Friday, June 28, 2013

10 Not-So-Distant Future Tourism Sector Changes

One of the most productive forms of economic development is promotion of the travel sector, an aggregation of 6 or 7 industries fueled by visitors, especially community-destination marketing.

From the vantage of retirement after 40 years in that field, it is fun to speculate on not so far-fetched changes looming for the travel sector.  Here are a few I see brewing but in no particular order:

  • Given experimental versions, it is easy to see how solar-powered passenger planes and cruise ships will hopefully not all too soon dramatically shrink carbon footprints.


  • Electric car fleets will soon be the rule for car rentals both because the current range of that technology is perfect for that use but also eliminating the time-consuming and expensive tango to return them with a full tank of gas.


  • As conferences and meetings continue to shrink as a proportion of travel, convention centers and the ballrooms of large convention hotels will be transformed into local museums and galleries or maybe even automobile showrooms a la Penske Wynn Ferrari.

Domestic trips in the United States inclusive of heritage and cultural activities (23%) are now twice the number involving conferences and meetings (10%.)  The former continues to grow, the latter shrink.  American museums along now draw 850 million visits.


  • The importance of public outlets for charging devices and access to WiFi is only beginning to revolutionize the design of restaurants, hotels and airports.  This technology, launched by entrepreneurial federal regulators from an area of radio frequencies known as “junk-bands”is already the  major influence on how 79% of working professionals select and interact with these facilities.


  • WiFi is already the favorite and most pervasive amenity for hotel guests.  Look for WiFi enabled televisions and streaming of content from providers such as Netflix and Pandora to not only revolutionize in-room entertainment, but to provide access to community-destination information and insider concierge services.

As carriers now begin to make WiFi scalable, look for the travel sector to transform from reacting to consumer demand to fostering its full integration into the travel experience.  There are already more than half a billion WiFi-enabled devices in American homes.


  • Self-driving technology will revolutionize taxi cab service, eliminate issues around intoxication or age or texting and driving, spark scalable car rentals by the hour, and revolutionize city overviews/tours and reclaim the right-to-be-viewed for scenic roadside viewsheds away from obsoleted billboard companies as drivers become even more conscious of blight.


  • Given more time free from the focus of driving, the new technology will make travelers even more conscious, rather than less aware of cognitive distance friction, further narrowing the geographic radius visitors are willing to go from the purpose of their trip but intensifying exploration of a community.


  • Big box stores will be converted to mini-same-day distribution centers, while locally-owned and independent stores will be focused on showrooming with purchases converted to online delivery with proliferate.  Carbon footprints will be shrunk by alternative fueled fleets.


  • Locally-owned, independent restaurants will become the norm and chains the exception, as consumers’ tastes (including visitors) increasingly migrate toward locally-induced flavors, tastes and foods, including generic foods such as meats because they take on tastes created by local grazing.


  • Communities and developers will align to make communities more distinctive because it generates more business than cookie-cutter designs.  Historic preservation and adaptive reuse of facilities we see now as contemporary will make them more distinctive to each community.

Communities and developers alike will give high priority to of open space, urban forests, scenic preservation, biodiversity and distinctive design grows even more quantifiable.

The laws of natural selection will outperform regulation.  Generic communities will be left behind like truck stops, surpassed by communities that make themselves visitor-worthy.

Tourism promotion and destination development will be increasingly funded by community-wide tourism development overlays with the cots born by a miniscule assessment spread over all beneficiaries and all visitors rather than just overnight visitors staying in a small number of commercial lodging facilities.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Marking The Day I Got Off The Seesaw

Rarely is a break in our personal life as clean as it seems in our memories.  It is usually marked by seesawing until one day you you make a clean break.

A football game, the longest in NFL playoff history, between the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs on December, 25 1971 marks when my interest in attending the church of my youth, but not my faith, began to wane.

A group of us who were students at BYU were sitting in a small den in Reseda, California watching the game as it finally ended and talk turned to a remarkable new version of the song Without You I had dropped onto the record player.

We had first heard the song a year earlier as written and recorded by the band Badfinger, but in that den we were listening to a powerful, new version sung by Harry Nilsson, well-known to us for his cover of Everybody’s Talkin’, a Fred Neil song included on the soundtrack a year earlier for the Academy Award-winning Midnight Cowboy.

Come to think of it, that tumultuous period of change in my life was bookended by references to finding sunshine through the rain first in Everybody’s Talkin’, and then 1972’s Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues written and recorded by Danny O’Keefe, who grew up in Spokane where I started law school that year.Reyn 1971

The small group watching the game in Reseda included a friend who was LGBT, an orientation that was taboo at BYU in the early 1970s, even though the school was much more moderate then than it is now.

This wasn’t my first exposure to people who were LGBT.  I describe my parents as conservative Republicans but they would be considered moderate, if not liberal today, and unwelcome in that party.  They were openly accepting and inclusive of a gay friend of theirs during my teenage years in the early 1960s.

I am not LGBT myself, but volunteering for an underground crisis intervention group at the time had deepened my empathy for LGBT students at BYU and throughout my life since.  But this wasn’t the only issue that made me get off that seesaw.

It was a perfect storm of issues that made me get off that seesaw back then.  Even for a political moderate, intolerance around issues such as war, sexual orientation, civil and reproductive rights all played a part in my pivotal sea change during that period.

Being at BYU during that period was not oppressive nor were my changes made in rebellion.  In any other environment I may have not been able to learn to hear myself think and feel or my energies would have been diverted by defensiveness.

I know now that the Mormon Church, which also owns BYU, had slowly been coming to grips during my lifetime with its discrimination against African-Americans and other dark-skinned groups during the leadership era of David O. McKay who led from just before I turned 3 years old until I was 21. 

Mormon leadership is more decentralized than people think and he had pushed for the understanding that the church’s approach to African-Americans was practice not policy and open to change.

In college I wasn’t aware of the shift or that it would culminate in repeal of this practice seven years after I stood up from my seesaw.  But by then it was too late.

Unaware that the church had consistently opposed other wars and that views by students at BYU, including mine initially about the Vietnam War, were an anomaly, comments by a few church leaders who argued that the war was justifiable as a missionary tool turned me away.

Fears of and active suppression of protests at BYU spawned a spy campaign on campus during my time there.  By the time students were turning increasingly against the war, it was too late, I had stoop up from the seesaw.

My most personal protest was the length of my hair, for which the spy ring reported me to the dean’s office because as you can see in the image in this blog it was substantially over my collar which was taboo at the time.

For many, views about reproductive rights date only to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v.s. Wade which was winding its way through the courts during my 1971 gestalt in Reseda.  But in the 1800s the nation went through a similar period to the last forty years.

Then too, polemics failed to distinguish between “foeticide” or termination of an embryos prior to “quickening” (when the spirit enters the body at 18-20 weeks) and “infanticide” or the murder of an infant or child after birth.  Little was made back then of privacy or a woman’s rights involving her body.

At first Mormons used the debate to rationalize polygamy, but unlike other religious groups, the church has not been definitive about when the spirit enters the body or when it was irreversible, although factions have always pushed to the extreme.

Many individual church members and leaders have argued against termination of embryos based not on the moment of “quickening” which seemed so right to me, but on a notion of a need to clear a backlog of spirits waiting to inhabit bodies.

It was an argument also used to buttress the Old Testament practice of polygamy by 20% to 30% of Mormons in the 1800s including three of my great-great and great-great-great grandfathers who were called to do so, much to the consternation of their first wives, my great-great and great-great-great grandmothers.

My view of a woman’s reproductive rights is not based on the spirit demand for bodies but on personal liberty and deferral of birth to a time when quality of life is more assured.

Most arguments, however, as I was coming of age, focused more on addressing the overall decline in American fertility and church doctrine when I was last active left the issues around reproduction to the discretion of families.

But for me it was too late.  Arguments against a woman’s choice proved too much, possibly because I had premonitions of ultra-conservative factionalism that would leave little space for a moderate worldview.

The issue of the acceptance of gays has mellowed from when I was at BYU, seemingly chilled by the excesses during Proposition 8 in California which was uncharacteristic of the church’s policy when it comes to politics and which was essentially nullified by Supreme Court inaction as I write this post.

For any of my differences, I see the Mormon Church overall as a very caring and evolving institution and I agree with others that its stance regarding sexual orientation is evolving and may be far ahead of perception as evidenced by the church’s response to the changes with Boy Scouts which it clarified:

“Sexual orientation has not previously been – and it is not now – a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint scout troops.”

My attendance and participation in rituals lapsed many decades ago, but not my cultural affinity nor my faith.  By exiling myself these past 40+ years, my goal was not dispute or disrespect, but to find personal space in which to retain my overall faith.

More than any of the issues I’ve cited was the realization that the grove of trees that gave Joseph Smith solace from the cacophony of revivals or the wilderness that inspired Thoreau or Muhammad or Emerson or Moses or Roosevelt was more nurturing for my personal spirituality than the extroverted intensity of congregations.

It is always possible that my revelations may result in the termination of my membership by someone one day.  But I leave this introspection to provide some explanation to my descendants who may wonder why and when my approach to spirituality changed so long ago.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tracing the Roots of A Sensibility

I found a scribbled note of condolence recently written by my literature teacher during first semester of my high school sophomore year.

I had learned of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (JFK) on November 22, 1963 from friends as I was walking up the hall from my biology class to the literature class where we were reading To Kill A Mockingbird and discussing its relationship to past and current events.

In my native Pacific Northwest it was still morning.

A month earlier, the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives had just passed the JFK’s Civil Rights Act (CRA) out of committee after a series of hearings, giving us plenty of context for class discussion around the prize-winning book that Alabama-native Harper Lee had published a few months before Kennedy’s election three years earlier.

It was in this literature class with its focus on “Mockingbird” that I first felt the powerful resonance from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream Speech,” delivered three months earlier, and a poignant contrast to the hate expressed during coverage of the debate of the CRA.

I can’t recall when the semester began if was aware that civil rights leader Medgar Evers had been gunned down in Jackson, Mississippi within hours of when President Kennedy had announced his intent to submit CRA legislation to Congress, or that federal marshals had integrated the University of Alabama only hours earlier.

Even without today’s hyperactive attention deficit fueled by 24/7 news at the time, these events seemed distant and siloed as we were coming of age in the Northwest when interspersed with rights of passage such as drivers training.

But we were all in shock following news of the assassination as we settled into our desks to pick up continued discussion of “Mockingbird” and the CRA, which even more personal from that day forward.

Then, very subtly, the grief expressed by a few whose parents opposed both Kennedy and the Act gave way to sickening relief-tinged inferences that the country had somehow been saved, similar to a few my conservative-Republican father made at dinner that night before being shushed by my equally conservative but more sensitive mom.

My Dad always had difficulty with grieving.

This is when my political ideology began a move toward the center, away my family’s and away from party affiliation.  Six weeks later and just 13 days after the U.S. release of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles,  the House passed the CRA.

People forget that while 96 representatives voted against it, only 34 were Republicans.  Racism and intolerance were far more open and blatant back then but they were also more bipartisan than they seem today.

By March of 1964, as the Senate moved the bill to the floor for debate, the rank of Eagle Scout was pinned to my uniform.  I remember being revolted by the racist rhetoric in the national news and how hollow it seemed to make the Scout Oath sound.

I didn’t feel comfortable with President Johnson, probably because I was still mourning JFK’s murder.  As the Senate voted to close off nearly three months of filibuster and then pass the CRA, I was high in the Rockies on a ten-day, 60-mile hike with friends using pack-horses to march through the Bob Marshall Wilderness in northwestern Montana.

As we heard the news on our return, conservative Republican Senator Barry Goldwater was wrapping up that party’s nomination for President.  I had been leaning toward Goldwater because he was a westerner but then I heard the rhetoric he used to appeal to southern states and learned he had been one of six Republicans along with 21 Democrats to vote against the CRA in the Senate.

Controversy raged for several years over the CRA, much as it has the Affordable Healthcare Act, because it applied to private businesses as well as public agencies.  Goldwater’s opposition was ostensibly not about race but about states’ rights, an argument that had also been used to justify more than 250 years of slavery, subsequently perpetuated by peonage and then Jim Crow laws.

His candidacy marked the beginning of the purge of liberal and moderate Republicans from that party to the degree that near the end of his life in 1998, Goldwater appeared very moderate, even liberal, by comparison.

His campaign loss launched Ronald Reagan’s political career.  The CRA and that party’s transformation also launched an exodus of entire neighborhoods from southern California up into Idaho, marking the beginning of the end of my native state’s progressive, moderate and bipartisan heritage.

My own ideology stayed center through graduation from high school and into college at BYU, which was much more moderate itself in those years.  I was initially hawkish on the war in Vietnam and leaned more progressive on issues such Civil Rights.

Through the late 1960s my support for the war waned and significant levels of student concern about civil rights and the war (even small protests) took hold even at BYU in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The CRA continued to be an issue through the 1968 Presidential election.  We know now from memoirs and other documents that the Republicans led by soon-to-be elected President Richard Nixon had learned to code images and appeals to those who were racially intolerant by racializing references and images as crime.

We know from his chief counsel’s 1970 book, Witness To Power, that the campaign “went after the racists” as supporters while Democratic candidate and CRA-spearhead Hubert Humphrey’s campaign was marginalized by “Yippie-led” protests at the Democratic Party convention in response and outrage to the tragic events of 1968.

It can be argued that this movement still haunts progressives more than 40 years later but America still underwent a major shift toward greater racial acceptance during the 1970s due to the CRA and subsequent voting rights act.

Maybe it is always less painful to view events through literature.  The writers of last year’s hit HBO TV-series The Newsroom gave an excellent and concise summary of the impact of the “Yippes” on Democratic Party politics in 1968.

More relevant to today, the clip contrasts this with the way ultra-conservatives and racists have coopted the Tea Party and its influence on Republicans today, only as the dialogue clarifies, Democrats wouldn’t have nominated or elected “Yippies.”

This literary analysis is an excellent lens through which to understand the zaniness of the Republican-led legislature in my adopted North Carolina today, where each day brings a new outrage, marginalizing legitimate issues.

Maybe literature has always had a tremendous influence on events.  Remember, President Lincoln’s quip in 1862 upon being introduced to Harriet Beecher Snow, the author of Uncle Tom’s CabinHe stated, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!"

Similarly, in my opinion, the influence of the Academy Award-winning 1962 adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird on the passage of the CRA cannot be overstated.

My preferences for insight today are biographies and historical analysis. Two books have provided me a clearer lens through which to view how racism in this country has moved between bigotry by individuals and groups to structural racism still so evident today although much harder to detect.

Making it even harder, ironically I was at this point in writing this post when it was announced that in a 5 to 4 vote, the Supreme Court had struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act, which had stood since 1965 until they can be updated by our dysfunctional Congress, which is gridlocked by representatives of the offending states who make up half of the Republicans in congress.

The Man Who Saved the Union by H. W. Brands was published last year, at the time another great book published in 2010, The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander was updated.

They also provide a lens through which to see the realignment of today’s political parties through different eras.

The Democrats of that day were forced to compromise with Republicans on the issue of slavery to get the Constitution adopted.  By the time of the Civil War, southern Democrats defended slavery and Republicans opposed it.

After the Civil War, Republican-President Ulysses S. Grant  had to repeatedly send federal troops into the South to thwart attempts to intimidate blacks and find alternatives to slavery as a means to undermine civil rights, including amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

However, when he was succeeded by Republican-President Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republicans gave in to its business/financial wing of the party and withdrew troops from the South, abandoning it along with their support of civil rights to the so-called “redeemers” of the Democratic Party who were rabidly intent on finding alternative ways to enslave.

This enabled various surrogates for slavery that only began to give way after WWII, first to watered-down civil rights legislation passed after being proposed by Republican-President Dwight. D. Eisenhower and then the landmark legislation in 1964 and 1965, which unfortunately many in the Republican Party are trying to undermine today.

It is the World War II generation, shamed by our own country’s hypocrisy while defeating the Nazis, that came home passed those bills, not hippies or yippies and definitely not John Birchers.

Alexander’s book gives an excellent overview of attempts to undermine racial tolerance and equality from the advent of slavery through colonial times, and up to the CRA and after but its thesis supports the view that a form of structural racism was substituted by Republicans in the early 1980s through policies and racialized images of crime in a reiteration of another war on drugs.

More in a subsequent blog on my personal observation of Alexander’s thesis at work when I relocated to North Carolina in 1989 and how her book has helped me to audit my own stereotypes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Conference Conundrums

Nearly 6 out of 10 business trips do not involve meetings.

Regular business travelers take about 18 trips a year on average.  Four to meet on-site with customers and another three for the sales and marketing of a business.

On average, five of these trips are for internal company meetings or internal training.  Only two of the 18 trips involve conferences and/or trade shows and two are given to the traveler as a reward.  For many regular business travelers the later would be a form of torture, not reward.

Travel for business can be mind-numbing and soul-sucking for even the most extroverted travelers, affectionately known by experts and their colleagues who are introverts and “omniverts” as “energy vampires” or “psychic parasites.”

For this group, travel, especially for conferences and meetings, provides a “fix,” a smorgasbord from which to fuel up by sucking energy from other people.

However, there is no evidence that I know of that extroverts are any more or less likely to be “engaged” with their jobs (30%) or “actively disengaged” (20%) than American workers overall.

The conferences and meetings may even serve as a welcome diversion from the demands of those seeking to engage them with their work.

Although in long term decline and a shrinking proportion of overall travel, meetings will never become entirely extinct.  Many who promote travel on business see a link to productivity and business revenues.

However, technological alternatives will continue to hasten the now long-term decline in the size and number of meetings, but most even more importantly these alternatives are proving to be most welcome by those for whom meetings are a drain on their engagement.

I’m an introvert/omnivert but I am often described as fully “engaged” especially by those with whom I still sit on boards or small advocacy teams.  Now in retirement, when they are few and far between, it is even more apparent the toll these events take.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been sensitive to how technology will continue to rapidly change the paradigm for conventions and meetings from either/or to both/and or face inevitable extinction.

Engaged people such as me, attend a meeting to contribute as well as glean something useful, especially when problem-solving is at a holistic or strategic level.

We are an irritation for those who seem only interested in when the meeting or session will end, most often because they have other objectives for which the purpose of the meeting is only a required and inconvenient diversion or because they attended only to glean a few tactics regardless of whether they will solve the problem.

Maybe they are coming from or late for another meeting.  The National Statistics Council, according to consultant Deborah Grayson Riegel, “on average 37% of employee time is spent in meetings.”  She also cites that including a few the require travel “there are 11 million to 17 million business meetings each and every day.”

During my career, I had an agreement with those at work who teamed with me as an assistant.  Schedule only one meeting in the morning and one in the afternoon unless checking with me for an exception.  If the meeting was out of the office, then schedule only one a day and never back to back with internal meetings, which were kept to “stand-ups” as a rule.

That is because for omniverts or introverts, meetings are a drain, not a source of energy like they are for extroverts.

Small business owners are especially impatient with face-to-face meetings.  According to a 2012 study of Constant Contact business council members, small businesses now rank technologies such as email and websites are more effective as marketing activities (p. 14.)

At the same time, they are still most driven by in-person interactions, just less and less by meetings.

Those who fear the demise of travel-related conferences and meetings including many in my former profession of community destination marketing, are in denial, usually because they have failed to diversify into other travel segments or they are trapped in huge capital investments and facilities that will soon be stranded.

In my opinion, the best thing they can do is to much more urgently retool conferences and meetings as follows:

  • Make them increasingly shorter and leaner, heavy on content, light on social.  People will find a way to connect without dragging events out.


  • Integrate technological alternatives to attending in person as well as personal interaction.  Make it possible to immediately access “highlights” or graze content before committing time.


  • Customize different opportunities for both extraverts and interverts/omniverts.  Don’t mistake the latter with shyness or social awkwardness.  They are just impatient and sensitive to conserving personal energy.


  • Provide opportunities to contribute during meetings but segregate blowhards or people who like to hear themselves talk or those who assume everything they think or encounter is totally unique and never thought of before.


  • Create separate opportunities for people who are passive observers or who can’t listen or who are impatient with concepts or data or obsessed with schedules.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Peace. Frogs!

I’ve had a life-long thing for frogs and toads.  Today it is symbolized by a Peace.Frogs wheel cover on my Jeep, but it all began when my rancher father would let me catch scores of bullfrogs and salamanders.

He let me figure out on my own that I needed to punch holes in the gallon jar I kept them in for observation and eventually to “catch and release.”

My dad had a very practical matter-of-fact approach to life and death common to his generation, especially those raised on ranches.  Losing a few frogs was probably nothing to someone who had witnessed the horrors of places like the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau as it was liberated.

Shortly, I will be making an annual exploration of the shoreline of a lake with my grandsons that I also frequented beginning in the 1950s when I was their age.  Back then friends and I would fill a bucket each night with toads and enjoy a cacophony of frog sounds in the night air.

Now they are rarely if ever seen or heard along that lake in the Rockies and haven’t been since about 1980.

A scientific study published this year by the U.S. Geologic Survey found that at the current rate of decline, frogs, toads, salamanders and other amphibians that have thrived in our lakes, ponds, streams and rivers for 350 million years will disappear from half of their remaining habitats within 20 years, even on so-called protected lands.

The nine year census indicates the declines are even more alarming then thought.  Other studies point to destruction of wetlands and other habitats, drought, polluted run-off, invasive species etc., all brought about by us humans.

My wheel cover is much more than a reflection of the “the peace sign” for which I have been known all of my adult life or my 1960s bonafides.  These amphibians are a bellwether, a wake-up call for even the most jaded of cynical climate change deniers.

The declines are even greater across the globe, indicating that environmental policies and practices implemented here over the past 40+ years have moderated what may have been much worse without them.

Unfortunately, extremist lawmakers today seem bent on rolling back these protections, if not from pure hubris, then as payback to those they view as equally extreme.  The vast majority of Americans being asked to pay the price.

Many wreaking this havoc profess to be concerned about future generations.  They can begin by returning the joy of frogs and toads for my grandsons.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Composting Conundrums

I was told recently that Durham, North Carolina where I live, ships its yard waste collections to a landfill, but that isn’t true.  Nor are they composted.

Durham grinds the yard waste and ships it to a Danish biotech company with its North American headquarters in Franklinton, North Carolina near where I commuted by Harley one fall a few years ago to learn to fly an airplane.  At Novozymes, Durham’s yard waste (including mine) is recycled into useful enzymes.

Solid waste officials in Durham are also working on a pilot program to turn some of the yard waste into compost.  North Carolina composts about 7% of its municipal solid waste overall, which is below the 8% average for the South and less than the 10% in the Midwest and 11% along the coastal West.

Nationwide, yard trimmings make up 12.9% of municipal waste while residential food scraps another 12.4%.  Both exceed the percentage composed of various plastics.  Nationwide, the percentage of yard waste that is composted is several times greater than the percentage of food that is composted.

At the time I retired from community-destination marketing a few years ago, more than 90 cities and towns in the U.S. were already offering food waste collection and the number continues to rapidly increase.

Composting and food waste recycling are commercially viable at a scale well beyond what is being done in backyards because scientists estimate that 40% of the nation’s food supply goes to waste.  As individuals, we focus on household waste but the real economies of scale for composting are at the commercial level including restaurants, hotels, schools and grocery stores.

Hopefully, when it is launched, Durham’s pilot program, if successful, will move beyond yard waste.  Composting done on a commercial scale began as an alternative way of dealing with waste biosolids.

In Durham, those from city facilities will undergo a thoroughly-regulated but not without controversy treatment process in partnership with Synagro, before being utilized by local farms.

Biosolids from the county facility go through “in-vessel” composting by companies such as McGill and are made back into branded products used by professional turf managers and landscapers, a process also used on food scraps.  Some municipalities such as Goldsboro, NC have built their own “in-vessel” facilities.

Another example of a commercial compost approach to waste biosolids and food scraps is Earth Farms Organics based in Dallas, North Carolina, not far from Charlotte, the state’s largest municipality.  The company uses windrowing to recycle food waste and biosolids including the use of B2B agreements into 40 tons of commercially viable and branded compost products each year such as top soil.

This prevents decomposition into Methane in landfills, a greenhouse gas 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide and a source of global warming.  Left in landfills, food waste is never reused by the environment.

Landfills are not composts and there is a very good argument that food waste is a far greater threat to public health than plastics.

The promise of bioplastics is not post-consumer, where without expensive upgrades its mixed-use in products such as Coca-Cola’s plant bottles pollutes the recyclable stream, but in commercial and agricultural applications.

Backyard composting is useful, but problematic in urban environments where human inconsistency and improper use and neglect can lead to health problems and even lure migratory turkey vultures to lay over.  But well-regulated commercial composting with worms or in windrows or in-vessel is a rapidly growing and commercially viable and scalable alternative.

The company that processes Durham’s curbside recycling reports that 5% of what it receives is actually trash but it doesn’t complain nor do savvy local officials because it is better to error on the side of recycling than trash.  In fact, Durham is very close to a paradigm shift.

Instead of posting the growing list of what can be recycled, residents may be better served now by promotion of the shrinking list of things that still must go in the trash cart for pick up.  Hopefully, in the near future that list for Durham will no longer include food scraps.

I am not a scientist, but I grew up on a ranch homesteaded by my great-grandparents in the shadow of the Tetons.  They were not as educated as most members of North Carolina’s legislature are today but they appear a lot smarter.

Not content with surrendering tens of thousands of trees along the state’s roadsides to whining out-of-state billboard companies, including vegetation protecting residents from particulates, noise, water pollution and toxic waste the same senate sponsor is now trying to please whining out-of-state trash haulers by undermining North Carolina’s landmark legislation regarding landfills.

The proposed changes would reduce or eliminate buffers between landfills and state parks, game lands, national wildlife refuges and wetlands and permit them to be built up higher than North Carolina’s iconic Cape Hatteras lighthouse even though the state has already authorized a 30% increase in overall landfill capacity.

I can only assume this extremist arrogance is self-justified in some respect in contrast to eco-Talibans who find fault wherever possible at the other extreme often inhibiting commercial alternatives.  It is funny to hear some of my friends argue to exclude use of the word “organic” to a relatively new and very narrow use of that term.

My great-grandparents knew better than to lean toward either extreme.  My parents and grandparents as I grew up were proud to point out how careful my ancestors were to plant trees along waterways, to create and protect wetlands and meadows, to plant trees to intercept wastewater before septic systems were developed and from the horse barns and corrals.

One of my first archeological discoveries were ancestral landfills which had been strategically placed and kept thin enough to regularly turn and aerate and dry.  Family artifacts from those explorations are among my most prized possessions today.

Among my first chores on the ranch was not only the annual cattle roundup but the much less romantic job of pulling a manure spreader across fields and meadows after the livestock waste had dried in piles, a form of composting.

Managing waste is much more complicated in cities, towns and states today than it was on our family ranch in the 1950s.  The technologies are improved but the underlying science goes back to my ancestors who different than many lawmakers today understood that it just made good sense.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Soda, Pop and Sense of Place

The word we used for carbonated beverages was “pop” where I was born and spent my early years in the Yellowstone nook of Idaho on a ranch homesteaded by my great-grandparents and grandparents.

It was also the term used for sugary drinks on the Wyoming side of the Tetons and in central and northern Idaho, Montana and Washington.

But fifty miles below us where the north and south forks join to form the mighty Snake River to carve a plain across southern Idaho, the term people used more frequently was “soda,” as it was in Utah.  On the cusp, the combined use of “soda pop” took precedence.

My adopted home of North Carolina which is where Pepsi Cola was born is similarly divided but according to researchers at North Carolina State University (click here or on the image to enlarge,) the term soda is predominant across the foothill and coastal regions.

It gives way to “coke” in the central and southwestern mountains here as it does throughout much of the south, regardless of whether the drink is Cheerwine, which also originates from North Carolina, or Coca Cola which originated in Georgia.

Sometimes use will differentiate a specific urban area from its surrounding state and region, as the use of “soda” vs. “pop” does around Milwaukee and St. Louis.  I’ll bet at the metro edges, the words are combined.

The dialectic analysis and mapping also helped clarify where “you guys” is a reference, such as in my native Idaho vs. “y’all and you all” in North Carolina.  Or “kitty-corner” where I grew up vs. “catty-corner” where I now live.

I was surprised when I came to North Carolina to read about dialects  used at the turn of nineteenth century that sounded similar to those of my grandparents and some of my aunts and uncles in Idaho, where “corn” came out as “carn” and “horse as harse.”

Then I remembered a history of the south class in college that traced accents used here with origins from Europe and how the pronunciation of some works migrated with pioneers such as my ancestors into the American west.

Several of my paternal and maternal grandparents, while second generation westerners, had grandparents and great-grandparents who migrated to the Intermountain west from Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia.

In reverse, although schooled in the flat American west dialect of my parents, according to my family out west, I have picked up a North Carolina way of pronouncing many words.

I haven't imbibed "pop" more than once or twice a year for many decades now but when I did drink it regularly, it was the term for Dr. Pepper.  It is the oldest of the major types of “pop” which originated half way between Dallas and Austin, Texas and was originally known as a “Waco.”

Dialect is not only part of our identity, it is a part of unique sense of place.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Litter as a Cue To Who We Are

I was pleased to see an op-ed in the New York Times last Sunday authored by Dr. Adam Alter, a psychologist, researcher and professor of marketing at at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

The op-ed, entitled Where We Are Shapes Who We Are, is only a taste of his relatively new book which I read last spring entitled Drunk Tank Pink – And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave.

We know from other studies that only 4% of Americans are intentionally litterers while 17% just dispose of their trash improperly.  One of the many research findings Alter summarizes in his book was when researchers studied how many drivers discarded windshield flyers improperly.

When the parking lot was pristine, only one in ten tossed the flyers on the ground, when the lot was already littered, half of the drivers improperly disposed of the flyers by tossing them on the ground as litter.

“The researchers then asked a “stooge” to conspicuously drop an unwanted flyer on the ground” just as other drivers came to their cars.  If the stooge highlighted how neat the lot was before discarding a flyer, only 6% followed suit.  If the stooge noted how cluttered the lot already was, 54% did.

Alter’s fascinating book is about a number of cues that influence our behavior, pre-existing litter being just one example.  But it made me wonder how local government agencies came to dupe themselves into swapping places with volunteers when it comes to litter removal.

It ranks right up there with the crazy notion that those with mental health problems could be dumped out onto city streets based on the now well-proven fallacy that they would all take crucial medications as out-patients.

The cost to society - not to mention families -  has been many times greater than the cost of alternatives this was meant to save.

At one time, the paradigm was that public agencies would be funded to aggressively maintain the cleanliness of roadsides and water ways, supplemented episodically by volunteers.

Then to save a few dollars, this was reversed and community’s such as Durham, NC where I live largely abandoned clean-up to volunteers while agencies were funded only enough to barely fill in on occasion during the year.

The result has been a disaster illustrated by a stretch of freeway here where McDonalds often advertises on a billboard, (aka litter on a stick) near one of its outlets, whose customers then litter this stretch of highway with litter from their meal.

The solution, according to studies, is a zero-tolerance for litter.  For those who role their eyes because society has much more important things to worry about, consider for a moment all of the things to which litter is a cue or link:

  • public health issues
  • increased racism/intolerance
  • increased crime
  • suppressed property values and tax base
  • inhibited philanthropy
  • soil and water contamination
  • increased infrastructure costs

There are more.  Still think litter reduction is light weight or something scalable for only volunteers?

Rarely do litterers view themselves as litterers.  As Alter makes clear with numerous cues in his book, studies about things such as litter “tell us something profound and perhaps a bit disturbing about what makes us who we are: there isn’t a single version of ‘you’.”

Our “norms change from minute to minute…It’s comforting to believe that there’s an essential version of each of us, that good people are good, bad people are bad, and that those tendencies reside within us.”

In many ways I am not the person I was as a child or at various other times in my life.  My political views aren’t the only values that have evolved over time, swinging from conservative to liberal before settling at the moderate center.

As conveyed by memoirs sprinkled on occasion through this blog, memories, according to Dr. Alter, are “the building blocks that construct the evolving story of who we are across time….[they] are tagged with the locations where they are formed.”

Often they are contextual.  A disposition to historical analysis has given me the ability to revisit the historical memories of my ancestors and to place them in context.  It is also a means I use to evaluate current events and to discern the motives of others without telling myself too much of a story.

As Alter explains in Drunk Tank Pink, now a best-seller, sometimes illusions are cultural, “legacies” that “influence how we perceive people and social interactions.”

This may explain why in retirement both Tea Party groups and liberal groups have me on their mailings lists to enlist contributions.  I provide enough information in this blog for each end of the spectrum to attempt fundraising, even though I am an Independent moderate with leanings that vary depending on the topic.

Even before I began to publish this blog in mid-2005, people often pegged me as conservative or liberal based on the context in which they met me. Business-types often judged me conservative and neighborhood types as liberal.

You can also be judged by a context you find yourself in.

I remember in the 1980s when those prone to suddenly start telling racist, sexist or misanthropic jokes felt more free to do so.  I learned quickly to signal or voice my displeasure or risk escalation.

Litter is only part of one of the nine cues that Alter reviews in his book, which I highly recommend to anyone but especially those still involved in community-destination marketing.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Two Great Divides

It struck me on a quick wedding-related weekend road-trip this month with friends, that I’ve lived nearly all of my six and a half decades along two divides.

The first four decades were spent on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains or the western continental divide.  My most recent two and a half decades have been along the eastern influences of the Appalachian Mountains or the eastern continental divide.

All but one line of my ancestors spent their lives in reverse, living a little more than two decades along the Appalachians before making their way up into the Rockies in 1840s to live the remainder of their lives.

I suspect the Appalachians defined my ancestors in the way that the Rockies do me.

This struck me during the round-trip from Durham, North Carolina to Birmingham, Alabama which is defined by ridges near the southern end of the Appalachians similar to ones I saw last summer in Pennsylvania.

In north-central Alabama, as they were in Pennsylvania and New York, these forested ridges are steeply dramatic, only a few miles long and narrow at the base.  Geologists describe them as “folded.”

My quick turn-around in Birmingham didn’t include time for, nor did I realize that adding another 100 miles each way would have taken me past the last remnants of the Appalachians to a quiet place near the Old Bethany Church on the banks of the Tombigbee River as it cuts through the coastal plain south of Aliceville near the Mississippi line.

A hymn I heard sung during the wedding, which was held in the spectacular Presbyterian sanctuary in Birmingham’s historic Chestnut Hill, a craftsman and colonial revival neighborhood, persuaded me to complete this journey during one of my frequent cross-country road-trips to see family out west.

Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing, sung at this link by the Celtic-American folk group Fiddlesticks and Lisa Arrington was a favorite hymn sung along the trail as many lines of my ancestors crossed the Mississippi River with others who had become Mormons and headed west in March of 1846 from Illinois across southern Iowa.

The hymn had been penned 90 years earlier by Robert Robinson as the Baptist scholar and English dissenter converted to Methodism.   This was near the time English Presbyterianism had its beginning, although Presbyterians were also among the Puritans who settled America at Jamestown and Plymouth.

The hymn was also written a year after my great x 4 grandfather was born in Northern Ireland.  He emigrated to America as a teenager with his parents, settled in Guilford, North Carolina and immediately enlisted to fight the British under Generals Washington and Gates.

Receiving a land grant for his service, James McCrory migrated across and down the Appalachians before settling at their southern tip along the Tombigbee as it flows from its birth 75 miles northwest from a fork in Mississippi down across the Alabama line, collecting the Black Warrior before the 200 mile river flows into the Mobile.

Just before or shortly after the old soldier passed away in 1840, missionaries converted scores of Mormons along the Tombigbee including his daughter and son-in-law (along with his parents) and their 10 children, the 9th of whom would become one of my paternal great-great grandmothers.

Most Mormons along the Tombigbee then migrated up through Paducah and St. Louis to gather with others on the eastern banks of the Mississippi River preparing for the trip west.

However, one group of 43 converts and nineteen wagons from the Monroe County, Mississippi, headwaters of the Tombigbee, headed west instead in 1846.

They hoped to cross Mississippi, Missouri and Kansas and then intercept the more well-known vanguard company as it headed west through Nebraska along the North Platte River carrying three of my other ancestors, Harper and the Shumways, before then heading into the Rockies.

But when they reached the Platte River, the Mississippians learned that the first wagon train traveling along the North Platte from Council Bluffs had been delayed by a year.  With the help of an old French fur trapper named John Richards, they retreated down the plains along the eastern front of the Rockies to old Fort Pueblo, a haven for a half dozen mountain men and their families to winter.

There, this small band of Mormons was joined by a detachment of sick soldiers from the Mormon Battalion which was led north from Santa Fe in part by another of my ancestors Sergeant Sebert Shelton and his family.  Battalion Captain James Brown of North Carolina had them all build 18 additional cabins at the fort.

Together in the spring, they traveled back up to Wyoming to greet the vanguard train of Mormons at old Fort Laramie, after they had trail blazed east along the Platte through Nebraska.

Lesser known, this small group of Mississippi Mormons traveled much further and a year longer to reach the Rockies and were among the first over the western continental divide.

They were followed a year later by another wagon train carrying my Tombigbee ancestors, the Grahams, three of whom had died at various points along the trail through Iowa.

Taken together, this means six of my ancestors were among the first settlers into the Rockies that July and ten within that first year when a treaty with Mexico brought their new homeland into the United States.

Lapsed as I have been for more than 40 years, I am still transported back to those ancestors by hymns from that time, still sung today, such as Come Thy Fount and the iconic Come, Come Ye Saints, penned along the trail west.

The Mississippi Mormons were also unique because they traveled with slaves into the Rockies.  It also wasn’t the last time they would cross paths with my ancestors.

The Mississippians soon settled along the Wasatch Mountains in Big Cottonwood (named for their homeland) near my great-great-grandfather Harper, a converted Quaker from Pennsylvania.

I can imagine some of their conversations considering Quakers were abolitionists.

When I first moved to North Carolina in 1989 from the western divide to the eastern divide, I mistakenly thought I was the first of my family to live in the south.

As family history has since illuminated, I had plenty of company.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Doomed by Greed and Gluttony

My daughter turns 40 this month.  That’s the age I was when recruited to Durham, North Carolina 24 years ago, where I still make my home during a new stage in my life.

A few days ago while watching a young rising senior in college shoot baskets with his father at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium here, I was able to point up to section 3 where we sat when I first introduced his parents to Durham, shortly after he was born.  It also reminded me how young I was when I became a father compared to many of my friends.

I think it made them better fathers.

Now, many studies I read don’t even bother to include results from my age group, such as one just published about how consumers ages 18-60 interact with devices to watch live TV or video on demand.   I find that funny since I use most of these screens and have relinquished subscription television in favor of streaming.

I also wasn’t represented in a survey last month benchmarking tablet use among Americans from the age of my grandsons to age 64.  Nearly half now have access to a tablet including 6 out of 10 between the ages 18 and 34.

Nearly 7 out of 10 now have access to a smartphone.  Many of these studies are performed with advertising in mind.  Often without intending to, they reveal more about its rapid demise.

Tablet use (iPads were introduced in 2010) will likely surpass subscription television this year or next.  Many other screens already have.  Seven out of ten Americans now watch live TV via Internet-enabled devices.  Live television is rapidly becoming a reservation for only sports and news.

Programming free of ads and commercials is now as important as having more channels as a means of generating likelihood to pay for TV content.  The gap between those irritated by commercials on television and those who either aren’t bothered or who don’t pay attention anyway is now only 24 percentage points.

It will only be a matter of months until an ad on television will turn off as many people as who watch or tune it out entirely.  Anyone aware of the purpose of marketing knows television is very close to being a form of “dis-marketing.”

Already more than seven out of ten Americans find all or more than half of video advertising irrelevant to them.  Telling for the future, 23% of Americans are now willing to pay for ad-free programming and 21% are willing to pay to skip them.

Ads are a form of “yelling” to try to get the attention of consumers.  There is a huge industry devoted to selling them, creating them and placing them in various types of media.  The tiny part devoted to outdoor billboards is now more emblematic of “desecration advertising” from roadsides.

Having passed the point of lobbing 10,000 ads per day at the average person and unable to regulate itself, it is clear it isn’t just the obsolete billboard part of this industry that is bent on self-destruction.

Overall, the desperation of this dwindling part of the economy will result in even more “yelling” even as savvy marketers and brands are fleeing to more productive forms of communication.

Too much money is at stake for this industry to go down quietly and as billboards have much of their desperation will find an ear with lawmakers prone to listen to whiners with campaign donations to trade.

Sadly, what was once, with the exception of billboards, an innovate way to underwrite news and entertainment has been doomed by two of the seven cardinal sins, “greed” and “gluttony.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Failure to Link “Buy Local” to ROI

There were two conditions I had to meet before I could participate in my first roundup on the cattle ranch that had been homesteaded in my native Idaho by my paternal great-grandparents and grandparents and then run by my parents.

First, I had to graduate from drying the dishes after dinner to taking a turn from a step stool at washing them.  Second, I had to get past my fifth birthday.  I eagerly achieved both goals.

This year, the overall cattle herd in the United States is the smallest its been since 1952, the year before my inaugural roundup when our population was half what it is today.

Ours was a small, independent family operation.  Our 500 head of cattle were range-raised, grass-fed and free of the low-dose antibiotics so controversial today because when ingested as food, it lowers our response to those drugs when we need them.

The livestock cattle we grew were “Shorthorns,” ironically a breed improved from cattle that were namesaked for Durham, England, a sister-city to my adopted home of Durham, North Carolina.

In 1946, two years before I was born and as my parents were acclimating after my father’s return from serving in the 35th Tank Battalion, some of the first studies were documenting the importance of independent, locally-owned businesses like the ranch.

My now-concluded career helping to grow local business climates may have even been inspired by watching my parents run that ranch.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, when the American Tobacco Complex in Downtown Durham, which has been boosted by nearly $100 million from Durham taxpayers, elected recently to import a Raleigh restaurant to handle its event catering here, a snub that will be felt by many living in Durham, “The South’s Tastiest Town.”

This move essentially exports not only all of the catering revenue out of this local business climate but also many ancillary purchases such as equipment rentals and related economic impact into another business climate…the one where the owners are based.

Being successful at business is no guarantee of a grasp of the fundamentals of community economic development.

Many communities such as Durham fail to build “buy local” stipulations into agreements when they incentivize developments.  In some cases they may have their hands tied from doing so by state legislation, further undermining the very fundamentals of community economic development.

Even when they could have, officials and advocacy organizations often act instead as another developer-friend put it recently “like a desperate tween with an ‘oh-my-god-I-could-die’ crush who considers his/her world near-over when the object of desire doesn’t text back in 10 seconds.”

Also playing a role in this failure to connect the dots could be the decision-making by those who now hold two out of three jobs in Durham but don’t make this community their home.

One of the breakthrough studies validating the importance of buying local was conducted about the time I was born in the late 1940s by Dr. Walter Goldschmidt, a UC Berkley-trained sociologist and anthropologist attached to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the United States Department of Agriculture.

His study found that all else being equal, small or mid-sized ranches and farms like my family’s promoted higher quality rural communities than large farms and livestock growers.  A similar study at about the same time found that smaller businesses had the same effect on manufacturing communities.

According to Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR,) under the sway of large agribusinesses, USDA officials actively suppressed Goldschmidt’s analysis and Congress ignored the study on manufacturing businesses, much like “desperate tweens” I suppose.

Goldschmidt, who later taught and researched at UCLA passed away in 2010 at age 97.  Coincidentally, our paths would cross again during my career in community-destination marketing when I was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska beginning in 1978.

He had also conducted the research that informed the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that paved the way for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline which had begun operation a few months before I arrived there.

The challenge for Alaska and Anchorage has been to leverage the impact of those developments into greater economic self-reliance.  That has meant buying local as a means to expand capacity and reap a full share of economic impact.

They had to learn stand up to Seattle just as Durham has had to stand up to Raleigh in order to foster a stronger local business climates and tax bases.

A few months ago, ISLR published its 6th annual Independent Business Survey with data gathered from nearly 2,400 independent, locally owned businesses across America, employing more than 37,000 people..

Half are retailers and half are a mix of service providers such as banks, farms and ranches, manufacturers, restaurants, wholesalers etc.  Two-thirds have five or fewer employees while only five percent have 50 or more.  This is much truer to small business than the federal government definition.

According to the report, places such as Durham with a grassroots “buy local” initiative saw these businesses grow more than two and a half times the rate of those elsewhere.

The survey found that “showrooming” was a significant challenge to independent, locally-owned businesses.  This is where people window-shop in local stores but buy later online.  Financing is still an issue as well.

But a major issue is that policies such as corporate subsidies, tax loopholes, and others give unfair advantages, or even fail as Durham did with American Tobacco, to connect the dots about the importance of using local businesses as part of its return-on-investment to the taxpayers.

As more and more communities pursue sustainability and the triple bottom line, it will be essential to also connect the dots for economic developers and officials about the importance of independent, locally-owned businesses.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Organic Markers

Few things are as symbolic of the western part of the United States as “Mormon trees,”  a description given ubiquitous Lombardy poplars by the late Dr. Wallace Stegner.

On frequent cross-country road-trips, for me too, “Mormon trees” have begun to signal settlements created in the mid-1800s, many by my ancestors, in parts of what are now the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Stegner, an Iowan and Presbyterian, founded the famed creative writing program at Stanford University around the time I was given birth in the Yellowstone nook of another “I” state, Idaho.

Also an ardent environmentalist, Stegner, as well as Frank Church and Robert Redford are more symbolic to me of my native region than the transplanted extremist ideologues who polarized it beginning in the mid-1960s as I was graduating from high school.

They are still holding it hostage today.

Stegner’s description of “Mormon trees” found across the “Great Basin” came to mind again this week, when a long-time fellow-citizen of my adopted home of Durham, North Carolina published a fascinating article on California salmon in the quarterly publication OnEarth.

Barry Yeoman is an award-winning journalist who, like Stegner did at Stanford, takes time to teach writing to young people at the Duke University Young Writers’ Camp held here each summer.

In his article, Yeoman quotes a scientist who explains that ocean-nutrients from California salmon, whose remains are redistributed at the end of their lifecycle, create a signature for wine made from grapes grown in the same watersheds, a marker as distinct and subtle I assume as “Mormon trees.”

Mormon settlers discovered gold where those salmon spawned in 1849, two years after they crossed the Rockies.  Other Mormons reached California by ship or at the conclusion of the march by the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War.  The silt created the first threat to salmon there.

The late Dr. Eugene Campbell, a noted historian and my mentor at Brigham Young University, had written about the short-lived Mormon gold mining missions in 1849.  To me Campbell represented an era of historical analysis and inquiry there and in other areas of that church that seems to have been long-since purged.

When it was created in 1850, the Utah Territory covered nearly all of Nevada, part of Wyoming and a good chunk of Colorado.  This was just after one set of my great-great-great grandparents, the Shelton’s, continued across the Great Basin to ranch near the gold fields.

Much of the exploration of this region that was credited to John C. Fremont in pamphlets used by the Mormons on their trek was actually made by the educated “Mountain Man,” Jedediah Smith.

In 1861, when another mining boom took place in western Nevada a decade after the gold rush in California, the federal government began to gradually lop off parts of Utah to make the Nevada Territory.

As one of my great-great grandfathers, Thomas Messersmith, rode east across this stretch of newly created Nevada as a Union Cavalry trooper in 1862 to protect gold shipments to fund the Civil War, the terrain and “Mormon trees” were already familiar to him.

He and the writer who later became known as Mark Twain had previously taken the Overland Stage west from St. Joseph, Missouri during the summer of 1861.

The 1,700 mile, nearly twenty-day journey traced the former Pony Express route across Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming through Salt Lake City and Cedar Fort and across the Great Basin.  This was after Twain’s brother Orion was appointed secretary to the governor of the new Nevada territory.

Unsuccessful, after their arrival, as partners  in a mining venture on the Comstock Lode (but according to Twain’s letters, both excellent poker players,) Messersmith enlisted in the cavalry and Twain took a job with the newspaper in Virginia City, eventually moving to San Francisco a few years later.

My great-grandfather fought in cavalry skirmishes with bands of Goshute, Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute Indians across a part of the Utah Territory that wouldn’t be lopped off into Nevada until 1866, shortly before the part of Arizona with the Mormon settlement of Las Vegas was made part of Nevada as well.

When his regiment stopped to build log structures for a fort at the end of the Ruby Valley, he was helping secure an area that would still be a part of Utah until 1866, and where three decades later my great-grandparents White would ranch, drive a stagecoach and operate a station.

In 1864, with areas still to be reassigned to it, Nevada leap-frogged other more established territories to statehood so as to aid President Lincoln’s re-election.

My great-great grandfather mustered out of the cavalry after the war and settled in Cedar Fort near another station along the Overland route he had safe guarded.

Here he became a Mormon and flirted with consecration, a short-lived church experiment where residents gave their private property to ownership in common, received back the yield they needed and gave the remainder to less fortunate.

All of this is hundreds of miles south from where I was born on a cattle and horse ranch laced with “Mormon trees” after it was homesteaded by another great-grandfather, Bowman, along the Henry’s Fork River, where the Great Basin drops out of the Targhee National Forest.

Along with other organic markers such as the smell of rain-dampened Sagebrush or the sound of a Western Meadowlark, “Mormon trees” signal my roots.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Carolina Mountain Ironies

Last month, after turning my Jeep Moab off I-40 W and onto US Route 421 for the 80 mile climb up into the mountains of northwest North Carolina, I was greeted by three bits of irony.

First was a huge billboard by the state division of tourism encouraging me to, uh, visit North Carolina’s mountains.  It was just in case I needed reassurance about my destination, I suppose.

Unfortunately, it also sacrificed my view and enabled wanton destruction of trees and vegetation.  Ugh!

Further along the route, as though a dramatic lowering of the speed limit might not be enough to draw my attention,  another billboard loomed bringing news of the opportunity to visit Wilkesboro.

Here the irony was not just the blocked view and canopy desecration enabled by the needless and redundant message.  Tourism promotion in many of these small towns has been siphoned away to subsidize the local chamber of commerce instead.

This redirection is enabled by the failure of many in elected office or municipal or county management to grasp that marketing individual businesses and marketing a community are fundamentally very distinct and very different processes.

Even more ironic than its use of billboards, the chamber for Wilkes County, buoyed by the diversion of tourism tax revenues, also operates by agreement, one of the state’s newest visitor centers, a restful and remarkable sustainability showcase.

Chambers, even in much larger communities, including the one where I live struggle with sustainability.  They talk the talk and even try to walk some of the walk but largely fail to grasp that use of roadside billboards is “desecration” marketing and a signature violation of the triple bottom line.

Unfortunately, so do far too many truly dedicated community-destination marketing organizations.

The new welcome center for northwestern North Carolina is a point of greeting for 10 different counties along or served by that stretch of Route 421 N.  It is well worth a stop if for nothing more than to see a live demonstration of how green technology and infrastructure work.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation maintains a website that illustrates in real time the center’s savings from sustainable and renewable resources.  The center is a way to see first hand how these applications can be made to individual homes and businesses.

Further along my route, rising nearly 6,000 ft, Grandfather Mountain, is an impossible to miss sentinel rising from the Blue Ridge.  But someone there decided that advertising its views was worth ruining my view from the roadside, as did the town of Blowing Rock.

These destinations fail to grasp that they are turning off 8 to 9 travelers for every one to which their desecration marketing may appeal.

Advertisers, especially those still using roadside billboards, not only fail to understand this ratio, they fail to understand that marketing destinations after visitors are enroute is largely wasted.  Those decisions were made long before the journey began.

As a McKinsey white paper notes, “marketing has always sought those moments, or touch points, when consumers are open to influence.”  The paper summarized studies and evaluation that changes how marketers must view marketing.

No longer, if it ever was, is marketing merely a funnel along which those still using advertising can “push” messages at consumers as those along my journey up US 421 tried to do.

Instead, marketing is a series of cycles with far more touch points at the beginning and nearly none in the case of travelers after the decision on where and why to travel has been made.

Trying to divert them along their journey or to cannibalize part of their trip is wasted, a type of zero-sum marketing.  We know from other research how dominant the primary destination is to a traveler.

Those heading up US 421 into the North Carolina mountains aren’t on “fishing expeditions” hoping to add destinations along the way.  Even if travelers think they are open to side excursions, research shows that in reality travel distance tolerance, especially for unplanned excursions, shrinks to almost zero.

There are many excellent metrics by which travel decisions can be measured and by which communities can rate the effectiveness of their destination marketing.

One that should surely raise concern for any destination overseers is any continued use of obsolete roadside billboards, now seen as useful by less than a fifth of one percent of consumers.

More than just wasted spending, these billboards are a turn-off to eight out of ten of the very people they are trying to attract in the first place, resulting in reverse marketing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Before It’s Too Late

The write-up in the local newspaper on May 24th did a nice job of putting Durham, North Carolina’s growth rate into perspective.

However, growth has never been a challenge for Durham.  According to the millennial census, the city was even the fastest growing of all major cities in North Carolina during the decade of the 1990s.

That was also a decade during which Durham’s community-destination marketing organization spearheaded a dramatic image turnaround among residents of neighboring Raleigh and Chapel Hill, clearing the way for transformation in some of Durham’s districts during the last decade.

For the nearly 25 years I’ve lived here, the clock has been ticking on what are Durham’s real growth-related challenges.

The state’s fourth largest city is shoehorned into a county of the same name with the state’s 17th smallest land area.  Approximately 30% of the city is covered by impervious surface and tree canopy here has shrunk to 40%.

A third or more of Durham County has been set aside in watershed, much of it without recompense so that nearby (and three-times-larger) Wake County could populate.  Durham County is already the fourth most-densely populated in the state and on track to become third over the next decade or two.

Durham’s challenge remains not to keep pace with its growth rate but instead to take long-ago delinquent actions to preserve its sense of place.

However, rather than becoming more strategic, Durham appears to becoming even more siloed and anecdotal.  Critical areas such as urban forest, historic preservation and open space are not being pursued holistically or with a sense of urgency.

Each should be indexed by now based on what is needed to offset growth factors such as sustainability, optimum density and impervious surface.   Instead there is evidence of denial.  These and other strategic needs are becoming even more trapped into anecdotal decisions.

It is good that local governments here are conscious of shifting from over-reliance on property taxes to fees and other funding tactics that could address growth.  However, their application seems siloed as well.

Good arguments were made for social justice when a $1.80 monthly trash fee was assessed on households but not on apartment complexes and businesses.  Winning the day was the argument that those excluded make other arrangements for pick up.

However, a strategic argument for assessing the fee across the board is that these dumpsters are also tremendous sources for litter that blows out into the community at large.  They are also in areas where recycling needs to be amplified.

The whole argument for selective fees brought to mind the myopic causes for the problems with deferred street resurfacing from which Durham just emerged at great cost.

Well-run cities and counties are not just about transactional leadership and day-to-day operations.  We also need these organizations to worry about tomorrow.

With glaring exceptions for general upkeep and appearance, Durham local governments are exceptionally well-managed.  But in my opinion, they aren’t worried nearly enough about “tomorrow.”

Friday, June 07, 2013

Noodling “Strategic Thinking” Through North Carolina

As I turned off I-40 W last month and headed northwest up U.S. Hwy 421 into the North Carolina mountains, the coincidence of the terrain to my mission that day wasn’t lost, nor its connection to my heritage, although I am a native of Idaho.

The class is a “capstone” class on “strategic planning” at the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University.  It is required of students across many majors including economics, finance, marketing and management.  My topic was “strategic thinking.”

I wondered if a part of the class shouldn’t be taught the first year as a foundation; a lens through which to better understand these subjects, as well as a cap prior to graduation.  As I drove that day, the Jeep was crossing and running parallel to the paths taken in 1865 by Stoneman’s Raiders.

Nineteen years before the raid, fresh out of West Point as a second lieutenant in the Dragoons, (cavalry) George Stoneman was the quartermaster with the Mormon Battalion during the war with Mexico. My great-great grandfather Sebert C. Shelton was the quartermaster sergeant for Company D.

I suspect there was talk of California as they stewarded the 25 supply wagons during the march southeast from Fort Leavenworth.  At Santa Fe, Sergeant Shelton was assigned to take a detachment of very sick soldiers north to winter at Pueblo and then to ultimately reconnect with a vanguard wagon train of Mormons and three of my other ancestors.

Stoneman continued on with the battalion to San Diego. After a few months near Ogden, north of Salt Lake City, Shelton also headed to California, ranching for the remainder of his life near Petaluma.  But their paths would cross as least two more times.

A native of the tip of southwestern New York, Stoneman fled Texas with his unit as the Civil War broke out.  A “strategic thinker,” he laid the groundwork that would revolutionize the way cavalry was used by the Union.  He also fought with Sherman in Tennessee and down to Atlanta.

In North Carolina, we often view the Civil War here through the lens of Sherman’s March which culminated with the effective end of the Civil War in Durham, where I live.  But Lee’s earlier surrender of just his Virginia army at Appomattox and the culminating surrender later that month in Durham may not have happened without by-then General Stoneman.

For 61-days in the spring of 1865, Stoneman led between 6,000 and 7,000 cavalry troopers on a series of raids through six different states.  They traveled without supplies and with only a general sense of direction drawing desperately needed resources and troops away from Lee and Johnston as well as cutting off any hope of their retreat or reunion.

Stoneman’s Raiders entered North Carolina through Boone—where I lectured last month—on March 29, 1865.  He was led by North Carolina scouts and followed by units of Union troops from this state.  They headed east along the Yadkin River paralleling my drive up Route 421.

Stoneman wasn’t seeking engagements (though he encountered dozens) but rather to destroy what would eventually be 115 miles of track on four different railroads, numerous depots and locomotive engines and up to 40 railroad bridges along with countless supply and ammunition depots and related manufacturing facilities.

Regularly dividing his cavalry units, Stoneman made it impossible for Confederate intelligence to anticipate his objective, until the very end of his 1,000-mile raid as he headed back through the mountains at Asheville.  He was returning to base in Knoxville while sending one unit after Confederate secessionist leaders as they fled by carriage south from Charlotte into Georgia when they were chased into capture by another Union army.

Feinting at first toward Salisbury from along my route late month, he headed instead up through Dobson and Mt. Airy and into Virginia. His units reached within miles of Lynchburg and Lee’s lines before heading south through Henry County where my great-great-great grandfather Shelton had been born and came of age before returning as a Mormon missionary in the years before he met Stoneman.

The raiders found dozens of small to medium-sized engagements including one at Henry County Courthouse, capturing overall more than 10,000 Confederate soldiers and 17 battle flags.

Fanning out as they came back down into North Carolina, Stoneman’s units narrowly missed capturing CSA President Jefferson Davis as he fled first from Richmond to Danville and then to Greensboro by train.

My first awareness of Stoneman was in 1969 when The Band released their own version of their composition The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.  Some who subsequently covered the song such as Joan Baez had substituted the words “so much” for “Stoneman’s” in the memorable refrain:

“Virgin Cain is the name and I worked the Danville train –‘Til Stoneman’s Cavalry came and tore up the tracks again.”

As Stoneman’s raiders threatened Greensboro, it was filled not only with paroled Virginia troops riding home after Lee’s surrender but tens of thousands of Johnston’s troops as they reeled there west from Raleigh through Durham and along my route to Boone after engagements with Sherman.

Other units had briefly occupied the Salem part of Winston-Salem and raided Jamestown and High Point while others raiders swung in an arc down to Salisbury in an attempt to free Union prisoners there only to learn they had been dispersed or sent home.

During the raids, Stoneman’s troops were joined by more than 1,000 freed slaves, many of whom joined the Union Army after being escorted back to Tennessee.

Confederate government leaders including Jefferson Davis stopped briefly—but unwelcome—in the Greensboro chaos during Stoneman’s raids in the surrounding country.

On the rainy night of April 15th, Sherman’s cavalry fought his last engagement in southwest Durham before a truce and surrender negotiations began with Johnston.  Meanwhile, Confederate leaders passed near Salisbury as Stoneman’s Raiders completed their destruction there, on their way to Charlotte and then south to Georgia.

The day after Stoneman’s Raiders left Salisbury (feinting toward Charlotte) for home base in Tennessee, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  The only person in North Carolina who was aware at the time was General Sherman.

He hurriedly worked out surrender terms with a visibly shaken Johnston, similar to Grant’s for Lee at Appomattox, based on directives for leniency from Lincoln.

Those terms were rejected by Union officials and Sherman was ordered to open negotiations with Johnston under harsher terms.  By then Stoneman had finished with Asheville but his troopers returned under the same stipulations brought about by Lincolns death to lay waste to the town.

Stoneman epitomized the strategic thinking that ended the war.  His were not the only raiders.  General Sheridan did the same down the Shenandoah, while other units did the same through Mississippi and Alabama.  The brilliance of this strategy was studied by General George Patton as his tank battalions, including the 35th in which my father served, fought the Germans across Italy and France in World War II.

These harsh policies of Reconstruction Republicans led Stoneman to become a Democrat after the war.  As much as he is often demonized by Southerners who have reconstructed the meaning of that war, Stoneman sacrificed his military career in protest.

After leading cavalry in battles with Indians in the southwest, he retired from the Army in 1871.  Along with his wife, he moved to California and established a vineyard in a valley below along the San Gabriel mountains near where I would live in the late 1960s.

My great-great-great grandfather Shelton had passed away in 1857 so even if they had not been located several hundred miles apart, there would be no reunion with Stoneman.

However, vineyards didn’t mean the end of Stoneman’s public service.  He served as Railroad Commissioner from 1876 to 1878 and then was elected Governor of California in 1882.  His administration saw the emergence of Progressive Era reforms.

In 1885 though, a fire destroyed his papers and Civil War mementos.  Ruined financially, he returned to New York where he died in 1894.

Even though as a cavalry officer for whom resulting hemorrhoids were especially debilitating, his former commander, U.S. Grant had demoted him to colonel when he retired.  He was therefore without disability, possibly because Stoneman had rejected Republicans over the harshness of Reconstruction.

He incurred frequent and painful surgeries throughout his life.  During my lecture last month at ASU, I didn’t mention my remembrance of Stoneman during my trip there but I did vaguely reference the military as the origin of “strategic thinking.”

By the time my career in community-destination marketing began in the 1970s, “strategic thinking” was emerging in social enterprises.  In 1978, I was one of many indebted to the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Dr. James McGregor Burns entitled Leadership.

Burns’ work as a Harvard professor had earlier been part of my studies at Brigham Young University, both in my areas of study in history and political science.

The importance of “strategic thinking” such as Stoneman’s is captured in a quote by Burns:

“It is persons’ intent, along with skill in exploiting power bases, that signalizes the most human factor in all the economic, social, military, and other “deterministic” forces that are said to make history. It is purpose that
puts man into history.”

There are many good resources about General Stoneman and the Mormon Battalion.  In addition to family history, I found the correlation of events in Chris Hartley’s Stoneman’s Raid, 1865 and Jim Wise’s On Sherman’s Trail particularly enlightening.  Both live in North Carolina.