Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why Some Things Should Be Harder-In and Easier- Out

There are some things you should go into very slowly. Experts have long advised that it should be harder to get married than get divorced for instance. When hiring employees, expert advice is similar “hire slow, fire fast.” Unfortunately, society gets those things reversed.

It should be the same with war, harder to make, easier to quit.

As put more humorously by retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in a recent a speech at West Point, “in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined…” I agree.

In particular with Afghanistan where prevailing opinion is now that we went in far too fast, without a clear exit strategy and then lost our primary focus. The continuing loss in lives and treasure should be lessons enough that it is a huge mistake to dismiss the importance of teaching and studying history and Tea Partiers should know better than anyone.Capture

Any of us could have “stepped in the bucket” with misstatements, such as favorites of that movement Representative Michele Bachmann and former Governor Sarah Palin have made recently, about everything from patriots to slavery to who is to blame for the deficit to whether it was John Wayne the actor or John Wayne Gacy the serial killer who was born in their hometown..

More disturbing is when they fail to pull their foot back out of the bucket and supporters try to re-edit history to fit to cover their lack of knowledge.

But clearly when someone gets a “sense from God” that they should run for office, doesn’t it seem like it would come with a reminder about the Ninth Commandment, paraphrased as “Thou Shalt Not Lie” or doesn’t it apply to sound-bites? Maybe it should come instead with a fully detailed code of ethics.

Those only too quick to dismiss the teaching and study of history not only failed to heed:

  • Shakespeare when he penned the phrases “whereof what's past is prologue, what to come In yours and my discharge” for his play The Tempest, written in 1610, often paraphrased as “the past is prologue to the future”, or

  • Founder-favorite and contemporary Edmund Burke who wrote “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” or

  • Pragmatic Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana who wrote "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Any reading of then just 32-year-old Frances Fitzgerald’s Pulitzer-winning 1972 classic Fire In The Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans In Vietnam would have been proof enough that the now decade-long conflict in Afghanistan would become a huge mistake.

More than 38 years later, its lessons remain etched in my mind as I read it with my 6-month baby girl laying on my chest just as the 1973 Paris Peace Accords brought that 8 and 1/2 year conflict (1964-1973) to an end. And that doesn’t take into account all those years of special-ops “military advisors” that bookended that period.

Arrogant and corrupt public officials, a dithering-fence-sitting population, foggy differentiation between friend and foe, a failure to grasp historic ethnic and religious divisions and then our digging deeper and deeper to justify that we’ve been digging all along in futility are just a few of the historic similarities that this post-Vietnam generation of public figures should have recognized and learned from.

Of course, there is nothing but hubris to explain why my own generation repeated such a grave mistake well before my daughter saw the back-side of 30.

Maybe Afghanistan will fall just as South Vietnam did just as hawkish columnist Richard Cohen forecast last week when he wrote “I think Obama knows that. He fought this war – authorized the West Point surge – because he did not know how to get out. Now he does…it’s by getting out.”

I also share Cohen’s concerns that “the Republican response to both foreign and domestic problems somehow fits what is beginning to look like the 1930s all over again” including depression and isolation. “America remains the sole nation capable of playing the role of adult. The world needs us. The world will soon need us even more.”

Cohen may be right because wise and selective decisions about war may be required even more frequently in the future according to the new book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men by Mara Hvistendahl. It is imperative that we become much more self-aware as a nation about the limits of what we can and should do.

Whatever the outcome there, it was always going to be in the hands of Afghans to determine. Americans have achieved a great deal at the cost of running up the deficit and the sacrifice and maiming of young lives. This includes increasing the number of Afghan children attending school from 1 million to 8.3 million including 40% who are girls. It is up to the Afghans to rescue the 46% of school-age children who aren’t yet included.

I don’t fully agree now with General Colin Powell’s application of the Pottery Barn Rule: if you break it you own it” to nation-building. Americans have more than paid for and repaired any damage. We’ve also equipped and trained an Afghan army that if it has the will, can protect the nation from its enemies, internal and external.

As any parent can tell us, you do the best you can in preparing dependents, but you can’t control the lives they lead. We’ve sacrificed lives and treasure. It is now up to Afghans to do the rest and whether they do will be a reflection on them, not us.

“List checkers” and anyone else with little patience for either history or strategic thinking would do well to read Dr. Robert Burton’s book On Being Certain – Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not. He shows why we should all be more skeptical of our beliefs and that certainty, including "confirming bias," is a mental state, a feeling like anger or pride that doesn’t dependably reflect objective truth.

They would also better understand the purpose of both history and forecasting from a favorite quote of mine by author, consultant, essayist and history-informed “forecaster” Paul Saffo:

“the goal of forecasting [as well as learning from the past] is not to predict the future but to tell you what you need to know to take meaningful action in the present.”

Born a decade after me on the cusp of the Vietnam and post-Vietnam generation, Saffo often weaves historical perspective into essays about the future as he did in one I read upon arrival in Durham more than twenty years ago entitled Electronic Books, Yes, that long ago!

Today now-self-determinant Afghans as well as American officials eager to redirect full attention to fueling the economy, innovating new energy sources and dealing with issues of credit will do well to remember another favorite Saffo quote of mine:

“Don’t mistake a clear view with a short distance.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Washington Didn’t Learn From Colorado

I guess Washington State neglected to check to see what happened to Colorado when it similarly shut its tourism promotion down between 1993 and 1997 as Washington will at week’s end.

Visitation there dropped so dramatically back then that it more than erased any budget savings and worsened the deficit as tourism revenues and relatable tax revenues plummeted according to a post-in-depth analysis by IHS Global Insight.

That was an interesting time period for analysis because tourism on average declined nationwide, so it was easier to see how much further Colorado fell with no promotion to soften the fall.Capture

When Colorado did finally crank tourism promotion back up, it took another three years to get back up to speed and when it did, it was still 11 points short of the national average.

According to the analysis, a smarter move would have been for Washington State to increase tourism promotion as a means to help fight its way out of the deficit.  But politics is personal not logical and many politicians “cut stupidly not wisely” to paraphrase conservative columnist David Brooks.

Ordinarily, Washington is a very progressive state, having sat down as New York did to negotiate with its public unions rather than taking the bullying-agenda-driven confrontational, zero-sum approach that Wisconsin and, more recently New Jersey, did.

Washington has a lot of tourism potential.  I cut my teeth there in the 70s at the beginning of my just-concluded career in tourism-driven economic and cultural development.

Washington, like my adopted home state of North Carolina, is very geographically diverse from one side to the other.  It starts with coastline and rain forests in the west, climbs over the Cascades into high desert plateau which is perfect for wine growing, across the rolling hills of the Palouse and then back up into the lake country and foothills of the Rocky Mountains at Spokane on the eastern side.

However, Washington has always seemed to take its tourism for granted, especially on the western side which often breaths in so much of its own fog that it feels “entitled” to tourism.

But at least this move may provide another opportunity to closely observe how stupid it is to cut visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

Although, it may be a harder to gauge because Washington has more destination marketing-equipped cities than Colorado had back then which, hopefully, may be able to individually soldier-on in an effort to mitigate the state’s losses.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Putting Ice Cream and Tractors Into Perspective

Little did I know until this month that Wheaties debuted only seven years before I was born or that per capita annual consumption of ice cream peaked two years before I was born, at an astonishing 23 pounds per person.

I had always assumed Wheaties had been around forever and based on my family that per capita consumption of ice cream was still on a steep upward trajectory. I also remember the epiphany when I later learned that the Porsche marque I had admired from the day I first set eyes on a 356 Coupe when I was 10, only dated to the year of my birth, 1948.

Certain things, like Wheaties and ice cream just seem temporal.

Porsche, the designer and engineer, was probably tinkering with the prototype of the first car to bear his name in Gmund, Austria as my Dad traveled on a few days leave up into those Alps to clear his head skiing in the early winter of 1946 from his military post at Dachau which had been liberated just eight months prior.

That 356, of course, didn’t become my Porsche. I first owned a 912, same styling as the iconic 911 I would buy used in 1978 (when they were affordable) but with a VW engine. I rationalized the VW part because Porsche had also designed and built that make during a period during the 1930s when he also designed Grand Prix race cars for Auto Union, now known as Audi.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that Porsche also made tractors.

During my first decade of life, I was more into tractors than cars. At the time, I thought it was foolish that you couldn’t distinguish cars and trucks by their color like you could tractors. What a great concept!

At that age, I generally picked my favorites by color. My paternal grandfather’s bright red 1950 Farmall H was my favorite simply because of the color and not because it was manufactured from one of the huge J.P. Morgan trusts Teddy Roosevelt didn’t break up at the turn of that century. We always called it an International.

My maternal grandfather was a water master for the power company. He was almost always stationed out in the countryside next to some little dam where the water master was given occupancy of a house along with a barn and a little land as my grandfather was at Stewart Dam in the very southeastern corner of Idaho, not far from Dingle on the Bear River.00512_p_10aeuyf6sw0636_z

He had a mini-gray 1950 Ford 8N, which, according to Henry Ford, you weren’t allowed to call a tractor, that I liked because it was more my size and also because the secondary color was bright red.

I wasn’t much into green at the time so my Uncle Louis’ 1950 John Deere Model B wasn’t a favorite and the two-cylinder engine made a funny sound like it was choking. Come to think of it, it wasn’t that different than my Harley can sound if I don’t give it enough gas or start off in the wrong gear (click on the links to hear those sounds.)

I didn’t realize at the time that the predecessor to the John Deere was the Waterloo Boy tractor long abandoned in a grove of trees and brush on the ranch where vehicles were abandoned.

This vehicle graveyard was useful only for playing make-believe, especially a cool buckboard wagon and the remnants of an old steam threshing machine, my grandfather and one of his brothers been only the second to own in that Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho (click on the link to see one in action or the image of my grandfather’s shown above in this blog.)

It seems like Tea Partier candidate for the Republican primaries Representative Michele Bachmann would have been better advised to brag about her hometown being where Waterloo Boys were built rather than as the one time home of serial killer John Wayne Gacy whom she humorously confused with the famous actor, the late John Wayne, who was born 120 miles away in Winterset.

As he frequently did with very loud sport coats, my Dad always had exotic tastes when it came to tractors. They seem cool now but I was always a little embarrassed back then by his butter yellow and orange Case 411 tractor and his older green, yellow and orange 1954 Oliver Model 66.

Now that I think of it though, our closest neighbor with boys near my age had a very cool yellow 1949 Caterpillar which always seemed antique although it was a year younger than we were at the time. So I guess my chagrin wasn’t about the color yellow.

Dad was that way with cars too. He couldn’t stick with the very cool black 1949 Ford we had when I was very young. He had to get a two tone pea-soup-green DeSoto followed by a two-tone white and rust Rambler during my teenage years which I had to defend with another set of friends.

He wouldn’t let me learn to drive in the cool Jeep which I was to inherit after my grandmother “hand-painted” it red, of course. He made me truck back and forth through town in an ugly brown 1950 Chevy Coupe to learn to drive a stick-shift which would have been still bearable except it was a “three on the tree transmission.”

Only “four on the floor” was cool at the time. My Dad definitely never worried about “cool.”

12 Imperatives for a Museum of Durham History!

Long before officials leapfrogged it to build the spectacular Durham Performing Arts Center, a local history museum had long been the top cultural priority of Durham residents across every socio-ethnic group as evidenced by both scientific public opinion polls and master plans.

While Durham’s 12th and largest performance theater, not counting those in high schools such as the excellent 1,000-seat GSK Theater at Riverside, is a huge success, the only gapping hole in Durham’s cultural fabric remains the need for a local history museum.

Unfortunately, as often happens, advocates seeking to justify the theater a decade ago as a means to augment an economic development project felt the need to trash the idea of a local history museum as a threat, even going far as to bully a consultant to stop him from raising concerns.

It always takes time for the effects of propaganda like that to wash away.  Unfortunately, it isn’t new nor exclusive to Durham to see cultural facilities such as convention centers, ballparks, museums and theaters, often to their detriment, strapped like hostages to the front bumper of economic development projects.  People in my former career field are too often complicit.

All the while, however, Durham residents have continued to soldier-on as evidenced by a number of fundraisers including a benefit concert by volunteers from Durham Tech called “History Rocks” that will be held on July 16th to raise funds for a store-front precursor to a full-fledged Museum of Durham History.  Check out another prelude-project by Museum called History Beneath Our Feet, an online guide to Durham street and school names.

Fittingly, the event will be held in the 500+ capacity Motorco, an old mid-century showroom where 1960s Lincolns and Mercurys were sold which has been adaptively restored as a live music venue in Downtown’s unofficial but organically emergent NoCo District (NOrth of COrporation.)

Local history museums are vital to a community’s sense of uniqueness beyond their significance as a tool for both traditional and visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

Along with one of my own near the end, here are eleven long-term-trend-based observations noted in a 2008 study conducted by Reach Advisors on behalf of The Center For The Future Of Museums, “a think-tank and research and design lab,” about the continued relevance of museums in the future (download the full report by clicking here):

  • Far into the future, “museums will be places of cultural exchange in their communities…They will be one of the most powerful agents in helping all children understand the future and ensuring they are prepared to take leadership roles.”


  • “With educational attainment becoming a more visible tool of social mobility than ever, museums provide more opportunities than ever for [those] from less-educated families to gain exposure to topics that drive academic interest…As important players in the formal and informal education system, museums will…meet the rising expectations highly educated moms have for their children.”


  • In a world undergoing incredible change, “museums will educate the public on how past societies coped and adapted to tectonic shifts in their resources.  They will help society learn from history as we cope with a new era of expensive energy, lower consumptions, carbon constraint and climate change.”


  • “Museums are stable oases in the mist of turmoil…museums play an even greater role in sustaining the well-being of their communities during a prolonged downturn. Whether for the retiree managing lower post-retirement income than anticipated, or for schools with fewer enrichment opportunities for students, museums are there for their communities.”


  • “Museums play an important role in helping communities…reinvent themselves in the new knowledge-based economy. Responding to society's need for greater global awareness…promote dialog and understanding about other cultures and our place…”


  • “Museums are among the few institutions that bring together people of all economic classes…valued for their ability to redistribute wealth in the form of access to scientific, cultural and artistic resources, mitigating the cultural gap that arises from income disparities.”


  • “the fundamental human condition responds to a variant of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: The prevalence of the digital, virtual world raises public awareness of the increasingly rare world of non-digital assets that help tell the story of how humans got where we are.  Museums play  a more critical role than ever as purveyors of the authentic, addressing a human desire for the real as the wonders of technology march us towards the opposite path.”


  • “…Museums provide common experiences for diverse audiences, serving as safe public spaces for civic dialogue. As one of the most trusted sources of information, museums help people navigate the vast new world of information by filtering and validating credible content.”


  • “Museums…play a vital role in nurturing, documenting, organizing, interpreting and making accessible…creative output…They are repositories of knowledge about traditional craft, sources of inspiration for new designs and processes, and through their collections and exhibitions” they are “validators of new.”


  • “museums provide unique opportunities for today’s youth to exercise their gaming skills and satisfy their expectations for immersive narrative.  This increases their engagement with museums but also the community and the world, providing levels of social and global awareness they might not otherwise absorb while sitting in front of a screen.”


  • “Museums will be oases of the real in an increasingly virtual world.  Along with the outdoors and places of worship, museums represent the best opportunity for getting away from it all.”

It was clear to me from a now concluded four-decade career focused on marketing communities to visitors, including newcomers and relocating or start-up executives, that local history museums uniquely provide a place where existing residents, visitors and newcomers can explore the soul of a community and appreciate and perpetuate the temporal values and traits that make a community unique and distinct.

They are essential to place-making.  They engage all five modes of cultural involvement including inventive participation, interpretive participation, curatorial participation, observational participation and ambient participation.

For anyone prone to be list checkers with little patience for the future or the past, the report begins with an insightful quote from futurist Paul Saffo:

“The goal of forecasting is not to predict the future but to tell you what you need to know to take meaningful action in the present.”

Ironic for a community with a history arguably deeper and more significant than most, Durham has waited too long for a Museum of Durham History.

Proponents must remember another quote I like by Saffo, “never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”  Keep the faith!.

Re-Jumpstarting The United State Bicycle Route System

Motorcycles have something over electric or hybrid cars because, you can hear them beside you or coming up from behind. That makes a difference to the bicyclists with whom I frequently share the hills and dales of winding country-two-laners near where I live and enjoy riding my Harley.

Loud pipes save lives” is more than a slogan and we must have counted two hundred bicyclists during a beautiful ride this past weekend for brunch at the Saxapahaw General Store, unpretentiously cloaked as a “Five-Star Gas Station.”

My adopted home of more than two decades, Durham, North Carolina, is now not only dissected by the East Coast Greenway which runs from Maine to Florida but now recognized as the headquarters of the nearly 3,000-mile route, 25% of which is on traffic-free pathways like the American Tobacco Trail here. At times the Greenway conjoins with the recently revived United States Bicycle Route System.

Unless bicyclists are very experienced, the Greenway route is still best traveled and enjoyed as excursions on short traffic-free spans while on other trips via car, bus, rail or air, where airlines now provide special boxes to carry bicycles baggage holds.

That’s how I suspect most communities market the Greenway. Community/destination marketing organizations along the route can click on each state on the interactive route map to find more specific area maps at the bottom of each page.

It is hard for me to believe that the idea of the East Coast Greenway only began during a 1991 conference in Massachusetts which, coincidentally, was shortly after I relocated to the southeast here to jumpstart Durham’s community marketing effort.

While Durham now appears on the Greenway map, it is a bit confusing to visitors that equally-trail-rich Raleigh seems to get unusually large billing for being only connected by a spur. The East Coast Greenway actually cuts west of Cary, North Carolina and on to Fayetteville before veering down to Wilmington to follow the coastline for the remainder of the way.

This is probably because the Greenway conjoins with US Highway 1 and US Bike Route 1 for a bit, and when the route and map were first created it probably wasn’t yet known that it would ultimately diverge to the west and down through Durham.

USBR 1 cutting down through Virginia and into North Carolina to Raleigh is one of only two segments designated since 1981 as part of the proposed US Bicycle Route System by the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO.) Click here to enlarge the map. It appears Durham will be on a future east-west BR.

Recently several additional routes, USBR 1 in Maine and New Hampshire and USBR 20 in Michigan and USBRs 8, 95, 97 and 87 in Alaska, have been approved. If you wonder what “experienced cyclist” means, try driving anything motorized down US 1 through nearby Raleigh and you’ll get an idea of the experience needed to maneuver through congested areas.

The FastLane blog a week ago on the US Department of Transportation website and a FAQ on the website for the Adventure Cycling Association which has been contracted by AASHTO to facilitate more route designations to the system indicate that 44.7 million Americans age seven and older rode a bicycle six or more times in 2008.

Bicycling is now the seventh most popular recreational activity in the nation. Click here for Adventure Cycling resource page with links to various studies on economic and community benefits.

According to a post a few days ago on the website GOOD, Americans made 4 billion bicycling trips in 2009, up from 3.3 billion in 2001. To put that into perspective there are now between 10 and 11 million motorcycle trips annually in the US. From my observations, we share the road together much better than automobiles do.

Click here to search the US Bicycling Route Map by state or by route which is probably the most useful for the majority of bicyclists who would use part of the system during a trip. It is also a good place for official community destination marketing organizations to find specific links to the appropriate segments.

Click here for links to various Durham maps showing local routes for biking and hiking, the locations of bicycle racks or overall greenways and trails.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Moral From Two True Stories Of Need

I heard two accounts last week that could be an advertisement for a relatively new book The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks which I’m already re-reading for the third time.

Recently a friend of mind struck up a conversation with a newcomer she met in Durham’s new, award-winning Durham Station Transportation Center only to learn that this community had the dubious honor of being chosen from among several on the East Coast by this newcomer only because it afforded better subsidized housing and welfare benefits.

That’s, of course, not the intent of safety nets and examples such as this person not only fuel insensitivity to and stereotypes of the poor that are held by far more than just Tea Partiers but they can inure those of more fortunate means to the incredible stress currently felt by low income households as benchmarked in a poll released last week by the Pew Center.

Then later that same day, another friend told me the story of a young woman who just graduated from high school even though she has grown up in poverty far deeper and more pervasive than many of the 1 in 4 children who are now living in that condition.

Years ago she took the initiative to master technical skills so she could work her way through secondary school. At the time I heard her story she was living with another of my friends after being kicked out at the home of a sibling where she’d been since, for a variety of reasons, neither parent had ever been capable of fulfilling their legal obligations to this kid.

Still she fought through the adversity to graduate and earn a scholarship to college this fall only to discover she couldn’t make the deposit necessary for housing because the place where she worked had suddenly closed without warning or payment of her earned wages, leaving only a “For Rent” sign in the window. Now she has overcome that obstacle too, just as she has far too many others in a life so young.

Years ago, of her own volition, she reached out and built a long-distance relationship with a disabled grandparent in another part of the state who hadn’t been in her life previously. She has now chosen to go to a college in a school in that city so can go over and help her sightless grandmother out when needed.

While far too many young people her age and younger seem overindulged, bored and unable to weather simple setbacks or disappointments or homesickness or peer pressure, this kid has already shown incredible grit and determination and willpower and resolve while going without the most basic support system.

“Grit,” the perseverance and passion for long-term goals such as hers is proven a far greater predictor of success in life than IQ or prodigy-level gifts according to study published jointly by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan and The United States Military Academy, West Point.

While this young woman has benefited over the last few weeks from the voluntary kindness of a stranger, whom I’m sure is equally impressed by her character and drive, she never plays the victim or shows an attitude or exhibits a sense of entitlement.

As one of the 12,500 young people, on average, who turn old enough each day this year to vote, she has already mastered the Character Tool Kit and she is living testament to Dr. Shelby Steele’s twenty-year classic The Content Of Our Character, published before she was born. Before her first day of college, she is already qualified to teach at The Kenan Institute for Ethics, a “think and do” tank for leadership here in Durham at Duke University.

Her example illustrates why we need to be very careful to only trim fraud and waste away from programs designed to give a hand up to social mobility for people like her and as Brooks pleaded in a February column in the New York Times, “cut wisely not stupidly.”

What true believer in the “American Dream” would hesitate even a second to voluntarily raise the tax on their income to help this young lady"?

Recent polls show that the percentage of people with libertarian views is on the rise but what they don’t realize and Brooks, a Conservative, so ably notes is that the growth of government is a result of flawed “individualist agendas” by both the right and the left when he writes that:

“these two individualist revolutions [‘60s on the left and ‘80s on the right] did not create loose free societies. They produced atomized societies in which the state grows in an attempt to fill the gaps created by social disintegration…”

Given these two examples, I choose to focus on the young, privilege-less girl as the poster child for why government must continue to fulfill its essential duty to promote and foster social mobility. It is as imperative to America’s survival as resolving the credit crisis.

This is why it is imperative that Republican leaders re-engage with bipartisanship. As Brooks noted in a debate at the American Enterprise Institute in March:

“…my problem with the Republican Party right now…is that if you offered them 80-20, they’d say no. If you offered them 90-10 they’d say no. If you offered them 99-1 they’d say no. And that’s because we’ve [Republicans]substituted governance for brokerism, for rigidity that Ronald Reagan didn’t have.

…this rigidity comes from this polarizing world view that they’re a bunch of socialists over there…I’ve spent a lot of time with the president [President Obama]…a lot of time with the people around him. They’re liberals!…But they are not idiots.

And they’re not Europeans, and they don’t want to be a European welfare state…It’s American liberalism, and it’s not inflexible.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

“Erasing Hate,”–A Skinheads Story Of Redemption

The documentary, Erasing Hate, airing Sunday at 9 p.m. on MSNBC is a story of redemption but it is chilling to realize there are more than 1,000 hate groups in the United States including both Neo-Nazi and White Nationalist groups based in Raleigh, North Carolina and a Black Separatist group based in Durham where I live.

Promo for Erasing Hate Documentary

Click here to view a map, then click on any state to get specifics including the name and nature of each group.

Hate groups do not include more than 1,000 other extremist groups in this nation including private militias, nativist groups and other anti-government groups that are organized to go beyond hate-filled rhetoric.  Nor, of course, does it include disparate groups which affiliate together as the Tea Party movement, although many people believe the rhetoric of some of their members may fuel extremists.

For perspective, it is useful to remember that at its peak in 1925, 1 in 29 Americans belonged to the KIu Klux Klan. The same proportion In terms of today’s population would be 11 million Americans devoted to violence against other Americans.  But it is important while we protect our country from extremists abroad to remember that there are extremists at home epitomized by tragedies like the bombing in Oklahoma City.

My Dad joked long before Ruby Ridge that “God took Southern California in one hand and Southern Florida in the other and shook all of the nuts and berries into Northern Idaho.”

But there are twice as many hate groups based in North Carolina as there are in Idaho and nearly five times as many in the Carolinas combined.  In fact, 150 years after the Civil War, there remain Klu Klux Klan chapters not only in the South but in states like Idaho, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming.Capture

If you can stomach it, listen in on the rhetoric on WPTF-AM afternoon broadcasts from Raleigh or shows by Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or any number of other hate-fueled-for-profit outlets.

It will be no surprise that these groups have increased by 60% in the past decade.

To keep tabs on hate groups, log onto the Southern Poverty Law Center now in its 40th year of “fighting hate and bigotry” and be sure to watch a documentary the Center helped product entitled Erasing Hate, “a skinhead’s story of redemption.”

Durham’s Definitive 1970s Brain-Gain

I’ve always sensed the strength of the communities in which I’ve lived and worked by the number of people born there who stay or return but also by the number who come there to go to school or work and stay.

Those indicators are a sense of the depth and authenticity of a community’s soul.

Duke University is a private school with a huge reputation but a small student body, one of two major universities, along with 100-year-old North Carolina Central University, located in Durham, North Carolina.

While Duke’s appeal stretches around the globe, Durham is also one of the largest concentrations of Duke alumni who stay or return to call it home after they graduate. It is a key part of why Durham has a positive “brain-gain” compared to other communities.

During the two decades I headed the organization charged with defending and promoting Durham’s identity as a tool for visitor-centric economic and cultural development, I seemed to continually run into people who graduated from Duke in the 1970s who continue to this day to make a difference here.

As an example, here are just fifteen top-of-mind friends from the classes from the 1970s who have made such a difference here:

  • Bob Ashley – Who returned as Editor for the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper and is now an advocate for Durham’s sense of place as Executive Director of Preservation Durham.

  • Julia Borbely Brown – Co-founder of the then super-influential Durham Voters Alliance and now a long-time staffer and paralegal in the mortgage department at Self-Help a community development lender.

  • Tom Campbell – Former Durham City Council member and co-founder of the iconic Regulator Bookshop, an early anchor in the organic Ninth Street District and currently a mover behind the Sustain A Bull Shop Independent Durham movement.

  • Wib Gulley – Who went away for law school only to return to serve as two-term Mayor of Durham and long-time NC State Senator before becoming General Counsel for Triangle Transit Authority.

  • Jim Wise – Who stayed to become a journalist and columnist at the Durham Herald-Sun and now The Durham News. He is also an author of many books and an historian of Durham’s remarkable past.

Following in other classes of the 1970s were:

  • Lanier Blum – Former City Council member and champion of commuting by bicycle who is currently a residential developer at Self-Help Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

  • Jim Hardin Jr. – A Durham native who went away to law school after graduation from Duke and then returned to serve as Durham County District Attorney and now serves as a Resident Superior Court Judge for the State of North Carolina.

  • Lee Richardson – Who returned to participate in the political battles of the 1970s and 1980s that defined Durham’s future while rising to Vice President over Asia Pacific and Latin America at software giant SAS in Cary before becoming an active part of Durham’s visitor sector prior to his sudden passing last year.

  • Steve Schewel – Founder of the award-winning, investigative-reporting alternative newspaper The Independent Weekly which has grown to cover several counties around Durham; also a former School Board member and a current candidate for Durham City Council.

  • Alice Sharpe – A Durham native and African-American who stayed in her hometown after graduation as an activist for the revitalization of Downtown Durham and now serves as the Director of Development for the Durham County Library System.

  • Nick Tennyson – Former two-term Mayor of Durham, without whom the million-square-foot American Tobacco Complex may not have become a reality and an early proponent of “smart growth” and “green building” who is now head of the three-county Home Builders Association.

And epitomizing many drawn to Duke to teach in the 70s:

  • Judy Kincaid – Who came as a Duke law professor in the mid-70s and a champion of sustainability issues and then designed and managed award-winning programs at Triangle J Council of Governments before founding Clean Energy Durham, an emerging a national model for “neighbors helping neighbors save energy.”

There are many others I’m missing and others who matriculated in the ‘70s but graduated during the dawn of the following decade such as Mike Woodard, a friend currently serving on the Durham City Council.

Some such Tom Niemann, a friend who settled after graduation two decades later and with two-time national basketball champion basketball stars Brian Davis, who returned here briefly, and Christian Laettner forged the adaptive re-use of the huge West Village complex, the largest such project in North Carolina’s history.

But my thoughts today are about those remarkable classes of the 1970s and their contributions to Durham, they really “rock.”

Saturday, June 25, 2011

In Common With Jon

We have so many similarities that my Independent-loyalties are wavering now that Jon M. Huntsman Jr. has declared to run for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

We’re both Intermountain Westerners.  We both ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles and not just on the back or as a publicity stunt.  I think he has a Heritage and I ride a Cross Bones, both in the softail family.  Driving a Harley gives one a unique perspective.

For years, we’ve both developed a premature skunk streak of white hair down the middle of our heads.  We’re both first born and eldest sons.  We’re both moderate politically, he center-right, me center-left.  We were both Cub Scouts as shown in the photos with this blog and we’re both among the 2 million who have earned the rank of Eagle Scout in the BSA’s 101-year history.00152_p_10aeuyf6sw0284  It isn’t clear if he is also one of the 180,000 who went on to earn Order of the Arrow.

He dropped out of high school to play in a rock and roll band, while I quit piano lessons at 9 years of age to peruse a little league baseball career.  While she was growing up, his wife spent all of her summers growing up in North Carolina and I live in North Carolina.

He was Governor of Utah, I graduated from college there and went on to be president of my Rotary Club. We share a political and religious heritage but neither of us are particularly religious to use his words.  I suspect he’s less ambivalent.

We both 264802_10150287122937784_68288332783_9344131_3588829_ninherited our father’s name along with a unique spelling, although I was spared the Jr. by the grace of a different middle name.  The Huntsman’s met working at the same Marie Callender’s pie shop in high school where my daughter I were known to hang out when she was growing up.

More than a century ago, our paternal grandfathers both built lives along the Snake River in Eastern Idaho, mine as a rancher in the shadow of the Tetons on the north or Henry’s Fork, his as a school teacher just below the merge with the south fork.  His father was president of Olson Farms near the same time I was recruited while in college by one of the brothers Olson, a former Mayor of Beverly Hills, but I’m sure not to be president.

His great-great grandfather crossed the plains by wagon train.  One of mine helped lead that 560-wagon caravan west shortly after helping the previous 72-wagon vanguard wagon train cross into the Great Basin.  He bleeds red having matriculated at the University of Utah where my daughter graduated, I bleed blue as in intense downstate-rival Brigham Young University that is when I’m not bleeding Duke blue. His father has given millions of dollars to each but there is no similarity there.

I like double quarter pounders and his father invented the clamshell in which they were served.  He has one marriage and seven children, I have one child and several marriages.  He never forgets names and faces, I often have to fake it until I can glean a clue or two.

Of course, my net worth falls far short of his $9 to $15 billion even though he is 12 years my junior but at least I graduated from high school before I went to college, so there!

Seriously, making up my mind is more complicated, especially now that President Obama is finally getting us out of Afghanistan, but Jon Huntsman may be our only hope to rescue America by saving the Republican Party from itself and restoring mutual respect, civility and bipartisanship.  Sadly, it is clear they aren’t ready yet to offer that to a black man or even a bi-racial man.

He comes from the deep tradition of progressive and moderate Republicans such as Teddy Roosevelt and like those especially prevalent from 1936 to 1976 and particularly in the West when we were both growing up.

As an Independent, I fear the Republican Party of today won’t return to its original values and join in bipartisan solutions crucial to this nation until guided there when one of its own is once again President.  But when and if we elect the next Republican President, let’s make sure it is a respectful moderate like Jon M. Huntsman Jr.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Explorer DNA of An Early Quaker

When my parents eloped in a black Plymouth Coupe from a nook of Idaho, up over the 9,000-foot Centennial Mountains to Bozeman, Montana, just eight days before VE-Day, they formed the union of two families who 98 years earlier had journeyed west together in 1847 on the first 72-wagon train along the Mormon Trail. That vanguard caravan included just 143 men, 3 women, two children, 17 dogs, 19 cows, 52 mules, 66 oxen, 93 horses and a few chickens.

With no other settlement of significance until the West Coast and no one who had taken the trail before, it took them just 120 days, averaging eight and one-half miles a day to reach the edge of the Great Basin a year before it was annexed from Mexico. We know because they were also the first along that trail to use an improvised “odometer.”Capture

Their mission included establishing fords and ferries, planting crops for those who would come later, gathering information on trail conditions, Native American tribes and water sources along the way as well as designating a gathering point on the other end.

I didn’t know that it wasn’t exactly “make-believe” to my DNA when, as a pre-schooler, I played on an ancient covered cook-wagon behind our ranch house that was used for many years during round ups.

I don’t think I was even aware of this connection when, as a nine-year-old, watching the first season of the TV series Wagon Train, set a decade after my ancestors made that trek up and over the Great Divide to the Geography of Hope.

A carriage-maker by trade, one of my great-great grandfathers, just six years removed from a life as an Upper Providence-Quaker and a heritage dating to William Penn’s arrival, Charles Alfred Harper turned right around just a month after the vanguard company’s arrival at its final destination in a valley below a Wasatch Mountain bench and re-traced the route back to assist an eight-times-longer, 560-wagon train crossing in 1848.

He returned many more times over the next twenty years to assist many of the 69,000 others who traversed that route by wagon or handcart or foot or horseback. He served both as a captain of some trains and a wheelwright or mechanic on others until finally the transcontinental railroad was completed.

Fortunate to have both a facsimile and type-written copy of Captain Harper’s diary of that first trek, I hope I’m humbled by memories of this part of my DNA the next time I am frustrated or annoyed by having to wait for a road-work flagman or a delayed or cancelled flight or any kind of traffic back-up.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Council that Understood the Pivotal Role of Aesthetics

When the 1984 Durham City Council voted to ban outdoor billboards, the last outdoor billboard in the state of Maine was coming down following a ban passed in 1977, making it the fourth state to ban them entirely. The City of Durham was half the size it is now and just recovering from the relatively flat decade of the 1970s.

By 1984 Durham was virtually wallpapered with about 200 outdoor billboards, one for every 550 residents. Today, attrition under that ban has whittled down the number to 89 or one for every 2600 residents. With further attrition slated to take down as many as 10 more over the next decade the ratio by the next census will be 1 for every 3100 residents.Capture

So who were these early pioneers in defense of Durham’s unique-sense-of-place, just three years after the adaptive reuse of Brightleaf Square provided the template for the restoration and revitalization of millions of square feet of Durham’s signature brick tobacco factories and warehouses.

Jane Davis, then a resident of historic Hope Valley, who also pushed for greenways was the driving force and a member of that Council. It also included Howard Clement, still serving today and Tom Campbell, the co-founder of Ninth Street anchor Regulator Bookshop which will turn 35 in December.

Others on that Council included attorney Richard Boyd, longtime resident of an historic Downtown home and Mayor at the time, the late Charles Markham and telecommunications representative Chester Jenkins, now also deceased but who went on to become Durham’s first black Mayor.

It included Virginia Engelhard, an early environmentalist and conservationist and Sylvia Kerckhoff, a League of Women Voters activist who went on to serve two terms as Mayor and Lanier Fonvielle, now Blum who currently works for Self-Help.

It included Carolyn Johnson, a healthcare administrator who went on to be a Judge and whose sister is Lavonia Allison, head of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and finally, Johnny “Red” Williams a NCCU professor and Matt Yarborough a long-time Durham native and furniture-maker who founded Durham Businesses Against Crime and still serves on the Durham Crime Cabinet.

Concern about Durham’s sense of place did not stop there. Joined a year later by attorney Wib Gulley, serving the first of two terms as Mayor of Durham and then a long stint as a NC State Senator, replacing the iconic Kenneth Royall, before becoming counsel to Triangle Transit Authority, the City Council in 1985 joined with the Board of County Commissioners, chaired by now Mayor Bill Bell to request authority from the State that set in motion the creation of Durham’s first organization dedicated as “defender of Durham’s image and brand and the guardian of its unique sense of place.”

When I arrived in Durham in 1989, recruited here to jump-start that public authority, six members of the 1984 Council were still serving and were able and willing to give a newcomer invaluable perspective and encouragement. Many remain friends today, long after I retired from that position.

But the battle to protect Durham and North Carolina from the blight of now-obsolete outdoor billboards is very much alive.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Our Best Hope - 12,500 Fresh Eyes Each Day

Each day 12,500 young people in this country are reaching the age when they are old enough to vote in elections.  According to the Rock The Vote Scorecard issued this month, this is the “largest and most diverse generation in our country” but also “the most urban, mobile, interconnected and technologically savvy generation in history.”Capture

By the time I turned old enough to vote, my optimism about civic involvement had already been crushed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy while I was a 15-year-old and sitting in biology class.

I learned he had died in the hallway on my way to literature class where our continued study that day of the then-three-year-old classic To Kill A Mocking Bird, took on even greater significance.

Five years later, while living in Los Angeles, the exercise of my civic duty was still deferred by mourning when first Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and then not long afterwards and only a few blocks from where I was living, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated after winning a Democratic Presidential primary.

My civic passion wouldn’t ignite until four years later when I supported Senator George McGovern’s campaign against President Richard Nixon and my politics had swung from the Goldwater Republicanism of my parents and grandparents to the other end of the ideological spectrum before finally setting in the center as an Independent, albeit a progressive-leaning one, where it remains today.

Sensitive to hypocrisy as most young people are, I hope this incoming generation of voters doesn’t feel equally betrayed and disenchanted to learn what just happened in the North Carolina Senate.

Lobbyists and profligate campaign contributions by the special interest-Outdoor Billboard Industry trumped democracy in a step backwards for preservation of North Carolina’s unique-sense-of-place by overriding the overwhelming, bipartisan public opinion which was opposed to the legislation.

Fortunately, thanks to the insistence of the House and intervention by Speaker Thom Tillis and outspoken Senators such as Richard Stevens, the sanctity of local ordinances such as Durham’s ban on billboards was preserved along local standards for tree cutting.  It is the rest of the state that is most at risk.

It hope these new young voters don’t waste time demonizing the intent of these special interests or the elected officials who fronted for them.  I suspect they are decent people who love their families but who are focused on narrow interests to the exclusion of the public interest.

I hope they also aren’t dissuaded from voting because the legislation on behalf of Outdoor Billboards isn’t the only or even the worst instance of blatant self-interest in this state’s history or even in the history of this nation under the guise of representative democracy.

I hope all new voters wade into the process without concern for party affiliation and vote for the people they think will best represent, not just their opinion, but the majority’s opinion and yet will have the courage to stand up against special interests and other things that are blatantly wrong.

Ultimately, with the aid of this new generation of voters, the State of North Carolina will ban billboards altogether just as other states such as Alaska, Vermont, Hawaii and Maine, where residents grasp the fact that greater scenic values outweigh the alternatives, have done.

The only question is whether it will be too late to save one of this state’s most enduring economic and quality-of-life assets, its scenic beauty.  Ironically, the aggressive over-reaching consequences of this new legislation may in the end bring that day closer.

I hope this new generation of voters finally turns the tide, like no other has been able to do, against the threat that lobbyists, special interests and beholden elected officials have to democracy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Organizational Introspection Is Crucial To Growth And Innovation!

Organizations that poach employees from another, hoping to emulate and embed its cultural secrets are often only able to get a data-dump of references and programs. It soon becomes apparent that they couldn’t really poach or replicate the innovative spirit that created them for our organization.

One critical element of a culture of “continuing and never-ending improvement” is what we always called a “post mortem” in two of the three community/destination marketing organizations for whom I was an executive during my now concluded four-decade-long career in that field.

The “post mortems” I’m referring to involve a group-unwrapping of “what worked”, “what didn’t work” and “lessons learned” during a project or initiative. However, “post mortems” aren’t easy.

Like some people I’ve met, many organizations aren’t at all introspective. They may be similar to the 70% of Americans who are “dysfunctional when it comes to issues such as blame or credit” as described by the authors of Managing Yourself: Can You Handle Failure published month before last in Harvard Business Review.

By using the word dysfunctional, the authors explain why such a significant portion of the workforce - including management who carry old “tapes” from their upbringing – struggles with “post mortems” such as we used to hold, because they are quick to blame themselves or quick to blame others but deny responsibility or blame others unfairly and harshly. I’ll add to their list those who always interpret a question as a criticism.

Based on my personal experience over several decades, many people don’t readily grasp that “post mortems” are never about “who.” These sessions are about unwrapping and understanding the “what, how, when and why” so that successes can populate future efforts going forward and missteps of the past are far less likely to be repeated.

One of the co-authors of that article, Ben Dattner, is also the co-author of a useful book published the month before Managing Yourself appeared entitled The Blame Game – How The Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure. I didn’t realize I had read a relatively new book at the time until I caught a comment during errands on a radio interview last weekend.

Part of the reason so many people have trouble distancing themselves from an evaluation such as a post mortem can unfortunately be traced to various types of coercive parenting as summarized in a recent blog about an article by M. Sue Bergin. Of course, it also doesn’t help when our political discourse seems so often grid-locked around issues of blame.

But making it even more difficult in today’s workplace are the unrealistic expectations for praise that begin now with pre-school graduation ceremonies, making it even more about “who” and not “what.”

Many people in the workplace and management, especially those with praise-addicted and fragile self-esteem, would do well to read a new book published a month ago by Tim Harford entitled Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure and reviewed so well in a blog post last week by David Brooks, also author of The Social Animal.

The column reminded me of a now-retired Dr. James Reason’s Human Error, a book I read when it was first published not long after I moved to Durham two decades ago. While Reason dealt mostly with life and death issues like airline safety or medical mishaps, the organization I led here, in a former life, was fortunate to adapt and embed his techniques and findings to improve systems and processes involved in destination marketing.

More than 50% of any type of work is actually project management and that involves systems and processes, work-structure-breakdowns and other things that improve consistency and enhance productivity but also help limit errors which Reason always broke down into slip-ups, violations of protocol or things that were done by the book but had unintentional consequences.

“Post mortems” are also important because studies have shown that it is much easier for the people involved with a project or initiative to get to the bottom of how to improve them; but they are also in the best position to root out anything that may preclude things from being fair to all concerned or have the potential for unethical behavior.

Organizations that don’t religiously conduct spirited “post mortems” immediately after the conclusion of projects and initiatives or even just mistakes are missing out on crucial information that can be used to improve performance and stimulate innovation.

But the first step in any “post mortem” is to always remind everyone involved that the introspection is never about “who” but only about “what, how and why.”

Who knows, the same advice may help more people open up to personal introspection as well.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Heaviest Tax Of All – “Uncertainty”

My channel surfing was interrupted a few nights ago by a re-run of a fascinating documentary that I had missed on the History Channel during the second of my two recent, 6,000-mile cross-country trips.

Entitled Prophets of Doom (to view online click here if you missed it), about imminent societal threats, it brought back a memory from 41 years ago this month.Capture

It was the dawn of an early morning in mid-1970 and we were stopping to fill a ‘65 Mustang convertible with gas.  Just into a 10-hour drive from Reseda, California en-route back to where I was attending college in Provo, Utah for summer session, we had stopped at a station near Palmdale, California.

When you’re just on the “back-side of 20 years old, ambition blinds you to the significance of some things such as the pricelessness of that Mustang, but I remember that morning like it was yesterday, especially the price-per-gallon on the meter.  On special in the wee hours of that morning, it was 25 cents.

That’s the same price that gas was in 1919, just a decade after the first Model T came off the assembly line, and well below the still wondrous 40 cents it averaged until the mid 1970s. Little did I know as I filled up that morning that the supply of oil was peaking in the United States that summer and tipping into decline, as experts predict it will globally within the next four years.

Even as I fill up today in Durham for $3.50 per gallon, much of society is still in denial about energy while political leaders bury well-documented warnings by experts as they did the Hirsch Report six years ago.

Viewing that one and one-half hour documentary reminds us that regardless of what Conservative David Brooks calls the “Republican growth agenda – tax cuts and nothing else” which he terms “stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible,” we’re already paying what Thomas Friedman describes as a much heavier but hidden “uncertainty tax”, but not just because of the downturn or the deficit which pale in my opinion to two of the more devastating threats to sustainability noted in the documentary:  energy and water.

Each of the six people featured in the documentary roundtable focused on a different aspect.  One of these six experts on the Prophets of Doom documentary, Dr. Nathan Hagens, an economist and former hedge fund manager, paraphrases a behavior phenomena from the 2004 book Collapse- How societies choose to fail or succeed by Dr. Jared Diamond:

“people three miles downriver from a dam that is failing are really afraid, people two miles downstream are really freaked out but people one mile from the dam are unconcerned.”

Brooks’s accusations that “the Democrats are doing nothing” isn’t quite fair.  It is clear that President Obama eschews agenda-driven deficit reduction tactics that are an excuse for ideological social engineering.  It just makes sense to begin first with cutting wasteful past practices such as the one noted when clicking here, and by reforming the tax code and eliminating corporate welfare.

But I’m unimpressed by the fact that neither major political party is coming up with fresh ideas nor are they showing an indication that there is a sense of urgency.

Just as the documentary is not all doom and gloom, there are many policy analysts such as those in the moderate Third Way seeking to avoid “the rigid or outdated orthodoxies of both the left and right..” and the ideologically-driven policies and political gridlock…”, “one that discards the false choices presented by both sides.”

The Third Way demonstrates that fresh solutions are abundant.  Time is running out but if we really care, people on all sides need to park their “confirmation bias” at the door and lower the “uncertainty tax” by tempering argument and debate with cooperation.

If not, then yes, this society is doomed but as the experts note, we don’t have to be doomed with it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Only Son of a Horse Whisperer!

Although we always embraced when I visited and I always knew he was proud of me, I didn’t truly stop trying to protect the world from my Dad until I was more than three-quarters through my over 50 years of knowing him.

Watching him interact one afternoon with some unexpected guests who had dropped by his Pacific Northwest home during one of my all too infrequent and quick visits from Alaska, I had an epiphany. He was who he was and I no longer had to feel embarrassed by his intensity or verbally protect others from him.00263_p_10aeuyf6sw0394_b

That epiphany translated into a full paradigm shift later that afternoon when we took a rare walk together, side by side, and then later while playing catch with a baseball which we hadn’t done since I was 16. Distractions always made it easier for both us to share our feelings.

We were always affectionate in my family when I was growing up. We often expressed love, especially on departures or when we always kissed goodnight and this included even my Father until I turned 12 when he sensed correctly that this pre-teen no longer found it “cool.”

But those are different than the feelings we exchanged that day during the walk and while playing catch. That day we each drilled down deep through feelings of hurt and shame and regret and reconciliation.

I visited him more frequently from then on, always steering clear of controversy, unless wrapped in good-natured kidding; and I still remember his face, his eyes and his bear hug that seemed to last forever the morning following 9/11 when planes were finally permitted to resume flying and I returned home to Durham, never to see him alive again. I retraced that flight back West before month’s end to speak at his funeral.

Looking back now from eyes that are six decades old, I realize he was not only passionate and tough and argumentative and demanding but he was also a man who loved and sacrificed for his family, who launched the steep trajectory of our social mobility at the expense of his own.

His fingerprints are on anything with which I may be credited and I see him in the self-reliant determination and principled-intellectual quickness of one granddaughter, my daughter and only child – a single-mom-lawyer and in the horse whisperer gifts of another granddaughter and the reasoned-clarity of what’s right and wrong inherited by both.

I see him in the strong opinions and practical-intellectual clarity of one grandson, the ready management skills of another and in the Doctorate Degrees achieved by both. I see his project management skills and directness in another grandson, his entrepreneurial roots in another, his stoic compassion in the letters home from his youngest and in the emerging traits including athleticism of his five, soon-to-be six great-grandchildren.

Of course, if he were alive, he’d pull back the left corner of his mouth while twisting his nose to the right and fuss with my assessment a bit just to make sure I had good rationale to back up my sentimentality.

We miss him every day. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Start-Ups +3 Existing Firms -1

People collaborating on innovations, whether at the core or at the margins, find it almost impossible to later unwrap the specific DNA of the magic that results.

That’s why Michael Goodmon, the VP-Real Estate over the American Tobacco Complex and his father Jim Goodmon, who spearheaded the public-private, adaptive-reuse of the historic Lucky Strike Factory in Durham, North Carolina, may not be able to readily disaggregate the full story of the resourcefulness and passion behind the revolutionary American Underground.

A subsequent study released last week by the Kaufmann Foundation isn't the source but it certainly is validation. The 12-page report reveals that start-ups such as those for which American Underground has been created, are the nation’s true job creation engine.Capture

New firms nationwide add an average of 3 million jobs in their first year, while older companies lose 1 million jobs annually. The finding is based on an analysis of existing and start-up businesses from 1977 to 2005 and the averages indicated in the study hold up for all but seven years in that span.

Maybe even more remarkable is what happens during recessionary cycles. During downturns, the job creation in start-ups remains stable while existing firms are highly sensitive to the business cycle.

The job generation decline at existing firms occurs as they age. On average, one-year-old firms create one million jobs annually, while ten-year-old firms generate only an average of 300,000. The study upends conventional wisdom that businesses bulk up in the aggregate as they age.

The study further supports an earlier Federal Reserve Report published in 2007 citing that the net job impact of recruiting large corporations is close to zero.

The report describes that the impact of traditional economic development, known as industrial recruitment or “smokestack chasing” from a time when most relocations were manufacturing-oriented, has long been exaggerated because it wasn’t realized there are negative spillovers to relocation of large employers as well as positives.

A study of U.S. Census data reveal that between 1990 and 2003, 80% of jobs were created in firms of less than 20 employees. The large firms, often coveted by communities, generated less than 8% of the net new jobs.

The revolution this new information is having on this particular form of economic development, traditionally reliant on recruitment and incentives, has not been lost on the City of Durham or the County of Durham which contracts with the Durham Chamber of Commerce or Downtown Durham Inc., an advocacy organization funded in part by both local governments.

The findings are also validation for Bull City Forward, a collaborative to encourage social entrepreneurship, and the Durham-based Council for Entrepreneurial Development now relocated Downtown to American Underground.

They also validate the efforts of the organizations involved in “place-making” such as the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, Preservation Durham and the Durham Arts Council. By protecting and shaping and sustaining the unique identity, organic attributes, values and traits of this community, in essence, its unique-sense-of-place they draw the creative class workers so crucial to start-ups.

The reports also strengthen the calls by leaders such as Bob Ingram of Hatteras Venture Partners for a concerted effort to expand the sources of available venture capital for start-ups.

Friday, June 17, 2011

“It’s Like Giving Your Wife A Fire Extinguisher For Her Birthday!”

Wow, the City of Durham is really cranking this year on repaving projects.  Just as manager Tom Bonfield and his team promised, not only have more projects been jump-started simultaneously but there is more intensity to complete each step and phase of each project much more quickly.

While fixing potholes is important, the author of a new book explains why unfortunately “it will do nothing to create affection or even gratitude in the minds of the citizens…”

…"Fixing potholes is the equivalent of a clean knife and fork in a restaurant. You don’t get a good review for clean cutlery – but you can get a negative review for a dirty spoon...”  Peter Kageyama, author, For The Love of Cities.

He describes fixing potholes as “the functional equivalent of giving your spouse a fire extinguisher for her birthday.” - “It is the stuff cities are supposed to do.”

Thus, long before spittled-tea-party angst, this has been the dilemma faced by public servants whether local, state or federal: they are easy to take for granted, invisible when everything is fine and conspicuous only by messing up.

Often much less burdened by that paradigm, the private sector is singled out by Conservatives as the only sector capable of creating jobs – that is until it becomes suddenly more politically expedient to trash government for not creating them, ironically while demanding never-ending cuts that will result in the loss of more jobs while refusing to raise taxes or let temporary cuts expire because that might, “well” cost jobs.

Of course there are grains of truth to each of those seemingly conflicting positions.  Balance is the key and timing.  There may be some truth to the dictum that the business of government is business, but lets face it, businesses wouldn’t get around the block without governments of every level.

The discussions among business owners in which I have frequently been involved mistakenly assume everyone present was a Republican and those who were most outspoken often parroted that Gordian knot of half-truths and inconsistencies.

Overall, however, business owners, especially the 99.7% that are small businesses which generate 13 times more patents per employee and include start-ups which apparently drive virtually all of the job growth in this country are evenly split in studies when it comes to political affiliation, Republican (33%), Democrat (32%) and even, like me, Independents (29%).

Conversations among business people always seem dominated by those with nothing good to say about government until business in general is brought to its knees by calamities such as when storm drains erupt or levees break or drought overtakes reservoirs or roads and bridges collapse, or food becomes unsafe or  educators fail to turn on a dime to generate a never-ending, always evolving workforce or air and water are polluted or investments devastated by unregulated greed or negligence or both.

It is time for large businesses, in particular, to stop whining, to show a little less arrogance about the need for government and to willingly shoulder a fair share of the costs for public services rather than exploiting every little loophole devised by lobbyists, the closing of which would be the easiest, quickest and most painless way to reduce the deficit.

To paraphrase the author and book I cited and linked earlier, “no one falls in love with a city or state or nation or business, for that matter, because of ‘maintenance’ issues.”

To further adapt the words of the author, while it is true that we may “fall in love with places and give high reviews to businesses based more on emotional connections, it is time we all showed more respect and gratitude for those in the background on whom we rely to keep “the cutlery clean.”