogy to explain what Kalamazoo, MI did to turn itself around, “If you’re sailing and the wind dies down, you’re in trouble. Sailors of old had three choices when the wind died…drift into the rocks and hope you survive, drop anchor and wait or do what is called ketching. The captain would have sailors row the anchor out as far at the anchor cable would allow and drop it. Then, all hands on deck would pull the boat toward that anchor.”

He went on, “When we were stranded as a community, we decided to ketch our way to prosperity. Education is the rope that we are using to pull ourselves toward the future.”

“Several years ago, we did an evaluation of ourselves and found that we were a city in trouble. We quickly realized that we were going to be broke in three years. Our schools were going downhill, losing ½ of their kids in ten years.”

The plan developed, called the Kalamazoo Promise, is a commitment that if you attend Kalamazoo schools you’ll have tuition and fees paid to attend any public college or university in the state of MI.

And the results of that bold promise?

“In the last two years we’ve had 1,400 new students in our schools. They’ve come from 33 states and 8 foreign countries. Our dropout rate has been cut in half. We passed our first school bond referendum in over 40 years! We are racing to the top.”

Another innovative program in Kalamazoo is their College Student Internship Program which they’ve recently started, paring college students with local businesses. A student can earn $3,000 for the summer with a $500 bonus if they meet the employer’s expectations. A local private foundation will match that $500 bonus and also award them a $5,000 scholarship. Their goal is that ½ of the students will end up returning to Kalamazoo after graduation.

“We’re marrying education with the opportunity to succeed in Kalamazoo.”

Kitchens pointed out that at least 24 other USA towns have copied the Kalamazoo Promise, with many others looking at it.

Last week I received an email from good friend and Boomtown advocate Joy Foy from MS. Here is what she reported to me about similar programs in her state: “Lee, Monroe, Itawamba, Union, and Pontotoc Counties have all announced scholarship programs to cover tuition for any student to attend 2 years of community college. We’ve got others also looking at copying.”

Steve Bushue is passionately setting up a similar program in my home county, Effingham. Initial funds have been raised and plans are to greatly expand so that we can kick off our own Effingham Promise.

What are you promising your young people?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Sky is Falling!

One of the things that continues to amaze me is how many people extrapolate the recent past out into the long term. Too often this causes people to both become over enthused when the trend is up and to see nothing but calamity when it is down. We’ve seen it in the past with the fear of robotics causing the demise of USA manufacturing in the 60s, OPEC in the 70s, Japan in the 80s, the “giant sucking sound to Mexico” in the 80s, China in the 90s and housing today.

If you look at the history of housing, a house was always a depreciating asset until the 1950s (see graphic at right). When you bought or built a house, you expected it to go down in value much like we think of cars today. You don’t get upset at your car dealer when a one day old car is worth 20 or 30% less than the previous day. As a result few people buy new cars as an investment. They buy them to drive!

So it was with housing, at least until recently. The tax code, allowing the deduction of interest, and governmental assistance for home buyers has pushed American homeownership to almost 70%, a record. Efforts to push it even higher resulted in loans being made to people who didn’t have much of a chance of paying them back.

Housing prices increased at rates slightly above the inflation rate for much of the 80s and 90s. The Case Shiller Index, which measures housing prices in the top 20 metro markets increased at a 3.7% annual rate from 1987 (when it started) through 2000. However, in 2000 when the .com bubble burst, money flowed from the stock market into the housing market. From 2000 through its peak in 2006, the index soared by 11.2% per year, three times as fast! Suddenly, everyone was into “flipping houses”, never thinking that housing prices could ever go down.

But the bubble popped and down they went. Since peaking in the second quarter of 2006, the index has decreased by 8.6% for the past two years, a decrease but hardly a catastrophe. Prices today are equivalent to what they were in early 2000s. Granted, there are some areas that have decreased more than 8.6%/year but generally they are also the regions that increased at a much faster rate in the early 2000s.

I’m convinced that the housing crisis will stabilize in the next couple of years and slowly start to rebuild from a base that is much more solid than it was in 2006.

An aside:

If you want to see how your area has done on housing values go to this website and click on your state. You also can drill down and see how values have changed in the MSAs in your state. As an example, in CA the housing index moved from 40 in 1975 to 640 in 2006, a 16x increase! Put another way, a $100,000 house in 1975 was worth $1.6 million in 2005.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Idaho Wheat

Driving to/from places like Arco, ID is one of my favorite times. I love being in the wide open spaces, without many cars on the road, able to cruise along seeing the incredibly beautiful American landscape. My trip from Jackson, WY to Arco and back, a total of about 7 hours on two different routes was especially enjoyable.

Not only did I drive through some incredible mountains and high mountain deserts but also some beautiful farms in those seven hours. In the agricultural areas I was surprised that potatoes seemed to rank behind wheat and alfalfa.

I learned that Idaho produces about 100 million bushels of wheat each year, with over ½ of it going into export markets, primarily to Asian customers. An oddity of Idaho is that it is one of the few places in the world where they grow five of the six different classes of wheat. They grow Soft White (made into cakes and cookies); Hard Red—both spring and winter (bread); Durum (pasta); and Hard White (Asian style noodles). The only one they don’t grow is Soft Red, which we grow here in the eastern Midwest (crackers).

From the looks of the new combines and tractors, it appears that wheat has been a very profitable crop for Idaho farmers.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mine Hill Tour

One of the more fascinating parts of my tour of the Lost Rivers Valley was going up the mountain, just outside of Mackay, climbing several thousand feet above the valley floor. The mountain was once the largest copper mountain in the USA and operated from 1879 until the mid 1980s. A whole city, since abandoned, existed on the side of the mountain, with the buildings held onto the mountainside with cables that were anchored into solid rock.

An elaborate system of carts and trolleys brought over one million tons of material down several thousand feet to be separated into gold, silver and other metals. During the mine’s 100+ year life 42,000 ounces of gold; 2 million ounces of silver; 62 million pounds of copper; 1.5 million pounds of lead and 5 million pounds of zinc were extracted.

It was quite a trip up to the top of that mountain and hard to believe that people and animals used to make the trip up and down each day.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Back Home....Working Electronically

“Live where you want. Work Electronically.” It probably is going to be a promo that you are going to see more in the workforce, especially as the Baby Boomers begin to retire. It is a trend that I’m seeing more often in my travels around the country.

In the Lost Rivers Valley I met Kevin and Cheri Pearson who are living exactly that dream. Here is how Kevin told me their story, “I was born and raised here. Cheri was born in Cadillac, MI. I graduated from college in computer science in 1995 and immediately went to work for Hewlett-Packard in Boise. Cheri and I decided that we didn’t want to raise our two children in the big city and H-P was already letting me work a couple of days a week from home, so I approached them about letting me work permanently from here.”

Cheri added, “Our kids are 13 and 14 now but were only 7 & 8 at the time when we moved here. They have the advantage of being able to play in every sport in the school, something that they couldn’t do in Boise. We’ve never regretted the move although initially it was difficult fighting a feeling of loneliness.”

Kevin goes back to Boise on an irregular basis. He was back there last month but has gone as long as six months without going back to see his boss.

The Pearsons live on a small farm that is about 3 miles outside of Moore. Having a DSL connection at the farm was one of the key decisions on where to live when they made the move back home.

Are you ready for these new electronic workers in your town? Do you have the broadband connections that they are going to need?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

High School Tradition

Towering over Arco is a gigantic bluff with stone outcroppings that appear that they might fall off at any minute. On these outcroppings are a series of numbers written in big block white paint. At first I thought that perhaps they were the numbers of the high school football team, but ‘2000’ and ‘2002’ convinced me that it was something else.

Michelle Holt, head of ED, told me, “It’s a graduating class tradition that began in 1919 and has been going on ever since. Each class climbs up the mountain, hangs one of their members over the edge in a tire on a rope and they paint the class year on the side. The higher they go, the more macho they are.”

Macho is evidently a big thing in Arco, because there were several of the spots that I wouldn’t have gone on a dare.

She went on, “Several of the older classes, who are too old to climb up there, will pay a class to repaint their class year over for them.”

With only 28 students in the graduating class, Butte County High School doesn’t have a lot of students to pick from to find the macho ones to climb up the mountain with their paint brush.

And, the Bureau of Land Management, which technically owns the hill, has informed the school that they aren’t going to allow the painting to take place after 2019, the 100th anniversary of the first class to put their class year on the mountain. I’m certain that it is not viewed as being very PC in Washington, DC, but I’m also guessing that it will be a tradition that will continue long after that year. It’s going to be tough to police that mountain when those high school students decide to climb up there.

It is the most unusual graduating class identification that I’ve seen in my travels around the USA.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Going to the Lost Rivers Valley!

When Dean Bingham, president of Agracel, heard that I was going to the Lost Rivers Valley, he told me, “Wow! That is a great place. That is where we go camping each year with my Dad. Pickle’s is our lunch stop every year on the way up to Challis.” I stopped in for breakfast, having a wonderful conversation with a round table to local farmers who educated me on their crops and big issues. Drought for the past six years and most of the past fifteen was their major concern, as was the increasing cost of inputs for their crops.

Bob Burroughs, VP of Lost Rivers Valley ED, told me, “We’re seeing a big push of people coming here with second homes. The Sun Valley is pricing many people out of the market, forcing them to move. We’re the next valley over and they are moving here. It is driving our property values much higher, making housing for normal workers way too expensive.” The house on the right, which sits on all of 10 acres, sold for $1.9 million recently.

With seven of the highest peaks in Idaho located in the Lost Rivers Valley, it’s a land of incredible beauty. Hunting, fishing, camping, trails (walking, biking and ATVs) and even a wind trail are huge assets that are slowly being discovered. The wind trail is the first official one authorized in the USA and attracted an airline pilot from Boise who is building a glider park that will allow owners to build along its runway.

These second home owners have great potential for ED. Some have a wealth of business knowledge. Others are going to start businesses from their vacation homes. And, still others with a love for the valley could help to start a community foundation or an angel investor network, two items I suggested that they look at starting.

I fell in love with the Lost Rivers Valley. I hope to get back there. Dean Bingham was right!