Friday, August 30, 2013

28% Are Just Disinterested

My 77-year-old uncle just got his first cell phone.  It is probably also his first way to explore the internet.  Until now, he has been among the 20% of Americans who do not use the Internet at home, work, school or by mobile device.

In my former profession, the community-destination marketing organizations (DMOs) with mobile-optimized websites are already finding that as much of 40% of their web traffic is generated from mobile devices vs. desktops.

Mobile is projected to eclipse desktop as a means of browsing the web late this year or early next, overcoming a substantial lead just since the dawn of 2010 when I retired.

A snapshot from a rolling survey published this summer and entitled, Exploring the Digital Nation, reveals that the predominant reason given by those who are still not online including the 28% of Americans who don’t have access at home is a “lack of interest or desire.”


Those without home access often find access in other locations such as, public libraries 32%, someone else’s house 29%, school 25%, work 23%, Wi-fi hotspots or Internet cafes 6% and community centers 5%.

Still, I keep coming back to the finding that almost half (48%) of those who don’t have access at home just aren’t interested or motivated compared to 28% who site cost or 13% who don’t have a computer or have one that is inadequate and 3% who can use it somewhere else.

Of those who aren’t interested or still don’t think they need access to the Internet at home, 53% are white, 56% are Asian Americans, 40% are African American and 39% are Hispanic.

A far lower percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics have access than do whites and Asian Americans and a third of African-Americans and Hispanics cite that it is too expensive.  Twenty-seven percent of urban households and 38% of rural households do not have Internet at home.

Of those Americans who simply aren’t interested or motivated to have access at home, 52% have never had it and 20% had it once but disconnected.  Of those who cite expense as a reason, 26% have never had access and 41% have disconnected.  Twelve percent have never had a computer at home and 21% who disconnected either no longer have one or have one that is inadequate.

A lot is being done to make sure people have access to the Internet.  It is in the national interest because as the report notes, people who can access the web are more civically engaged.

It has also become the predominate way to search out jobs.  But I am worried by those who just aren’t interested or who don’t see the need.

Moving forward, that is a lot of people, especially in the South, who are electing to stay in the dark and who are possibly just giving up.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A 10-Year-Old’s Lesson in Community Branding

During July 1958, I received a new baseball glove and a blue Schwinn Jaguar Mark II bicycle for my birthday but that summer is particularly memorable for another reason.

Just before returning to grade school that year is when I first learned about Unlimited Hydroplanes and possibly gleaned some of my first tidbits of awareness about community branding.

It was the inaugural Diamond Cup on Lake Coeur d'Alene in my native Idaho.  The event will be held again this weekend after a forty-five year absence.  I recall listening the first year by radio, and watching it in a TV rebroadcast the next year.

The commentator may have been Dave Page, a friend of my parents who was a radio deejay and newscaster who also hosted the “Captain Cy” TV show after school.

The show was a favorite for our trio of friends when it was re-broadcast where we lived, always beginning with Popeye cartoons.

Back then, the huge unlimited Hydros were open cockpit and featured big aircraft engines that had been developed for WWII fighter planes.  Today, they use engines developed for helicopters used during the war in Vietnam.

The host boat that first year was the “Miss Spokane” shown in the image above.  That Rocky Mountain city is in Washington State but only twenty-two miles from the border with Northern Idaho and about thirty miles from where the Diamond Cup is run.

Fifteen years following that first Diamond Cup race, I first cut my teeth on community marketing on behalf of Spokane.  It has long been the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis, and to many in Idaho it was our state’s “big city,” even more so than Boise.

“Miss Spokane” was originally a duplicate of Bill Boeing Jr.’s Miss Wahoo.  The boat was community-owned with financial shares bought by Spokane residents and businesses to finance its purchase and outfit and race it for the three or four years it ran.

Incredibly, she placed third in that first Diamond Cup, averaging just under 100-miles-per-hour over three heats.

Boeing is the son of the founder of the Boeing Airplane Company, now the world’s largest.  He was responsible for preserving his father’s first factory, the Red Barn, now the centerpiece for the phenomenal Museum of Flight in Seattle.

While visiting there I recognized by the tail insignia and number in family photos that the F-4 Phantom on exhibit is one of the aircraft flown in Vietnam by my uncle, “Ferd” White.

Boeing was also responsible for bringing Unlimited Hydro racing west and particularly to the Pacific Northwest.

One year, the “Miss Spokane” raced with the tagline, “The Lilac Lady.” It was painted in that pale shade of violet of a Lilac bloom, which has been Spokane’s community color and flower since 1938. Side note – one year my youngest sister was a Lilac Princess.

“Miss Spokane” was competitive, but in 1961 she flipped and was nearly destroyed.  During its run it probably formed my first thoughts about community branding, which became my now-concluded career stretched over three cities and four decades.

I probably learned a bit about branding from my favorite Hydro race driver of those early years, Mira Slovak, too.  In 1953, he defected by flying his Czech Airlines passenger plane very low under both radar and Mig 15s to asylum in West Germany.

Slovack was Bill Boeing’s private pilot.  Not only did he race Hydros in the 1950s and 1960s - twice as national champion – but he often flew his own biplane to promote the races.

After flipping his race boat in a spectacular crash, but before retiring from Hydros, Slovak went on to win airplane races flying souped-up WWII fighters.  For his day job, he flew for Continental Airlines.

His personal brand was unmistakable as was the influence of the Diamond Cup on my eventual career.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Calculus of Trees and Parking Lots

I selected my favorite grocery store based on its produce section, particularly its apples.  Even though it was built in 1995, the parking lot there seems nearly devoid of trees.

Shoppers vie for the 6 tree-shaded parking spots that aren’t reserved for customers who are disabled.  There are five other trees toward the back of the lot where no one parks.  Making this amenity even more precious is that these are small trees that don’t provide much shade. Parking Lot - Durham, NC

For several months of the year, it gets very hot in Durham, North Carolina where I live.  Studies dating back nearly to when that facility was built have shown that trees reduce asphalt temperatures by 36 degrees and interior vehicle cabin temperatures by 47 degrees.

Parking lot trees also reduce emissions from fuel tanks, hosing, belts and vinyl car parts while vehicles sit in hot parking lots. They also capture and cleanse storm run off that otherwise passes pollutants on to unsuspecting taxpayers who may never park there.

Parking lots across the country have nearly 700 million parking spaces alone.  That’s about three for every car, SUV, pickup and motorcycle in the United States. This doesn’t count the 1.3 billion parking spaces that are not in parking lots.

Good developers understand the economic value of trees, e.g. they preserve parking lot surfaces by 40-60% longer.  Unfortunately, there are far too few good developers and even fewer who understand and use “full-cost” accounting.

Communities are left to defend themselves with ordinances which, judging by where I live, are still very inadequate.

Durham doesn’t keep track of parking lots, but it should.  Since 1976, the increase in impervious surface in Durham, which includes parking lots, has outpaced population growth by 8-to-1.

So Durham most likely has far more than the national average of eight parking spaces for every registered vehicle, a number far too high even when allowances are made for visitors and commuters who work but do not live here.

Developers who scrimp on parking lot amenities such as trees fail to grasp that barren lots stamp a brand not only on their developments but on the brands of their tenants.

There are now numerous “best practices” when it comes to creating tree canopy over parking lots.  One I saw recently near downtown Salt Lake City has a large specimen tree for every two or three parking spaces vs. one for every 14 spaces in the lot where I buy apples.

A portion of a road trip last year took a friend and I down the Hudson River.  On a bluff overlooking a park across the river from where we stopped for the night is an old Nabisco box printing factory that has been adaptively reused as Dia:Beacon.

It is a museum featuring contemporary, including minimalist, artworks. It opened only eight years after my grocery story in Durham did.  But there is nothing minimalist about the trees in its parking lot, where there is one tree for each space.

On a related subject, I am a fan of Formula 1 racing and Ferrari in particular.  On my one visit to Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in western Europe, I didn’t have time to continue down the Alps into northern Italy.

If I ever make it that way again, I want to visit three places. First, the Museo Ferrari in Maranello and then the bridge at Susegna where my first cousin once removed died in 1944 when his B-26 was was shot down during WWII.

The third place I want to visit is a historic Fiat factory in the Lingotto district of Turin.  When the Ferrari-red, Pininfarina-designed Fiat 124 Spider I owned in the early 1970s rolled off the assembly line there, it was on the fifth floor of the massive 1920s facility.

It was possibly one of the last to be rolled out onto a test track atop the factory including high banked curves at each end and 500-yard straightaways.  The old factory has been transformed into a complex of concert halls, shopping arcades, a convention center and a hotel.

The roof-top test track is still there but that isn’t why I want to see it.

Renzo Piano, the architect of the transformation not only put plenty of trees in the parking lot but added forested entrances to the huge facility.  He not only believes in green roof tops such as this one at the California Academy of Sciences but nature-sculpted entrances and parking areas.

Development is driven by developers, individuals and families who want their private property to be made more valuable, but the free market has yet to require them to cover the full cost.  Much of it is pushed off on tax-payer funded governments.

If all costs were accounted, those who seek to develop property would factor in the costs resulting from “churn,” when supply outpaces demand, the costs of cleaning storm water polluted by impervious surface, the costs of reforestation, the costs of other infrastructure to name just a few.

In the mid-1800s, towns would often develop, be deserted, be re-populated, be deserted again and again be re-populated, sometimes repeating this cycle many times before becoming stabilized and permanent.

The churn back then was generated by unrealistic promises by private land and water companies and/or corporations exploiting resources until eventually, by populist demand, federal, state and local governments stepped in to create a basic level of stability.

But the costs were never shouldered by those who caused them, nor are they today.  If they were, we would all suffer “sticker-shock,” so we shoulder the cost in taxes instead.

Regulation and public resource management are blunt instruments at best, but because the free market hasn’t evolved to hold developers fully accountable nor fully rewarded “best practice” standards of stewardship, despite the best efforts of associations to “raise the bar,” government has stepped up as the only viable alternative.

Often, what is expressed as anti-government and anti-tax sentiments are really an even more deeply felt strain of populist angst among working and middle class Americans, including the 30% who are conservatives, at having to shoulder the costs of unsustainable business practices.

Government is a more convenient scapegoat, I guess.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cattle Country and Trees

Dillon, Montana is a quintessential ranch town where the Ruby Range gives way to the Blacktail Mountains on the climb up the Beaverhead and Red Rock rivers, just under the “chin” of Montana and over the Continental Divide back into Idaho.

It is just west and over the divide from our ancestral ranch in Idaho’s Yellowstone-Teton nook. Dillon has always been one of my favorite places, dating to trips we took to trade horses or when passing through to see family when I was the age of my grandsons and older.

We were sure to stop there last month as we returned from an annual family lake-rendezvous.

The area surrounding Dillon is the center of Montana’s cattle and hay country with 137,000 head of Cattle, 14,000+ sheep and 2,200 horses being ranged on more than 400 surrounding ranches spread over more than 5,500 square miles on 2 million acres of range land.

Livestock - 28 per square mile, people - 1.7 per square mile, about a third forested and wooded-mountains with incredible wildlife habitat. I’m a long way from the country of my youth, but country such as this has never been far from my heart and soul.

This area is God’s country!

Dillon’s population is about 4,000 with a little more than 9,000 people county-wide.  Dillon, while much younger and smaller than Durham, North Carolina where I live, has two things Durham doesn’t, a full-fledged local history museum and a sanctioned Tree Board.

Dillon has already inventoried its public trees and is completing a tree management plan.  Hopefully, Durham may move in that direction soon.  Dillon is proof that being conservative and overwhelmingly Republican isn’t mutually exclusive of loving trees and respecting your heritage.

Durham is proof that unparalleled levels of community passion and pride doesn’t mean that many important things aren’t being overlooked or neglected, such as trees and a museum worthy of its incredible history.

Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly, eager to surrender trees and the state’s sense of place to billboard companies and mega-landfills for out-of-state haulers, could learn something from Montana’s members of that party.

Hell, they could learn something by just listening to 8-in-10 North Carolinians.  Trees and other elements of scenic preservation are important to sense of place and economic vitality and even more to public health.

Montana is only 24% forested, mostly in the western third of the state which includes Dillon.  This is also the part laced by the state’s 100 ranges of the Rockies.

But 60% of Montana is flat prairie land, part of the Northern Great Plains.  Custer didn’t make his last stand in the old west or where “A River Runs Through It,” but on the plains stretching up from the Texas Panhandle, Kansas and Nebraska.

Even in the most mountainous regions of Montana and Idaho, one of the first things settlers did was plant trees, not for scenic preservation but to protect air and water quality, stem soil erosion, prevent flooding, lower temperatures around dwellings and livestock and to provide screens from wind and blowing particulates.

It was more often the miners who came not to make a homeland but for fortune, who denuded the landscape as they did entirely around Butte by the time Dillon was being founded in the 1880s, an hour’s drive south today.

However, Butte is battling back and today has a comprehensive urban forest management plan while North Carolina surrenders its sense-of-place to out-of-state billboard companies, even though billboards are an antiquated marketing tool now used by less than fifth of one percent of consumers.

Rocky Mountain pioneers and settlers such as eight sets each of my great-great and great-great-great grandparents also understood that trees were good for economic development and the evolution of sense of place, both on homesteads and in nearby towns and cities.

It isn’t easy in the Rockies to foster canopy because of the harsh climate, short growing seasons and insect infestations.  So it seems that most people there don’t seem to take it for granted like we do in North Carolina where the enemies trees include human infestations.

Trees have nothing to do with political ideology and sacrificing them has everything to do with special interests.  Eight-in-ten North Carolinians oppose permitting trees to be cut down by billboard companies.  This includes nearly 7-in-10 Republicans who believe billboards should be a local decision.

Obviously this doesn’t include some lawmakers and now the Governor.

That didn’t stop Republican lawmakers, given plausible deniability by billboard lobbyists who told them it was just a tiny technical change, from using a backdoor to override tree and billboard ordinances statewide, spitting in the face of a constitutional amendment requiring the state to:

“…preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty.”

One of North Carolina’s largest forestlands is along its roadsides.

It remains to be seen if North Carolinians will notice this defiance, let alone be outraged enough to take power back from those beholden to billboard and other destructive special interests.  Even local governments seem complacent.

As a whole, North Carolinians seem unaware that things we take for granted such as this can be put at great risk.  For the first time, I hear more people talk about leaving the state than loving it.  For the first time in a quarter-of-a-century, it has crossed my mind too.

But this would only please those who are legislatively turning the clock back to a time when North Carolina was fodder for ridicule.  It was only a year prior to passage of the conservation amendment that North Carolinians rejected efforts to perpetuate poll taxes and literacy tests for voting.

When North Carolinians finally rise up, the desecration wrought may move them to ban billboards altogether by constitutional amendment as several states have.

If not, they may seek to put more teeth in an amendment passed in 1971 to protect trees and waterways and other ecosystem capital or elect judges and lawmakers who will respect it.

For scenic preservation, these seem like the worst of times.  But they may be the beginning of the best of times.

We’ll see.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Carolina Roots of My Native Rockies

The Appalachian Mountains that divide the eastern part of North America and form the western part of my adopted state of North Carolina, come to an end in Mississippi.

It is there, in the Northern Highlands of that state where the southern tip of the deciduous Flatwoods dissect the rich soil of the Black Prairie from the high rolling hills, amid deep densely wooded ravines and rivers of the Red Clay Hills that my great x 3 grandparents, Tom and Sarah Ann Graham, put down roots in 1825, but not for long.

Thomas Bradford Graham was from Kershaw District, the first inland settlement in South Carolina, along the spine of the Occaneechi Path, a corridor of Native American trading paths stretching from Virginia to Georgia (passing through Durham, North Carolina where I live) along where the fall line breaks between the rolling hills of the Piedmont and the Low Country.

His parents were Scotts-Irish and probably unrelated to the Irish Quakers who followed the road blazed up from Charleston to settle along the Wateree River in Kershaw, after their ship bound for North Carolina was blown off course.

He had migrated over the Appalachians with his family led by grandfathers.  Both were veterans the War of 1812, one with McWillie’s 2nd Regiment in the South Carolina Militia and the other with the 2nd Brigade, 5th Regiment, 1st Company detached from the 1st Orange County Regiment of the North Carolina Militia.

That was when Durham, where I live, was a part of Orange County.  When I relocated here from my native Rockies,  part of me was obviously coming home, preceded here by my great x 4 grandparents Thomas Bradford and Mary Miller and my great x 5 grandfather David Miller, both of whom were natives of this part of North Carolina.

Sarah Ann McCrory was from Tennessee, the daughter of a North Carolina Revolutionary War hero, a veteran of six major engagements.  He had also served for a time at Valley Forge as bodyguard to General George Washington and was briefly taken prisoner-of-war near his son-in-law’s birthplace by Tarleton’s Raiders during the Battle of Camden.

The old soldiers were now stranded across the Alabama line from the young couple.

Tom and Sarah Graham’s new home place near DeKalb was midway between the relatively new settlement of Tuscaloosa and the newly-created town of Jackson, up the ridgeline-trace from Natchez to make the state capital more centrally located.  The land had been recently ceded by the Choctaw Nation.

Eight years before my newlywed ancestors settled there, Mississippi had become a state following the lopping-off of Alabama.  As they settled into their new home, Colonel Davy Crockett had just survived the sinking of his flatboat,across state, on the Mississippi River and was readying his first run for Congress.

Crockett died at the Alamo in 1836, a few years after legends began to evolve such as the one that he - “Kilt him a b'ar when he was only 3.”  But within a decade my ancestors left Mississippi for the Rocky Mountains where my great x 3 grandfather’s true story does involve a bear, but a mammoth Grizzly Bear.

The party which included Tom’s parents and my then three-year-old great-great grandmother Amanda probably crossed Mississippi to the river on the wagon route that is now route 16 or possibly across what became Old Route 80 and is now Interstate 20.

Either way, they would have caught a paddle-steamer up the Mississippi River from Vicksburg or two or three other ports.  They possibly rode the sleek, 60-ton, light draft Maid of Iowa.

It specialized in carrying passengers and cargo past the De Moines rapids to a settlement where Mormon converts were gathering at the time at that part of Illinois across from the little jag where Iowa cuts off a corner of Missouri.

There my ancestors joined one of several trains of wagons heading up the Des Moines River on what was to be the first leg of a 1,400-mile journey west into the Rockies.  The Grahams only made it 36 miles upriver before forced to winter over near Farmington, Iowa where I stopped along a cross-country trip last year.

Tom’s wife Sarah Ann and other relatives died there.  He stayed two years and then he and little Amanda and her brothers and sisters continued west.  As they crossed the Missouri in 1852 near Council Bluffs, they hooked on with a train of 64 wagons and a few hundred others headed west along a route blazed five years earlier by four other of my ancestors.

Tom often carried Amanda on his back as he walked beside their wagon, which by then had switched from horses to oxen, because her feet were bleeding.  They arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in September and settled near along the Rockies at the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon, but again they didn’t stay long.

In 1859, Tom and by then 15-year-old Amanda headed 80 miles further north up into Cache Valley, among the first to settle Fort Mendon snug against the towering Wellsville Mountains.

Located at what was then the best entrance to the valley from near the border with Idaho, Mendon is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the valley.  Nine miles east, on the other side of the valley, tight against the Bear River Mountains lies slightly younger Logan, home of Utah State University, where my lawyer-daughter first attended college.

On a cross-country trip in 2011, I crossed the valley at this point on scenic route 30 as I traveled between the Pacific Northwest to connect with I-80 East in Wyoming.

Route 30 highway crosses the “Big Slough” of the Little Bear River just northwest of what would have been Fort Mendon and 20 miles south of where, two years later, my “Bowman” ancestors would settle Richmond and then Hyde Park.

The “Big Slough” holds significance.  My great x 3 grandfather, Tom Graham, left the fort in search of firewood there one day in the fall of 1864.  He was with young A.P. Shumway, Amanda’s husband, when he was, as is well documented by several researchers and authors, attacked and killed by a giant grizzly bear who was itself then hunted and killed.

While A.P. was bringing around the horse-drawn wagon, Tom had exchanged his rifle for an ax and while wading into some willows had stumbled on to the very entrance to the grizzly’s den.  If he saw it coming, Tom’s last view nay have been of a 12 inch long, 8 inch wide paw with huge protruding claws.

A grizzly stands about 6 foot tall and three feet wide and even at 700 lbs. can run 30 miles per hour.  Even though he was reportedly renowned as a bear hunter, he had appeared unarmed where they would be their most fierce and protective.

People in the tiny fort were shook, but none more than A.P. who had discovered Tom’s body.  As is documented, Tom was seen as invincible and described in his early fifties as “a man of prodigious strength and courage…tall, rawboned, with a pair of heavy wide shoulders tapering to a flat slender waistline…”

He would tease folks by taking a rattlesnake by the neck and spitting tobacco juice in its mouth to kill it.  Much like my uncle Louis Davis did from the bumper of his pickup when I was young, Tom could sit eight feet from the door of his log cabin and spit tobacco juice through the latch hole.

As has been true in my family for at least six generations, he was also very good with horses.

None of these feats were a match for a grizzly and Tom’s body was taken back to Salt Lake City for burial.  In my family, we grew up with an appreciation for grizzlies.

Grizzly Bear population declined from 100,000 across North America when Europeans arrived to less than 50,000 when my great x 3 grandfather’s remarkable life came to an end after spanning 2,500 miles of the continent.

The Grizzly population was near extinction by the 1970s when I was in college and became a protected species because of the unique role these bears play in stimulating ecosystem services.

Now through protection, Grizzlies have been coaxed back to 700, nearly all in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where I was born and the conservation challenge is the threat to their food sources and how to limit conflict with humans.

Now in recovery, one of the areas where grizzlies most like to range is again from Yellowstone across into my native Fremont County, Idaho, two hundred miles north of where my great x3 grandfather had that fateful encounter along what I often term the fault line of my youth.

They are drawn across the Targhee by the migration pattern of the 2,000-strong Sand Creek elk herd as it moves back and forth passing near our ancestral ranch traveling from winter feeding grounds along the creek to their home in the Park in spring, summer and fall.

Since the 1880s, this nook of Idaho has been known grizzlies, drawn even more by the distinctive Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout native to the Henry’s Fork River as they are to elk, deer and moose there.

Another 50,000 Grizzlies across Alaska and northwest Canada, 30,000 alone in Alaska where I lived in the 1980s.

I have a feeling that despite his unfortunate encounter, Thomas Bradford Graham would be impressed as I bet will be my grandsons, his great x 5.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Infographic - A Look at the Next Billion Internet Users

Friday, August 23, 2013

“Liberty” Angles And Passing The Torch

The research I did for an essay earlier this week about “fairness” and the related value of “equality” was something I found particularly interesting because it shed light on much more than just differences in political ideology.

It also helps explain why family members, spouses, co-workers, neighbors and business associates so often view and practice these values from such different perspectives.

Related and just as telling, is how we think of “liberty.”  Researchers such as Dr. Jonathan Haidt of NYU’s Stern School of Business have found that Republicans, mostly conservative, think in terms of what is called “negative liberty,”  the freedom to be left alone, freedom from interference.

Democrats who are mostly moderate with a faction that is liberal,  think in terms of what researchers call “positive liberty,” or having the power and resources to choose one’s path and fulfill one’s potential.

They believe government has to the obligation to remove or lower barriers to full political participation and to enable success.

Republicans view government as a threat, which makes them prone to be stubborn and obstinate, even about things to which they otherwise tend to be open.

The Republican view, Haidt explains, is the more traditional view of liberty.  They seek freedom from oppression and often view government as oppressive.  Democrats believe government has an obligation to remove barriers and “enable previously oppressed groups to succeed.”

As a moderate Independent, this explains a lot and helps clear away the obfuscation when “true believers” of each viewpoint tend to demonize the other.  It also explains why Republicans think I am Republican and progressives think I am a Democrat.

It also explains why my conservative father and I, despite a deep love and respect for each other, had such a difficult time understanding one another yet agreed on so many things.

It explains why, in my now-concluded career as an executive in public authorities and non-profits charged with generating economic improvement, so many were so frustrated that I wouldn’t bend the rules to tip the “playing field” in their favor or in support of their agenda.

It also explains why so many of us who came of age -in our 20s -primarily over the course of the 1970s, took such polarized viewpoints from the same set of life experiences, while others of us glean some validity from both world views. 

Some emerged from that era blaming the Vietnam War as government at its worst, others blamed government for giving up, for making what they stood for seem futile.

Some viewed new social policies such as civil rights and integration as worthy of extremes to achieve balance, others viewed the ways in which it was implemented as taking away their liberty.

Some viewed new environmental, safety and health regulations as improving quality of life and productivity, while others saw them as getting in their way and holding them back.

Some viewed run-away inflation as a reason for government intervention, while other blamed government for letting it occur and an inability to curb it.

This may all soon be moot.  Surveys and studies are revealing a new generation gap.  Millennials, the generation in their 20s and 30s today, do not buy the stale anti-government narrative that has dominated public discourse since the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In fact, they are substantially pro-government.  They are more ethnically diverse and even among those who are working class they are less susceptible to class divisions.  Even those who are conservative are less anti-government.

Overall, Millennials are much less about “them vs. us,” much more savvy about “agendas” and keen to spotting manipulation.  They are more capable than older generations of holding two seemingly contradictory values.

In a word, they tend to be more “moderate,” open to ideas across the ideological spectrum, open to what works, open to fixing government rather than bashing or starving it, and open to a balance of both views of “liberty.”

As often noted by political strategist Andrew Levison, being moderate isn’t just a “find the middle of everything centrism,” it is common sense open-mindedness based on “one hand but on the other hand” analysis.”

It is time for those of us forged by the ‘70s to give way.  The anti-government narrative has run its course with mixed results, mostly self-defeating.  It has evolved to become more a rationalization to justify divergence, corruption and special interests.

It is time to hand America over to a new generation.  It is time for a middle way, a third way, a middle-out way.  It a time for a better-not-smaller, more nimble and more robust public-interest driven government.

It is simply time to reboot.

God bless Millennials, God bless America.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

When Development Doesn’t Pay Its Way

It seemed like each of three communities I served during my now-concluded 40-year career in community marketing and visitor-centric economic development was accompanied by a guide book written by John McPhee.  One brings me to the topic of this blog.

As I settled into Spokane, Washington,  Encounters with the Archdruid, then out in paperback, accelerated my understanding of a community rooted in resource extraction but whose business and environmental interests were teaming to produce an environmentally-themed world exposition.

Coming Into The Country, just out in paperback, served as a guide to the inscrutable realities of Alaska as I was recruited to guide the same type of organization for Anchorage.

As I settled into Durham, NC, recruited here to jump-start the same type of organization, I found myself immersed in the just-published hard-back edition of The Control of Nature which served to alert me to the dangers of pretentiousness and developer hubris.

I found myself re-reading the latter during my most recent 7,000-mile cross-country road-trip, as I have these and many of his other books over the years, each usually based on something he initially penned for the nearly 90-year-old weekly, The New Yorker.

McPhee’s books read as fresh and insightful today as the day they were published.

The Control of Nature is really three separate stories about prolonged instances where developers have tried to control natural processes, one about the Mississippi River, another about lava flows in Iceland and the third about debris slides off the San Gabriel Mountains.

Briefly, in the late 1960s, I lived in the top floor of a mansion less than a mile below the Rubio Wash Debris Basin against the San Gabriel Mountains in Altadena, California, overlooking Los Angeles, 14 miles below and the Pacific Ocean.

Created in 1946, two years before I was born, Rubio Wash is a reservoir, not to capture water but to intercept up to 150,000 cubic yards of sediment and rocks.  While the San Gabriels are one of the fastest rising, they are also the fastest crumbling of all mountain ranges.

On average Rubio Wash captures and holds about 6,500 cubic yards of sediment annually, but under some conditions, can fill in a matter of hours.  In early 1980, storms overwhelmed a basin above Rubio Wash so rapidly it overwhelmed even the diversionary system and once again debris flowed out of Rubio and into neighborhoods along its natural course.

Debris, including huge boulders from the flow, reached where I had lived a mile below the basin, inundating homes and vehicles.  In yet another half mile it came to a stop.  A slide had also caused destruction in 1978.  A fire in late 1979 had stripped vegetation, making massive erosion possible again a few months later.

The “San Gabes,” as they are called, are incredibly steep with deep v-shaped canyons.  When settlement came, it occurred on numerous rivers of sediment, as deep as 900 feet that flowed down from the canyons and out onto the coastal plain sloping toward the ocean and fanning out like a river deltas and resulting in flood plains.

These rivers of sediment were not a problem for Native Americans or Mexican settlements in the 18th century.  By the early to mid 1800s there were just 800 people living in Los Angeles, and according to McFee, “huge contiguous cattle [and sheep] ranches lined the San Gabriel front.”

They were named Rancho San Jose, Azusa de Duarte, Santa Anita, La Canada, Tujunga and San Fernando, often running down to the ocean, covering tens of thousands of acres and running tens of thousands of livestock each.

Where I lived those few months was once part of the 14,000-acre Rancho el Rincon de San Pascual, granted first in 1826 to the long-time “keeper of the keys,” or you might say COO at the San Gabriel Mission.  Today, Pascual has been transformed into Altadena, Pasadena, South Pasadena and San Mario, California.

A few years after the house I lived in was built, San Pacual’s early nineteenth century ranch house, Flores Adobe, was restored and given historical recognition.  Months before my tenure along the San Gabes in the 1960s, yet another family rescued it from the wrecking ball.

By the 1870s, ranching gave way to orange groves spurred by the advent of refrigerated shipping in the 1880s.  It grew to 1.1 million producing-trees by 1890.

But with the railroad came a land rush and by 1914, the year after the home in which I once lived was built, the population reached 800,000.  A massive flood of debris roared out of Rubio Canyon along with other tributaries to the Arroyo Seco (meaning dry stream in Spanish) and the river of sediment nearly filled LA’s harbor at San Pedro after wiping out 10 bridges.

Damages, not counting the harbor clean-up, exceeded $230 million at today’s values.  Mind you, this is with a population of 8% of what LA is today.  Debris alluvial fans and flood plains are more dangerous than rivers. The 1914 event wasn’t the first recorded in the 1900s or even the greatest of nearly 30 more that have occurred in the years since.

In 1881, one of the ranchers had quipped – “Hell, we’re giving away the land, we’re selling the climate.”  It just so happened that the best views and most easily developed land was on top of slopes of active alluvial sedimentary fans.

Along LA’s coastal plain, danger from floods is both on these slopes and below where they exit onto flood plains.  It is as much from rock as it is water, the combination of which is lethal.

WWII production accelerated population growth the decline of orchards.  Eager developers built homes on the alluvial fans and higher and higher against the San Gabriels.

But the costs associated with controlling nature and dealing with the shedding of debris was shifted onto taxpayers.  Developers may have been “selling climate” but they were shouldering taxpayers with such a mess that even the chamber of commerce demanded action.

Of course, this was not demanded of the developers for whom they advocated but of local government and ultimately millions of unrelated residential and commercial taxpayers.

Alluvial flow also creates mountains, such as Echo Mountain above where I lived, between Rubio and Las Flores canyons.  In 1893, a Civil War balloonist, inventor and trolley developer opened a tourist attraction on the very top of Echo Mountain, called The White City that included two hotels, an observatory and a zoo.

Over the next 45 years, three million tourists road the trolley up Rubio Canyon, then took a tram and finally landed to take what the operators called “White Chariots,” the final 1,300 feet to visit the resort.  Failing to control nature, it suffered a series of fires, torrential flash floods and devastating windstorms, and was abandoned in 1938.

In the 1990s while repairing pipes in Rubio Canyon, the water company inadvertently set off a debris slide that buried its waterfalls.  Then nature intervened and in 2004, a huge rainstorm and flash flood initiated a massive debris flow.

This created a new canyon floor 20’ higher than it had been, burying the spot where a vineyard, fruit and vegetable farm had been in the mid 1960s, and partially filling filling the debris basin below.

Because development rarely practices “full-cost” accounting, the taxpayers of Los Angeles County are left to shoulder the constructing of channels and more than 160 reservoirs to capture debris slides.  Then they empty them, some the capacity of the Rose Bowl, four miles below where I lived.

In fact, each year, Los Angeles Sediment Management removes enough rock and debris from its basins to fill 169 Rose Bowls, a facility requiring a dam to protect it from the natural path of a alluvial river.

And that is just the beginning when it comes to the cost to taxpayers of development on these rivers of sediment.  Some of what LA County removes is used as cover on landfills but most goes in pits, like giant reverse “open pit mines” or quarries that are then filled with debris from basin cleanouts.

Some is trucked back up in the mountains, where the pits destroy trees, including treasured oaks and other vegetation, and sets in motion the cycle all over again.  In time, the debris will once again flow out of the mountains and down alluvial rivers.

In the next 20 years, LA estimates that these efforts to control nature will cost taxpayers more than $2 billion, $8 billion if the debris has to be removed wet during catastrophic weather events.  This is $8 billion that should have been factored by developers into the costs of private development.

There are lessons from the San Gabes for lawmakers in my adopted North Carolina who are eager to draw out-of-state haulers by creating giant landfills next to refuges, override local stream buffers, enable development on floodplains and clear cut roadside forests for out-of-state billboard companies.

Private or public, property owners must respect nature or the public will pay the price.  Regulations are meant to limit the public’s liability by requiring development to use full-cost accounting.

It has been a quarter of a century since McPhee penned The Control of Nature and nearly 100 years since business interests demanded that government control debris flows along the San Gabriel front.

We haven’t learned much and in North Carolina, it seems we may be regressing.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Different Views of “Fairness”

One of the arguments given by Republicans in North Carolina for new legislation that rolls back “early voting” is to make it more “fair,” because people who voted early tended to favor one political party over another.

Apparently, Democrats were more successful than Republicans at getting voters to vote early and this new law is meant to erase that advantage through power rather than hard work.

Generally, in Republican lexicon, success such as this is the reward for initiative but apparently not when it comes to politics.

Sounds a bit socialist to penalize success and initiative in this way until you look at how differently Democrats (predominately moderate) and Republicans (predominately conservative) view fairness as well as equality.

I’ll explain, but first…

To me, as a moderate Independent, It seems important to bone up on these differences, because even if voters throw out those members of the General Assembly who are clearly sleaze balls, the way voting districts have been draw to their party’s advantage is probably going to guarantee that Republicans are in power for some time to come.

Even if the Independents who brought them to power swing away, the best case scenario is that we can replace sleaze balls with more honorable, thoughtful Republicans in many districts.  And believe me, they do exist.

A role model is Representative Chuck McGrady, a moderate Republican and former Henderson County Commissioner who also served a stint as national president of the Sierra Club.

Moral psychology researcher, ethicist and author of the book The Righteous Mind, Dr. Jonathan Haidt explains the different ways people along the ideological spectrum view what’s fair and what’s not fair.  But he provided a “short course” on these differences a few months ago in a quarterly issue of Democracy, a journal I read to keep abreast of how progressives think.

Don’t panic conservatives!  If anything, he seems to lean right in his book while ideological moderates keep up with thoughtful analysis at all points of the spectrum.

Even more than I remember from reading his book, In the Democracy article, Haidt zeros in more on research about the varying views of what’s “fair.”

There are two views of “fairness;” procedural and distributive (benefits and burdens.)  Democrats and Republicans hold both definitions to heart but Republicans seem a bit hung up on “procedural.”

Thus they can rationalize cutting back on early voting in some areas so it is the same across the board, even though that penalizes early-adopters and innovators in the other party.

It also explains their obsession with photo IDs, even though it is discriminatory to many who vote Democratic and what voter fraud truly exists is in absentee voting, an area where Republicans benefit.

There are two subtypes of distributive “fairness,” equality (everyone gets the same) and  proportionality (all receive rewards in proportion to inputs.)  Democrats, Independents and Republicans all endorse proportionality but those on the left simultaneously endorse equality.

According to Haidt’s research, “the right has no interest in equality for its own sake.  Conservatives prefer proportionality, even when it leads to massive inequalities of outcome.”

To put this in context, this is why Republicans felt comfortable requiring voter IDs but making no concerted effort to help those who have difficulty obtaining one, many because they don’t have birth certificates or there are inconsistencies on their birth certificates, or because they don’t trust the government not to misuse it.

For most Americans, “equality” means a “fair shot.”  To conservatives, however, “fair shot” is procedural, a belief that - “If you work hard, you’ll succeed.  If you don’t, you deserve to fail.”  Unfortunately, some elected officials are special interest “ne’er-do-wells” who seek to rig government as a means to gain success.

Democrats see a “fair shot” as not just procedural, but also a question of distributive fairness.  In my experience, some don’t worry enough about procedural fairness or how much fraud or laziness undermines whether the distribution itself is fairly administered.

In the just published 2013 Economic Values Survey, a majority of Americans believe one of the biggest problems in this country is that we do not give everyone an equal chance.

This includes nearly 69% of Democrats and 54% of Independents but nearly 60% of Republicans and Tea Party members think this really isn’t a problem.

This is a real divide in America and it strikes at the heart of the American Dream.  By ethnicity, white voters are split 47% to 44% on the issue but 77% of black Americans and more than 6-in-10 Hispanic Americans think equal opportunity is a big problem.

Related is that more than half of Americans now don’t believe that hard work and determination are any longer a guarantee of success.  More worrisome is that 56% of Americans, including 63% of whites, 39% of blacks and 36% of Hispanics, now think they can get ahead without working hard and making sacrifices.

Apparently, this includes special interests, lobbyists and elected officials who seek to rig the system in their favor.

Partisan politics aside, for anyone who ran for elected office to truly govern and to represent all of the people, not just self or petty or special interest, this has to be alarming.

If we are going to collaborate across partisan divides, we need to have a dictionary of terms handy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revelations From An Underground Rocky Mountain Lake

The Rocky Mountain lake where my family rendezvous each summer is one of five sprinkled along the shoreline of a mammoth, 10-trillion- gallon, 800-foot deep lake that stretches more than 100 miles down the northern Idaho Panhandle between the Bitterroot and Selkirk mountain ranges and under Washington’s Spokane Valley.

Spokane, where I lived and worked for five years in the 1970s and Durham, North Carolina, where I worked for two decades (and still live) in visitor-centric economic development, are similar in size, both as communities and metropolitan areas.

Durham gets its water from surface reservoirs, but while Spokane is dissected by a large river, parts of which are free-flowing and surrounded by 75 lakes in a 50-mile radius, it pulls its water from this huge underground lake, using seven massive wells that don’t need to go down much more than a hundred feet.

What is now called the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer was discovered by accident in 1894, five years after Spokane built a sewage system that discharged directly into the river. In 1905, engineers rediscovered the aquifer and three years later Spokane began taping it for drinking water.

It is now designated as the “sole source” of drinking water for 500,000 people.  Each day 250 million to 650 million gallons of water flow through the huge underground lake as rocks and sediment purify it.

That didn’t save the Spokane River.  Polluted by run-off from mines in northern Idaho, timber operations, manufacturing and sewage discharge, by 1938, it was deemed the “foulest” water body in that state.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, a sea-change in concern for the environment was beginning to take shape.  The Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest writes that this change in attitude is reflected by two international expositions, one in Seattle and one in Spokane.

The 1962 Century 21 in Seattle was a celebration of expansion and growth as had been the fashion for more than a century in the Pacific Northwest.  Little light was shed at this exposition on the costs of that expansion in terms of ecosystem capital but that was about to change.

By the time Spokane hosted Expo ‘74, twelve years later, business leaders eager to revitalize the community’s downtown through which the Spokane Falls cascade, and those seeking to clean up the river fused to give theme to a six-month, 10-nation exposition celebrating the environment and the community’s centennial.

At first I was hired to lend a hand as the fair opened, while jump-starting the community’s official marketing agency to pick up promotion after the Fair.  Its legacy would become the spectacular Riverfront Park and dozens of other visitor-related facilities.

By 1970, business owners and downtown boosters in Spokane had come to realize, even if somewhat superficially, that industrial blight along the river was an economic as well as environmental drawback.

Spokane officials and residents were beginning to fully grasp the importance of cleaning up the river, which continues today, because rivers have an interrelationship with groundwater and aquifers and that scientific realization had resulted in the federal Clean Water Act.

The area served by the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Aquifer including my native Idaho, is as conservative and in many ways more conservative than North Carolina, where I now live.  But seemingly, instead of seeking to undermine environmental regulations as our lawmakers currently are here, both Spokane and the state of Idaho are pursuing progressive initiatives.

In-depth and ongoing scientific study of the massive aquifer began following Expo ‘74 and intensifies even today even across state boundaries.  Idaho is resource-rich but none is more valuable than water.

When I was in 10th grade and starting to frequent teen dances and sock hops featuring PNW rock groups such as the Kingsmen, the Wailers, The Sonics and Paul Revere and the Raiders, a constitutional amendment (Article XV, section 7) was passed in 1964 forming an Idaho Water Resource Board (IWRB.)

Even with 2,000 natural lakes, thousands of reservoirs including those as part of irrigation districts and 16,000 miles of rivers and streams, Idaho still draws most of its drinking water from groundwater.

As part of its mandate, the IWRB teams with federal agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation to study river basins such as one now in draft form for the 127-mile Henry’s Fork, a world-class trout stream, along which I was born and spent my early years.

Plan objectives always center around water management, public interest, economic development, environmental quality and public safety.

In 1971, as Spokane leaders worked furiously on plans for Expo ‘74, lawmakers in Washington State passed legislation empowering cities and counties with what was called “conservation futures.”

Under the legislation, Spokane County levies a voter-approved property tax to be used solely for:

“acquisition of property and development rights to benefit wildlife, conserve natural resources, increase passive recreation and educational opportunities, and improve the quality of life for area residents.

Fifteen percent of the annual Conservation Futures levy revenue is dedicated toward maintaining, protecting and enhancing these properties in perpetuity.”

Voters repeatedly approved the assessments over the years, recently approving it without provision to “sunset.”  Over the past 20 years, the Spokane funds have been used to secure and maintain 7,000 acres in  15 areas managed by the County, 11 by the City of Spokane, one by the town of Cheney and one by the State.

I saw one of the sites during our lake trip last month.  It consisted of 421 acres of forest and wetland along 3000’ of lake shoreline, protecting ecosystem services and providing wildlife habitat and trails for hiking and horseback riding. Even a cougar sighting occurred there that week and I don’t mean one who will be playing for Washington State University.

Not all conservatives think alike.  While some in North Carolina seek to put huge landfills next to parks and refuges, surrender forests and water quality for roadside billboards and override local stream buffers, those in Spokane appear to have learned a lesson.

Economic development is never served when development is left unchecked and unregulated at the expense of trees, waterways, aquifers and quality of life.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Even More Important than Innovative

Earlier this month, I spent a week in a villa overlooking the northern Pacific coast of the Central American Republic of Costa Rica where the tropical-forested mountain range of the Nicoya Peninsula begins its 3,000’ assent above pastoral cattle and horse ranches.

I was tagging along with a friend, her daughter, and two of her daughter's friends, all three of whom are college aged.  Their majors are architecture, psychology and International Relations.

In part, when I wasn’t mesmerized by the spectacular ocean view, I took respite reading a newly published survey of employers entitled “It Takes More Than A Major.”

The survey samples “executives at private sector and nonprofit organizations, including owners, CEOs, presidents, C-suite level executives, and vice presidents.”Costa Rica Trip

More than 9-in-10 agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”

Eight-in-ten employers agreed that “regardless of their major, every college student should acquire a broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.”

Tellingly, a similar ratio felt it was important that “those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and a capacity for new learning,”  things I also wish were minimum requirements to run for elected office.

When it comes to “ethical judgment and integrity,” 76% of employers believed this is “very important.”

By more than 2-to-1, employers believe colleges should place more emphasis on the “ability to connect choices and actions to ethical decisions” as an outcome, a greater ratio than those who want more emphasis on science and technology.

More than 8-in-10 say that more emphasis should be placed by colleges on critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills and the ability to analyze and solve complex problems.

Double the ratio of employers want more emphases on critical thinking and reasoning than those seeking more emphasis on the ability to innovate and be creative.

Is it possible that employers see the high correlation of critical thinking to innovation?  Apparently so.  Oh, and 83% believe it is very important or fairly important for students to learn the ability to research problems and analyze solutions.

By 8.5-to-1, employers believe the concept of a liberal education is “very important” compared to “only somewhat important.” Tellingly, three in four would unequivocally recommend the concept of liberal education to their own child.

Coincidentally, Dr. Dick Brodhead who also lives and works in my adopted hometown of Durham, North Carolina, recently co-chaired a report to guide public policy in this regard entitled “The Heart of the Matter.”

Those who know Dick as a friend, as I do, were not at all surprised at his quick wit on last Thursday’s edition of The Colbert Report.  When finished with his gig as president of Duke University, in the tradition of Steven Wright, Dick would be a great stand-up comedian.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Assessing Prejudices

Last month, on the last full day of our annual family rendezvous at a lakeside cabin in the Pacific Northwest, I took my brother-in-law a mile or so up a peninsula where he borrowed a jet ski to give my grandsons and their cousins one last treat.

On my short trip back to the cabin, I heard a comment on the radio that kept turning over and over in my mind as Mugs, my English Bulldog, and I made our return cross-country in the Jeep to our home in Durham, North Carolina.

“…if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?”  - President Barack Obama

I was moved by the eloquence of this comment.  As an exercise in introspection, I took stock during the trip of all of the ways I may stereotype people.  Even at the age of five, I was adamantly anti-racist, but as I drove I wondered in what ways I may still be stereotyping others.

The first group that came to mind is grossly obese people.  I also snap-judge slow drivers and those who seem to deliberately walk very slowly when they cross streets.  I snap-judge gang members, both those predatory to poor neighborhoods but also those who are fringe factions of political parties.

I prejudge people who cluelessly or deliberately let their dogs urinate or defecate along other people’s yards or in parks.  I prejudge idiots who text when they drive.  Too often, I prejudge people who seem to talk but never listen as well as people who listen but never talk.

I’m not racist but that doesn’t mean I don’t prejudge in other ways or that I might be prejudiced at some level.  It has been reported that earlier this week, at the Teen Choice Awards, actor Ashton Kutcher, as part of his remarks noted that “I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than.”

I am probably prejudiced toward those who do feel they are above doing some jobs.  I am also impatient with people who demean people who work in restaurants -particularly fast food places – as they are typically people who couldn’t do those jobs themselves, regardless of education level.

Being from Idaho, I probably have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to people from Utah, because I think they often seem to look down on Idaho.  Raised on a ranch, I am a bit prejudiced about potato farmers.  I am also prejudiced when it comes to blight such as roadside billboards.

I may not be racist but I know from this exercise that I also prejudge people who are or appear to be racist regardless of color, nationality and religion.  Prejudices of any kind eat away our judgment.

My adopted state of North Carolina has more than its share of hate groups.  Five are based in Raleigh where the General Assembly meets.  Some who belong may be members there.  One is even based in my hometown of Durham.  Some are white supremacists, some are black separatists.

They should not be our only concern.   Maybe the best antidote to hate and prejudice begins first with introspection.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Disengagement’s Drag On Performance

It never fails.  Every summer there is a news article or two complaining about receiving work-related emails and calls when on vacation.

The real issue probably isn’t email.  It’s just a tool, in my opinion, that allows you to relax on vacation because you aren’t holding someone up or failing to address an issue that could grow into a full-blown “forest fire” if you don’t nip it in the bud.

The real issue is more likely one of lack of engagement.  Of the 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs, 30 million are engaged and inspired at work.  That’s the good news, according to Gallup’s ongoing analysis of the American workplace.

Among the rest, 50 million are not engaged or inspired in their work and another 20 million are, well, “actively not engaged.”  I suspect the same holds true of the population in retirement or in school and may be especially true of many who run for elected office.

It is probably also true of the editors who repeatedly assign those stories.

Before you jump to the conclusion that lack of engagement must drive high turn-over, think again.  Gallup has isolated and quantified the relationship between engagement and nine different performance outcomes because engagement continues to be key to organizational performance.State of the Amercan Workplace

Lack of engagement is 2.6 times greater as a factor in “low employee turnover” than it is in “high employee turnover.”  In other words, low employee turnover can often mean employees have just “retired in place.”

Other studies show that thriving organizations strive for “continuing and never-ending improvement.”  On average, studies show that 20% or more of employees should either move on or be “moved on” each year because they have outgrown their jobs or the job just isn’t a good fit.

Low turnover can be of even more concern than high turnover to high performing organizations.  The best rule is a policy of “grow and go" for engaged employees who need to progress faster than an organization can accommodate them.  Of course, equally important is “moving employees out who are actively disengaged.”

One of the biggest drags on an organization by employees who are not engaged is absenteeism.  This is even greater than high turn-over.  Shrinkage or employee theft is also a bigger factor followed by safety incidents.

If someone complains about checking email occasionally while on vacation, that may be more an indication that they aren’t engaged in their work.  They are most likely to also complain or be unresponsive at work.

In my experience, a tell-tale sign of lack of engagement is the inability to resolve conflict.  Those who are “actively not engaged” probably also generate a fair amount of needless conflict, especially if they are passive-aggressive.

Email accounts for highly engaged people should probably be monitored by supervisors when they are on holiday until it is confirmed that they know how to limit engagement or to determine what may be creating unnecessary interruptions.

Fifty percent or more of every job is project management.  This means collaborating with other people and organizations.  It may also mean a fair amount of “putting fires out.”

Email availability is probably not be a burden, but a blessing for those engaged employees who do not want their absence to inconvenience co-workers who are “holding down the fort” while they are gone.  It also lessens the mountain of work waiting when they return.

For anyone for whom it is a strain, there are probably bigger problems to be addressed.  Engagement is also more important to employee motivation and organizational performance than perks.

Organizational size seems to make a difference.  Slightly less than half of the 100 million full-timers noted above work in organizations of fewer than 500 employees while 39% work in organizations with 10 or less.

The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees according to Gallup is 8 to 1 in organizations of 10 or fewer employees.  The ratio is only slightly better than 1.5 to 1 in organizations of 10-24 employees and also less in organizations of up to 99 employees.  From there, the ratio gradually increases again to a high in organizations in the 500-999 employee range before it begins to fall again.

The Gallup report also breaks down engagement by position.  Managers, executives and officials have slightly higher (6 points) engagement.  Of concern for the impact it may have on organizational engagement overall is that 51% are not engaged and 13% are actively not engaged.

At 29%, oft-maligned Government workers are only 1 point less engaged than American workers as a whole.  They are three points higher when it comes to “not engaged (53%)” but two points lower than American workers overall when it comes to being “actively not engaged (18%.)”

Longevity can be a factor.  In the first six months or less, 52% of employees are engaged.  It drops to 44% for those who stay three years or less and bumps up a couple of points for those who stay ten years or more.

Active disengagement bumps up four points between six months and three years and then another two points between three years and ten years.  The lesson is that the 8% who are actively disengaged in the first six months won’t get better given time beyond a trial period.

To me, tenure does not equate in the study with the danger of complacency but about 15% of those employees who are engaged at 6 months become disengaged or actively disengaged over time.

There are far too many organizations where disengaged employees who aren’t released during their trial period, are later made supervisors based on tenure.  The sad part is that this is where their active disengagement contaminates and demotivates others.

“Hire slow, fire fast” should be the mantra for high performing organizations.

The price to society of the people who remain unengaged or actively disengaged in their work over decades must be staggering.  Fascinating in the report is a breakdown of engaged, unengaged and actively disengaged by generational cohort.

Ironically, broken down by education, those with less than a high school degree are slightly more engaged than other educational cohorts.  The study reveals that having a college degree and higher earnings during a person’s lifetime does not guarantee engagement in the workplace.

Educational level is important to getting a good job and to earning more money but no guarantee to finding work that is personally engaging.  Part of this may be higher expectations and a sense of entitlement.

But those with a college degree are slightly less likely to be actively disengaged.  One thing is clear from the report, hiring more college graduates or paying more in salaries or indulging employees with perks is no guarantee they will be engaged and inspired in their work.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A New Tool To Help Sustain “Green” Capital

A pilot project to enable my adopted hometown to factor ecosystem capital into weighing decisions is rooted in place making efforts more than forty years ago.

Long before it was named the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA,) the EPA’s research center called Durham, North Carolina home, settling into a downtown office building in the fall of 1967.  At the time it was part of the Public Health Service which had begun investigating water pollution back in 1913.

As investigators unpacked boxes in Durham, I was on my first airplane flight, an overseas-bound Boing 707, the beginning of a two and a half year interruption to college.  “The Letter” by the Box Tops was #1 but my “lonely days” had just begun.

Four months later, Americans were stunned, first by the Tet Offensive, followed a few months later by the My Lai Massacre and then the assassinations of civil rights hero Dr. Martin Luther King and Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.First Flight

By the time I re-enrolled again in college I was a very different person and much more seasoned than most 21-year-olds.   Within the year the EPA was born and given an activist persona by its first director, William Ruckelshaus who served under two Republican Presidents.

Yes, Republicans of the past were leaders in environmental protection, even conservatives.

At the time, big corporations like Chrysler and “Big Coal” companies were buying full page ads in an attempt to scare Americans and demonize the EPA.  By the end of 1971, the EPA’s research center was moving from downtown Durham four miles southeast to Research Triangle Park which had been carved out of woodlands in southeast Durham a decade earlier.

Our paths would cross when I was recruited to jump-start Durham’s official marketing agency in 1989.  In 2012, two years after I retired from that organization, the EPA made Durham a pilot for its EnviroAtlas.  I remain involved in a number of related advocacy organizations.

Working with city and county agencies, EPA researchers mapped layers of Durham data related to ecosystem services such as tree cover, green space and other natural resources into the EnviroAtlas.

Local officials from a wide variety of agencies and non-governmental organizations will use the tool to “diagnose environmental problems, analyze alternatives and track performance of implemented management approaches” including both development and transportation decisions.

It will soon be accessible by the public and has already been available to university researchers here at Duke and North Carolina Central universities.  It will be of particular importance to the joint Durham Sustainability Office which has launched an alliance of agencies and neighborhoods called for now the Durham Tree Initiative.

Even though trees are a focal point of community pride and an important attribute to economic development including tourism, Durham has seemed complacent about its tree canopy over the years, letting it slide to 50% in the county overall and 40% in the city.

In part, the Tree Initiative here will help bridge what has been a highly fragmented approach to Durham’s tree canopy and spawn a new, collaborative and cooperative inter-agency and intergovernmental approach.

Mapping by The Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI,) a phenomenal resource of the University of North Carolina, has documented that from 1976, a few years after EPA research put down roots in Durham through 2005, just two years prior to the great recession, our development growth which includes vast amounts of impervious surface, outpaced population growth by 8 to 1.

This more than tripled the “human footprint” per person.  Between now and  2040, development is projected to consume another 4 acres a day, quintupling the “human footprint” per person in 1976.

To grow economically while sustaining quality of life and place, means and political will must be found to restore and expand the tree canopy in order to offset the impact of projected development.

Tools such as the EnviroAtlas will inform decisions and tradeoffs.  It will also enable progressive developers to think in terms of full-cost accounting rather than simply pushing the costs of development off on taxpayers and residents as is currently being enabled by the state legislature.

Without the proper balance of ecosystem services and development, Durham is not sustainable as a community.  Without sustaining environmental capital, commercial forms wither in value.  Without caring for its tree canopy, Durham’s unique sense of place so crucial to economic development is even more at risk.

With factions in the General Assembly determined to override democratically approved initiatives at the local level, including efforts to replace trees with billboards and ignore air and water quality, it may seem Pollyanna to think in terms of community sustainability.

But the pendulum will likely soon swing again with North Carolinians, including a majority of Republicans, rising up to defend the state constitution and the amendment they passed by 7 to 1 the month before the EPA research center cut the ribbon for its headquarters building in Durham.

Remember, the amendment had been championed by business leaders because they understood the crucial link between economic development and the preservation of “forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands and places of beauty” (Section 5, Article XIV.)

This may be lost for now on narrow interests in power, but it will never be lost on the people of North Carolina.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Contagion and Demagoguery

A study estimates that half of the young people in America and other developed nations who became teenagers this year will live to be 100 years old.  Quite an accomplishment considering only a third of Romans made it past their fifth birthday at the pinnacle of their empire.

By contrast, in her latest book, author Lesley Hazleton notes that even by the 1700s, as America began lurching toward independence from England, “well over half of those born in London were dead by age sixteen.”

On a hill rising steeply just behind the Idaho ranch house where I was born and spent my early years is a tiny cemetery carved into ancestral ranchland with 67 graves, including 16 for people who share my last name, Bowman.

With its view of the Tetons rising across the Henry’s Fork to the east from where the Yellowstone Plateau gives way to Idaho’s Cascade Corner of the Park, it is a vantage point that commands reflection whenever I visit.

Some of the dates on the headstones reflect a time of fear and contagion when two epidemics followed one another across the nation, one the second and third waves of The Great Influenza, the other the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan.

If the second coming of the KKK was washed away by the Great Flood of 1927, it began its spread to 1 in 5 Americans  nationwide on the heels of The Great Influenza epidemic of 1918 and 1919.  Fear and demagoguery are equally contagious.

The Klan was resurrected in Atlanta in 1915.  Beginning in 1920 on the heels of The Great Influenza, the KKK spread even more rapidly across the nation through an ingenious business model relying on commissioned sales people to tap into 40,000 Baptist and Methodist ministers and their congregations.

The Klan also tapped into fraternal and civic membership lists including the Rotary Club which was founded in 1905 but by 1915 had already organized in small towns such as my now-adopted home of Durham, North Carolina at the time.

The Klan was reaching into Oklahoma and Kansas by 1918 months after the first cases of the world’s most deadly epidemic took effect there in late January and early February, 1918 in the southeast corner of Kansas, according to a book by John M. Barry, entitled The Great Influenza.

From Haskell County west of Dodge City and just 40-60 miles from the state lines of both Oklahoma and Colorado the flu epidemic raged throughout the world killing as many as 100 million people.

First it moved east, then jumped the Atlantic with troops to ravage the armies in Europe, influencing the outcome of WW I.  Soon it was on the west coast of the United States before moving into my ancestral Rockies that fall.

One of the graves in that cemetery on our Idaho ranch is my paternal great-grandmothers, Margaret Rite Kent Bowman who died on October 29, 1918 from the epidemic’s second wave, a month after the first reported case in that state.

A passage in my grandmother’s personal history documents the flu’s impact on that side of my family including the death of another maternal great-grandmother Mary Amanda Shumway on January 3, 1919 during the third wave of The Great Epidemic:

“During the flue [sic] epidemic of 1918 and 1919 all our family was down with flue.  My brother Elmer came and stayed two months with us, cared for livestock, feeding, milking, fed and nursed 5 of us; Mel and I and our three children [my father wasn’t born until 1922.]

Mel’s mother died in October.  In January I lost my mother, my brother Parley and mother’s brother Uncle Jim Shumway, all in two months time with the dreadful disease.

We were wed to wear masks which we made for ourselves…”

Mortality rates from the Great Influenza reached 50% in some areas of Idaho.

The memories among grandparents were still raw 39 years later when I fell sick as a 9 year old from another epidemic in 1957.  With my ears throbbing, I lay listening on the radio to the Detroit Lions led by backup quarterback Tobin Rote as they defeated football legend Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship game.

I was rooting for the Lions, despite the fact they had beaten my favorite team in the playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers led by Y.A. Tittle.  Detroit’s national championship was the fourth for the Lions and the last title game in which the team has ever appeared.

My grandmother, Adah Rae Neeley Bowman, also notes in her historical sketch that she survived a case of diphtheria when she was twelve and then later, she and seven members of her immediate family had Smallpox.  Barry’s book is as much about these diseases and the transition to modern medicine as it is about the epidemic.

The Great Influenza alone lowered the life expectancy for both men and women by 11.8 years in 1918.  Different than most influenza breakouts, this epidemic claimed most of its victims in the prime of life.  Bookending with the Great Flood of 1927, these events severely damaged the fundamentals of the US economy which received a knock-out punch in the financial crises of 1929.

Less than a decade before the Great Influenza, most medical schools did not even require a college degree or work in labs or actual patients.  That all began to change with the founding of the medical school at Johns Hopkins.

The epidemic may have inspired a Durham native, James Buchanan Duke, to endow and greatly expand what would become a namesake university here in the 1920s.  His vision and philanthropy included a medical school that within five years of opening had risen into the top 25% in the nation and by my arrival in Durham has become one of the very best in the world.

My native Rocky Mountain West was also not immune to the KKK, especially Colorado where by the 1920s the Klan had its largest presence west of the Mississippi.

However, because of the vehement anti-KKK stance of the Mormon Church dating back to the Klan’s first coming in the 1860s and even more so in the 1920s, it isn’t likely there were many members back then along the Upper nook of the Snake River near Yellowstone and Tetons nook where my family ranched.

Across the nation in the 1920s the Klan controlled five or more state legislatures, several governorships and many local governments.  It also infected Congress and the Judiciary.

Today, white supremacist groups including Klan are found in every state.  Vocal members are once again returning to Northern Idaho including to a 17-acre compound in the Hoo Doo Mountains near the Canadian border, an hour north of where they had been centered in the 1990s.

With the exception of those in Northern Idaho, white supremacists today are much more covert and sophisticated.  But as the Klan did with Prohibition (bootleggers were stereotyped as Catholics, Jews and Immigrants,) for cover, white supremacists today align themselves with around issues such as immigration and voting rights.

Investigative reporting by the news media helped unmask and disrobe the white supremacist movements in the 1920s and valiant politicians in both parties aligned to marginalize, if not extinguish it.  Ironically, the failure by news media during the Great Influenza and the Great Flood to cover those events as the unfolded, led to even greater numbers of deaths.

Back then they were mute or falsely reassuring because they feared creating panic or upsetting boosters.  Reeling today from transformation by technology, overall the media shows little interest in or capacity for investigative journalism.

As governments at all levels today seem infiltrated and gridlocked - if not controlled - by narrow interests far less pervasive but far more sophisticated and subtle than the Klan was in the 1920s, the public cannot rely on a a flood of investigative journalism from a news media that now seems worldwide but “an inch deep.”

Once again, it may be a flood of biblical proportions that cleanses us back into reality but this time brought about by global climate change.