Monday, September 30, 2013

Friendly Skies vs. Breaking Guitars

The recent throw-back marketing decision by an airline brought back a flood of memories stretching back over nearly six decades to when I was about the age my grandsons are now.

When I took my first commercial airplane flight at age 19, it was cross country in 1967 aboard a United Airlines Boeing 707.

The lyrics of the song Early Mornin Rain were clearly on my mind.  The song had been written and released a year before by Gordon Lightfoot on his first album but taken to #1 first by Peter, Paul & Mary:

"an aching in my heart…Lord, I missed my loved ones so…out on runway #9 big 707 set to go.”

United was in the first year or so of its iconic “Fly The Friendly Skies” ad campaign, launched just six years after it had first began jet service.  It was a campaign designed by Leo Burnett to replace the airline’s “Mainliner” series.

Burnett’s firm had already created many campaigns that have survived since the 1950s including Green Giant, Pillsbury Dough Boy, Charlie the Tuna and the Marlboro Man.

Now United wants to bring "Friendly Skies” back. Fortunately, the company didn’t try to mash it up with an old Continental Airlines ad like they did with logos after the merger, which by many measures, including destinations served, makes it now the largest airline in the world.

But it isn’t its advertising that’s the problem today, it is advertising in general.  Now inundated with what experts estimate will soon be more than 10,000 ads per day, it just isn’t as effective as it once was and the average person has just tuned out.

“Friendly Skies” revolutionized airline marketing nearly five decades ago but back then there were only three channels. Cable was just an experiment and advertising worked if a business could just power enough resources into it as United did back then.

Key, of course, is there were also only three other competitors to United.

United’s problem today is that it lost sight of its story along the way and not just the one they conveyed in advertising. 

Back when it first began running those “Friendly Skies” ads, Dr. Stanley Plog was not only conducting research that rescued the tanking political career of Ronald Reagan in 1966, he was rescuing air travel.

In 1967, as I took my first commercial flight, airlines were introducing jets and seating capacity was swelling by 20% while the percentage of passengers flying was growing by only 8%.

To help, Plog developed a groundbreaking classification of visitors that with just 15 questions could be used to identify those who would be most likely to fly.  It was far more revolutionary to marketing than the “Fly The Friendly Skies” ads.  In fact, it was used to calibrate and target those ads.

He ranked visitors along a bell curve of six classifications with pycho-centric (laid back, casual, authentic) at one end and allocentric (adventurous) at the other.   Actually, the quiz, still in use, classifies me as a “mid-venturer,” noting this classification is drawn to technology and history.

In my mind though, I fall more toward the psycho-centric end of the curve.  Give me a lakeshore, a dozen books on my reader, some close friends and family and a few good restaurants nearby and I’m in heaven.

But I guess my cross-country ventures with Mugsy, my bulldog, qualify me to move me up the continuum a bit toward allocentric.  Later Plog evolved his classifications into a tool that helped forecast destination lifecycles, also something I found very useful in the three cities I marketed over my career.

What this hammers home is that storydoing is far more important than storytelling and it isn’t about clever or even nostalgic advertising.  In mid-2009, a few months before I retired from four decades in community visitor-centric economic and cultural development, United’s story was overwritten by a video now seen by an astonishing 14 million viewers.

United Airlines broke singer-songwriter Dave Carroll’s prized Taylor Guitar.  When numerous employees seemed less than empathetic, Carroll, a gifted storyteller, wrote and recorded the song United Breaks Guitars, a song that I admit is not only effective, but on my playlist because, well, it’s a great song.

Those employees and ultimately executives at United, through negative storydoing, did more damage than advertising could ever remedy even in its heyday.  Advertising is superficial and can never cover over systemic flaws in a company’s story.

The “storydoing” challenge faced by airlines in general isn’t just about guitars.  A new study shows that one in five travelers are prevented from fulfilling trips by airline delays and cancellations.

Advertising, even back before it dipped well into a negative return on investment, lacked creditability because as prolific author Seth Godin often writes, it is a form of "yelling” at consumers and the message is really just the advertiser talking about themselves.

It just costs too much to “yell” that loud these days and there are far more effective and efficient ways of marketing, such as “storydoing.”  The “Friendly Skies” campaign was no doubt motivated in part because airline travel wasn’t so friendly in my early years.

When I was eight years old, to collect on her life insurance a guy put a bomb in his mother’s luggage aboard a United flight as she headed to Alaska.  When detonated, it killed everyone flying aboard the DC-6B flying on the segment between Denver and Portland.

A week before I turned nine years old, a United flight struck a TWA Lockheed Super Constellation at high altitude over the Grand Canyon resulting in another 128 tragic fatalities.

This led the following year to federal government development of the current aircraft control system.  It included deployment of a common navigational aid for both military and civilian aircraft called VORTAC, which had been developed by government research.

For the first time it gave airline pilots the ability to detect aircraft flying nearby by means other than by just looking out the window.

It was also the Grand Canyon tragedy that led United to become the first airline to purchase flight simulators for training pilots.

Ever since the 1930s, United has had “big” in its DNA.  It was formed in 1934 when the federal government broke up the monopoly that had been established by Bill Boeing and Frederick Whitney in 1929 called the United Aircraft and Transport Company.

It was divided into Boeing Airplane Company, United Aircraft and United Airlines in the west and companies such as Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company in the east.

Bill Boeing walked away from the business and developed many of the historic neighborhood immediately surrounding downtown Seattle. Like Boeing, United had its roots in the Pacific Northwest, having been founded by Walter T. Varney who flew mail routes in the 1920s that stopped in my native state of Idaho.

Varney, a California native who was also the founder of Continental Airlines, now merged with United, passed away the year of my first airline trip.

While I was in college, United Airlines was headed by Eddie Carlson, another native of the Pacific Northwest who had begun his career in tourism as a bellhop while working his way through college at the University of Washington.

By 1960, after serving in the Navy during WWII, Carlson rose to president of Western International Hotels, which owned and managed a chain of hotels throughout the northwest.  He famously sketched the idea for Seattle’s Space Needle on a napkin.

By the time I was midway through college, the hotel chain merged with United Airlines and Carlson added president of that airline to his bellhop resume.  I met him during Spokane’s Expo ‘74 and Carlson still had the graciousness of a good bellhop.

By the time I was marketing Anchorage, Western International Hotels was renamed Westin Hotels in 1980, an abbreviation of WESTern and INternational.

Carlson was an inspiration to many of us in community-destination marketing but I realize now that he was the last of an era when hotels and airlines still understood that destinations are the real reason people travel and use their services.

Airlines, in particular, used to be much more about destinations than mere transportation.  During the first two decades of my career in community-destination marketing, airlines used to help helped us develop destination brands and tour products for the cities they served.

Early in the 1980s, an airline friend of mine who served on my board of directors, asked me to accompany him on a 1200-mile round-daytrip from Anchorage to Kotzebue, an Inupiat village on tiny gravel spit pointing out into a namesake sound of the Arctic Ocean.

It was my first visit above the Arctic Circle.  In addition to meeting new friends John Schaeffer and Willie Hensley, I took a snow-machine ride out to see Reindeer herds established there in the 1800s and visited the then new Museum of the Arctic, which has now been incorporated into the new Northwest Arctic Heritage Center.

John was then mayor and soon-to-be head of the NANA Regional Corporation headquartered there.  Willie was already famous to me from my reading of a segment of Coming Into The Country still a classic by John McPhee.

As we landed, made our way around the village and then returned to the airport midway down the spit, I caught many glances of the hulk of an Alaska Airlines L-1049H Constellation (aka “Connie”) the same type of aircraft that had collided over Grand Canyon.

This one had been left the end of the runway in Kotzebue after it belly landed in 1967 during “whiteout” conditions (image linked above is a sister-aircraft that has survived.)

Alaska Airlines today is a leader in safety, performance and technological innovation.  It was being brilliantly marketed during my time in Alaska by Dave Palmer, a friend who is now also retired and who collaborated with me on a signature inflight research project that revolutionized how we marketed Anchorage.

The carcass of the old “Connie” left in Kotzebue was back during a rough patch for the company, probably when one of the airline’s pilots is famously said to have had to personally pay to refuel a plane because the airline had not paid its bills.

Flying the Constellation was itself a form of marketing pioneered by Howard Hughes.  This distinctive aircraft had been his brainchild when he owned TWA and was distinctive because of its unique tail and the humpback shape of its fuselage.

However, the Constellation was brought to reality by Lockheed, a company evolved by Walter T. Varney who was also the founder of United and Continental airlines.

Forced out at TWA, Hughes again revolutionized airline marketing in the early 1970s as my career began by buying and renaming an airline as Hughes Airwest, known for its extremely bright yellow airplanes and “Top Banana”-themed marketing.

Back in 1966, Hughes had visited Las Vegas for Thanksgiving a month before my maternal grandfather, Mark White, took me on a trip there.  It was my high school graduation present, and we went to the newly opened Caesars Palace to see Johnny Mathis in concert.

When after a few days, Hughes was asked to vacate for another guest who had reserved the room, he instead bought that hotel and then several others.  In 1976 while I was marketing Spokane, he died, fittingly on a plane.

By the last two decades of my career, you could scarcely find airline reps who thought of their product as anything other than transportation.

Unfortunately, that meant they typically had little interest in the destinations they served even though those places were the reasons people flew at all.

Having dropped destinations from their storytelling, most could not even tell the difference between a city and an airport name.  A sign of how little they understood, they even charged community destination marketing executives for trips - at their request -to help generate traffic for a new route.

Airlines today are commoditized, and grasping at add-on fees rather than storytelling or storydoing.  It is going to take much more than a throw-back ad campaign for any airline to be much more than a commodity.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Infographic - Best & Worst Times to Post

Friday, September 27, 2013

Using Waste To, Uh, Reduce Energy Waste

On cross-country road trips such as the one I took this summer with Mugsy, my English Bulldog, America’s energy generation is nearly always in view from windmills to oil wells to refineries to coal-fired and nuclear plants to fracking.

What wasn’t apparent on the drive is that according to this chart created to illustrate the annual analysis by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,  of the 95.1 quadrillion BTU’s of the energy input into the U.S. economy last year, 61% were wasted, including 36% sourced from petroleum alone.North Carolina Energy Usage

Illustrations of input/waste for each state are also provided.

As an example, North Carolina, where I live, is shown in this blog.  Apparently, we waste more than 65%.

Click here for the energy input/waste for other states.  My native Idaho wastes less than 54%  The proposed bipartisan Shaheen-Portman legislation is supposed to make us more efficient, while taking the equivalent of 22 million cars off the road.

Barry Fischer with the energy analytics start-up, Opower, notes on its Outlier blog that we would have to go back to 1970 to find a time when the U.S. actually used more energy input than it wasted.  Productivity in 2012 was the worst in a decade.

When I returned from my trip, I happened to read an article entitled “Turning Grass Into Gas” by Bruce Barcott.  It is a very thorough and even-handed overview of what shows in the input/waste chart as biomass.

This isn’t corn ethanol.  It involves cellulosic conversions of waste byproducts such as sugar cane refuse, corn stover (leaves and stalks,) Switchgrass, municipal yard waste, and even garbage into the stuff used to fuel Henry Ford’s first vehicles.  It had been invented in the 1820s.

Before full-cost accounting began to reveal petroleum’s hidden costs, it put grass gas out of business.  But now some major players such as DuPont are involved and some big, commercial-scale refineries are shipping product.

I don’t believe I had ever laid eyes on Switchgrass until my trip out west.  Growing up to six feet tall, this native American perennial grass had covered much of the country east of the Rockies until I passed through an area just west of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Just past Knoxville, running south along the Tennessee River, there are now 63 farmers raising more than 5,000 acres of Switchgrass to supply a biorefinery co-owned by DuPont.

I happened to drive past another DuPont commercial-scale biorefinery near Nevada, Iowa on the return leg of my trip.  North of Des Moines, it will be the largest in the world, producing cellulosic ethanol from the residues of corn grown in a 30-mile radius by 500 farmers.

It will take 375,000 tons of waste from corn fields and convert it into 30 million gallons of ethanol a year.

North Carolina State University has modeled growing areas for Switchgrass in the counties south and west of Durham, where I live.  It thrives on soils that have been depleted by crops such as tobacco and cotton.

Growing and turning this grass into gas would be a far less wasteful approach than “fracking” proposed near there.

Switchgrass delivers an average of 13 units of energy for every one consumed in fertilizer or fuel.  It also works great against erosion, rehabilitate depleted soils and provides a good habitat for wildlife.

If reading OnEarth gives you heartburn, try the write up on the same cellulosic potential this month in Forbes, written by Houston-based Christopher Helman.

My bet is that the 4.32 quadrillion BTU’s injected into the economy is about to get a lot bigger.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Far Greater Burden of Hidden Taxes

The earliest coverage for health services in the U.S. was established for seamen by the federal government in 1798.  It was a compulsory payroll deduction, something I learned about while representing small businesses on a task force in Durham only a couple of years before I retired .

The group was noodling how to minimize the impact that people without health insurance have on those who do (prior to passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act), and it included Durham hospital administrators, medical associations, universities, local officials and others.

A study conducted in 2009 by the actuarial consultant Milliman quantified that people without healthcare coverage (often ranging to 1 in 3 Americans) are shifting a hidden tax on to those who do.

This amounted to $1000 per family and nearly $400 per individual because the costs of uncompensated care are shifted on to those with insurance through increased premiums, or on to businesses if they are covered at work.

By now, this tax-like shift was projected to increase by a third.  This above and beyond the fact that in the U.S. we overtly spend more tax dollars on healthcare than countries with universal coverage, many times more.

We only publicly provide care for mostly “poor people, old people and congress people” and we still spend 58% more per capita in public dollars on healthcare than countries with universal coverage and that doesn’t even count the hidden tax.

If you find yourself wondering why, watch the rest of this fact-checked video by the hilarious author John Green as part of his Question Tuesday series.  As the Upworthy post by Adam Mordecai notes, it will blow your mind in just the first five sentences, that is for those still open enough to watch or even read this far.

Until the 1930s most health insurance only protected workers from disability due to accidents or lost wages should they fall sick.  Companies in mining, lumber and railroads, however, experimented with plans that covered medical services in the 1870s and 1880s beginning in the Pacific Northwest.

Spurred by the Great Depression, healthcare insurance as we know it today evolved in the 1930s.  By 1940, a little less than 10% of Americans were covered.  But spurred again by WWII, by 1950, two years after I was born, 50% of Americans had some form of healthcare insurance.

Unlike soon-to-be required healthcare insurance, compulsory auto insurance wasn’t organized by the federal government but it too, was modeled after one passed in Massachusetts in 1925 and enacted in 1927.

It took nearly 30 years before another state followed suit. In 1957, North Carolina, where I live, became the third state to require car insurance.  Until the 1970s, a majority of states required only proof of financial responsibility, something still done in Virginia.

If a driver can’t provide poof they can pay any liabilities, they can either buy a bond or pay a fee, the proceeds of which are distributed to insurance companies to offset the hidden tax uninsured drivers place on the system.

The first car insurance policy was sold in Ohio in 1897, but it took a while to sort out whether auto accidents would instead be resolved in court like Torts.

In the beginning, insurance companies opposed legislation to make even financial responsibility mandatory for automobile drivers.  Reading the arguments back then seems very much like listening to conservatives today when they “diss” health insurance requirements as “Obamacare.”

Studies show that 1-in-7 drivers in the U.S. are still uninsured today, ranging from 4% in Massachusetts to 28% in Mississippi, including 14% in North Carolina.  These uninsured drivers shift a hidden “tax” onto the premiums of insured drivers that amounted to $10.8 million in 2007.

It sure doesn’t appear that handing that on a state by state basis has worked for car insurance either.

When I read that the CEO of Papa John’s estimated that meeting the requirements of the Affordable Healthcare Act could possibly raise the cost of a pizza by 15-20 to cents, it sounded like an excellent trade off to me.

That is peanuts compared to what leaving Americans uninsured does to my premiums.

Visitor-related businesses have been very slow to provide healthcare insurance to employees, often by keeping employees part time.  Sixty percent of restaurant employees are part-time, one third of which, according to studies, are using those jobs to further their education.

Last month, Rick Newman, a financial bloggers, quoted Victor Fernandez of People Report, an HR consultant that publishes benchmarks and forecasts for restaurants as saying about the Affordable Healthcare Act:

“If it works as it’s supposed to, we’ll probably see a happier, more engaged workplace.The law will provide some good benefits compared to what people have now.”

A recent survey by PwC found that the majority of private companies are already in compliance with the new healthcare insurance law and a very small percentage of those who aren’t cited affordability as an issue.

For many decades now businesses have understood the value of a healthy workforce.  Most also understand that plugging loopholes and avoiding the shift of hidden costs is just good business.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Never Ending Adulting

Experts note that milestones such as turning age 21 are important because they trigger self-reflection.  Mine began in 1967 but nothing psychedelic.

My nineteenth year was bookended by two thought-provoking hit songs, “The End” by The Doors which was released in January and ten months later, “Nights In White Satin” by the Moody Blues.

I especially took to the poem read at the end of the “Nights” recording, titled Late Lament.  For more than four decades, these songs and the related poem have often burst forth spontaneously in recitation.

I was a bit too young when I started checking things off the “adulting” list.  Doing so I burned through my 20s like a blow torch and if I had to do them over, many things I would take much more slowly if not differently.

By the way, Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps is a very insightful new book by Kelly Williams Brown, one of the founders of Tumblr.

It is hilarious, even for those of us who think we have that part down, and a must read for parents of older children still stuck in their 20s but sadly now in their 30s and 40s.

Megan Erickson, an editor and blogger at Big Think, wrote that “the best and worst part of being a twenty-something is that every decision can change your life.  Once you get in your 30’s and 40’s, it gets harder and harder to reinvent yourself.”

From personal experience, it gets easier in your 60s.

In the 1980s, when I wanted to accelerate the success of the community destination marketing organization I led for Anchorage, I sought assistance from Rohrer, Hibler and Replogle (now RHR International.)

I asked our consultant, Wes, to start with me, then in my early 30s, and assess how I could retool some of my flaws.  One bit of counsel was much easier said than done but I worked at for the remainder of my career and still work at it today in retirement.

“Try to be more aware of the impact you have on people in your presence.”

It was from RHR that I learned the importance and power of alignment both among staff members and between leadership and governing boards, something that served me well through three transitions I made over the years both into and out of positions.

In their 2012 basic primer Inside CEO Succession, two senior RHR executives review a study of critical areas needed in a CEO.  It turns out that some “softer” characteristics of leadership are more important than may others that may be more easily observable.

One of these is an understanding of the story at the center of an organization and its products, as described in a Harvard Business Review blog last month.  In my career, the product was always the community.

Another “soft” but critical characteristic is at the center of a new book entitled Compelling People – The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential, authored by John Neffinger and Mathew Kohut who also co-authored an article in the July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The book is a synthesis of many studies but one important aspect is an explanation of the importance of strength and warmth in an executive.  They are complementary aspects that exist in what the book details as hydraulic tension.  The authors muse that these attributes do battle in our blood.

It is well worth reading the book just to better understand these elements in ourselves and maybe more importantly, in others.

I always had the strength aspect down pat and if anything, had to work to moderate it.  But I felt I always had to really work at warmth and was put off when so many, particularly other men, seemed to use it merely as a form of manipulation or duplicity.

My daughter, an attorney and compliance officer in healthcare, has the perfect balance.

Organizations and communities for which I labored were forgiving of my flaws largely because they saw my strength through the lens of what the authors call “unyielding commitment” to mission.

They gave me the benefit of the doubt when it came to warmth because I worked for communities where residents had a high degree of love and pride in their community and despite my shortcomings they could tell I genuinely shared that.

The warmth didn’t always translate one on one, but I was eventually deemed more genuine when my aversion to schmoozing or glad handing was manifested.

But we decide which is right, and which is an illusion.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Having Seen The Future So Many Times

Some of my friends and a few readers of this blog think I’m prescient, but in the words of Nicholas Negropointe, founder of MIT Media Lab:

“One of the few advantages of age when you talk about the future is you’ve been there so many times.”

What can seem like anticipating change, in my case at least, is really only a matter of sizing up how patterns of evolution repeat themselves, something anyone can learn to do.

As few are, I’m certainly no Negroponte, who spoke in 1984 at the first TED Conference, an organization I had not even heard of until just before I retired nearly four years ago, following launch of its website.

I still remember how astonished I was at having been totally ignorant of the TED movement until a friend, Larry Moneta, leaned over during a meeting to explain when I first heard the TED acronym mentioned that it stood for “technology-entertainment-design”.

I suddenly felt as lost as Rip Van Winkle after a twenty-year snooze.

Negroponte, by the way, is the founder of the “One Laptop Per Child” movement which I have blogged about before.  It has become more like one tablet per child and is being used by 2 million children in 42 countries across the globe.

As Guy Raz marveled recently, Negroponte is also the person who foretold touch screen technology nearly a quarter century ago.

His 1984 touchscreen vision was presented only three years after I had first set eyes on an IBM personal desktop computer in a store window in Philadelphia where I was attending a conference.

Occurring less than a year after the launch of the first cell phone, Negroponte anticipated the first touchscreen smartphone by a mere 23 years.

The source of such visions is not isolated.  Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants explains that “ideas are not self-contained things; they are more like ecologies and networks.  They form clusters.”

In his fascinating book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson notes that it is a myth that innovation can be incentivized or driven by the competitive pressures of the profit motive.  They spark from creative environments.

While both are technology gurus, these observations relate to any evolution or change.

Johnson’s history includes the role of the coffee houses in launching the Age of Enlightenment in the late 1600s and 1700s which was such a powerful influence on the founders of our nation.

Any foresight with which I am credited is a lower form of innovation, more like seeing patterns and connecting dots.

An example that Johnson details was also summarized recently by Pagan Kennedy in the wonderful innovation column “Who Made That?” which appears in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

She mentions the person in 1858 who came up with the idea of putting erasers on the end of pencils sold the idea to an entrepreneur who was denied a patent because all it did was connect two existing and already prevalent inventions.

Maybe not an invention but that is often how innovation occurs.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Slow Bleed From Slashing Government Meetings

While I was absorbing a new report on government-initiated meetings and conferences in the days following the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I was struck by the results of a new poll showing that confidence in the federal government and its ability to solve problems has fallen to fewer than 5-in-10 Americans.

With the exception of 83% in the months after that event, this Gallup measure has averaged about 61% since 1976, following a similar high level of confidence in 1973 which seems ironic because that was a pivotal year in the Watergate investigations.

Confidence has lagged overall since the “oil crisis” later that year.  The measure has fallen nearly as low as it is today before, just prior to 9/11 and again during the financial crisis.

What is more remarkable is that half of Americans still have confidence in the government in light of what has been done done since the early 1980s to emasculate government.

It was demonized during the Reagan years and then much of its expertise and capacity was contracted away during the Clinton years in the 1990s, an unintended consequence of so-called streamlining.

Whatever our collective impressions of government may be, as the “old saw” goes, you get what you pay for. 

Most recently, unimpressive journalism has further incited resentment of and stigmatized both government-sponsored meetings and attendance by public servants at private sector meetings by super-generalizing isolated behavior.Value of Government Meetings

Last summer, Rockport Analytics which is headed by a friend of mine, Ken McGill, conducted an in-depth analysis of the costs and benefits of these meetings. 

The benefits overall from  conventions and meetings of all types, includes the contribution of about 10% of overall visitor-centric economic development from this sub-segment.

In 2009, nearly 1.8 million meetings-related events including those initiated by government were held across the nation generating $263 billion in spending.  Half of the attendance at these meetings was non-local.

About 15% of the events were national, regional or state conventions and conferences including 8% that were likely to meet in convention or conference centers, a tinier fraction of which were likely to rotate geographically enough to be interested in communities still obsessed with an arms race to build mega-centers.

Rockport was asked to take a closer look at government initiated meetings or those attended by public servants after officials have singled out conventions and meetings for budget cuts.

Few Americans understood these types of budget cuts ended up costing taxpayers millions more than if they had been held, not to mention the further damage it did to the economy.

Nothing is so inviting a target for politicians because it almost always rouses feelings of envy among voters and visions of junkets among the more than two-thirds of the workforce shown to be disengaged or actively disengaged.

The Rockport report reveals that in 2011, government initiated meetings generated $17.9 million including $7 billion in production costs and $10.9 billion in travel-related expenses.  This is 7% as much as the private sector spends on conventions and meetings.

This spending on government meetings added $24 billon to the nation’s GDP, supported 344,000 jobs across the US economy and generated $14.5 billion in employee wages and income for proprietors.

Meetings initiated by government also generated $5.5 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue, offsetting a third of their cost.  The Rockport analysis also breaks down this impact by state.

Spending on meetings-oriented travel was about 36% of government travel expenditures in 2011, compared to the 48% meetings represented of private sector travel.

Government meetings are much more frugal than the private sector with the government spending about half as much per employee.  Using wages as the comparison, government meetings spending was about one-third as much as the private sector.

The government also spends 20% less per diem per delegate on meetings.  Government travel policies are much stricter than the private sector.  Overall, government-initiated meetings are .2% of total government spending.

The part of the report I found most interesting includes survey results of government supervisors on what they find most beneficial about the meetings to public servants and to citizens and a similar survey on how productive private sectors executives and business owners perceive the meetings to be.

A third of government supervisors cite employee development and training as the most essential benefit followed by nearly a quarter who cite knowledge transfer and bridging information gaps.

When it comes to the benefits to citizens from these meetings, 67% cite communication of government services and programs and 66% cite knowledge transfer followed by several others including private sector business development and incubation.

By a more than 5-to-1 ratio, private sector executives and business owners see meetings attended by both government employees and private sector employees as having a positive vs. negative return on investment.

Of greatest impact from a private sector view is that the joint attendance by both government and private sector employees results in the generation of new partnerships and new ideas and insights which are perceived to be far more important than developing leads or converting prospective customers.

When asked how the private sector benefits, executives and business owners cite knowledge transfer.  More than 4-in-10 note the opportunity to gain information and awareness not available elsewhere and a third cite establishment of best practices and market development.

It is clear to me that the small savings from cutting back on government meetings is far outweighed by their stimulus of economic activity, but even more by the intangibles noted above.

Cutting government meetings or attendance by public servants at other meetings won’t result in immediate harm but it will create a slow bleed that will show up in lost productivity, innovation and collaboration.

In August, an excellent report by the New York Times noted that due to the sequester, government travel budgets have been slashed by 30%.  One result is that there is only enough money to send investigators to one country out of the 41 accused of violating intellectual property rights.

Americans won’t see the effects immediately or dramatically, but over time the loss of expertise, capacity and knowledge transfer will undermine America in ways no enemy could.

Here is a link to a fact sheet, but the full report is well worth reading in detail.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Infographic - State of Bike, Scooter & Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Friday, September 20, 2013

An $11 Trillion Diet Deficit Hawks Can Munch On

A friend and I have recently started walking an additional 12-15 miles a week up and down the many hills in my neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina.  Coupled with eating out half as much, it not only feels great but researchers note it should be expanding my hippocampus.

This is the part of the brain thought to be the central processing area for memory and learning which gets a workout during the 6 or so hours a day I spend researching and writing essays to post on this blog.

At the risk of offending my Tea Party friends who still can’t seem to come to grips with the fact that health insurance is not only for their benefit but to prevent uninsured costs from being shifted on to other people, I recommend a report published last month entitled The $11 Trillion Reward.

That is how much would be saved each year if Americans just increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables and yes, it would ultimately lower the deficit.  No, I don’t just mean those living in Red States which tend toward higher rates of obesity.

I was only saved from the genetic tendency toward being overweight by the fact that doctors discovered in my early 20s that I can’t metabolize sugar very well, including refined carbohydrates.

If they didn’t make me sick, I’d still be binging on my mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls and a big bag of glazed Spudnuts.

But all my life I’ve eaten way too much red meat, not just because I grew up on a cattle ranch, but because a high-protein diet suits me.  But recently I began to substitute poultry or fish four or more times a week.  I know, not very Idahoan.

The report is not only about quantifying savings if Americans increased our individual fruit and vegetable daily intake on average by 1/12 cups of fruit and a mere cup of vegetable, although just that change would save 127,261 lives a year and public savings of $54 billion a year in medical costs.

The scientists and public policy experts who authored the report include proposals for overhauling our entire public farm and food assistance policies by things like:

  • Recalibrating programs to increase R & D and production of fruits and vegetables by shifting incentives to help diversify growers and gearing them to local markets.


  • Grants to spur greater availability of farmers markets and grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods including moving “helping hand” food programs to more healthy choices.

Don’t go all “nanny state.”

This is simply about protecting innocent Americans from the hidden costs related to the actions of others.

Edmund Burke, considered the father of modern conservatism and a mentor to our founding fathers wrote that “whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do…”

I agree, and I suppose that means that anyone should be free to binge on whatever foods they wish, and businesses should be free to cater to those binges with junk.

But other Americans should not have to shoulder the costs of healthcare consequences of these binges or their binge enablers nor should my tax dollars be used to subsidize either the binging or the creating of the foods that are binged upon.

According to Joseph Thorndike, head of the Tax History Project and author of a book published this year entitled Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR:

The original Tea Party “was a protest not against taxes but against tax loopholes.”

Shifting costs onto innocent Americans because you are too stubborn to have health insurance or to eat what is good for you, is a huge tax loophole.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Costly 20% Left Behind

Talk shows are sure to disproportionately draw callers who disparage public servants, but a Gallup tracking study shows that the proportion of these workers that are fully engaged in their jobs is the same as those in the private sector.

This is a workforce problem, not one unique to government.

Learning this, some would sputter that public servants are different because they are paid with tax dollars, but economists point out that as consumers, we in fact shoulder a hidden tax from private sectors workers who are no more or less engaged in their work.

Alarmingly, a new study co-authored by Dr. Peter Ubel at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business here in Durham reveals that one-fifth of the participants in his research study which was conducted with Dr. David Comerford at the University of Stirling, ”preferred boring but easy” tasks to “engaging but demanding” tasks.

My forty years of experience as an executive tells me those with what Ubel calls “effort aversion” probably coincide with those in the Gallup study who are “actively disengaged” across both the public and private sectors.

In the latest ranking of global competitiveness, America has climbed back to fifth in the world based on twelve measures related to institutions, infrastructure, higher education and training, health, technological readiness, innovation etc.

One measure is labor market efficiency.  This includes such things as the ability to to get the “best effort” from people in their jobs, “meritocracy in the workplace” and the “flexibility to shift workers from one economic activity to another” without social interruption.

The United States ranks fourth in the world on labor efficiency but I doubt this plumbs the price we are paying by having 2-in-3 workers disengaged and 1-in 5 actively disengaged and effort adverse, two areas that in my opinion require serious attention.

Unfortunately, a majority of Americans have lost faith that working hard and determination pay off.  Only a little more than 4-in-10 now believe that capitalism works, even somewhat.

Fifty-seven percent of employed U.S. adults say the work they do does not require a college degree, unchanged from 2005. Even four in 10 employed college grads say a degree isn't necessary for what they do. 

A report this summer entitled How Technology Is Destroying Jobs was published in the MIT Technology Review.  It confirmed that while technology improves productivity, it now creates a net loss in jobs. 

It has also polarized the workforce and hollowed out the middle class.

While technology has created workforce upheaval ever since the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, through the 1990s the result was still a net positive in the number of jobs.

With the technology fueled during WWII, non-farm job growth was nearly 38% during the 1940s when I was born.  It fell to less than 20% in the 1990s and minus 1% in the 2000s.

Since 2007 when the Great Recession began, we have been obsessed with the devastation wrought by the financial industry on the economy .  But the more strategic issue is that our troubles in the longer term relate to technology.

It isn’t just a question of training or re-training.  If the jobs don’t disappear entirely, at the very least they will be dumbed down.

For example, one of the reasons the economic stimulus didn’t work better than it did was not only because it was too small but because much of the work it fueled is increasingly done by machines.

At the conclusion of that report an expert is quoted as saying , “technology progress does grow the economy and create wealth but there is no economic law that says everyone will benefit.

Gallup’s “payroll to population” metric is not much higher than when I retired nearly four years ago even though the unemployment rate is several points lower.  There are positive signs, but underemployment is still between 17% and 18% of the workforce.

With half of all adults employed today, it is no surprise that nearly 6-in-10 say that their work does not require a college degree including nearly 7-in-10 Americans who make between $30,000 and $74,999 who also agree as do more than 8-in-10 who make less than $30,000.

The belief that jobs no longer require a degree includes a third of those in professional, executive and managerial positions and nearly half white collar jobs.

Maybe most telling of the “dumbing down” is that four in ten college grads and 13% of those with a postgraduate degree now say the work they are doing does not require a degree.

Studies show that the most important thing employers expect people to learn in college is how to think critically and analyze and solve complex problems.  It seems that employees, though, are feeling those skills are less and less significant due to technology.

For an excellent and entertaining overview of why college is worth the cost including time and effort, click here to watch a quick “Question Tuesday” video by author John Green, where he makes the case that a person only has to make a $1.75 more per hour to make college worth it.

The U.S. Census just released an update about the 19.9 million students who are attending college this year, nearly 7% of the population over the age of 3.

Impressive is that they spend $117 billion on discretionary items (car, clothes, cellphones, entertainment, personal care etc.) They spend another $287 billion on non-discretionary things like room and board and tuition for a total of $409 billion.

That’s a significant part of the economy in itself.

Those attending college by ethnicity are Hispanics 3.4 million (up nearly half a million this year) Blacks just over 3 million, Asian Americans 1.45 million and Non-Hispanic whites 11.65 million.  Another way to look at this is by percent within each group, 6.8% of Hispanics, 8% of Blacks, 9.4% of Asian Americans and 6.2% of Non-Hispanic whites.

Only 5.5% of white males are enrolled.  Overall, nearly 8-in-10 college students are between the ages of 18 and 24. 

One could assume that the 7% of the population enrolled in college are predisposed to be engaged and willing to take on tough assignments when they enter the workforce but there are far too many other factors at play.

In my opinion, just as important as learning to critically think, and analyze and solve complex problems are to the workforce is social and emotional learning, including the ability to resolve conflict, which some states such as Illinois are wisely making a part of the K-12 school curriculum.

This is also something conservative columnist David Brooks synthesized from many studies as crucial to achievement in his Rousseau-styled 2011 book The Social Animal.  

The issue of education and job creation is far more complicated than what some politicians relate.  The solution isn’t just for everyone to be good at math or become engineers and computer scientists.  Nor is it about shortchanging liberal arts subjects which employers see as crucial.

It isn’t as easy as buying local or focusing on manufacturing jobs or rolling back globalization and technology in a return to isolationism.  Nor is this as simple as everyone having two parents or being home schooled or embedding certain values.

This is an extremely challenging conundrum, but whatever the solution, it will involve doing something about the 1-in-5 workers who are actively disengaged and effort averse across every sector of the economy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Losing Even When You Win

The recent news about the host city selection for a distant Olympic Games reminded me of my time marketing Anchorage, Alaska and two Olympians with whom I would cross paths after I arriving in Durham a quarter-century ago.

While up there, we twice earned the right to represent America in a bid to be the host city for the Olympic Winter Games.  We narrowly lost, but I took away an understanding that when it comes to hosting mega-sports events, host communities nearly always lose, even when they win a bid.

There are often ancillary reasons for hosting sports events but research has repeatedly shown, that due to hidden costs and the diversion of resources from more important needs, most of the time hosting huge sports events doesn’t pay, unless that is, you own a media outlet

Media owners are often behind efforts that lead otherwise P & L-conscious business leaders to pursue events by seeking to subsidize them from the “public trough” even when the tax revenue expected doesn’t cover the subsidy.

Often seduced elected officials swoon even when the subsidy is in-kind through such costs as trash collection and public safety etc.

Bob Uchitel was behind the idea for Anchorage to bid to host the Winter Games.  Bob’s family had mob connections in New York, Miami and Las Vegas including famed mobster, Meyer Lansky.  Both families had Ukrainian roots.

A year after I was recruited to complete the start-up of Anchorage’s community destination marketing organization, Bob arrived there too.  He intended to start a construction company but ended up founding Multivisions, Alaska’s first cable-TV service, the year ESPN was launched.

Spokane, my previous post, had awarded its first cable franchise in September 1974 as the world’s exposition there was winding down.  A friend of mine worked for the affiliate Cox Cable TV, a Georgia-based media conglomerate that got into cable in the 1960s.

For years I kept a promotional golf ball she gave me with the slogan, “get some balls, try cable TV” printed on it.  Polls this month show Americans now prefer original cable shows to network television but cable is also hearing a death knell of its own, created by cable-cutters and award-winning streaming content.

In Anchorage, Uchitel was always brimming with big ideas for big events and threw even bigger parties.  He was the consummate promoter, often bullying people if they questioned his vision, as was part of my job description whenever called out to his office.

He was well-intended and I learned shortly after departing Alaska that Bob’s lifestyle had tragically caught up with him at only age 44.

Today, having forgotten that it dodged a bullet by just two IOC votes, old warriors are trying to rally a new generation in Anchorage to bid to host the 2026 Winter Games.

The reason hosting the Olympics comes closer to making any sense compared to hosting most other sports events is that the huge television revenues associated with hosting the Games can fund some of the facility construction.

Without the construction impact, the visitor impact of hosting an Olympics is minimal when adjusted for the business it displaces.  And the "old saw” that the facilities can be leveraged to host subsequent events to offset ongoing operating costs is just another round of the medieval “feast of fools.”

Some interesting and memorable people came to visit me soon after we set up temporary shop in Durham’s historic Brightleaf Square.

The first to do so was an elected official from Raleigh suggesting that all I had to do was contract Durham’s marketing out to his community.  No thanks!

But he did introduce me to an illusion I would soon discover was held by many in Wake County; that the region was centered around Raleigh.  I would spend two decades helping folks understand that the super region surrounding these two airport-linked regions and communities is “polycentric” with no dominant center.

This means they have far more visitor potential than centric regions because they can get several bites from the “tourism” apple.

Next to visit was Jim Goodmon, a powerful, wealthy and charismatic Raleigh media executive and today the owner of the Durham Bull, three-time winners of The Governors Cup and the runner up in last night’s national championship playoff, and a successful downtown Durham real estate developer.

Leveraging a hundred million dollars or so in local tax dollars, not to mention federal and state tax credits and including related sports and entertainment facilities, his company has taken the “Brightleaf” model to soaring new heights by creating the award-winning American Tobacco Campus out of an old Lucky Strike factory.

Back then Jim was shopping an intriguing proposal to host preliminary games in Durham for the 1994 World Cup by burying the field and then-surrounding track of Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium under seven feet of dirt.

The plan was to then somehow within weeks convert it back in time for football season.  Duke and therefore Durham passed.

But folks over in Raleigh came away understanding that benefiting from my experience in Alaska, our organization understood a thing or two about vetting mega-sports events including a policy to first vet any proposals involving facilities or underwriting with stakeholders with those who would be expected to provide them.

In general, there are just too many other far less costly and far more sustainable ways with which to generate visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

That didn’t stop Raleigh sports enthusiasts over the years from periodically trying to put Durham in a corner or calling for my head when Durham, after careful vetting, elected to pass on various schemes.

Communities can be in close proximity but culturally as far away as distant planets when it comes to the idea of subsidizing large events.

The next two people who dropped in to see me were Durham coaches, known for producing sports events here.  To me they epitomized Durham in many ways, including one being black and the other white.

In the days preceding desegregation, one at Duke and the other at North Carolina Central, an historically black college, they had defied Jim Crow by having their track teams practice together, travel together (refusing to stay where both weren’t welcome) and compete together.

Eventually, Al Buehler and LeRoy Walker became Olympic team coaches and officials and created and hosted a series of famous track meets in Durham, without asking for public underwriting other than in-kind services.

Both were stunned as they took seats in my tiny, temporary digs to see a poster hanging behind my desk advertising a basketball game in Spokane, earlier in my career starring North Carolina’s All-American, David Thompson, and the USA team vs. the Russians during Expo ‘74.

Earlier in 1974, Thompson had led North Carolina State University to victory over Bill Walton and UCLA, breaking that team’s unbelievable streak of seven consecutive national championships under legendary coach John Wooden stretching back to my senior year in high school.

Thompson is credited with taking college basketball above the rim, helping to invent the alley-oop, serving as Michael Jordan’s role model growing up and being named one of the five best players of all time.  Seeing him play in the old Spokane Coliseum was the first time North Carolina as a state ever crossed my mind.

His trip to Spokane came less than two years after the USA team had lost for the first time ever in the Olympics to Russia due to an extremely controversial call with three seconds remaining that nullified a successful foul shot.

Of course, this was also the Games where the Olympic spirit was nearly snuffed out when eight Palestinian terrorists took nine Israeli athletes hostage and murdered them.

In my office, the two coaches noted that while I was watching “Skywalker” Thompson pay back the Russians in basketball out in Spokane that summer, USA Track & Field, led by the Pacific Northwest’s legendary Steve Prefontaine, was running down the Russians in a dual meet the two coaches put on in Durham.

It was one of many events created and hosted locally over the years by these two friends. 

Within less than a year of his victory here, Prefontaine was killed when his MGB sports car flipped.  We reminisced about Gerry Lindgren who was one of only two people to ever beat Prefontaine in an NCAA Championship.

Two years ahead of me, Lindgren was a running wunderkind in high school who ran one of the five top performances ever. In the early to mid-1960s, kids my age would actually listen late on the radio as the diminutive Lindgren would run down the world’s top distance runners.

Walker and Buehler then updated me that a few years before our visit, Lindgren developed debilitating schizophrenia and for a while disappeared.

They guessed correctly that before leaving Spokane for Anchorage I must have also witnessed 1972 Olympic Gold Medal-winner Frank Shorter win the first Lilac Bloomsday Race in Spokane in 1977, the year before I would leave for Anchorage.

By the time we were visiting in my office in Durham, that unique 12 K event had grown from 1,000 runners to more than 60,000 each year, proving that some of the most lucrative sports events are homegrown.

Within a few months of that first visit Dr. Walker was elected president of the United States Olympic Committee and would continue to drop by my office regularly throughout the rest of my career.  He passed away last year at age 93, a member of 14 halls of fame, 15 counting my own.

The year after I retired, a touching documentary was produced about Al Buehler’s life and traced their time together.  Produced by Duke and NBA legend Grant Hill and former NBC reporter Ann Rubenstein Tisch, it was directed by another NBC alum, Amy Unell of Durham’s StoryTales Productions.

The script was written by John Larson.  He was an Emmy Award Winning Dateline reporter during my time in Durham but I knew John back when he was the award-winning anchor during my time in Anchorage for local KTUU-TV, an NBC affiliate.

Seeing the documentary at the historic Carolina Theatre following the Duke-NCCU football game earlier this month inspired this post.  The documentary is available for streaming on on Netflix and for purchase on iTunes.

Al is now a very spry age 85.  He was always the detail guy, LeRoy the promoter.  Together they made an extraordinary team.  About nine years before I was recruited to Durham, Al also learned to play the century-old carillon atop Duke Memorial United Methodist Church not far from my house.

Hearing it regularly waft through the urban forest of Durham is reassuring.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Contrasting Americans in 1943

I guess I’m not surprised that most Americans seem more exhausted and detached rather than incensed at what’s happening in Syria.  I certainly have been.  Forces that gridlock us today seem eerily similar to those following the First World War, which resulted in the creation of modern-day Syria.

For more than a decade now, Gallup polls have shown that fewer than a third of Americans think our country should build democracy abroad.  Barely half want us even to defend human rights.

These findings remind me though of another poll in the spring of 1943, barely 18 month after America had entered WWII and still two years before its conclusion.  First, some context might be useful.00082_p_10aeuyf6sw0446_b

In the years between the world wars, America had been gridlocked by a blend of isolationists.

This included Republicans who blocked the League of Nations and conservatives from both political parties who demonized immigrants and immigration while promoting economic segregation during a Gilded Age not unlike the one spawned over the past three decades.

This isolationist blend also featured hate groups such as the huge second coming of the Ku Klux KIan along with over 100 groups forcefully promulgating anti-Semitism, ultimately including both Holocaust enablers and deniers.

Caring Americans did not have near the intensity or energy that the vast majority who were self-centered, intolerant, inflexible and bigoted did.  Sound familiar?

In 1939, a poll of Americans was conducted by Elmo Roper, who pioneered the first scientific national opinion polls.  It was taken a few months after Nazi Germans had herded nearly 30,000 Jewish people into one of three concentration camps.

One was Dachau which my father’s U.S. Army battalion would liberate seven years later (one of his photos of a gas oven there is shown above.)

Even after news reports of this Kristallnacht spread here, the poll showed that fewer than 4-in-10 Americans felt Jews should be treated like other people and 53% believed they were different and should be “restricted.”

Ten percent even wanted them deported from America.   In May of that year, Southern Senators threatened President Roosevelt, if as indicated, he dared grant permission for a ship of Jewish refugees including many incarcerated in Dachau to dock in America.

Entry into the war chastened Americans and within a year and a half, another poll by Roper showed that three quarters felt that after the war, American should play a larger global role.

Nearly the same proportion believed America should “plan to help other nations get on their feet,” and half concurred with active involvement in an International organization with “a court and police force.”

President Roosevelt’s moral leadership was also rewarded with 7-in-10 approving of his handling of the war and 2-out-3 favoring a fourth term.  Most of the wars since then such as Vietnam and Iraq haven’t met the moral leadership test.

Some presidents even bucked public opinion to keep us out of war, such as when retired Five Star General Dwight D. Eisenhower, eager to end the Korean War, brushed aside a poll showing half of all Americans willing to drop “the bomb” on what was then termed Red China.

Recently President Obama has tried to do the same while also recognizing moral imperatives.  Americans seem to have grown weary of war, even in response to moral obscenities such as those taking place in Syria.

Or maybe as Winston Churchill famously said – “…Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

In his white paper on Moral Courage, Dr. Rushworth Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics in 1990, makes the case that moral courage is as important as physical courage but it deals with intangibles, values and convictions.

A friend of mine, Ryke Longest, who heads an interdisciplinary clinic and teaches at Duke University Law School here in Durham where I live, teaches his students this “truth”

“The only fights we surely lose are those we surrender by doubting the value of courage.  Courage is not foolhardiness.  Courage is not bravado.

Courage is the notion that some things worth fighting for are worth risking everything in the battle.  The problem of our present is not unique in history, but rather a common theme recurring through the centuries.”

He goes on to a describe a cycle that repeats itself historically – “Fear creates greed for power.  Greed seeks power.  Power stifles justice.  Justice finds a champion.  Champion encourages ordinary people.  Ordinary people overthrow the greedy.”

If you never had a chance to hear professor Longest, here are two inspiring clips, one from the Wizard of Oz and the other Henry V that he uses to make this point.

I have faith that once again and soon, Americans will find their energy and intensity to stand up for their convictions.

Monday, September 16, 2013

North Carolina Transformation Falls In Place – Part 3 of 3

In the third part of a series about the mid-century transformation of Durham and North Carolina, we pick up as the private sector approach to executing Dr. Howard W. Odum’s vision for a research park was stalling.

Durham officials had been simultaneously and vigorously pursuing another more hybrid approach to economically transforming North Carolina.

T.Y. Milburn had been busy persuading his late Durham friend’s successor, Governor Luther Hodges, that the state needed to take an extremely active role if the research park was to become reality.

Hodges who had been part of Umstead’s administration before he died, agreed.

Durham banker George Watts Hill was also busy with a group persuading the three universities – Duke in Durham, UNC in Chapel Hill and NC State in Raleigh – to co-found the Research Triangle Institute.

Some local Raleigh interests were hardest to enlist.

Fearing a few years earlier that they would lose out based on location, development and media interests there had poisoned regional relations by going Durham’s back to arbitrarily finagle an unorthodox and non-alphabetic reversal of order for the names for the jointly-owned airport.

Media interests did something similar to the order of names in the newly established multi-county designation TV viewing area (today called a Designated Market Area or DMA,) while artificially inflating it be larger in scope than much larger areas such as Charlotte, Baltimore, New Orleans and Las Vegas.

Trust had been poisoned but always more confident and self-assured back then, Durham officials were unpretentiously hard at work figuring out how to run water and sewer utilities to the Park.

Dr. George Simpson Jr., a 34-year-old war veteran and disciple who had worked with Professor Odum on the Park concept who was subsequently hired to lead it, and in part to sell the public-private approach, and soon wrote:

"Durham’s citizens have moved the Park forward with vision, leadership, and support…Other partners have been important…but the relationship with the City of Durham has always been special…"

But this was not enough to embed Durham in the Park’s narrative.  When Durham left the door open, Raleigh interests, less self-assured or as honorable as they are today, worked to divorce the Park from its Durham roots by seizing its narrative, something the architect finally admitted in the early 1990s.

They hoped to reap more relocating executives by obfuscating the Park’s location.  For more than 30 years this worked because whenever an attempt was made by Park officials to clarify, it was met with a veiled threat about cooperation or a condescending misuse of regionalism.

Durham, always worried about losing Raleigh support for the venture, naively placed its faith in the ability of executives to read maps in the days long before GPS made distortions by real estate developers and agents less effective.

As a result, tens of thousands of people who relocated to work in the Park ended becoming commuters, creating and fighting through unnecessarily traffic to work each day.

Even IBM was caught up in the confusion, mis-assigning “Raleigh” as the email locator for Durham-based facilities.

In time, Durham has reclaimed its story partly through formation of an organization charged with defending its identity and brand and because, well, GPS just doesn’t lie.

This in turn lowered barriers to visibility and for growth and revitalization, all without ever diminishing Raleigh.

In the end, Durham may have had the last word because while it fostered this engine for job growth throughout the region and transformation of the state, it didn’t have to shoulder all of the high costs of services that come with rampant residential growth.’

In essence, Durham was able to benefit through the years from more consistent and steady growth that has preserved its unique sense of place.

During Guest’s failed private sector attempt, Professor William Maughan, a forestry researcher who had been the inspiration for the founding of Duke’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies prior to the war, had begun helping assemble Durham pinelands for the Park.

The heirs of a Durham merchant and farmer, Atlas Monroe (A.M.) Rigsbee had sold the Park project a thousand acres of southeast Durham farm and forestland which would become the anchor needed for the Park just four miles from downtown Durham.

The Rigsbee’s owned huge swaths of farmland long prior to when Willie Carver was born in Northern Durham.  A.M.’s. land, whose store at Rigsbee and Green streets served as the first town hall, stretched more to the south and east.  His brother T.J. owned another huge swatch west and south including where Duke West Campus is today.

This land and the Park became part of a foundation that continues to transform North Carolina even today but it wasn’t alone  That WWII and Korean War bomber pilot who first plowed my street was already making Durham a name for aerospace fabrication.

Milburn passed away in 1977 as Willie Carver did the year before I arrived in Durham in 1989 to jump-start the community’s way to pursue visitor-centric economic and culture development.

But I was very fortunate that one of the first people to invite me to lunch for a briefing was George Watts Hill.

Bridging back to the Dukes, all three had all witnessed when Terry Sanford, that young senator during Umstead’s administration, emerged as governor just before the Durham Committee of 100 disbanded.

As governor, Sanford vigorously leveraged connections to further cement the success of RTP by working to bring research facilities for EPA and NEIHS there.

They had all shared Durham with Sanford when he later served as president of Duke University from 1969 to 1985.  By the time I arrived, he has become United States Senator Sanford.

Whenever in town, he would would unpretentiously sit down to eat lunch and share stories with me on the stairs outside our temporary offices in Brightleaf Square, where he kept an office.

By then, those mid-century transformative Durham visionaries had already spawned other Durham economic developers such as chamber executives Robert H. Booth and James Camp who populated RTP under contract with the county in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

They also laid the groundwork for a new demand-side economic development organization that I was brought here to lead for its first 21 years.  I noted then that Durham had been fortunate to economically transform four or five times during its history.

It was an honor to play a role in spearheading another transformation as a visitor destination which, in turn, continues to not only to bring a significant amount of non-resident tax revenue to Durham, but also helps spearhead adaptive reuse of many of its historic structures including tobacco and textile factory buildings.

But to paraphrase President Bill Clinton, none of these transformations, even some preceding those in which the Duke family participated happened through “some random evolutionary drift.”

Organizations and individuals such as those I describe above spearheaded each of these transformations.

Part 1Part 2

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Seeds of Durham’s Transformation of North Carolina – Part 2 of 3

Led by Thomas Yancey (T.Y. or Yancey) Milburn, in a few years a group called the Durham Committee of 100 set the stage for the transformation of Durham and North Carolina from tobacco and textiles.

This occurred long before their demise was evident.

The Committee of 100 was formed by Milburn and a few others after he retired here in 1950.  It operated until 1962 when it was voluntarily disbanded,  mission accomplished.

Born in Kentucky and a WWI veteran like Willie Carver, T.Y. was no stranger to Durham.  In the early 1900s, when he was a boy, his father Frank spent time here while the architect for Southern Railway on construction of Union Depot.

While here, the Milburns would have also witnessed the first emergence of Durham’s “Black Wall Street” a little more than a block away.  Frank also took time to design the President’s House at the University of North Carolina in nearby Chapel Hill.

In the period just before T.Y. Milburn set off to “Make The World Safe for Democracy” in the War to End All Wars, he graduated from UNC.

On his return, the younger Milburn stopped in Durham to marry the daughter of one of J.B. Duke’s former officials, W.J. O’Brien, and then joined his father’s D.C.-based firm.

Soon, the couple moved back to Durham so T.Y. could oversee a number of Durham projects, including the the Carolina Theater, Durham County Courthouse, Durham High School (now Durham School for the Arts) and what is now King’s Daughters Inn.

The young couple settled into Durham’s historic Morehead Hill at a time when the population of Durham was in the process of more than doubling over the course of a decade from 21,719 in 1920 to 52,037 in 1930.

The young Milburns erected a historic home across Vickers Avenue from what is now Greystone Inn & Conference Center and just behind the repurposed Morehead Manor Bed & Breakfast

T.Y. would have approved that Durham’s transformation over the past two decades into a visitor destination is also helping the community preserve and sustain its history and sense of place.

During this stint in Durham, T.A. would have also witnessed the erection of Duke Chapel and West Campus.  He would have been in awe of the Duke family, who earlier had not only transformed Durham following the Civil War, but aided entrepreneurship in the black community, as reflected by “Black Wall Street.”

Now J.B. Duke was setting the stage for yet another transformation by endowing what would become one of the world’s great universities including one of the most renowned medical teaching and research centers.

At this time, T.A Milburn would have also met another professional his age, Bill Umstead, a Durham native and its newly elected District Attorney.

The relationship would soon prove pivotal to North Carolina’s future.

Following his retirement In 1950, Milburn and his family returned to Durham for good.  They settled in historic Forest Hills which was evolving during their stint here in the 1920s.  They built a more modernist house, a few blocks from where I live.

With old friends, he helped found the Durham Committee of 100 which he would soon lead.  In just twelve years, the group quickly forged three new tools to economically transform Durham and North Carolina:

DIDO provided the template by which Durham local government has facilitated supply-driven economic development over the years, both via internal agencies and via contracts with numerous non-profits including Downtown Durham Inc. and the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

Even though it remains largely unheralded, The Durham Committee of 100 in general, and specifically T.Y. Milburn, George Watts Hill and Governor Bill Umstead, arguably had as much or more than any other group or individuals to do with development of Research Triangle Park, as the mid-century cornerstone for the economic transformation of Durham and North Carolina.

Umstead grew up in rural northern Durham, a contemporary of Willie Carver.  He and Milburn were classmates at UNC and all three had served in the Great War, Umstead in Europe with a machine gun battalion.

Hill was just a few years behind them in age but would have known Carver and Umstead in their early years when he and his grandfather John Sprunt Hill would often take him the 12 mile carriage ride to a hunting lodge there holding rights over 3,000 acres of north Durham.

The was “deep country” and remains so.  Later the younger Hill and his wife Ann converted 1,800 acres into growing prize-winning Guernsey dairy cattle and thoroughbred horses including racers, jumpers and steeplechasers.

They would have all crossed paths again as young professionals during Millburn’s incredibly productive stint in Durham in the 1920s.  Hill would have introduced them to the visionary thinking of a new professor and researcher at UNC, Howard W. Odum, a Georgian who was founding what what has become the Odum Institute.

Soon Odum began to promote a vision that would radically transform Durham and North Carolina, the notion of a research park equidistant from three research universities - Duke in Durham, UNC in Chapel Hill and NC State in Raleigh.

Odum also felt it should also be near the airport then being jointly-developed between the co-owing communities of Durham and Raleigh.  The professor obviously knew how to put strategic into thinking.

Elected governor in 1952, Umstead immediately set out to dramatically retool the division of commerce and industry in the NC Department of Conservation and Development, populating it with Odum disciples and challenging them to implement Odum’s vision.

Umstead, who died in office in late 1954 should also be remembered for how he responded to the public school integration required by the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education.

He didn’t stonewall as some try to do with healthcare reform today.  Governor Umstead immediately formed a statewide, bi-racial commission to recommend how integration might best be accomplished.

Umstead also made a huge impression on Terry Sanford, a young North Carolina state senator at the time who would go on to nominate John F.Kennedy for president, serve as governor himself during the latter years of the Durham Committee of 100, then president of Duke University and as a U.S. Senator.

Odum, who had also documented the early days of the civil rights movement, died four days after Umstead, but the ball was already rolling to transform North Carolina socially and economically.

It was clear to those implementing Odum’s vision for the research park that the campus would best be located in an area of southeast Durham farmland and pinelands between downtown and the airport.

Individuals who frequented the commerce division’s offices in the early to mid-1950s when implementation of Odum’s research park was under discussion included T.Y Milburn, a Durham friend of Governor Umstead’s, and Romeo Guest, a Georgia construction executive scouting for business leads after relocating his headquarters to Greensboro.

Hearing that Commerce officials were zeroing in on southeast Durham for the project, Guest who is credited with coining the name the name “Research Triangle Park” by inserting the word Triangle to signify the three universities, set out to make it a private venture.

This failed in part because North Carolina had just experienced a recession in 1954 and was lurching toward a deeper one in 1958.

But simultaneously, Durham officials were hard at work on a more hybrid public-private approach, which would ultimately succeed.

To be continued…