Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I happen to enjoy a column in AARP The Magazine, called DatabankUSA. And one of the charts there shows the percentage by state, of residents over the age of 5 who speak a language other than English at home.

I was surprised that my birth-state, Idaho is 10.1%. But it was a diverse state when I was growing up with many Native Americans, mostly Northern Shoshoni, Bannock and some Crow and Blackfeet tribal members in the area where I lived, in the northeast corner framed by the Targees and the Tetons.

But back then, Idaho also had a significant Basque population. From an early age when Basque’s would run sheep nearby, I would go out with my Grandfather visit around their campfires. In fact, my first couple of pet dogs came from these herders. It was fascinating to hear them speak, not to mention sit around campfires, with the strongest coffee known to human beings and real covered wagons.

But the more I think about it, while virtually unpopulated in 1880, only a couple of decades before my Great-Great Grandfather helped colonize what became Fremont County, the area was also becoming home to significant numbers of British, Swiss, Scandinavian, Welsh, German and other nationalities. Don’t get me wrong, there are still only 12,000 people spread over more than 1,800 square miles, about 4% to 5% the population of Durham in a land area more than six times the size of Durham County.

But adjoining states often don’t share population characteristics. I lived within 50 miles of both the Montana and Wyoming borders. And yet Montana is only 4.7% and Wyoming 6.6% in this attribute, half that of Idaho.

North Carolina is 9.6% or nearly 1 in 10, while the first 13 or so states have 1 in 5 or more of their population speaking a language other than English in the home. But North Carolina is nearly double the five lowest states in this characteristic.

Durham has nearly always been ethnically diverse. But an even more telling reflection of Durham’s diversity, in the public schools here, there are students representing 60 countries and 79 native languages.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Driven By Visionaries,
Dominated By Innovation And
Fueled By The Promise Of Something New

In the past couple of weeks, there have been two great examples that the “overarching Durham brand,” distilled a couple of years ago, continues to resonate far beyond the wildest expectations.

Just as significant as the adoption by hundreds of organizations and businesses throughout Durham, were remarks by Jim Goodmon, owner of the Durham Bulls and the key developer of the American Tobacco Historic District, during an event marking the opening of the Durham Performing Arts Center. He incorporated a number of brand values (creative, entrepreneurial, etc.), in his description of Durham. Knowing Jim, it is because those values truly resonate in his perception of his adopted community.

Now comes a description in the January/February issue of North Carolina Signature Magazine, published by Bernie Mann out of Greensboro, that captures the essence of the brand as well.

In a wonderfully written article on Downtown Durham by Elizabeth Shugg, comes this quote tying together Durham brand values in common over 160+ years:

“With its tobacco manufacturing days behind it, downtown Durham throws open the doors to its future in much the same way that defined its past – driven by visionaries, dominated by innovation and fueled by the promise of something new.”

Again, Durham-specific values documented in the brand manual.

Friday, December 26, 2008


The National Endowment for the Arts has just published a study providing benchmarks for non-profit theaters.

  • Between 1990 and 2005, the number of non-profit theaters nationwide jumped 100% "to almost 2000.

  • But attendance for musical theater is flat as a percentage of population and attendance at non-musical events, including plays, is down both in numbers and percentage of population. Overall theater attendance is down 16%.

  • The drop isn’t due to ticket prices which, when increased by 20%, resulted in attendance going down only 2%. It appears more due to expanded in-home entertainment, declining arts education, and lower media coverage. Other studies also cite competition for leisure time in general.

  • Nationwide, the supply or number of theaters is outstripping demand. The growth and management of theatrical organizations has not yet been matched by equally robust growth in audiences.

  • Business contributors to non-profit theaters over the last 15 years are down 3.5%, while contributions from individuals is up 8.1% and foundations 2.8%. Government contributions are down 10.6%.

  • Individuals make 40.2% of contributions to non-profit theaters, foundations 21.7%, businesses 17%, and government 15.7%.

  • Non-profit theater earned income as a share of revenue is down 13% since 1990, and contributed income and other types of revenue grew proportionately to a more even mix.

Analysis from other sources shows that attendance at touring Broadway at 15.3 million in 2007 has been declining slightly since 2004, but still higher than 2003. Broadway in New York at 10.4 million last year for musicals was slightly above the average of the last 5 years, while attendance at plays at 1.87 million was above the average, bucking the trend in the NEA study nationwide.

Concert attendance, at 51 million last year was down more than 19%, but down just 5.3% on a per show basis.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Who knows what was really behind the block Republican Senators from Southern states reportedly put on the bridge loan for American automobile manufacturers.

But it drew to mind the continuing disparity, if not double standard, in economic development between the incentives prevalent for new or relocating businesses vs. preserving and growing existing business. A dichotomy for which leaders here in Durham are exploring a balance.

Yes, it seems hypocritical if Senators from states that gave billions in incentives to draw foreign automobile manufacturers put the kibosh on a simple bridge loan to retain and grow domestic manufacturers. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if it works for one, it works for the other. And if it is so risky for one, why it is working so well for the other?

It is also hypocritical if this was all about union vs. non-union at a time when we’re crying out as a nation for non-partisanship, at a time when we need to pull more than ever.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Durham is a community that owes much of its heritage to tobacco in the days after the Civil War up to the late-80’s when American Tobacco closed. When I moved here in 1989, you could still smell the sweet aroma of tobacco curing at Liggett, the one remaining factory that closed many years ago (smells like newly mown hay).

Today, the old brick warehouses are reborn as shops, restaurants, offices, condos, and apartments. The CDC, pouring over City and County data, finds that the Durham, NC MSA, a four-county area with Durham at its core, is the 5th most smoke-free MSA in the nation as published by US News & World Report.

Durham is more smoke-free than the Salt Lake City, UT MSA, even though it is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a large of portion of the population is predisposed by faith not to smoke. Durham is more smoke-free than Raleigh-Cary, where some residents delight in putting Durham down to North Carolina newcomers as a tobacco town.

And it isn’t just a New South thing, 8 of the 10 smokiest MSA’s are in the south, three in North Carolina led by the Greensboro, NC MSA at 4th smokiest.

Durham doesn’t run from its past, but it definitely is leading most communities into the future with an economy now based on healthcare, education, research, pharma-manufacturing, and biotech.

Friday, December 19, 2008


JFK, after a failure, coined the phrase “Victory has a Thousand Fathers, Failure is an Orphan.”

People have widely adapted it as “Success has a Thousand Fathers.” The quote has come to mind several times recently during the various opening festivities around the spectacular new Durham Performing Arts Center.

But there are five people who aren’t saying much, and each of them had to say yes at various critical milestones for the project to happen. The person who deserves credit for the idea of the theater is the late Senator Terry Sanford, also former Governor and President of Duke University.

He proposed the idea and Ted Abernathy, then head of the City Office of Economic & Employment Development, now heading the 13-state Southern Growth Policies Board based here in Durham, identified the site, a former maintenance facility for transit buses.

When the Senator passed away, a couple of folks in Durham picked up the idea and fused it to the future of the public-private adaptive reuse of the Old Lucky Strike Factory, now the namesake for the American Tobacco Historic District where the theater is also located.

But these five people below controlled the destiny of the project, not necessarily because of what they did or didn’t do, but because their job was much harder than just pushing for the theater. They had to overcome objections, broker compromise, and make sense of things. Each of them, at different times, could very simply have quietly derailed this project. They have mostly stayed in the background as the curtains have opened:

Duke EVP Tallman Trask – Tallman is first for two reasons. Duke already had a similar theater as part of its plans for Central Campus near Ninth Street. Pulling those plans cleared the way for DPAC. But Duke was also pivotal in the end by closing a critical gap in funding.

Former two term Mayor Nick Tennyson – Caught in between City managers and Economic Development directors, Nick was the first person in authority to champion the project. He repeatedly cleared the way and tempered zealots to broker consensus.

Then Chair of the Board of County Commissioners, MaryAnn Black – Because the State Delegation required unanimity between the City and County and because ultimately given State approval, the County has taxing authority, MaryAnn, now with DUHS, was pivotal in securing BOCC approval to seek a tax increase prior to the public process.

Then Senator Wib Gulley – When proponents sought State authorization of a tax to pay for the theater, prior to vetting the project with the public, Senator Gulley brokered a compromise and ensured due process prior to the Delegation taking it to the General Assembly.

Mayor Bill Bell – The Mayor came into office with the project facing significant hurdles and some controversy. He personally moved it through each remaining obstacle and insisted that individuals fulfill promises.

Others played important roles including the Tourism Development Authority when asked by legislative committees for affirmation to increase the tax on overnight visitors (paying for 90%+ of the construction debt) but without typically reconforming the other uses of Durham’s occupancy tax to state legislative guidelines.

Or Downtown Durham Inc. for doing the lion’s share of lobbying and the architect and director of economic and employment development for creatively overcoming serious obstacles during planning and construction . Or even Nederlander/PFM for partnering on this venture as the operator and booking entity of the theatre ensuring a business model that would work in a public/private partnership.

But the five people above, looked beyond the heated and win/lose push and shove of power politics to gently and quietly sheppard the project to fruition. The reality of the DPAC comes down to their commitment, proactivity and approval at pivotal points in its evolution.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


While we’re obsessing about economic stimulus, some businesses and governments are arbitrarily cutting travel at a time when we're also pumping billions into stimulus. Doesn't make sense.

Travel fuels 7.7 million jobs nationwide and many more millions of small businesses. That's more than double the number of auto jobs in the U.S. inlcuding supplier and spin off. Are we certain, eliminating many of these jobs by cutting travel is such a smart idea?

As Congress and President-elect Obama consider emergency measures to stimulate jobs and the flow of commerce, shouldn’t encouraging travel be obvious?

Travel isn’t a luxury as Adobe self-servingly trumpeted in a full page ad in the New York Times Thursday while hawking an alternative to face-to-face meetings. I love adobe products and I’m sure their marketing people didn’t mean to insinuate the loss of millions of travel related jobs just to make a buck on software.

Obviously, business travel, conventions and meetings are being revolutionized by technological alternatives to travel. As a proportion of overall travel, business travel is in long-term decline and destination marketers are in a mad dash to replace them with leisure travelers just to hold even. But there will always be a need for travel and face-to-face communication. Even holograms will only go so far.

These are difficult times but let’s not be so quick to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Wes Brewer was passionate about Durham. After a long career selling books to libraries, he retired and came to DCVB as a volunteer, what we now call WayFinders.

On behalf of DCVB and Durham, he staffed registration and hospitality/information desks for big conventions and special or annual events when he wasn’t holding his regular shift in the Durham Visitor Information Center.

In his 10+ years at DCVB, Wes would always stop me as I came through the Center and tell me his most recent experience with a visitor or something we should read and address that was inaccurate or defamatory about Durham.

Wes died last week after a very sudden illness. He was overtaken by cancer at age 78. It is people like Wes that fill my memories of what is so special about Durham. I’m sure he’s still watching out for his hometown and I expect one way or another he’ll still inspire those of us who do the same.

Below are just a handful of the comments received about Wes during his tenure at DCVB:

“[DCVB’s Bull City Backer] Wesley S. Brewer was great! Everyone on the tour really enjoyed his humor, knowledge, and all the details he put into making the tour extremely successful!”
Glenn McDonald,
Escort Prince William County Bluebird Tours (Manassas, VA)

"Thanks very much for sending [DCVB volunteer] Wes [Brewer] to help with registration."
Marie Long,
Meetings More, with regard to the NC Small Grain, Corn and Soybean Association conference

"You sent us Wes Brewer, one of your volunteers who greeted our guests, provided them the symposium materials and answered their questions. He was an excellent representative of your office and of Durham. Symposium materials and answered their questions. He was an excellent representative of your office and of Durham.
Jeff Sturkey,
Logistics and Events Coordinator NESCent

"I would like thank you for the delightful service rendered to our delegates and advisor…by your volunteer, Wes Brewer. His knowledge of the area combined with his delightful personality made him a welcome addition to our "local information area."
Kathy Tinsley,
Senior Advisor, N4CSGA

NC Comprehensive Community College Student Government Association “Your services were most helpful. [DCVB volunteer] Wes Brewer, who served the Southern Association of Pre-Law Advisors (SAPLA), was excellent.”
Howell Smith,
Meeting Planner SAPLA Conference