Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Vetting Mega Sports Events Is No Slam Dunk

I’m a lifelong sports fan so I understand that decisions about sports, like other components of culture, often are emotional not logical, thus the term “fanatic,” I guess.

But when groups or communities go “big game hunting” as one Mayor termed it, in search of mega-sports events, the costs and benefits have to be weighted carefully by a destination marketing organization.

Unfortunately too many destination execs get caught up in the hype or they make or are cornered into making decisions based on “who’s asking” and “to go along to get along.” But that isn’t the role of a DMO. Our job is to provide communities, regardless of who’s asking, good, solid factual cost/benefit information.

Of course, this is much harder than it sounds. Many sports fanatics can’t take any scrutiny as this is thought to be criticism, so they typically form opinions without hard information. And the pushing and shoving often begins before any thoughtful analysis can be done. More than a few community officials and news outlets, for which sports can be big business, often become co-dependent with the hype.

There can be a lot of reasons for communities to host mega-sports events but two of the reasons most often cited, creating or rehabilitating community image and driving economic impact, are not guaranteed. Here are a handful of resources that any DMO with a destination contemplating mega-events should make sure are in the mix or resources used to vet the decision.

The first research I read was done by the researchers analyzing the impact on Göteborg, Sweden following a decade when that community hosted one mega-sports event after another to promote, shape and rehabilitate image. Any impact quickly dissipated.

The second was the book Major League Losers by an economist analyzing the realities behind the claims used to justify building major sports complexes for team owners. I guess the title gives away the findings. There is also one called Sports, Jobs and Taxes.

The third was an analysis by an economist at a Florida University looking at the impact of the a mega-sports-event on cities by comparing sales tax collections on the exact dates, the year prior, year of and year after hosting the mega-event. There was hardly a blip. The event displaced as much as it generated.

The fourth was a study of the Calgary Olympics which also found that any impact rapidly dissipated unless followed by mega-events within a year to 18 months.

Now comes an evaluation by the European Tour Operators Association that hosting the Olympics can hurt rather than help a country’s tourism economy in the long run for a variety of reasons.

There are many reasons to host a sports event but the decisions on behalf of a community are complicated. Regardless of who it might upset, a destination marketing organization executive must deliver the facts and probe behind the hyperbole.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 10 Reasons DMO’s Aren’t Accredited

Hats off to the 100 Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO’s) that have earned accreditation. But it is hard to fathom why some haven’t pursued this distinction. Here are 10 reasons that come to mind:
  1. Too “old school” to update to best practices.

  2. Misperceiving it as only for very small or very large DMO's.

  3. Disorganized and haven’t assigned someone to manage the project.

  4. Fearful of rejection rather than view it as a diagnostic to inform improvement.

  5. Too proud to ask for help or worried about revealing secrets.

  6. Overestimate the work involved or failure to view it as a process.

  7. Failure to grasp the importance as a signal of credibility.

  8. Cronies aren’t accredited either.

  9. Hoping to get in through the back door via who they know.

  10. Resistant to change…the old way has worked fine all these years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Which Use Ultimately Yields More
In Local Tax Revenue?
Community Marketing or
“Build It And They Will Come?

The logic was clear when the “room occupancy and tourism development tax” was pioneered as a special tax by the NC General Assembly in 1982 specifically to self-fund local community destination visitor promotion as a pump to in turn fuel 13 times that amount in sales tax revenues alone to help fund local governments.

But from the minute the ink dried on the Governor’s signature, local officials have tried to divert it to other uses. Some egged on by individuals or organizations not original enough to propose a self-funded tax of their own or just plan envious. Others were hoodwinked by businesses that often didn’t collect or generate local sales taxes themselves but all too willing to push officials to divert revenues from this one as a subsidy for pet projects or to fund the public portion of a so-called partnership.

Actually many officials didn’t need encouragement to try to raid or end-run the fundamental purpose of the special tourism development tax. Some resent the strings attached to special taxes or refuse to accept how unfair it is to deploy them the same way as general tax revenues.

The concept of using a tax to generate an increase in overall tax revenues is lost on those who believe that the only way tax revenues can be generated or increased is by politically increasing the tax rate or levying a new tax.

Many don’t grasp or have flip flopped the law of supply and demand, failing to understand that only by generating “demand” as in “more visitors” can existing or new facilities be justified or made sustainable over the long-term.

Others are just too far left-brained to grasp the more right-brain notions of managing perceptions or overcoming objections to get on the list for consideration by visitors falling under the spell of “build it and they will come” so often used as a developer mantra…but as the New York Times revealed, “not for long.”

Below is a tale of three communities, taking three different approaches to deployment of the special tourism development tax:

  • The first uses 100% of the room occupancy and tourism development tax as intended. What it reaps in visitor generated tax revenue per 1,000 residents is used as the benchmark.

  • The second is Durham which expends half the State House Finance guideline for what should be designated for marketing alone and as a result reaps 36% less than the benchmark.

  • The third is a community that spends lavishly on brick and mortar facilities and less on marketing and reaps 50% less than the benchmark.

This is only one of many sources of evidence that communities with the discipline to follow the State’s guidelines are the winners. Those who siphon the special tax off for other purposes do so at a tremendous, hidden cost to their constituents and communities. It is also clear that “build it and they will come” ultimately results in far less overall revenue.

Politicians like the late Senator Swain and former Representative George Miller were farsighted when they pioneered the room occupancy and tourism development tax and established guidelines for its use. Present-day elected officials with that same grasp should be celebrated. Those who don’t need to be motivated to come up with similar win/win self-funding solutions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Web 3.0 in 3-D

Web 3.0 will revolutionize search and surf (and television too) according to a blog on Friday by Fast Company writer Kit Eaton. The potential for marketing destination communities is huge.

Monday, December 07, 2009

My Two Least Favorite Subjects In College

My two least favorite subjects in college were statistics and microeconomics. Accounting at 7:30 a.m. may have bumped micro to third.

Ironically, as destination marketing has become more information or data-driven, I’ve ended up using statistics and microeconomics to unwrap problems, select solutions etc.

More than a bit ironic. But two recent books Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics each co-authored by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner illustrate not only why using these tools is far more effective than raw anecdotal opinions, so-called conventional wisdom or intuition but also much more fun.

Statistics and micro economics let you look behind what appear to be cause and effect to determine what really works and what just appears to work.

So my advice to anyone who wants to jump ahead in destination marketing? Take statistics and microeconomics and of course history and a good dose of consumer behavior psych as very, very practical background.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Social Media Replacing Email – Not!

People who bemoan email seem to believe that somehow social media would replace it. I don’t know why or how, really. They tend to be folks who have never really made the transition, and don’t understand the speed and effectiveness email can bring to everyday communications. Maybe they are still holding out that we’ll all revert the good old days of an in-basket full of mail and yellow stickies for calls to return?

But the Neilson research graph below reveals that people who are high social media consumers are even more--not less--likely to be high email consumers.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Third Party Analysis of Visitor Spending
in Durham NC

Thanks to a partnership with D. K. Shifflet and IHS Global Insights, DCVB is able to benchmark the spending by visitors while in Durham, using the more accurate ImPlan Input-Output methodology.

There are some interesting shifts mostly up, but one down, between ’04 (when Durham fully emerged from the effects of 9/11) and 2008 before the full effects of the downturn.

  • Lodging is getting better at yield management and systematically increasing rates as demand increases (which of course have now been deflated.) The piece of the visitor spending pie in Durham increased from 18% to 21%.

  • Food and Beverage, the largest portion of overall spending while visitors are in Durham kept pace at 25%.

  • Of concern is that shopping--the largest activity by visitors nationwide--dropped in Durham both in real terms and as a proportion of visitor spending here from 21% to 18%, a sign that Durham visitors are being harvested by new centers close to Durham denying Durham retail businesses of their full due and local government of tax revenues.

  • Entertainment increased its portion of overall Durham visitor spending from 16% to nearly 18%, and this was really before the new DPAC had effect. Many Durham entertainment features are free-of-charge which makes this area lower than it could be.

  • And overall, visitor spending in Durham expanded by 11% between ’04 and ’08 confirming that Durham is drawing more visitors, who are circulating and spending more while they are here.

DCVB conducts this analysis every other year but in the interim years it is able to project the results within 1/10 of 1%. Not bad.

Monday, November 30, 2009

5 Images Document the American Tobacco Historic District from 1891 to 2009

What we now call the American Tobacco Historic District is Downtown’s front yard in some respects. It is also one area where aerials are unobstructed and images drawn or taken over a span of more than a hundred years show a remarkable transformation.

First a bird’s eye view rendering in 1891 showing the Old Bull Building and the beginning of the District’s tobacco heritage.

Then a shot in the 1950’s with the Lucky Strike factory in full production and the area where the DBAP and DPAC are now was populated with single home residential.

An image from the late 1980’s/early 1990’s after the Lucky Strike Factory had closed and American Tobacco had moved out of Durham.

An image of the District after an attempt by the owner to move the Durham Bull’s to Raleigh was blocked, resulting in construction of the new Durham Bull’s Athletic Park where the huge parking lot was in the image above. The owner had added an office building in right field, but the factory was still dormant and the area to the north used to park and maintain transit buses.

Seventy percent of attendance at the new DBAP is visitor generated and the visitors begin to make the area viable.

An image of the American Tobacco Historic District today with the factory transformed to offices and restaurants, the transit facilities relocated and the DBAP joined by the Durham Performing Arts Center. The result of $100 million or so in public funds and thanks to tax credits and Duke University, with even more leveraged in private investment.

And this is just Downtown's front yard.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Durham Earns Its Stripes!

Durham is the unidentified showcase in new print ads and videos by the NC Division of Tourism, Sports and Film Development.

Here is why this is such a milestone.

When Durham first jumpstarted DCVB as its marketing agency, two of its first challenges were to get on the radar and scrub up the Durham identity within our own state’s tourism organizations including what was then the North Carolina Division of Tourism.

With no Durham gatekeeper, quite often Durham was not listed at all or Durham based assets were parceled out to other communities. When Durham was included, the listings were woefully incomplete or out of date. In conversation, the hyphenated airport name was almost always substituted for references to Durham or truncated to just Raleigh. That’s what can happen without good marketing. A community can cease to exist or have its brand violated.

It was common to be in direct conversation with Division staffers in those days and have them refer to “flying into Raleigh” or “here in Raleigh (when we were actually in Durham or Charlotte, etc.) Even when politely advised to the contrary the misstatements were so ingrained that once was not enough and it took dozens of corrections and dialing it up into a crucial confrontation.

Back then, even with excellent leadership there, there was perceptibly a very Raleigh-centric point of view at the Division although not purposefully exclusive. And outside of Raleigh, it seemed most of the publicity about the State back then centered on the mountains and beaches. Media on press trips often were brought into Raleigh and then taken to Durham features without ever noting the feature wasn’t located in Raleigh and then whisked off to the mountains or coast. It wasn’t grasped that a person might visit Durham itself or wouldn’t stay in Raleigh and then be whisked off to the mountains or beaches.

That North Carolina’s cities were often ignored is especially interesting since 80% of the State’s visitor spending was being generated by the Piedmont region and its city-destinations. In other states in which I had performed destination marketing, there was often a similar centrism, but overall people working for the state went out of their way to avoid giving preference or focus on the state capital because they represented the entire state regardless of where they lived or based.

So getting this squared away was a Durham priority. It made no sense to launch promotions for Durham if the State’s information essentially contradicted or neutralized those promotions.

It took a lot of repetition to break those habits and establish Durham as a destination. But what a difference. Particularly in Lynn Minges tenure as Division director, Durham has emerged not only as its own unique destination but one of the State’s most attractive destinations.

Division employees are now often the first to clarify that Raleigh-Durham is an airport--not a place--and it isn’t located in Raleigh.

This year the Division is featuring State ads shot at Brightleaf Square in Durham and video clips feature Durham assets like the African American Dance Ensemble to represent performing arts.

What a difference 20 years makes. Durham has come a long way.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why DCVB Pursued Green Plus Certification?

DCVB is pleased to learn it is the first destination marketing organization in the nation and one of the first two dozen overall to earn Green Plus certification from the Institute for Sustainable Development.

Essentially, this is a rigorous process evaluating organizations for not just how they treat the planet but how they treat their people and how they perform overall. All three are needed to be truly sustainable.

There are many reasons DCVB is often the first to peruse achievements like this. Here are just a handful:

  • Green is not new to DCVB. As early as 1990, soy-based inks and recycling were adopted right after start up as Durham’s official marketing agency in 1989.

  • Green activism is a key part of the overarching Durham brand that DCVB as the community’s marketing agency must deploy.

  • DCVB’s credo is “continuing and never-ending improvement.” Part of that is to embrace every new opportunity to excel.

  • Exposure is important and it helped that Duke University and the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce were early partners with the Institute to forge Green Plus although it has now rolled out in many states.

  • A rigorous, independent evaluation like Green Plus is a way to learn where an organization can improve as much as how it is excelling, and DCVB has always embraced these opportunities.

  • Green Plus certification is good marketing. As Durham’s marketing organization, it makes sense that DCVB should strive to epitomize the very brand values it promotes as part of the community’s personality and character.

  • DCVB has 3,000 visitor related businesses and organizations as stakeholders and it can now set an example as well as mentor these small organizations through Green Plus.

Green Plus certification, as well as full accreditation to the best practices of community marketing plus more than 120+ other awards and recognitions earned in the past 10 years alone, also symbolize to the community that it can be assured DCVB strives for and achieves best practices and performs at the highest level possible.

And that it will never let up or stand down.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The 20 Year Decline In Local News!

Many dramatic changes have occurred during my time in Durham as head of the community’s marketing agency, e.g., Internet, Cell Phone/PDA Technology, Laptop Computers, Wireless Technology, Flat screen technology, Paperless Office, Websites, Green Technologies, 24/7 News, Global Information Systems, Desktop Graphics and Printer Prep, Smart Bombs, Social Media to name just a dozen.

But nothing has been more dramatic than the nationwide decline in the number of daily newspapers. The number of dailies reached a zenith around 1950, but declined by only 200 over the next forty years, mostly with the elimination of afternoon papers.

But another 200 dailies nationwide have been eliminated just since 1990.

This has occurred during the same period that television and radio news moved away from local news by expanding content to huge, largely unrelated coverage areas, I suspect to optimize ad revenues and sustainability. To me, the majority of so-called “local news” on local television stations hasn’t really been local for many “moons.”

So, losing local newspapers is leaving a vacuum in many places. Being “local” isn’t only about who owns it. It’s about the nature of its coverage. It’s about coverage by reporters and editors who live in and breathe the community. It’s about local community agenda. It’s about community reflection. It’s about community perspective.

And no, the newspaper in another community next door or across the state or nation, no matter how well intended, isn’t the same as a daily newspaper that focuses on a community without distraction.

But I’m one who believes as John Nesbitt wrote in Global Paradox that the more things go global, the more they will intensify at the local level.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the paradigm for local newspapers reverse in the near future.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Carbon Economy

This quick overview was shown at The Economist this week in D.C. It is a simple, graphical explanation of why this is such an important opportunity.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Aesthetics Ranks in Top Three Reasons Why Residents Love a Community

A Gallup poll on behalf of the Knight Foundation is surveying residents of 26 metro areas of varying sizes across the US to determine what factors create the most attachment to community for residents, regardless of income, marital status or age group.

It turns out that the top three factors are:

  1. Openness
  2. Social Offerings
  3. Aesthetics

It isn’t just aesthetics that is a surprise for many people, which is defined in the report as overall beauty and physical setting including parks, open spaces, trails, etc. It helps to ask people in a scientific survey because I’ll bet that based on news reports and public discourse, many people would have guessed public safety, transportation, etc.

By "openness" the survey is referring to what in Durham we call being “accepting.” It refers to a community’s overall openness to people from other countries, cultures, religions, lifestyles even and sexual orientation.

By "social offerings" the survey is referring to a vibrant cultural and entertainment centers, e.g., districts like Ninth Street and Brightleaf as well as an active downtown area overall.

Aesthetics isn’t a surprise to me nor are openness and social offerings. In public opinion polls, Durham residents always rank beautification and clean up as high priorities, although you wouldn’t know it from the low priority it has had with elected and other government officials over the years.

So the real question is why isn’t aesthetics a higher priority when it comes to local officials? More on that in a future blog on left brainers and right brainers.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What is it with Motorcycles and North Carolina?

This aerial of North Durham countryside kind of says it all…

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is Community Pride A Given?

Some people mistakenly think it is like cheerleading…that you generate it with a lot of hoopla or jumping up and down.

Most just take it for granted. Some use qualitative measures, but only a very few, like Durham, are on the forefront of scientifically measuring community pride as a benchmark.

Community marketing is beginning to catch on to the importance though. You can’t succeed at drawing sustainable visitation to a community if the residents who live there don’t deliver on the brand promise…at least not for long.

So 86% of Durham residents are proud of their community but is that standard low or high?

In my personal experience, that is extremely high. Now, thanks to some information gleaned from a Gallup Poll of 26 metros of varying sizes across the country, a benchmark is beginning to emerge. Gallup is posing the question as part of a three year “Soul of the Community” survey to find what makes residents “attach” to a community.

It turns out that Durham is truly exceptional when it comes to community pride. Compared to 86% in Durham, the average pride level for the 26 metros is 38%. The average of the six metros most comparable to Durham is 42%. For Charlotte and its surrounding metro area, the average is 43%.

So community pride in Durham is roughly twice as prevalent as these benchmarks.

Turns out the remainder, on average, are largely split between those who are uncertain or “not proud,” four and five times respectively of the proportion of Durham residents giving those responses.

The reason Durham excels in this measure is certainly not because it gets preferential treatment from the news media or that there are better cheerleaders here or that officials impose it.

To me it is simple. Durham has a unique and readily apparent cultural identity. It draws visitors and newcomers for whom that identity and its related values, emotional benefits and core strengths are a good fit and then it delivers on the brand.

But Durham can’t take this for granted. If Durham doesn’t foster that unique identity and resist the strong forces that would homogenize it, it will get caught up in trying to be like everywhere else and lose what’s special here.

You may not be able to create or generate community pride per se, but you sure can destroy the things that stimulate it.

The incredible level of community pride in Durham which has stayed consistently high now for nearly two decades of measurement is a tremendous asset and one that deserves nurturing.

Just ask the nearly 40% who are newcomers to Durham over that span.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Green Infrastructure Is Critical to Creative Class Communities!

(not to be confused with green technologies)

Durham is already widely recognized as a center for the creative class, a contemporary name for “knowledge” workers. These aren’t just jobs for artists, but all jobs that require thinking and/or creating for a living, e.g. researchers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

A new study by the Michigan State University Land Institute indicates that one of the key ways to stay that way is for Durham to invest as much in “green infrastructure” as it does traditional infrastructure like downtown areas, streets, water, sewer, etc.

Green infrastructure is different than green technologies. Green infrastructure is an umbrella term for cropland, trails, local and state parks, rangeland, rails-to-trails, private and public forests and water amenities like wetlands, rivers, lakes, streams and related activities like fishing, hiking, canoeing, marinas, etc.

Durham has a bigger challenge than most because it is a good size city located in a very small county in terms of land area. So planning to create and accommodate residential, office, commercial uses as well as green infrastructure is more complex here. But one thing in Durham’s favor is that more than a third of the land area is already set aside in watershed including rivers, lakes, cropland, etc.

People in economic development need to take note that places with great green infrastructure are associated with seven to eight times more metro job growth and those with water amenities in particular translate into 13 to14 times more jobs. Hopefully people in visitor centric economic development already sensed that.

Oh, another thing the report makes clear to economic developers who often bemoan taxes is that lower taxes may mean more population but not job creation or income growth. It also indicates that the old strategy of tax-based job attraction may only attract population but not employment or income.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Does Durham feel inferior? Research reveals just the opposite!

It isn’t uncommon for non-residents working in Durham to lecture residents that they shouldn’t feel inferior. And why is it non-residents applaud and Durham residents look puzzled?

Ahhhh?…cause we Durhamsters don’t – thank you very much! Never, ever mistake being unpretentious but fiercely protective of our community as feeling inferior!

Scientific surveys shows that over at least the 15 years since measurement began, Durham residents feel anything but inferior. They have high levels of positive image and pride in their community as much as 2 ½ times the norm in other places.

So why the presumably well-intentioned if more than a bit condescending public comments? The answer may be that with three in five jobs in Durham held by non-residents it may be hard to differentiate what residents truly think and feel about their community from what those who don’t live here, including many in the news media, may infer.

It could be that Durham’s refusal to be wronged or be a victim to persecution by the 10-15% of residents of nearby communities who are negative or extremely negative about Durham, is greatly misinterpreted.

But it is possible the “shoe is actually on the wrong foot.” It is more likely that feelings of inferiority are driving those who “bully,” and Durham-bashing ranks as a form of bullying. It is also possible inferiority fuels the frequent misattribution of Durham-based assets.

Maybe those who lecture Durham residents should direct their advice to those doing the bullying? For years, it has been pointed out that this small but potent group of negativists are giving the entire Triangle a “black-eye” with unsuspecting but vulnerable newcomers.

But even if it makes some people uncomfortable, Durham residents are going to stand up to injustice. It is just part of the overarching Durham personality and character. But don’t mistake this as feeling inferior.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

In 36 Months, Durham Brand Makes Mark With Residents and Non-residents Statewide

Exceeding all expectations and just 36 months since launch, scientific surveys show that 83% of Durham residents and 2.3 million adults, or 30% of all adults statewide recognize the overarching or umbrella brand for all of Durham. The brand is a distillation of Durham’s character and personality that can give all messengers a consistent and compelling voice. The benchmarking is done with a scientific survey by Nano Phrades.

I give credit for this to three things:

  1. The two-year, community-driven process that revealed the traits, values and strengths that both residents and external audiences attributed to Durham.

  2. Thousands of Durham messenger organizations and equal numbers of individuals who have adopted the brand on websites, in public comments, editorials and thousands of other applications.

  3. Bill Baker, author of a book on destination branding for communities that was written up in the Journal of Brand Management this month, who notes that DCVB did its job as Durham’s marketing agency and the organization on point to promote and defend the Durham brand.

    Bill states that “the huge difference is the way in which DCVB has stayed on course, and used the brand as a unifying force for the community” has played a role.

It takes years though to fully deploy and leverage a brand effectively, especially a community brand. But the first requirement for a brand is the distillation and that has to be organic, almost temporal or no amount of money and time will make a brand work.

To celebrate the Durham brand’s 3 year anniversary and to turn more attention to the enduring elements of the brand, DCVB has used the values, emotional benefits and core strengths of Durham’s personality and charter to create a new mini-poster.

Branding of course is just one element of an effective blend of marketing strategies. I am pleased though that DCVB has been part of a turnaround over the past 20 years and now twice this decade, Durham has been surveyed by North Carolina adults as having the most positive image among the State’s 5 largest cities.

By the way, the “Durham Is…” poster can be purchased for $2.95 which includes shipping and handling at or by dropping by the Official Durham Visitor Information Center in Downtown Durham.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Emerging from the Shadows – Credit for the Durham Metro

One of the things that has contributed greatly to improving Durham’s visibility and at the same time re-balanced the region, is the decision by the Census nine years ago to apply nationwide criteria to Durham that led to the official metro designation of the four-county metro area centered on this community.

The remainder of what had been a geographically massive, statistically unwieldy, and somewhat contrived designation with no dominant city at the center was established as a three-county metro centered on Raleigh-Cary further to the south and east.

DCVB provided some information to inform the decision and has certainly leveraged the heck out of the metro designation, but otherwise had little to do with creating the designation.

That credit goes to Greg Payne, then with the City of Durham Office of Economic Development and now in commercial real estate. But it wasn’t something special for Durham. The Census just finally applied the same criteria here as elsewhere.

Greg had fielded a call from John Hodges-Copple, the Regional Planning Director with the 7-county Triangle J Council of Governments. He noted that given the new Census criteria, and without Durham stepping up to establish its credentials, the entire super region, even though polycentric (no dominant “center”) would be folded under Raleigh’s identity.

As a planner, John knew that folding everything under “Raleigh” would distort the region and make it even harder to get really good, relevant and comparative data. I believe he grasped immediately that two communities in the Triangle qualified as metro areas and this would be good for the super-region. He probably also realized that collapsing it all under Raleigh, which truly wasn’t centric or dominant to the Triangle would be problematic, misleading and inequitable.

John also understood that the relatively few needs for combined data would still be accessible under a consolidated metro of metros so the Triangle would have the best of both worlds if both of its major cities qualified as a metro.

Greg gathered and submitted data from DCVB and from the Chamber and voilá!…Durham more than qualified to be a metro area on its own. The result has proven much more organic, a boon to much more valid, “apples to apples” benchmarking and at the same time gave Durham its due…without taking anything legitimate away from Raleigh.

It isn’t clear opponents grasped how one-sided the alternative was but at least one powerful Raleighite claims to have fought Durham’s designation tooth and nail and may have even recruited someone then at Duke to go along.

I can’t believe that either party realized the alternative was a win/lose with advantage only to Raleigh and making it all but impossible for Durham to get its due recognition or that to stay with the old, politically contrived designation was equally problematic.

Ironically, though I’m under no illusion the success of the Durham metro has changed anyone’s perspective who opposed the designation, but ironically, many who claim to have opposed it have financially or otherwise benefited from the new Durham metro designation.

And contrary to those who claimed the region would be torn apart should Durham get its due, the vast super-region we term the Research Triangle and named for three research universities, Duke in Durham, UNC in Chapel Hill and NC State in Raleigh, is as healthy and collaborative as ever. Durham and Raleigh have extremely different cultural identities and yet, without being attached at the hip, have still found innumerable ways to collaborate when mutually beneficial.

It helped that Raleigh didn’t lose anything from the new designations, other than the ability by some to obfuscate that Durham-based assets like Research Triangle Park and Duke are somehow based there. Raleigh’s into “big”, and standing on its own as a metro it can pursue being big with gusto while Durham and Chapel Hill to the west can pursue other values.

And news media fears of losing the ability to charge more for advertising reach were a smokescreen. The vastly distended 22-county, three state designated media area termed Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville) remains intact, much to the disadvantage of advertisers and consumers. Hopefully in the future, this too will be made more realistic.

Having a super-region with two very different, and often comparably ranked, metro areas has actually added a little panache. But the real boon is that analysts now have much better, clearer, and infinitely more accurate statistical information from which to make decisions. Visitors, newcomers and relocating businesses get better statistical information with which to make decisions.

The separate metros also give analysts and officials much better information from which to identify strengths and to focus on areas for improvement.

The more organic approach has been a win/win/win all the way around.

Without a good regional planner like John who gave Greg a heads up, and without Greg, who stepped up to gather and forward factual information for consideration by the Census, the obfuscations and injustices of the past would have been perpetuated if not amplified… and Durham’s identity along with the rest of the Triangle would have been buried under Raleigh’s.

If we had had region-wide planners like John, a Raleigh developer wouldn’t have been able to, following WWII, go behind Durham’s back and hood-wink the War Department into flip-flopping the identity of the jointly-owned airport from Durham-Raleigh to Raleigh-Durham, making it the only designation not in alpha order and giving Raleigh a huge advantage in identity.

So, here’s to John and to Greg! Now let’s hope the Census Bureau continues to use good, solid criteria for establishing metros that actually mean something and avoids getting politicized for any reason.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CSI Comes Second Not First!

Two simple but galvanizing strategies underpin both DCVB’s success as Durham’s destination marketing agency over the past 20 years and its ability to leapfrog much more established competitors.

  • One, information-based decision making and performance measurement.

  • The other, systemic adaptation and deployment of technology.

Both were rare as strategies 20 years ago, here or elsewhere in North Carolina, or in destination marketing circles world-wide. They are still far from prevalent today, although they get more lip service now. But frankly it is to DCVB's and Durham’s benefit that they aren’t widely used.

We needed something that would give Durham a strategic advantage. “Me too” marketing would have just meant taking a place in line and we needed to leapfrog destinations far better funded and years ahead of us in pounding position into the marketplace.

The credit goes to Alaska and my exposure there during most of a decade at the tiller of the destination marketing organization in Anchorage. All I did was deploy those overarching strategies to anchor the jump-start DMO in Durham.

Alaska was then in only its 20th year of statehood (it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.) From territorial days, Alaska has been an early adopter of nearly every new technology and definitely on the frontier in more than one sense. It was also critical in Alaska, where travelers had to be drawn over longer distances at greater cost, to utilize research and database decision making versus so-called conventional wisdom, which isn’t really wisdom at all but an excuse to avoid critical thinking.

Applying technology should be a no-brainer these days but I’m constantly amazed at how few organizations do…or if they do, it isn’t systemic or strategic. Not empowering people with technology today is like arguing not everyone should have access to a pencil.

It wasn’t easy back then. Twenty years ago in many places, fax technology was still novel, let alone implementing a local area network and internal email. The technology though made every staff member far more productive, faster and smarter. Internal email helped embed collaboration faster and deeper, as well as better enable project management which is half of any job.

Along came the internet and we were ready to fly…while others still had a single computer in the corner available only to a few people or perhaps lacked the skill and inclination to shift gears. And now mobile technology puts one in every hand but most still just use it for email.

In Alaska, necessity taught me how to base decisions on research rather than purely on “CSI”… (common sense and instinct (or intuition.) I use a fair amount of CSI, as we all do, I just try to have mine informed by data.

Of course, people who are threatened by information and data claim they rely on common sense and instinct. But that immediately raises the question of who is the arbiter of “common sense” or which “instinct” is accurate? Often people who object to data, prefer to rely on politics or force of wills.

I guess if you don’t have fiduciary responsibility or if it’s your money at stake, it probably doesn’t matter. But in community marketing, where nearly every stakeholder has a unique take on common sense and so called “instinct”, relying on these alone without informing them with data is extremely risky.

There are three core reasons that greatly favor information-based decision making and just as important information-based performance measures.

  • First, it leads to much better, quicker and more targeted decisions.

  • Second, destination marketing is about the customer and community not me or any other one individual.

  • Third, it leads to steady, long term strategic thinking vs. the constant knee jerk, 180’s that come with basing decisions on force of will, anecdotal opinion and politics.

So now you know. DCVB’s success isn’t anchored in anything genius or even that visionary. I just happened to fall into the right background in the years prior to finding myself in the right place at the right time. Durham, North Carolina.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On-Demand Streaming Next Tech Trend To Impact Convention Planning

The latest technological adaptation starting to impact attendance at conventions and meetings is the option for on-demand streaming of functions and sessions.

An option to traveling to these events in person will be to subscribe to live streaming. The option serves both the planners and attendees but leaves destination communities short of spending.

Planners will use the revenue from on-demand to help cover overhead and expand reach. Attendees will use it for convenience and cost.

The trend may result in many more people being able to access the content of a convention, although they will miss out on valuable face time with colleges.

Visitation nationwide related to conventions and meetings prior to the economic decline, represented 9.5% of visitor person trips, 11% of commercial lodging room nights but 30% of visitor spending to communities.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Biker Update

Okay, I’ve had the Harley for nearly 6 months…taking out the month of recuperation for previously scheduled rotator cuff repair, I’ve ridden 5 months.

I’m less than 50 miles shy of 1,000 miles already. Mostly countryside or back and forth a couple of miles to work and an errand or two.

I feel more and more comfortable. More things are second nature now. Heavy bikes like the Cross Bones are good at a standstill as exercise for regaining balance in your legs.

I have “laid it down” as they say, a time or two. Not while in motion, just getting used to walking it backward in the driveway before starting off and losing my footing. Once a 700 lb bike starts to tip, you just lay it down as gently as possible and then tip it back up which is like bench pressing, believe me. Harley’s use cubic inches for engine size. This one is 96 cubic inches or just shy of 1600 cc’s.

No incidents with autos. So far, drivers have been very vigilant to see me but I’m also much more vigilant about traffic around me than I ever remember being in the Jeep. Being inside a helmet really helps focus and I often wear what’s called an “air jacket,” which works much like an air bag if you’re thrown off the bike.

I’ve learned to watch, particularly for people on cell phones with no hands free. I guess they think they are invisible but I also haven’t seen any of them pulled over for a ticket.

Out on winding roads, I’m practicing the cornering they taught in the class but it is becoming second nature…

I had a small trailer custom made right here in Durham by Bob Pickard, a Durham native who has Bull Durham Trailers just across street to the south from the Durham Farmer’s Market. Great product, all stainless steel with a heavy power coated frame and very cool LED lights.

I trailered the bike a couple of hundred miles with me and took the Bullies along. Worked perfectly once I got used to driving it up on the trailer with enough throttle, then slowing as it went into the wheel chock.

Enough of this but folks have been asking.

It is funny how many folks I come across now who bike including David Harris and Mike Shifflett to name only two.

In North Carolina, according to surveys by UNC, 10% of people who are licensed or registered motorcyclists are under 30 but they are four times more likely to have or be involved in an accident, an age group where sport bikes are dominant.

Contrary to perceptions, most folks my age in the state are registered Honda owners. Harley’s are most commonly in their 40’s and 50’s, although nearly 40% of registered motorcycles in North Carolina are Harley-Davidsons.

Most folks in my age group have big touring bikes vs. cruisers like mine. Overall in North Carolina, 56% of bikers ride less than 5,000 miles a year but the median is 3,000. Younger folks ride less, older folks more.

In North Carolina, the median months of the year for riding is 10…a little more than 80% average 6 months. Younger riders ride less.

About 70% ride several times a week and about 10% ride daily.

The vast majority of folks 40 and above ride on two lane, out of town roads, those country roads I write about.

Ironically, folks in my age group are only 40% likely to wear a full face helmet like mine but they are far more likely to wear a helmet period even where it isn’t required by law.

About 45% of bikers have crashed while moving and 45% of those required medical attention. Only 11% had crashed in the previous 12 months. The percentage in the last 12 months varied by nearly 40% in their 30’s to 6% in their 50’s or 60’s.

Only about 40% of any age group has taken a course of some time and only 25% overall thought it was important. Wow, I can't imagine taking the hobby up without a course.

Friday, October 16, 2009

USA #1 Brand Again

Maybe the rest of the world knows why President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. I wasn’t in the room when the vote took place but I’m proud of the President and my country.

And indicative there has been a change in how the USA is perceived comes with the annual index of nation brands. The USA is back at #1 as the most admired brand in the world after languishing at #7. Diplomacy doesn't get much credit unless it is failing. But it isn’t hard to see the State Department under Secretary of State Clinton is making apparent progress in rebuilding relations with traditional allies as well as Russia, Iran, Turkey, Armenia and maybe even North Korea.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Convergence Isn’t The Future. It’s Already Happened!

A blog acquaintance I enjoy is Christopher Elliott. Here is his review of Google Wave, a new tool DCVB has been anticipating for months. It will create a huge shift in productivity at a time when we’re 30% short-handed.

It will also be a big change in the way we think about work processes where several people collaborate simultaneously on a work product. It goes well beyond a couple of other tools we’ve been using in the interim but which never really delivered fully on the promise.

As a bonus, Chris gave some interesting analysis of the way consumers are viewing traditional, non-traditional and PR news content.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 Gets It!

Kudos to for accuracy. After a week that I saw two other media outlets play fast and loose with the term “cities,” in rankings in actuality based on DMA’s or metros, then listing Durham by the airport name (there simply is no such place as Raleigh-Durham).’s list is very refreshing. Not just because Durham NC is ranked 15th best mid-sized metro in which to launch a business.

But CNN actually referred to them as metros. They didn’t arbitrarily change it to cities. They didn’t substitute designated media areas and then term them cities. They didn’t substitute the airport name. They simply labeled it just as it was measured…MSA’s or metropolitan statistical areas.

They even went as far in an entry about Raleigh, a city to the south and east, to note that residents there benefit from a strong higher education system, including Duke University in Durham and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Imagine that, giving attribution to another city when talking about its assets. ranks high for accuracy.

Tourism 2023

This report is from the UK and deals with their outbound tourism. But it is loaded with things to think about when trending what will happen to visitor centric economic and cultural development for communities.

It is a little dated in that it still refers to tourism as an industry. Long ago, tourism was recognized as a sector of the economy, involving six or so different industries. But for the most part the report just uses the term travel and tourism.

The report doesn’t predict the future but puts forth a series of scenarios, each involving two key variables:
  • Whether the economy, politics, technology and energy costs combine to encourage or restrict travel and

  • Whether the appeal of travel destinations (in this case overseas but applicable to domestic) and consumers’ sensitivity to the environmental impacts of travel makes tourism more or less viable.

Going beyond most reports of this type, Tourism 2023 culminates with how individual organizations like destination marketing organizations like DCVB at the community level can use and adapt these scenarios.

Very thought provoking.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why Are Individuals Not Held Responsible?

I read an interesting article in the LA Times about a study that reveals that banning fast food stores in areas of high obesity, isn’t the solution. In fact these areas already have fewer stores per capita.

It made me wonder why when I’m in meetings about crime or public health or education or poverty, I constantly hear agencies, non-profits and government fingered as responsible...but there is one pivotal group that is an invisible “white elephant” in the room...individuals and families.

We hear what law enforcement and the judicial system should do, what public schools should do, what social services and drug treatment should do, but not how individuals and families can be accountable.

I’m not some far out nut. I’m a progressive so I know and understand that government is designed to provide many things that aren’t practical to do as individuals, families or private businesses.

But is it just me or when children and young adults are truants or get in trouble with the law, does it seem that people quickly finger the judicial system? When some groups score lower on end of grade and end of course tests, teachers and administrators are quickly fingered. When kids and young adults grow obese or drug and alcohol dependent, quick service establishments, bottlers or convenience stores are fingered.

The fact is all of the institutions must obviously be part of the solution…and they can and appear to be trying to do a better job.

What’s missing in the discussion is personal and family or parental responsibility. That’s really where the buck stops. That is part of the foundation of any free society.

Why aren’t individuals and parents being held at least as accountable as agencies and non-profits? Instead of finger pointing or playing the victim…let’s ask, if not insist, that the individuals and families also be responsible for the solution.

All the money, all of the agencies, all of the safety nets in the world can only make a difference if individuals and families play their part.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Accolades Can Be Misleading

As one who markets Durham as a destination, I know that DCVB is careful to vet accolades before we relay them. Even then, one or two get by us from time to time.

A few accolades are deceiving, like the recent so-called ranking of smartest cities by an online publication in New York.

Purportedly it was a ranking of cities. However, it was easy to spot something was up because the site listed this area by the name of the airport, Raleigh-Durham. There simply is no such city or metro area.

Because the author noted that they only ranked metropolitan areas of 1 million or more people, it was initially assumed they had used the massive Combined Metropolitan Statistical Areas (CMSAs) in which case Cary should have been added to the name for this area.

But it still didn’t make sense for a publication to confuse metro areas and CMSA’s, let alone cities.

The publication was surprised that instead of a “take the ranking and run” attitude, we were probing deeper about the methodology and nomenclature.

As it turns out, the ranking isn’t about cities, or metro areas, or CMSA’s. The author substituted the term “city” for a ranking of Nielsen DMAs or media designated marketing areas. So the ranking was actually for the 22 county Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville) DMA, which includes parts of three states and nearly 20% of North Carolina. They even admitted that they purposely called DMAs cities and didn’t seem to care about accuracy.

There were other issues beyond the fact that DMA’s aren’t really relevant for this type of analysis (it just means they all share the same television stations.) The site also measured intellectual environment by sales of non-fiction books in that DMA, which leaves out all the people who frequent public or university libraries. Hmmm…maybe not the best way to measure a region’s collective intelligence.

Comparing DMA’s truly centered around a metro area might make sense but it isn’t fair to mix in polycentric DMA’s like this one which have no dominant center and encompass many different cities and metro areas.

Durham gets its share of accolades…and yes, it’s nice to know that someone thinks this DMA is the smartest in the country, but please, if there is a next time, do all your readers a favor and don’t confuse things by referring to DMAs as “cities.”

It would be like us doing a ranking of all the news media outlets and calling it a ranking of magazines, as if they were the all same and it didn’t matter that some were TV or radio stations, newspapers and even online publications. I bet accuracy would matter then.

Accurate terminology matters just as much to cities, metro areas and to us, too.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Durham Image Reaches Milestone

It is no surprise to most Durham residents that collectively they have always had a very high image of Durham. Scientific public opinion polling by NanoPhrades shows Durham’s self-image is 86% positive, or very positive, compared to 10.3% negative, or very negative. Similarly, surveys have shown Durham has a highly positive image nationwide.

Durham’s dilemma is that 3 of every 5 jobs in Durham are held by non-residents. This includes the majority of jobs at the airport and in the news media. Surveys over the years have shown that at times, as much as 40%-65% of the residents in nearby counties had a negative image of Durham.

Durham has turned its image around with nearby communities, thanks to more balanced and even handed news coverage, insisting that accurate locations be attributed to Durham based assets, a relentless grass-roots core of Image Watchers (residents empowered to confront water-cooler fables), defending the brand at every touch point, persistent distribution of balanced information via the Durham News Service, and the 19-organization Durham Public Information & Communications Council as well as buzz created by public and private mega-projects dating back to DBAP in the mid ‘90s.

It is too early to declare victory by any means. Vigilance about image is an ongoing process, and there are bound to be ups and downs. However, Durham has reached a critical milestone where the proportion of residents negative about Durham has been narrowed down to 10% in Orange County, 16.3% in Wake County, and 10.3% among residents in the rest of the state. This doesn’t mean that everyone else is positive but many of the former “soft” negatives have been shifted to “neither positive nor negative” or to “positive”.

Durham is now neck and neck for claiming the most positive image in the state when compared to Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem. Durham also has a very positive or positive image now with 77% of adults in Orange County, over 68% in Wake County, and 72% in the rest of the state.

The 10-15% of people who are proactively negative and virulent can’t be discounted, especially now that they’ve been largely isolated. Their considerable influence is still revealed by the high percentage of people in Orange and Wake counties, as well as the rest of the state, who respond that based on what people say they would expect a negative or uncertain experience in Durham. More than a third of the residents in Orange County, nearly two-thirds of the residents in Wake County, and a quarter of the residents in the rest of the state give this response.

So while the negativists are small in number, they still undermine Durham’s image with large populations. The job of defending a community’s image is never finished, especially for the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, Durham’s official marketing agency.

Nor can Durham let up on efforts to improve the personal experience people have in Durham. Even with public and private mega projects like The Streets At Southpoint, American Tobacco, West Village, Greenfire’s city center plans, and the Durham Performing Arts Center, more than 40% of Orange County, more than 60% of Wake County, and half of the rest of the state feel negative or uncertain about their personal experiences in Durham.

There is evidence that far less expensive initiatives such as a coherent community-wide way-finding system and overall appearance may be needed to improve personal experiences by people in nearby communities and throughout the state.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Durham Residents Support Existing Billboard Ordinance

A scientific public opinion poll was conducted by NanoPhrades to inform any future position the DCVB Tourism Development Authority might take should a proposal be made to modify the existing Durham ordinance prohibiting additional billboards in Durham or upgrading existing billboards.

Support for the existing ordinance was nearly 9 to 1 overall, with the ratio of strongly agree to strongly disagree at 8.4 to 1. In all, 72% of residents supported the existing ordinance, 20% were undecided and 8% did not support the current ordinance.

Support for the existing ordinance was consistent across gender with males and females, 72.4% and 71.4%, in favor respectively. Newcomers (2 years or less) supported the ordinance by a ratio of 4.5 to 1 while those here 3-5 years were 9 to 1 in favor, and those here 6 to 10 years in favor by 20 to 1. Residents of 11-20 years supported the ordinance by 14 to 1 and those living in Durham more than 21 years showed support by a margin of 8 to 1.

Caucasians supported the existing ordinance by 10 to 1, African Americans by 11 to 1, Asians by 4 to 1, and Hispanics by 5.5 to 1.

Residents supported the existing ordinance regardless of their level of pride in or image of Durham. Even those undecided about either supported the existing ordinance.

The poll was taken in August subsequent to several months of discussion in the community and neighborhood groups, as well as reports in the news of a possible proposal to change the ordinance to permit moving some billboards and upgrading them to digital.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Interesting stuff from the ’09 Pew research on People and the Press

First a chart showing the percentage of Americans who think the press is accurate has dropped from 55% in ’85 to 29% now.

Much of that has to be driven by changes within the news media. With many fold more outlets chasing or retreading the same news…with cuts in editorial and repertorial staff…with the blur between entertainment and news….well none of those add up to more accuracy. I wonder what percentage think headlines are accurate? I’ll bet that’s even lower.

But equally interesting is the chart showing the gap between how partisan political groups perceive various news outlets. I have a progressive friend who purposely listens to ultra conservative talk shows just to see the other side of the story. Seek first to understand, now that’s a novel concept!

Apparently a lot of people just read and view what they want to hear. And we’re surprised we’re increasingly polarized?

It seems clear more Democrats overall are open to more and different types of news media and view a greater diversity of outlets favorably.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Walking to School is Increasingly Rare?

When I was in grade school I remember a time or two arriving home on the school bus to our cattle ranch and finding my parents and sisters had been delayed returning from an errand to Bozeman or Idaho Falls. As instructed I would check in on the party-line. This was a telephone line shared by several families. So people would know I was home.

Two things made me recall that memory. One, a conversation with my Mother, subsequent to the rescue of a person who had been abducted when she was only slightly older than I had been. Two, an article in the Sunday NYT’s entitled “Why Can’t She Walk To School?”

My Mom was certain that today, she would not let me come home alone like I did because the world is a much more dangerous place. I said, Mom, I believe studies of crime statistics have shown that child abductions by strangers are extremely rare. Most are committed by family members or individuals known to the family.

You can’t blame people for being paranoid though. The combination of popular crime dramas on television coupled with the insatiable appetite of 24/7 news for the sensational amplifies everything. Throw in social media and the Internet’s ability to fuel ideas and notions around the planet (more often than not without perspective or context) and voila…kids today have a fraction of the creative playtime they had a few decades ago and almost no time outdoors.

In analyzing statistics about crime and trying to make sense of public opinion polls about people feeling safe, I’m aware there is little correlation between the opinions and reality.

Some say, we’ve never lived in a more safe time. I assume they mean crimes per 100,000 and in countries like the USA. But maybe they mean safe from strangers. Here is a snapshot from that Department of Justice study I was telling Mom about:
  • On average, 2,185 children under the age of 18 were reported missing each day of the study year.

  • That adds up to more than 797,500 children annually.

  • Of that total, almost that 204,000, or about 25 percent, were family abductions.

  • An estimated 58,200 were abducted by someone other than a family member.

  • Of those, 115 were taken by complete or partial strangers and kept for a period or killed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Great Overview of Social Contagion

Clive Thompson published a comprehensive overview of the research on social contagion in the New York Times Magazine recently. The science behind social contagion is of great relevance to destination/community marketing organizations including defending image and brand.

Is Happiness Catching?

Social contagion is the way ideas and behaviors move through social networks. This report builds on books by authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godwin. But as Thompson illustrates so well, it also has relevance to public health and overcoming things like obesity, etc.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Measuring One of Durham’s Core Assets

City Manager Tom Bonfield and I recently touched on a book we both have read by Dr. Richard Florida entitled Who’s Your City. It brought to mind one of the measures DCVB benchmarks.

One of the most valuable assets a community can have is community pride among residents. Residents deliver on a community’s brand. When you have community pride, you can leverage it as DCVB does in telling the Durham story. But you can’t “create” or “generate” community pride with “rah, rah” or a campaign. It is intrinsic, and some communities have it, but most don’t. Sadly, most don’t even realize they don’t have it.

Thanks to some great advice 16 years ago from Dr. Mitch Javidi of NanoPhrades (nan’ oh fray des) and his then partners, the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau began to benchmark this and other community attributes via scientific, generalizable public opinion polling.

As the community’s marketing agency, DCVB tells the Durham story, and that story has to be in synch with how residents truly regard their community. Otherwise the brand just won’t resonate and it definitely won’t be deliverable.

In telling that story and defending the brand, DCVB can help preserve or perpetuate community pride but the fact that Durham has it and has always had it is an invaluable asset.

Over the past 16 years, polls have documented that community pride in Durham has averaged in the high 70’s. This year it rose slightly from the year before to nearly 86%.

Also significant, few Durham residents are ambivalent. Only 6.8% register as neither proud or not proud. And 7.5% register as not proud with 3% “very” not proud. The ratio of proud to not proud is more than 11 to 1. Very proud to very not proud is also more than 11 to 1.

This is particularly impressive because two of Durham’s other brand values are “being outspoken” and “unpretentious” both of which are often misinterpreted by neighbors of other communities sharing the same news outlets. But it is just the opposite. People who are proud of their community also really care about improving it.

The survey is random and respondents are asked to respond on a likert scale to the statement “I am proud of Durham,” strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree and strongly disagree.”

Occasionally, DCVB has the image of other communities polled with the same question to provide a benchmark. Typically the responses are 30-40% proud, with about the same percentage not proud and the rest ambivalent.

Keep in mind that nearly 40% of Durham’s residents have moved here since the polling began. So the level of community pride has either infused those who selected Durham as a home or Durham tends to attract community spirited people to call this home.

Either way, community pride is clearly one of Durham’s many core strengths and a tremendous asset.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Political Courage

The current debate over how to overhaul health insurance is probably going to come down to two things: elected leadership with a plan and willingness to take bold action. I guess that could be part of the definition of a leader.

It reminds me of the leadership Bill Bell showed during an equally contentious debate over merging Durham public schools. The issue had been on the table many times since desegregation. Even though Durham Public Schools had long been desegregated, there remained two systems. One covered the majority of the City and County. The other, a smaller system, was called City Schools but covered only some neighborhoods in the urban core.

The smaller system meant a great deal to people. While it was a vestige left over from segregation, people took great ownership in their own school system. But the evidence clearly demonstrated that merger would eliminate duplication while providing improved resources and facilities.

In the 1990’s, even the Durham Chamber came around under the leadership of Marvin Barnes. Everyone seemed to agree something needed to be done but there were polarized alternatives.

Bill Bell was Chairman of the Durham Board of County Commissioners then, and had been on the Commission for about two decades. He, with a few others, forged a plan and courageously led adoption to merge the schools. No good or courageous deed goes unpunished though, as the saying goes. And he lost the subsequent election.

He paid a steep price but got the job done. We need that with healthcare reform.

Leaders willing to take strong steps can take note that Bill dropped below the radar for a year or two, then successfully ran for election again to the Board of County Commissioners and then went on to what is now an unprecedented 4 consecutive terms as Mayor of Durham.

But I’ll bet even if he hadn’t been eventually re-elected, Bill wouldn’t trade that for the successful merger of Durham Public Schools.

While elected leaders may sacrifice re-election in the near term, achieving health insurance reform will be a lasting legacy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Meaning of Core City

I read a study the other day that cited an analysis of airports and their core cities. I emailed the author to ask how Raleigh came to be singled out as the core city for Raleigh-Durham International Airport?

As I suspected, the analysis had fallen into the common trap of assuming each airport is primarily associated with one city. It has been many decades since that assumption had any universal validity but it’s amazing to see how many airports, airlines, car rental companies and consultants are still stuck back in that paradigm.

For decades now, many airports have served polycentric areas without a dominant center. RDU is one of them. Centric areas by definition are “centered” around one large dominant city, so it’s not just by size but by geography.

It makes a practical difference to distinguish between centric and polycentric areas. A visitor, traveler, meeting planner, newcomer or relocating executive destined for an area centered around one dominant city can guess where to stay or live and either be close to where they need to be or equidistant from several options.

A visitor to a polycentric area needs more information, or as in RDU’s case, risks staying or commuting 60-70 miles round trip from the destination. Believe me, travelers and newcomers inconvenienced by centric thinking quickly light up organizations like DCVB with complaints because they believe the destination marketing organization should have had control over the misinformation.

In the case of RDU, it has a catchment area of several dozen different cities, towns and counties. It is located equidistant between two metro areas, the four county area centered around Durham NC and the three county area designated as Raleigh-Cary. RDU isn’t located in a major city, it is located in a small town midway between and co-owned by two medium sized cities, Durham and Raleigh and their respective counties, Durham and Wake.

In addition to RDU, there are other airports serving polycentric areas, DFW, SEATAC, GSO, MSP and many others.

So the old, outmoded models stuck in the premise that all areas served by an airport can be truncated to name of one city have got to go. The world is much more complex and has been for some time.

This means airlines need to list cities and towns served instead of using the heading for what is really a list of airports. Such a change should be very simple in the Internet era. Additionally, when airlines say they’ve added a new destination but they actually mean a new airport, it is best to use the name of the airport rather than arbitrarily singling out one destination it serves.

Similarly, when advertising routes or fares, it is better to use the names of the two airports, e.g. RDU to DFW than to arbitrarily single out Raleigh to Dallas and disregard that the majority of ,passengers may be actually be using the airports to travel from Durham to Fort Worth.

Airports also need to give communication style manuals to new carriers, especially in polycentric areas, explaining the layout of the area and nomenclature that will not only be accurate but best for business. Snubbing 90% of the travelers in a polycentric area by truncating it to the name of only one city isn’t smart business.

Or we can just keep inconveniencing people, disrespecting owner communities and rolling those eyes. Which will it be?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Community Appearance Is Much More Than Meets The Eye

Community appearance for many is narrowed to litter or clean up, maybe beautification.

But it is far more central than that, and to me it may qualify as an overarching strategy for Durham.

Many dismiss it as superficial while others fear that taken to an extreme it will homogenize a community.

Here are just 20 elements which I include when I talk about community appearance. And they all have to do with curb appeal but also revealing a community’s unique sense of place:

  • Historic Preservation and Repurposing

  • Archeological Preservation and Interpretation

  • Commercial and Housing Code Enforcement

  • Flora and Fauna and Urban Forestry

  • Litter Clean Up

  • Abatement of Weedy Lots

  • Mowing and Planting of Medians

  • Design Guidelines

  • Tree and Vegetation Buffers

  • Elimination of Illegal Dumping of Construction Waste

  • Right of Way Trees and Plantings

  • Gateway Landscaping

  • Flags, Banners, and Streetscape Signaling Arrival

  • Roadway and Sidewalk Wayfinding

  • CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design)

  • Curbside Waste Removal and Recycling

  • Broken Windows Approaches to Policing and Crime Reduction

  • Graffiti Removal

  • Street Maintenance

  • Increased Valuation and Tax Base

Communities that ignore or dismiss appearance without looking at it holistically risk many things…erosion of its unique sense of place and community pride, as well as the economic and cultural importance of being different, to name just a few.

Any scientific public opinion poll in Durham, always shows almost universal agreement that appearance is an important or very important community priority.

This is an area in which Durham cannot be complacent and I’m eager for the day when elected officials and public servants speak out about appearance as an overarching strategy for community improvement and protect it as a priority.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Essential or Familial

I noticed it sitting in sacrament meeting. I went to a church with my family where trays of water and bread were passed down each pew. The water was in little tiny cups placed in holes in the tray.

My family was sitting together in the middle of the pew that day. I was about 11 years old. As I took the cup, my fingers trembled and my wrist quivered slightly and I spilled some.

No big deal, but it felt like everyone in both directions on the pew and behind leaned out and stared in concern like I was having a stroke or something.

It had probably first been apparent in first or second grade when we were all gathered around an experiment with “bluing” and rocks. The teacher was very clear about being extremely careful not to spill and I volunteered to pour it. But the condition didn’t really begin to kick in until teen-age years and doctors when I’d get a physical each year for school sports would tell my Mom that it was “just part of growing up” and would pass. They were right about a lot of things passing but not this.

It has progressively worsened. It is called essential or familial tremor.

I can be standing with a cup of coffee or a drink at a stand up event and talking to someone and all of the sudden my hand and wrist seems to make a sudden jerk or begin shaking and I spill. I’ve taken medication and the doses have gradually increased. It works for a time and then doesn’t and over time the medications just seem to have less and less effect.

As you can imagine, I’ve learned to ignore it or work around it. I was the only boy in my typewriting class when it was first offered in high school. And learning to type has meant I rely very little on hand writing which was always difficult and now near impossible except for a quick “RB.”

I didn’t know it then, but it apparently is a disability that could have qualified for a note taker in law school. Thank goodness they permitted portable typewriters during tests. But it really isn’t that rare. I’m one of 10 million people with a mutated gene resulting in what is called essential tremor, not as I understand it, because I need it but because there is no underlying factor and in 96% including me, it is inherited.

I notice it in my Mother’s hands now but she’s going on 82 so I can’t tell if it is the same as my condition or age related. I first noticed it in my daughter’s hands when she was in junior high or high school. I had hoped she’d be in the 50% that don’t inherit it.

It isn’t degenerative but it can begin to affect other things. Recently and only rarely, I have detected it now in my voice, similar to the actress Katharine Hepburn who also had the condition and was and is often mistaken for Parkinson’s.

For all of my work life, I could tell in their eyes when a few people would judge me. A very small percentage would ask me about it in concern. I’ve learned to explain it when I see people too concerned or distracted. Mostly it is either mildly embarrassing or annoying when people become more interested in what my hands are doing than what I’m saying.

Others have made the mistaken assumption, I’m nervous. I’ve never found any correlation with being nervous. Actually when I’m most nervous, say before a speech, the condition doesn’t seem to be a problem. Alcohol makes it disappear almost completely.

It affects me other ways. I have to hold a key with both hands to get it in the lock. And it was a hoot when my English Bull Dog #2 was a pup. I’d reach down to hand him something like a greenie and his head would be moving rapidly side to side trying to nab it at just the right time. It was a hoot, for both of us, I’m sure.

It seemed over time to be worse in my left or writing hand at first. So at age 40, I learned to write right handed. That worked for a while.

But cleaning out some files the other day I realized just how much my hand writing had deteriorated in the last 10 years.

It isn’t a big deal really in the grand scheme of things. I have great health and I really admire people who truly have disabilities and the way they deal with them. To me this doesn’t even classify as a disability.

I was told by my neurologist that it impacts the receptors. You see your brain doesn’t wait to send a signal for your hand to move. It apparently floods both the move and don’t move channels down to a receptor and then pulls back on one or the other when you need to move your hand.

My receptors are just messed up by that gene apparently.

The tremor is just annoying more than anything. But if you have wondered, now you know. And if you happen to have it, know you’re not alone.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Trees and Sense of Place

I did a lot of riding this weekend in the rural, southern part of Orange County, e.g., Mt Sinai, Wakefield, NC 86, Turkey Farm, Old 10, etc. Amazing how the temperature would instantly vary when the trees were back a ways from the road.

Someone not so long ago mentioned something about trees that could be a threat to Durham’s sense of place. Apparently most of the trees out along the right of ways throughout Durham were planted about the same time, e.g., 50 years ago. And they are aging out, pretty much at the same time.

If I understood correctly, this is both an opportunity and a threat, as most are. Hopefully someone is working on the solution not just the problem and rolling out a plan for trees.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Humiliation Of Being Treated Differently

I recognized the couple immediately. Attractive African American lady and dapper gentleman sitting next to me at Rick’s Diner.

They sat next to me a couple of weeks earlier when, while departing, my attention was diverted by another diner asking if she could read the newspaper I left on my table. With my motorcycle gear I almost knocked a chair over turning around to answer her. So I ended up walking right out of the restaurant without paying, only to remember late that Sunday night.

I returned at 7 am the next morning when Ricks opened and paid the tab. Not an uncommon occurrence the person behind the register commented…but rare that people come back.

When I saw the couple again I kidded them that they should have reminded me to pay.

The lady laughed and said that had happened to her with some friends one time at another restaurant. She called the restaurant immediately when she got back to her office and was told not to worry at all and to come back when she could.

She did immediately, only to find out that in the meantime, they had reported her to the police by her tag number and sure enough, she received a visit a short time later from a uniformed cop.

Was the humiliation a coincidence or was it because she was Black? It would have been very easy to report me with a motorcycle and all. Different restaurants, different approaches. Or are some people treated differently than others because of the color of their skin and other characteristics?

I certainly don’t know the intent of the people involved but I could feel in the moment she told me the story, even with a laugh, the humiliation this lady felt and also how differently we each had been treated. And her playful reminder as she left to remember to pay my bill has played over and over in my mind.

People who happen to be African American are treated differently in very subtle and not so subtle ways just because of the color of their skin. Anyone like me who mixes and socializes with people of many ethnic groups might still not pick up on it and many others are in denial. Racism may be too harsh a term but the impact on the individual is just the same.

Those of us with different colored skin will never know exactly how racism, no matter how subtle, must feel. But even today, it clearly scars individuals and undermines society.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thank you for flying AmeriSouthBlueDeltWest

Drives Durham resident’s nuts to sit as I did in Atlanta late last month for an early morning return to RDU on Delta and hear a gate agent repeatedly make an announcement that went like this:

“I apologize that our flight to Raleigh has been delayed. We won’t depart for
Raleigh now until such and such. We’ll board for Raleigh at such and such. Thank you Raleigh bound passengers for your patience.”

It would ordinarily be endearing to customers but the vast majority of people in the waiting rooms weren’t destined for Raleigh. We know that from research. Nor of course is the airport located in Raleigh. It is in Morrisville midway between Durham and Raleigh. And Raleigh only co-owns 1/4th of the airport, sharing equal ownership with the City of Durham, Durham County and Wake County.

Sitting there in the gate area wearing a “Durham-Where Great Things Happen” logoed shirt, I looked up to see eyes from all over the waiting room on me belonging to people I didn’t know. I thought about commenting to the agent but it was early, and I just didn’t want to get the dismissive or “I don’t get it” reaction or worse, the rude and defensive reaction often typical.

And I was already deep in thought about how to correct RDU bound online boarding passes issued by Delta that list features in the so-called “Raleigh Area,” many of which are really in Durham which for those of you who don’t know is in a different county, a different metro area and for all the differences, a different planet.

I can already "see" some eyeballs I hear rolling…well, "Just get over it!" Durham is extremely community spirited so instead of trying to hush us, how about our neighbors speaking up to clarify once in a while? I don’t mean just support Durham speaking up, I mean speaking up on our behalf. I mean “do unto others…”

Thank goodness another gate agent took over and used accurate terminology as did the pilot. And the person posting the flight at the gate really had it all down. They even put Raleigh/Durham signifying “and” rather than just the first part of the airport name.

Residents have asked DCVB for a convenient “business card” they can hand to gate agents or pilots or flight attendants when these inaccurate references occur. We’re going to do that.

One thing I know for certain, if the shoe was on the other foot and Durham mangled any airline’s name or brand or worse, attributed it to another carrier…we’d probably hear from their lawyers vs. get a polite card providing the accurate reference.

The sad part is Delta is one of the better airlines about respecting brands. It's time for airlines to realize they serve more than airports and not all airports are located in a centric area with a dominant city.

And the old excuse “there isn’t enough room on the route map” doesn’t hold any longer. The web would permit any airline to put in all of the cities they serve just by asking each airline or airport for the cities and towns in their catchment areas.