Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wide Open Spaces

I was born in northeast Idaho--that is northeast part of southeast :-)--in Fremont County, framed by the Continental Divide along the Montana border and the Teton Mountains on the border with Wyoming... about 10 times the land area of Durham and still today less than 1/10th the population (and half of that in one town). But we were next to the huge, Jackson, WY, micropolitan area, today around 27,000 in population. Traffic is a problem… “not.”

At age 5, I inherited my father’s hand-me-down horse, a jet-black quarter horse named Gypsy, with a thick Belgian neck. She had been my father’s horse until I was five and old enough for roundup and didn’t pass until I was in college. As an only son, in that culture, that horse was my closest companion.

It was common, in high Rocky Mountain plateau, to come up on a rise and see for 50 miles--what seemed like a hundred. Part thinner air, part topography.

When I came to Durham nearly two decades ago, the first thing I noticed was the heavy tree canopy, thick underbrush and how rare it seemed to see the horizon. Another difference is how close population centers are.

This all crossed my mind as we gathered visitor demographics for the new Durham Performing Arts Center. There are 1.8 million people within 50 miles (more than the entire state of Idaho), 5 million within 100 miles (twice the combined populations of the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) and a full 10 million within 150 miles (about the population of Los Angeles).

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Format for Public School Achievement Comparative

This annual compilation, using scores gathered from the State and each system, is a very popular tool for newcomers and residents interested in the school system and student performance. Because no two systems have the same socioeconomic make-up, one of the only apples-to-apples comparisons is to use the national best practice of disaggregating scores.

For example, study the SAT scores for the 10 urban systems in the State on page 6. Using aggregate scores, Durham appears to be second to last. However, disaggregating the scores reveals that Durham is above the average for each ethnic group, second in one group, third in another and fourth in another.

Still lots of room for improvement but hardly the dire impressions given around the water-cooler based on news reports that emphasize the aggregate.

By popular request, the comparative has been converted from a flyer to a booklet with accolades for both the community and the school system added to the back cover. Quantities are available by request, particularly to organizations that work with newcomers like HR departments, recruiting agencies, relocation companies, Realtors etc.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Civic Tourism 2 - Creating & Marketing Your Somewhere

I just happened on to this conference a few years ago when the first one was held in Arizona. Now the second is being held this fall in Rhode Island, and you can bet on it... I’ll be there.

Civic Tourism is about place-making. In fact, I don’t use the term “civic,” because it doesn’t quite fit yet for me. But this whole movement is about place-based tourism. Using tourism as a way to shape, restore and preserve place-based assets.

Monday, April 14, 2008


The wealth of information surfacing about cities and placemaking is extraordinary. Or is it just that I’m tuning in?

Maura Gast, a friend who runs the destination marketing organization in Irving, TX, put me on to a website last week that is extremely useful. It is the Project for Public Spaces.

I also got some airplane/airport reading time last week and read Who’s Your City?, Dr. Richard Florida’s new book. It is an easier read than his earlier book on the Creative Class, and it is loaded with extremely useful information and research on the importance of cities and “places.”

A couple of years ago I went to a conference on place-based tourism. I had never heard the term and began to use it. Now it seems to be a very popular term surfacing in a lot of books. This often happens to me. Makes me wonder if the term was always there, and I just wasn’t listening.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Minor League Baseball is a Home Run for N.C.

North Carolina is home to 10 Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams from Rookie to Triple-A, representing five different leagues. Collectively, the teams have a significant impact on the State’s economy.

A new analysis of this economic impact was announced today during a news conference at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which will host its home opener tonight. The Durham CVB computed the statewide impact using information provided by each of the 10 teams and the IMPLAN input-output model.

The analysis, which was based on the 2007 season, found:
  • Annually, North Carolina’s 10 MiLB teams draw more than 2.3 million fans, or more than twice the number drawn to NASCAR events.
  • Overall, the fans generate $59.6 million in direct spending, adding $47 million in value (direct, indirect and induced impact) to the State’s economy.
  • The teams pay or induce $9.1 million in wages.
  • The teams collectively generate $5.2 million in state and local sales tax revenue alone.
Some other interesting facts about MiLB:
  • There are 176 teams across the US and Canada.
  • MiLB outdraws the NFL, NBA and NHL in attendance, with nearly as many as the NHL and NBA combined.
  • More than 4 in 10 fans are women, nearly 7 in 10 are in the prime 18-44 age group, half have children at home, and nearly 8 in 10 are homeowners.
  • Attendance has swelled from 12.3 million in 1980 to more than 43 million last season.
  • North Carolina’s association with Minor League Baseball can be traced back to its inception in 1901 with membership in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.
  • North Carolina was home to the headquarters for MiLB from 1933-1946 when then Durham Bulls owner, Judge William G. Bramham, was president of the league.
Click here to view the complete economic impact analysis.

Is Durham Missing the Bandwagon?

An influential Raleigh businessman, for whom I have great respect, recently told me that Durham was going to miss out and be left behind if it didn’t get on the same bandwagon as Raleigh.

We’re delighted Raleigh is doing well, and I’m almost certain that, at one time, when the communities in this area were much smaller, someone probably made the argument that they needed to huddle together to be taken seriously or to be cosmopolitan or to look larger than they really were. But much of that was driven, as it is now, by what a Raleigh news executive once termed “Charlotte-envy.”

Today, when each community now anchors a metropolitan area, the “we need to appear bigger” argument doesn’t get any traction.

Mainstreamers have always thought people who did things differently were missing out. It is no different with communities. Durham definitely does things differently, but just a glance through 300+ Great Things About Durham confirms that being different, if anything, appears to be working very well for Durham. Few communities perform so well in so many areas.

But Durham doesn’t sit back. It strives to improve in every area, and a glance back over just the third-party rankings Durham has received would indicate that Durham’s own bandwagon is doing just fine… if not stellar… in a country with 34,000 places:
  • #2 Best Green Cities For Lifestyle and Quality of Life ~Country Home
  • #3 Best Small City for Relocating Families ~Worldwide ERC and Primacy Relocation
  • #6 for bird counting lists submitted ~Great Backyard Bird Count
  • #7 for Business and Careers ~Forbes
  • #12 Top 100 places to live and launch your own business ~Fortune Small Business
  • #15 Best Place to Live in the USA ~Bert Sperling’s City’s Ranked & Rated
  • #16 Best Green Places (overall) in America ~Country Home
  • #26 City Where Business Opportunity Is Greatest For Growing Companies ~ExpansionManagement.com
  • #37 Best Walking City ~Prevention
  • #45 Hottest Business market in the Country ~Inc. Magazine
  • Tree City USA for 24th year ~National Arbor Day Foundation
  • Top Ten Tech Town ~Wired
  • 100 Best Communities for Young People ~America’s Promise - The Alliance for Youth
  • 100 Best Communities for Music Education ~American Music Conference

Monday, April 07, 2008

Full Frame Proves Durham Is WGTH

The just-completed Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is proof again that Durham is Where Great Things Happen. It wasn’t just another film festival. It is the “Sundance” of documentary film.

It isn’t the first signature festival that Durham has birthed. In fact we have 47% more festivals of note than our competitive set. But, along with the Duke Center for Documentary Studies and the Southern Documentary Fund, documentary is a firm part of Durham’s brand.

It’s no mistake. Also part of the Durham brand is being genuine and original and authentic. Full Frame being birthed in Durham is just connecting the dots.

This is an incredible community.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Beware of the One True Church of Regionalism

A friend of mine was stranded by the side of the road recently, so she decided to take advantage of the Toyoguard Plus Roadside Assistance service she got with her new Toyota.

She waited eons… so long in fact that some tow trucks stopped to see if they could help.

When the tow truck did arrive, she learned that Toyoguard has fallen victim to what we call “one size fits all” regionalists. These are the folks who thinly wrap Raleigh-centric notions in with the motherhood and apple pie of the oft-misused term “regionalism.”

The tow truck contractor was attempting to provide roadside assistance to Durham from Clayton, a world and many communities away from here, on the other side of Raleigh.

We need to think regionally for many things, e.g., traffic, but to be business-friendly, we need to be clear this region is polycentric, a term coined by an executive of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership.

Polycentric, he explained, means there is no dominant center here. What we call a region is family of six or more counties and 26 very distinct cities and towns.

Very different and much more attractive than the old school “one big place” regions centered around one big city in the middle of many equidistant nodes.

Some people using the term regionalism are working to undermine the essence of the Triangle and quietly eroding the viability of communities.

Just compare listings in Durham today with 20 years ago and see how many financial services, news media, financial planners, office equipment repair technicians, even retailers, cultural groups and restaurants have been beguiled into believing Durham residents can just commute to other cities for services or, as my friend did, wait an absurd amount of time in the cold and rain.

Regionalism may be the “one true church,” but “beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bob Klaus Knows How to Leverage a DMO

I met Bob years ago when he operated an entertainment complex in a competing destination community. I was always impressed. I was even more impressed years ago when we were part of a team discussing a new entertainment complex in Durham.

That didn’t come to pass... but a smaller theater did, and Bob was retained first as consultant and then manager by the operating team of PFM (Professional Facilities Management) and Nederlander. Anyone who knows theaters knows these companies.

From day one, I’ve been intrigued at how easily and well Bob knows how to leverage resources from DCVB, yet always graciously and always generous to acknowledge teamwork and a “two-way street.”

We have extraordinary stakeholders. I can easily identify a “Bob” or two in every industry in the tourism sector. And I wish I could clone each of these people or migrate their innate understanding of what DCVB does and the services and intelligence and benefits each of our stakeholders in Durham can leverage.