Saturday, April 19, 2014

Infographic - Wake Up Times of Famous Authors

Friday, April 18, 2014

Americans Value Both Property & Public Lands

The news media loves a good stereotype, such as a story recently out west where inadvertently a rancher may be abusing the commons while failing to pay his fair share.  He successfully posed as a victim by calling on heavily armed extremists.

As a descendant of generations of cattle ranchers, I know that as independent as they are, ranchers have no patience for the few among them who always seem bent on gaming the system while dodging responsibilities.

This is especially true of those who abuse the land.

But in this instance, I suspect one or more government agents had been enablers until pushed into action by a lawsuit.  Uneven or lethargic enforcement is the real reason regulations have earned a pejorative.

I suspect ranchers and regulators generally fall into the three groupings, long-identified in research about how Americans overall feel about their work.

Fully half are “not engaged,” or as one researcher put it, either “sleepwalking” or frazzled by concerns unrelated to work.  This group is where the government agents in this news story probably fell.

Twenty percent of Americans are “actively disengaged,” working to undermine others.  This may describe the rancher who was abusing publicly-owned land while also failing to pay for the right to use it.

All too often, leniency with members of this group merely breeds a sense of entitlement.

According to a Republican friend of mine who has served both as an administrator and elected official, given more energetic and even handed enforcement of regulations, we would need far fewer.

Of course, a third of Americans are fully engaged in their work according to the annual survey.  Researchers at Harvard, Stanford and Claremont have also found that 20% of these workers experience what is described as “flow” at least once a day and a smaller percentage less often.

Government workers fit the profile for Americans workers overall with a slightly smaller percentage “actively disengaged.”  I assume ranchers overall are more engaged than the average, as are workers in smaller non-profits.

However, being engaged is about far more than just genes or heritage.  In fact, while one can learn to be engaged, finding it is about exploration of passions until there is a fit.

There is clearly room in every economic sector and organization, including government and even families, for the trend to Pay to Quit” programs.

I became a fan of economist/futurist Jeremy Rifkin more than twenty years ago when I happened to read, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture.  Initially, I was interested in the archeology of my heritage, but his books always transcend their focus.

Even more prescient today is one I read a little more than a year later entitled, The End of Work.

In Mr. Rifkin’s newest book released this month, he again reminds us of how the notion of private property evolved. It began with the first of several European enclosure movements in the 1500s, including mass evictions, and was then legislated from the early 1700s to 1850, including 14 million acres in England alone.

Several books and essays regarding this era were required reading when I was working my way to a degree in 1972 at Brigham Young University, including one entitled, The Tragedy of the Commons, which is more a platitudinal op-ed than science, history or economics.

Private property was embedded in the evolution of America, even down to initial limitations of who could vote.

But by 1847 when many of my ancestors were headed into the Rocky Mountains, lawmakers were paying attention to the concerns of Americans over the destructive excesses caused by human activity when left to the market alone.

This rapidly led to a federal department of the Interior and formation a little more than two decades later of Yellowstone National Park, a few miles from what would become our ancestral ranch.

This American movement was driven by popular acclaim fueled by  nature essayists, photographers and artists taken on survey expeditions, including the spectacular Hudson Bay school depictions of the west by Albert Bierstadt.

Favorite memories of mine include cutting through the fine arts building between classes on my way to work part-time in what was  then-called the Office of Tours & Conference, my first start-up experience.

My favorites were Bierstadt’s pieces, including the 10’ wide painting shown in this blog, two decades before a 102,000 s.f., 4-story building was erected to showcase what must be nearly 20,000 pieces in the Museum of Art’s collection by now.

Influenced by John Muir, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt incorporated scenic and natural preservation with his own brand of utilitarian conservation including national forests such as the Targhee, located just north of our ranch.

All of this is now scientifically reinforced by the subsequent science of ecology and what economists measure as eco-system services.

A scientific poll taken last year reinforced how strongly more than two-thirds of Americans feel about permanent protection of public lands including 1-in-3 who wants some accessible for fee-based livestock grazing.

Judging by an even more recent poll showing that Americans put protection of the environment over jobs, I assume they would not be sympathetic with over-grazing on public lands in Nevada, even when threatened by extremist assault weapons.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Economic Angioplasty

A new report on the nation’s road infrastructure, including bridges and mass transit, reveals that nearly 17,000 miles of paved roadway through National Forests, National Parks and Wildlife Refuges are suffering from a backlog of more than $11 billion in deferred maintenance.

Many people think of airports when they think about travel and tourism, but 80% of domestic leisure trips and 2-out-of 3 business trips including 1-in-23 for the purpose of attending a convention or meeting, actually travel by car.

Cities that believe they can disguise billboard blighted roadsides by tidying up the drive from the airport to their Downtown are delusional, as are elected officials and private sector businesses opposed to transferring funds (taxes) to keep the nation’s economic arteries healthy.

Overall economic vitality in this country has always been enabled by public sector infrastructure. 

The report documents that revenues to build and maintain roadways include general funds (27%), per gallon taxes on fuel (26%), vehicle taxes (12.2%), bonds (15%), tolls (4%) and “other” (16%.)

So we can’t lay the lack of funding for this type of infrastructure solely on the fact that a combination of fuel efficiency, inflation and fuel prices is eroding road revenue from per gallon taxes on fuel.

Bonds such as those used recently by my adopted hometown to catch up on years of neglect are expensive and the “dues” many communities across the nation must pay for decades of neglect. Nearly 78% of highway road mileage is locally owned roads including half of all bridges.

States are responsible for 19% of overall road mileage and 48% of bridges, with North Carolina an exception because the state is also responsible for county roads as well as highways that become local roads as they pass through cities and towns.

The low rating residents gave roads in Durham on a recent survey is likely due to the relatively poor condition of state roads that run through here now that city streets are up to par.

The national report also documents how road funds are expended nationwide.  The 49% that goes for capital outlay (not including the 11% for debt service) includes only 60% which is used for rehabilitation (resurfacing or replacing existing pavement and bridges.)

Laying pavement is only part of keeping the nation’s economic arteries flowing including 80% of all domestic tourism.

There is also the matter of traffic control, public safety and forested roadsides to soak up storm runoff, along with air pollution and scenic views that are so crucial to tourism and business appeal.

In fact, scenic roadsides are the first and last impressions given relocating or expanding businesses during site selection.  Blight along roadsides, including billboards and other litter, create a brand no amount of marketing and promotion can overcome.

Manicured and tree-lined roadsides and respect for scenic vistas signal to decision makers something far more important than incentives or tax breaks.  They signal whether a state or community has self-respect and whether they grasp what it takes to grow and attract talent.

No amount of branding and other marketing can offset the first and last impressions created by roadside neglect and blight.

The reason shifting to a per mile assessment for roads, which Oregon has been testing for a decade, is that 90% of vehicle miles traveled in the United States are for freight compared to just 10% for passenger travel.

Trucks are also disproportionately harder on pavement.  By tonnage, nearly 70% of freight shipments were by truck in 2010, and that amount will grow by two-thirds by 2040.

As consumers we are going to pay one way or the other because taxes on freight travel will be passed on in the prices of products.

But an added plus to going to a per mile assessment is that it may make commercial enterprises re-think and re-engineer supply chains to minimize distance, something that will be better for our health and for our local economies.

Private sector businesses or their allies who are resistant to paying more to bring roadways up to par are in effect pushing costs off on the general public.

This is something economists call an “externality” when the full costs of products are pushed off on the public sector and taxpayers rather than being incorporated through full-cost accounting.

A study shows that Americans pay noticeably lower charges for our roads than other countries.  This is lost though on regressive members of Congress who are hamstringing the federal highway trust fund.

By working through the details over the past decade, Oregon, which also pioneered the per gallon fuel tax in 1919, has already adopted a per mile approach after beta testing it in cooperation with residents and business owners, some of whom agreed to provide access to GPS systems.

GPS is increasingly common in passenger vehicles and driver smartphones as well as freight trucks, but the Oregon per mile system is being first phased in beginning with a cap of 5,000 drivers willing to opt in to paying 1.5 cents per mile driven vs. 30 cents per gallon on fuel there.

Until privacy issues are resolved (apparently some people don’t want to divulge their secret destinations) it will be based on the miles traveled each year and measured during state safety inspections.

That works out to $150 a year for someone driving 10,000 miles a year.  It meets the fairness test by shifting more of the burden for roads to heavy users and freight haulers.

A trial in Iowa of the per mile approach showed 40% in favor beforehand and 70% positive after it.  A Nevada report provides some excellent examples comparing the current per gallon tax with a miles traveled fee.

It isn’t yet clear how VMT, as it is called, will scale up to include interstate tourists.  Nor is it clear how interstate transfers will occur unless the GPS approach is eventually implemented, which will make it even fairer by eliminating private driveways and facilitating out of state transfers.

The Institute for Transportation Research is recommending a shift to miles traveled in North Carolina.

I’m ready and I don’t mind if it tracks via my GPS.  Being able to readily find a vehicle that is missing or overdue is a bonus far more significant to me than privacy.

But I do see why it shouldn’t be accessible to the press so that confidential corporate merger discussions or bipartisan political initiatives have privacy.

Pulling the wool someone’s eyes, though, may be a thing of the past.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Second Choice – Still Sense of Place

Growing up, my ambitions were tied to sense of place, first as a cowboy on our ancestral ranch in the Yellowstone nook of Idaho, then in grade school as either a uniformed Forest Ranger or a Fish and Wildlife Officer.

Both were easy to spot in Ashton, the small, nearby town where I started school and provided an inspiration to attend college (as though my parents ever gave me a choice (smile.)

I have always loved wildlife, so running up Ashton-Flag Ranch Road and veering off into the remote Idaho corner of Yellowstone Park was always a spectacular option.

In the early 1900s, my paternal grandfather, Mel Bowman, then 22 years old, helped pioneer the 40-mile route that slices between Yellowstone and the north end of the Tetons.

During the dead of winter between 1910 and 1911, while my grandparent’s ranch lay buried in snow drifts, my grandfather and his brother ran wagon loads of cement along the dirt and gravel road using teams of four draught horses each.

Each trip took four days over and two days back in below freezing weather.  In return they received $80 each not including provisions, horse feed or overnight stays in tepees along the way.

The objective was construction of a concrete dam in order to raise Jackson Lake by thirty feet for the purposes of supplying irrigation water, and eventually along with six other dams along both sides of the Tetons, a source of hydroelectric power.

A view down the Tetons from a ridgeline at the beginning of the road is one of my favorite views of the 40-mile Teton Range.  But this was only one option for viewing wildlife during my early years.

Two other favorite trips including going a mile or two across the Henry’s Fork to the hatchery to see native Cutthroat trout fingerlings and riding horseback into the Sand Creek Elk Refuge that ran down the west side of the ranch including Moose in the wetlands down near Chester.

Less than fifty miles due west of the ranch, the 10,000-acre historic Camas National Wildlife Refuge (shown in this image) is one of nearly 600 nationwide.

Filled each spring and fall with tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl including Trumpeter Swans, the Camas NWR is now at risk.

Center-pivot irrigation technology (the circular farm land you see from an airplane) not only pushed farming out that way in the 1960s and 1970s but it soon began to deplete ground water that kept the refuge’s wetlands wet.

So ironically, the refuge has had to also pump water from the aquifer in order to sustain places for the big birds to stop for rest flying south and returning north.

Probably gone are the days when we could see more than 50,000 ducks and geese in flight all at the same time.  Now the Refuge must be selective about what habitat it can keep viable.

Thinking I might want to be a lawyer, I didn’t turn back to my love of sense of place until part way through law school in Spokane, Washington.

In the 1970s, when I was helping to start the community-destination marketing organization there, we included the huge Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge which was 25 miles southwest in our inventory of nearby things to see and do.

Spectacular flights of huge Trumpeter Swans is what I remember there.  The largest of North American native waterfowl, Trumpeters (for the sound they make) stand about four feet tall but stretched out in flight they measure 6 feet from bill to feet and another 6 to 8 feet in wingspan.

They had become almost extinct before I turned six years old in the 1950s.

When I was recruited to Anchorage to complete another start up, I lived on a steep bluff along the southern edge of the city between Kincaid Park and Discovery Bay overlooking Turnagain Arm, with a spectacular view down Cook Inlet.

The glass wall and front door of my ground floor condo was less than a dozen steps from the bluff’s mid-point along the 33,000-acre Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge that runs along the south side of the municipality from the airport to Potter Marsh, a wildlife area created in 1917 when construction of the Alaska Railroad isolated a wetland.

Our organization lobbied successfully for the bird refuge at Potter Marsh to be interpreted for visitors along a 1,500 foot boardwalk, now one of Alaska’s most popular wildlife viewing areas.

Potter Marsh isn’t just for the birds, including an occasional Trumpeter.  When I lived there in the 1980s, more than 1,100 Moose in Anchorage used the mountain to sea greenways as their highways.

In the spring, the Marsh is where they calved just a few miles from where I lived and worked.

Just around a corner, while still in the municipality of Anchorage you can see Dall sheep (which look similar to mountain goats) climbing a rocky slope just above the roadway, and a bit further, a lookout to see Beluga whales.

There are ten wildlife refuges in North Carolina including Roanoke River which was created the year I moved here, but most are a good ride east from Durham where I finished my career after building yet another community start up with natural place based assets included.

A friend and I may visit one refuge in particular the next time we take the Harley Crossbones to visit friends in Charlotte.  As we cut down across the “heart” of North Carolina and under Uwharrie National Forest this time, the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge is on our way just outside Wadesboro.

We forget how much tourism overall relies on infrastructure, including green infrastructure such as the National Wildlife Refuges.  They weren’t created for the sake of tourism, but like much of the nation’s green infrastructure, that is a huge economic byproduct.

Even in cities, natural assets are among the most productive of place-based assets essential to both quality of life and quality of place.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Value of Coming In Third

I didn’t remember that my adopted home of Durham, North Carolina is only one of 150 communities it serves, when SONOCO awarded it a Bronze-tier Sustainability Star Award this month.

Durham is no stranger to accolades, especially in the sheer breadth of areas recognized, but in my former career as a community marketer, I would usually breeze past one like this to immediately dig down into the rating scheme and how the community could improve.

Beyond validation, accolades serve as a vanity metric for some but the true value of any ranking, if scientifically done, is as an extremely useful diagnostic to shed light on areas for improvement.

More later in this blog on why accolades are a double-edged sword when it comes to community marketing.

In this case though, it was apparent that Durham was one of the few—if not the only—community awarded at any of the three tiers and that in addition, Energy Digital has named Durham a “Top 10 Recycling Community in the US.”

Durham was the only city in the Southeast to make the list, falling right after Madison, Wisconsin, which hopefully it will soon emulate at recycling plastic film such as shopping bags.

Making its appearance in the top ten even more remarkable, North Carolina as a whole ranks 41st at recycling.

Durham recycles 1,000 tons of material a month (2 million lbs. – 8 lbs. per capita) so it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking this must be the norm everywhere until you read about some other pretty cool cities that really struggle with recycling.

It is also important for Durham to remember that SONOCO Recycling alone now collects 292,000 tons of material a month or 3.5 million tons a year.  If they aren’t already doing so, SONOCO could help us establish a per capita benchmark for which to strive.

Beyond their diagnostic value, community accolades are a signal of quality.  But care must be taken when using them to leverage awareness through community marketing for visitors including the more than 8-in-10 who secretly shop a community as a visitor first.

The accolades provide reasons to believe in Durham’s deep-rooted values and personality traits but a study published last year shows The Paradox of Publicity.

Community marketing is about helping people make decisions that are best for them, and Durham is not for everyone, no community is, but especially one such as this with a strong sense of place and identity.

The study shows there may be more enduring value in not being first in a ranking or accolade, which according to the researchers, if not used carefully, can lead to adoption by audiences who would not have been attracted otherwise.

This can lead to a backlash and disgruntled individuals.  This is why community marketing arms must do their best to provide a full range of content that will help potential visitors, newcomers and relocating executives find the right fit, even if it isn’t your community.

In other words, don’t be quick to discount missing out on first place.

An example is another recent ranking of metro areas by a series of indices that rate sprawl.  When I first looked at the work of researchers at the University of Utah, I questioned if they had been careful to look at variables such as whether the region is polycentric.

Fortunately, they also provided the measure by county, which in a polycentric area, more accurately reflects how people live and perceive where they live.

At this level, the indices reflected accurately what I know to be the differences between Durham and other counties in North Carolina (pages 33-34.)

Sometimes, using rankings or accolades requires digging more deeply into the metrics before publicizing them as a means to help prospective residents, as well as officials, make decisions.

I was shocked recently to hear two people, one in my former profession, question the value of undergoing an in-depth organizational diagnostic for accreditation or reaccreditation.

Communities have very different personalities unless they have surrendered theirs to emulate others.

But I can’t imagine a community that would tolerate having representatives that aren’t accredited or eager to seek any diagnostic that would ensure they are proficient.

Don’t give me the bunk that you are too busy, or in my mind, you better be busy looking for a new line of work.