Friday, November 30, 2007

In the Words of George Gershwin, "Let's Put On Some Speed!"

With my bias for action, almost everything is more complicated than I envision. But I wonder what’s holding up the public side of the public/private city center revitalization partnership with Greenfire Development.

While some objected to the tactics and/or the amount invested with American Tobacco, it is what it is, and it clearly set the standard. By all accounts, American Tobacco is a success, and over time, it could self-fund a return on investment to taxpayers.

So the partnership with Greenfire Development seems like a slam dunk. No hardball, no “my way or the highway,” and they put real money on the table first, not just conditional options. And Greenfire is clearly taking on the much larger and more significant task of truly jumpstarting the city center.

Any experience I have is on the “demand side” of economic development, and I have only vicarious expertise with this “supply side” stuff. But to me, the public sector should be jumping for joy and immediately executing an “American Tobacco style” template with Greenfire.

I realize most of the public sector players are new, but playing hard to get now isn’t going to compensate for any perceived past excesses, and besides, it is unfair.

I do know one thing. We’ve only truly just begun the task of Downtown revitalization. Other communities would die for a Greenfire. Just because the company is homegrown doesn’t mean its investments have to be here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

So Refreshing

Durham was honored recently as one of the locations where VitalSmarts president Joseph Grenny will present a workshop around his new book Influencer.

Only one problem: under details a skyline of Raleigh, and the name of the airport Raleigh/Durham was substituted as the location. Kind of like winning the World Series, but the other team’s name is inscribed on the trophy, and the publicity is about both teams rather than the winner.

This, of course, is what place branding expert Bill Baker warned against… e.g., in a polycentric region, if you permit your brand to be hyphenated, you gradually disappear as a place or become an appendage.

The good news is that VitalSmarts is a company that obviously walks the talk and thrives on feedback. In no more time than it took to hit send and make the clarification, I had heard back from several people, one in email and two via phone just how much they appreciated the clarification, which was fixed within hours.

Oh, another thing. Between the lines it became apparent that people in this region may have neglected to make the clarification or, worse, spoke so centric that it was assumed that Durham used Raleigh for its skyline for one big city called Raleigh-Durham. :-) The City of Raleigh is working extensively with Grenny, and Capitol Broadcasting is a sponsor.

Now if we can just get the airlines to be as reasonable and responsive as VitalSmarts. Rare is the airline that will quickly respect and honor such distinctions. I guess flying at 30,000 feet so often gives a warped sense of branding. While defiant about why destination communities should help distinguish one airline from another, some communications representatives have even been downright rude and dismissive when a community asks for clarity in its brand. Even more disturbing when factoring in that to reach a destination is the reason people fly at all.

But of course, runways are “one-way streets.”

But maybe it is a college rivalry thing. The VitalSmarts guys are BYU (my alma mater, obviously back when it wasn’t as hard to gain admission), and the latest airline to be dismissive of Durham’s brand has roots in the University of Utah. And if you think Duke in Durham and UNC in Chapel Hill are intense rivals, well, let’s just say, it isn’t pretty.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


On most things I’m much more patient than I was earlier in my career. Hard to believe for some, but yes, my sense of urgency has been even higher at times past.

But on at least one note, I’m less and less patient. That’s being asked the same question over and over by an individual or group. Drives me nuts, and from there, things digress into who was most offended. Unfortunately for me, I rarely get to show how offended I am, because it gets fired back at me as “why are you so frustrated?”

Demonstrates a “Nickism” (bumper stickers created by friend and former Mayor Nick Tennyson). He always says there is only room enough for one person at a time to stand on “principle.”

Unlike many people I meet, I do a lot of introspection. I’m think I’m less and less patient at answering the same questions from the same people, because (1) I sense more than ever how much it takes to execute change and how important it is, and (2) while I am as intuitive and opinionated as anyone, in my work at least, I can’t ask people to use that as my primary decision-making rationale. So here, we make information-driven decisions, with intuition and opinion as a seasoning.

People who ask the same question over and over (I truly think they forget that they have already asked that question and received an answer) appear to make decisions on intuition and opinion, with a little information as seasoning. Elected officials can often give that impression, but they are far more information-driven than they are given credit for.

But those “one-way street” people I talk about… I’m probably being generous to suggest they even put information on their decisions as seasoning. Oh and by the way, people think I’m thin-skinned?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

And You Think I Have Evident Body Language

People have always said they can read my face. They may be right. But maybe the expressions are learned expressions from childhood, and they actually don’t have a clue what emotions I have them tied to?

The other day I was standing at the back of an event. One of the speakers brought my name up and gave me credit for something. Two individuals, who, let’s just say, won’t be sending me any holiday cards, became visibly animated, suddenly crossing and uncrossing legs, twitching side to side, whispering and snickering visibly.

Maybe they were just commenting on what a great guy I am. Not!

But as they left the meeting, they made an effort to shake my hand, be jolly, etc.

I guess people always know where they stand with me. Because they can read my face. Some folks, though, have two faces.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Save Our Summers

In Idaho we used to have “spud break” in October. This was back when most potatoes were picked by hand or with limited machines, so kids were ostensibly off so they could help their parents. For those of us on ranches or dry farms though, it was just a vacation, and often we took family vacations. Now potato-picking is largely automated and only a county or two still have spud break.

I’m reminded of the hubbub now over “save our summers,” which is a plea by tourism interests in a growing number of states to prevent public schools from starting earlier than Labor Day. My friend and fellow blogger Bill Geist posted a great blog on the movement and provided some new research on the impact. While most people weighed in on this and began playing offense and defense without any information, Bill is one that has kept his eye on any valid substantiation.

But Bill knows I’ve been less than empathetic with the school start issue. It is true that nationwide 29% of leisure travel occurs in June, July and August (or 25% of the year). Bumping school start up a couple of weeks makes that more like 18-20%, but I have trouble with the notion of “lost” vacations. I have no doubt some are moved up and that revenues show then in July, which would have been in August. The problem may be one of workforce, but as difficult as it is nowadays for kids to get jobs at that age, even that needs deeper analysis. Maybe we’re talking more about kids in family businesses.

But my ambivalence is largely because I don’t think it’s a good idea for tourism officials to mess with school officials, unless we’re ready for that in return. This is a two-way street, and we might be trading chits for something even more valuable to tourism overall one day.

But I’ve also been reluctant because Durham is a cultural destination and frankly benefits from more leisure tourism in spring and fall. There are as many people drawn to cultural destinations are there are to beaches, mountains or theme parks. Some say that 80% of North Carolina’s tourism revenue now comes from cultural destinations. And in communities like Durham, year-round schools are increasingly popular, as families catch on to the benefits over traditional summer breaks. Maybe we should be more positive about this and promote more year-round schools, but then again, that wouldn’t benefit summer-only tourism. They actually benefit tourism interests by spreading the summer vacation season out over more of the year.

I guess my point is that school schedules need to revolve around local conditions, and one size doesn’t fit all. But posts like Bill’s also make the dialogue much more rational.