Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Six Million Businesses and Shrinking

There are only 6 million active businesses in America.  Another 20 million are in name only according to Gallup.

They report that “Of the 6 million, 3.8 million have four or fewer employees,” otherwise known as micro businesses.

According to another study, most micro businesses never want to grow to more than 10 employees, which would place them among the one million businesses today with between 5 to 9 employees.

That means there are “only 2 million small, medium and large businesses in the United States,” including about 1,000 companies in the “big business” category with 10,000 or more employees.

For sources of “dark money” and undue, often opaque influence among lawmakers look to the larger employers, something shown in an investigative piece just re-published in Pacific Standard.

For job creation, however, look to those first two groups, especially micro businesses.

So how do we foster more of these concerns that generate the vast majority of new jobs?

Buy local, obviously.

Some experts point to enforcing regulations evenly along with simplifying some.  Most, however, point to making credit more available.

The rub is that over the last 15 years, small business loan volume is down 14% and loans made to micro businesses are down a third.

What happened?  One indication is that since 2008 alone, one in four “local banks” have simply vanished.

When I graduated from high school in 1966, more than 7 out of every 10 banks were small, single-office local banks, totally more than 10,000 nationwide.

Branch banking had become the norm by the time I moved to Durham, NC in 1989.

Today, there are half as many commercial banks overall as there were when I graduated from college in 1972 and fewer than 1,000 single-office or truly local banks in the entire country.

Even so, small banks and credit unions make most of the loans to small businesses, including micro businesses.  There are just fewer and fewer of them.

Contrary to lobbyists, the decline of small, local banks isn’t due to regulatory reform after the great recession.  Click here to download an excellent review of the reasons.

Far more compelling is that this problem began with policy changes more than a decade earlier.

In 1995, small banks and credit unions held 27% of bank market share compared to the 17% held by giant banks.

Today, giant banks control 59% of bank market share, more than five times as much as small banks and credit unions, and just four mega banks control most of that.

Now, the four largest banks alone control 42% of all banking, yet they make a very small share of loans to job creating local businesses.  Nor do they play nice with one another.

These four mega-banks alone control nearly four times the amount of banking as all of the remaining small banks and credit unions put together.

In the four years leading up to the great recession about 300 commercial banks disappeared each year but we were creating nearly half as many.

The vanish-rate continues, but we’re creating only 6 new banks a year on average according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the source delving into much of these data.

Good policies and lending by small - usually stand-alone local banks -fueled the growth of America’s middle class in the 1960s and 1970s before anti-government rhetoric and deregulation began to hollow it out.

It is likely no coincidence that today this powerful segment of households is rapidly shrinking or that the deaths of businesses now outnumbers the births of new businesses.

As a moderate Independent, fiscally and socially, I find analysis intriguing that shows that nine out of the last ten recessions occurred under Republican presidents while Democratic presidents created nearly twice as many jobs per year.

Of course, this illustrates how intricate and complex economic development is but that the underlying principles always come back to main street as well as the political courage to resist powerful special interests.

It is also ironic that conservative states such as North Carolina where I live regulate cities and local governments from practicing the most basic tenant of economic development – buying local.

Monday, December 07, 2015

This Ongoing War 150 Years Later

In North Carolina, it’s no surprise to learn that “since 1960, one third of the world’s arable land has been lost to erosion.”  Nor, according to scientists, that “46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year – equivalent to 36 football fields every minute.”

Tar Heels have witnessed the link between depleted soils and deforestation in the decades before the Civil War when more than a third of North Carolinians moved away.

By 1850, 31% of native North Carolinians then living in the United States resided in some other state.

Backwardness regarding slavery and race relations as well as resistance to public education and infrastructure played a big role in the out migration as did poor land use practices by plantations.

It’s well documented by unapologetic historians such as the late Dr. William S. Powell.

I’ve been reading or rereading two others recently, one written the year I was born (1948) entitled From Slavery to Freedom and another just released entitled, The Old North State at War: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas.

Both shed new light.

The latter shows the population breakdown by race and freedom-status broken down by county just prior to the Civil War, as well as the vote by county for or against succession.

You can see a divide back then running down between what is now Durham and Wake/Raleigh with 5 points more slave-holders in Wake.

Wake/Raleigh also had twice the number of slaves as Durham/Orange and nearly three times the number of free Blacks out of 30,463 statewide.

There were a little more than 125,000 households in North Carolina in 1860 and 28.2% owned slaves.

Yet in 1861, Durham/Orange voted by more than 3 to 1 against succession from the Union while Wake/Raleigh voted for it by a few hundred votes.

As the rhetoric heated, the state as a whole was almost evenly split on the issue with a slight nod against.  People’s minds back then were more focused on the wealthy paying more in taxes here.

Within weeks though, secessionists won out both because of a general sentiment of “you can’t tell us what to do” and being surrounded by states that had or were succeeding.

The North won the Civil War that resulted, which effectively ended with a surrender in Durham.  Thanks to resistance by Southern Generals Lee and Johnston there wasn’t the subsequent guerilla war Southern leaders wanted.

But that didn’t mean war was over.

Another war erupted almost immediately between Democrats who were controlled by white supremacists and Republicans.

Just as a small percentage of the population had monopolized power in North Carolina and kept it backward, then pushed it into a war to defend slavery as a way of life for a few, a similarly small percentage held power in this follow up war.

Political rhetoric is powerful as we still see today.  It can close minds more easily than open them, something given comprehensive coverage a few days ago in an On the Media radio show entitled Lies, Lies, Lies.  

Republicans lost this follow up war and soon became all but extinct across the South because the party had became divided into an increasingly conflict-weary faction seeking social justice leading to a takeover by its Wall Street wing.

Just as Democrats had become divided into factions over slavery leading up to the Civil War, resulting in President Lincoln’s election, factionalized Republicans lost the follow up-struggle.

Following the South’s defeat and preservation of the Union in the Civil War, reunited Democrats fell sway to the rhetoric of a small fraction of white supremacists who this time sought not only to reinstate limitations on civil liberties, but to virtually annihilate the Republican Party in the South, which they did.

As a result, civil rights in the reunified country were put on hold for another hundred years and even today, seem lodged between ongoing institutionalized bias on one hand and a futile obsession with effacing racist symbols on the other.

The two political parties have switched roles today.

It began gradually in the decades leading up to the 1930s on issues of social and environmental justice, then became increasingly apparent after WWII and symbolized by the 1960s.

As someone who was raised a staunch Republican which I remained until nearly 25, I have been particularly interested in the history of the Republican and Democratic parties.

My Republican roots go back to the party’s founding.  But many of those ancestors would no longer be welcome there.  People who sense I lean Progressive probably don’t realize that it is the Republican Party that has shifted.

Understanding how the parties have evolved helps me understand how I briefly moved to the left in my mid-20s before finding my comfort zone as an Independent except wherever forced to briefly sign up so I could vote in primaries.

Today it is Republican ideology that seems to view everything as a threat to way of life, dominated by a few who seem to want to annihilate not only Democrats but anyone who dares to be moderate.

We see it in the refusal to negotiate or reach bipartisan agreement, even when Democrats sign on to Republican-generated innovations such as carbon credits or healthcare overhaul using exchanges that emulate the requirement for car insurance.

Further evidence is research showing that the root of Republican opposition to addressing climate change is the knee-jerk stereotyping of anyone concerned about the environment as a “watermelon,” green on the outside, red (as in Commie for you Millennials) on the outside.

The one thing that remains constant is that just as a tiny minority held North Carolina back after the U.S. was founded and the Civil War was fought to preserve the way of life lived by only 28% of Tar Heels, policies here are still driven by a small percentage in power.

The only thing certain is that the pendulum will swing yet again, but not the problem.

The parties may reverse roles yet again one day and apologists, as always, will try to smooth everything over like propagandists did between 1866 and 1966 by transforming the issue of slavery into “states’ rights.”

Democracy truly exists only when a majority of people vote, not just when the vote is a majority of those showing up.   Maybe similar to governing boards, popular elections should be valid only when there is a quorum?

As a moderate Independent who more and more has a little “time on him” as they say in my native Idaho, I am more and more aware of the dangers of failing to admit to myths when in pursuit of greatness as a nation or perpetuating a way of life.

I know far too many reasonable Republicans and far too many crazy Democrats to believe the rhetoric when one or the other party gives in to zero sum thinking.

But as President George Washington lamented in 1795, the problem may be in the nature of political parties, meant as a means to help people make decisions but then used as a reason not to think:

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Lament indeed!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

An Action Plan for Green Infrastructure

Once again, the U.S. Forest Service and its stakeholders such as the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council have clarified something a few otherwise forward-thinking communities still don’t get.

A community’s urban forest includes “all trees in the city, on public and private property,” including homeowners’ yards as well as school and corporate campuses, 3.8 billion trees overall in America.

The ten year action plan issued several weeks ago includes progress made over the previous ten years as well as overarching principles, metrics, goals, strategies and steps to guide urban forestry efforts through 2026. It also includes strategies at the local level.

Management of an urban forest begins with a plan predicated on a comprehensive community wide inventory and assessment.  Many communities, such as the one in North Carolina where I have lived for more than a quarter century, have neither.

But across the South now, 649 communities have management plans, an increase of 43% in the past decade compared to 70% nationwide.

Still, less than half of Americans (47%) live in communities that have programs to plant, protect and maintain their urban forests. More than 40% feel much more needs to be done.

The report is “must reading” for people who care about their communities and should be required for anyone holding or running for elected office.

The report provides supporting metrics useful for public information and that will lessen the tendency of some to either dismiss trees merely as just “nice to have” or those who ironically knee jerk about anything environmental as a threat to their way of life.

One cannot read this report without gleaning that a community’s trees and vegetation are indeed important infrastructure.

Friday, November 20, 2015

In Pursuit of Dialogue

By necessity I became a pioneer in what is now called “reputation management” during the last half of my now long concluded nearly four decade career in community destination marketing.

This involved standing up for the communities I represented during that span.  In the words of an IBM exec in Durham who came to my defense, I was just insisting on what was “justly due” that community.

With the backing of a grassroots group of residents we called Image Watchers, we turned the community’s reputation around over a span of about nine years.

A turn-around is marked by when a negative positive-to-negative ratio climbs into positive territory.

As you might expect, reaching this milestone was not without a cost to my personal reputation, which to the consternation of friends and supporters, I never defended with the same passion.

There may have been more if you consider the spectrum of sycophants but there were only a handful of detractors that were publicly vitriolic judging by their thinly disguised verbatim comments on community-wide surveys of my performance.

One even passive-aggressively returned a business reply envelope with a hand-written epitaph and taped to a brick hoping to run up the cost to my organization.

You can see the handiwork of one of these detractors who was then a public official if you Google my name.  Though not the one quoted in the story, this official planted the story along with misrepresentations he knew to be false.

Even though it was explained that my severance upon retirement was not a severance but a payout of income that had been earned month by month over two decades but deferred, I suspect the temptation to juice up the story headline and lead in without revealing the source was too much.

During the last decade of my career, I added satisfaction with my leadership to periodic surveys of several hundred civic and business leaders to help my governing board discern if the complaints these individuals were making to them were generalizable.

They weren’t, but one or two board members always worried about the effect those efforts to undermine me might have, so I was annually tasked with meeting with each of them to learn more about their concerns.

But I had already met with each of these complainants numerous times, including one time four-on-one and would continue to do so until I retired, but to little avail.

It didn’t help that I could provide data-driven responses.  It seemed they could never really articulate what bothered them, especially those who didn’t have an issue but sought to curry favor with someone who did, essentially the definition of a sycophant.

But I sensed it had to do with a misunderstanding of roles complicated by misperceptions of power and influence, seasoned with a little envy.

In other words, politics.

Only two or three of these individuals were ever constant.  When a couple would drop out, replacements who were unfamiliar with the facts or previous discussions were recruited, perpetuating yet another round of meetings in pursuit of yielding understanding.

No one likes to have enemies, but meeting with people who disagreed with me and/or the organizational strategic direction we were executing was something I had made a practice during my entire career.

The habit took root when I ventured to meet with a powerful official who had set out to get me fired from my first community destination marketing organization in Spokane.

It was second nature when a clique attempted to do the same in Anchorage.

So it wasn’t a matter of if - but when - a handful in Durham began to take shots at me, for I had learned that truly being a change agent inevitably invites discord and carries risk.’

It is temping to either pander to these interests or to write them off instead with the 18th century French saying “on ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des oeufs” or “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

My goal in meeting with people who were openly contrary or covertly hostile to either me or our mission was always to gather understanding, but often the questions I was able to answer also begrudgingly garnered respect.

It helps to keep in mind when going into meetings such as these that there is a difference between someone being uninformed and ignorant.

You have hope for the former but be prepared to face the latter or at the very least understand that changes of heart and mind take time, often occurring after you are gone.

In the words of Seth Godin, "Ignorant’ used to be a fairly vague epithet, one that we often misused to describe someone who disagreed with us.

Today, because it represents a choice, the intentional act of not-knowing, I think it carries a lot more weight.”

In his short but inspiring book entitled Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Parker J. Palmer wrote of such seemingly inscrutable encounters:

“A movement can be saved…only by openly engaging those who disagree.”

Through much of my career, I made it a practice to meet with at least one person every week who disagreed with me while learning to listen carefully and only intervene when asked a question.

That, for me at least, was really hard work as was learning not to tell myself a story based on microaggressions.

Unfortunately, those habits I learned through necessity and experience are now increasingly rare.

For instance, NPR journalist Alan Greenblatt reported that “Indeed, over the past 50 years, the percentage of people who said they would disapprove if their children married someone from the other party has spiked from 5 percent to 40 percent.”

But just meeting with someone with whom you disagree does not guarantee dialogue even if they are brave enough to be vulnerable and explain why and how they disagree with you.

In an essay published a few months ago entitled “Ten Reasons to Stay Away from Your Political Opposite,” the co-authors of You’re Not As Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong) defined genuine dialogue:

“Perhaps it would be a step forward simply to recognize that genuine dialogue must entail the bilateral, free and un-manipulated engagement of at least two persons, two unique perspectives and ultimately two distinct agendas.”

They continue by writing, “The moment a space becomes, in actuality, a site for unilateral, instrumental and manipulated engagement, it arguably ceases to be “dialogue.”

It is an easy trap to fall into when the answers you get are, “just because,” or “I just don’t agree.”  Over time, I learned that in these encounters I had to dial back my passion and determination.

In the essay, the authors also happen to quote from a book I had been assigned to read back in 1971 while earning a degree in history at BYU entitled The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire an expert in the philosophy of education:

“Dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s ‘depositing’ ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be ‘consumed’ by the discussants.”

It is unfortunate that this book might not now be permitted at BYU.  Freire felt that education could not be neutral.  It either functions to bring about conformity or functions to develop critical thinking which can lead to transformation.

Transformation was inherently my job during my entire career.  But in the words of a 13th century Monk and later adapted by President Abraham Lincoln:

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

Friday, November 06, 2015

My “Fortunate Son” Myth

While delving into family history I am often reminded that I am the only son of an only son who was a fourth generation Idaho horse and cattle rancher.

This meant that I also carried the weight of what I came to call being the “Fortunate Son,” by my 21st year after the late ‘69 Creedance Clearwater Revival hit.

It’s an “anti-war” anthem, a cause I wouldn’t embrace for another two years yet.

For me though, the feeling of being a fortunate son began almost as soon as my parents brought me home to the ranch in 1948.  I grew up with the sense that I was treated differently.

By that, I mean that my patriarchal grandparents treated me differently, as did my aunts on both sides.

It was different than how it seemed they treated cousins who were both older and younger, male and female and different too than my two sisters when they came along.

Maybe it was just a response to the patriarchal ranching culture along the Rockies but to me the feeling came to symbolize getting things I didn’t deserve.

It is a feeling that revisits whenever I receive recognition as I did a few days ago with an award named for Charles Kuralt.

He was from North Carolina where I’ve lived for going on 27 years but his heart was along the Big Hole River in Montana, just across the Centennial Mountains from the ancestral Idaho ranch where I spent my early years.

Through his One the Road series, Kuralt happens to also be one of my influences  to follow a four-decade career in community destination marketing.

The sense that I was a fortunate son also meant that to me people expected things I couldn’t deliver, such as being a three sport standout in school like my father.

To their credit, my parents -- especially my mother – worked hard to instill humility in me but that came soon enough with the embarrassment, if not shame, of failure.

I failed to have my father’s bone structure or speed for that matter.

I was also left-handed which presents some learning challenges beginning with tying my shoelaces or lasso a moving steer from horseback.

These and many other tasks were complicated by an essential tremor in both hands which, in and of itself, was embarrassing enough.

Still, it took a while before I fully grasped that “fortunate son” was a myth.

Failure was an option with my parents but giving up and especially not trying were not.

In retrospect, I look back at my life through a lens of grit, determination, perseverance and success because it felt that way and people have reinforced those qualities and outcomes.

But closer examination reveals an incredible number of failures, including failed relationships, but they were not for want of trying.

But for fortune and luck, there would have been more I am sure.

But as an exercise in memory and to reinforce humility and empathy for my less fortunate, from the safety of distance I look back at the failures now.

Failure and shame seem closely associated for me.  Each one played a role in propelling me forward just as for many others they seem a permanent disability.

Having been invited by third graders to play tackle football during recess, I picked a fumble up as a first grader and ran the wrong way.

I was called out as a fourth grader by my teacher for using my finger on each word as I read.

I was cut from my little league baseball team as a fifth grader.  I got a C in P.E. as an eighth grader and quit the football team only to come back as a ninth grader.

I screwed up as a senior and let my grades slide and flunked my renewal drivers license exam test for using my left foot on the brake.

I’ve lost any reliable count of how many times I disappointed my parents.

I failed my military draft physical due to a football injury, and then failed five different times over the next four years as I relentlessly attempted end-runs to enlist in other branches of service.

I got fired from three different jobs before I turned 40.  Oh, and then there were those failed marriages.  As I retired in 2009, I read a great book by essayist and poet David White entitled, The Three Marriages.

The book’s subtitle is “Reimaging Work, Self and Relationship.”  It is not a book about balancing the three but for me especially it explained why I was so successful at the first and until late in life a failure at the third.

My take away was that only when I understood the marriage to self was I able to transfer my success at work over a four-decade career to an enduring relationship, which now seems so effortless.

One of Whyte’s most memorable metaphors is that “We are each a river with a particular abiding character, but we show radically different aspects of our self according to the territory we travel.”

In his book of essays entitled, “WHAT ARE People FOR?” Wendell Berry wrote about solitude that “Human beings are creatures of belonging, though they may come to that sense of belonging only through long periods of exile and loneliness.”

I needed a lifetime of relationship-“exile and loneliness” as a part of consummating my marriage to self.  I simply had two of Whyte’s marriages in the wrong order.

He observes that “We often enter a marriage with images of how it will enhance our sense of self, increase the happiness we already possess and end a sense of loneliness.”

But, Whyte continues, “After the initial euphoria, we just as often find that in the marriage itself our sense of self is obliterated, our previous sources of happiness disappear and our sense of isolation is made more acute…”

Those failures of relationship were at most, a failure to know and understand myself enough.

Work was another matter for me but again fortune played a role.

I set out to be a lawyer and backed into the perfect career: community destination marketing.

I was always highly “engaged” in my work, as is 30% of the workforce according to Gallup, give or take a point or two depending on the year. 

But I believe much of that engagement was due to being and finding a line of work that was “purpose-oriented.”

This is the good fortune currently shared by 28% of the American workforce according to a study by Imperative, a company founded by Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy.

It is probably part of what made me so much more successful than many peers.

Purpose-oriented employees who pursue work as fulfillment and as a means to help other people are found distributed across the workforce and in every occupation.

I feel it is a mistake for those who aren’t to see themselves as a victim and look to management to fill them with purpose and engagement.

Tom Rath, a best-selling author and senior scientist for Gallup has written a new “must-read” entitled Are You Fully Charged?

He concludes that if you seek engagement or purpose directly you may not find it.  But if you seek meaning you will find happiness and engagement.

As in a sentiment my daughter forwarded recently, “Do what you love, love what you do.”

Find meaning and purpose in whatever job you do and you will find engagement, something I realize was one of the early values embedded by my parents.

For me the stars just aligned more closely than for many not because of the “fortunate son” myth but thanks to parents who put the emphasis on trying.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Underlying Our Fear of Crime is a Paradox

The news media often rationalizes its obsession with violent crime by purporting that this is what people are interested in and/or concerned about.

A new Gallup poll once again dispels that notion.

It is true that 17% of Americans frequently or occasionally worry about getting murdered, as do 16% who worry about being sexually assaulted.

However, many times more Americans are worried about being the victim of theft, which is borne out by reactions on neighborhood listservs or increasingly now related apps.

Over the last ten years, the proportion of Americans who perceive that crime is going up has roughly climbed back to what it was in the mid-1990s.

This has been true while the violent crime rate has steadily trended downward.  The misperception disconnect is as likely among Americans who have not been victims as it is among those who have.

Puzzling is that this misperception is far higher among Republicans than Independents overall as well as Democrats, and 23 points higher among conservatives than it is among liberals.

What makes this relevant is that Republicans are more likely to be “cocooned” where they live.  The news media sees politicians in states such as where I live as pitting rural areas against cities.

But for several years, analysts have noted a “Red State – Blue City” divide.  As shown by Josh Kron in The Atlantic, “people don’t make cities liberal – cities make people liberal.”

Some of “America’s bluest cities are located in its reddest states.”

Only 37% of Americans live within a mile of an area where they would be afraid to walk alone at night which is roughly what it was in 1965, even though the proportion of Americans living in cities has increased over that span from 69.9% to 80.7%.

This is why examining the role of the news media and news outlet proliferation during that span as related to what we fear is important.

In 1999, then USC sociology researcher and now Lewis & Clark College president Dr. Barry Glassner published a book entitled, The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things.

Using data that is even more relevant now, he took to task politicians, advocacy groups, and news media for being “peddlers of fear.”

As tragic as the circumstances were in Ferguson, MO, as well as a series of subsequent events, the rush to judgment over the past 16 months in the news and among advocacy groups regarding law enforcement is an example of what Glassner was writing about.

Many researchers too have been enablers by failing to explain in news reports that correlation is not causation nor even always very useful.

Race isn’t always a factor, but for many violent crimes it is sometimes relevant.

For example, 48% of Americans who are parents of school age children fear their children will be physically harmed at school.  This is an underreported reason “Why White Parents Won’t Choose Black Schools.”

Even among liberals, according to author Abby Norman, “They want diversity, just not too much.” 

But most school shooting are committed by white males.  That fact should naturally end up a factor while delving into solutions just as race as well as parenting should not be off limits while studying other types of crime.

Geo-studies of gun violence have found that 50% trace to just 3% of a community’s street segments and intersections.

Half of the overall crime in a community, including the break-ins that most concern Americans, traces to just 4% of street segments and intersections.

Sociological researchers such as Harvard’s Dr. Orlando Patterson, who happens to be black, have found that between 12% and 28% of the youth in neighborhood hot-spots such as these has a contempt for laws and institutions.

He notes that they are infected “with a threatening vision of blackness openly embraced as the thug life.”

He also notes that in tackling the present series of crises “it is a clear mistake to focus only on police brutality, and it is fatuous to attribute it all to white racism.”

It is, he contends, “a culture reinforced by contemporary conditions like poverty, racial discrimination, chronic unemployment, single parenting and a chemically toxic, neurologically injurious environment, like lead paint.”

But it is a culture nonetheless.  Certainly not black culture per se, but a culture fostered among a very small minority in these specific locations where a majority of inhabitants happen to be black, hard-working and lawful.

This is also why researchers who assume traffic stops or resulting fines in certain areas should reflect the overall make up of a community are misleading the general public when commenting during news reports.

Just as with whatever is leading disturbed white males to shoot up schools, the culture Dr. Patterson is citing is not evenly distributed.

News reports often not only generalize crime to an overall community, but misperceptions are often exaggerated by double coverage when the media in nearby communities jump on the same stories rather than shining a balanced light on similar issues at home.

The answer is more coverage of crime, not less.

But headlines and reports should be far more geographically specific and as quick to signal why some crimes should not be a source of generalized fear.

It would also help if editors were a eager to provide details such as property that is left unsecured or the role of underzealous parenting in addition to overzealous enforcement.

It would also help if news stories called out politicians and groups seeking to capitalize on misperceptions and geo-generalizations.

Seth Godin recently said something that could as easily be applied to this which was, “as with pollution, because no one owns the problem, no one is working very hard to solve it.”

But journalists who are concerned about this paradigm and accept some responsibility can not only set an example but begin to raise the bar for others.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Paradox of Micromanagement

Associates who struggle and fail to fit into an organization’s culture and strategic system will often complain that they were micromanaged and not allowed to do their jobs.

Having found myself more than occasionally on the receiving end of that parting shot, I made it a point, with the objectivity of organizational psychologists, to learn more.

Was it true or an excuse, and why was it was perceived that way?

Over the years I perpetually honed my management style as well as the cultures of the organizations I managed.

We had always hired based on various characteristics including as much technical know-how as we could afford.  But many people we hired failed to understand that technical know-how is only a start of being a good employee.

It take time to develop alignment and paradoxically, often what feels like micromanagement is actually not being managed and coached closely enough.

This is especially true in small, high-performance, strategically aligned entrepreneurial enterprises such as the community destination marketing organizations I led.

People in these settings must not only work independently but at the same time synchronizing with others within a culture and strategic direction as though they were all one.

There is little margin for error so whenever possible mistakes and learning best take place within the organization.  By that I mean inside the four walls…not out in the community or with visitors.

Reputation management is crucial to sustaining credibility and relevance with external audiences, but far too many organizations either seem to play fast and loose or redirect their energies into looking good rather than doing or being good.

To paraphrase an old law school meme, more than technical understanding, success takes good judgment which comes from experience which in turn comes from bad judgment.

In other words, learning from failure.

In a classic 2011 article in Harvard Business Review, organization behavior researcher Dr. Amy Edmundson broke failure down into a spectrum.

At the blameworthy end were failures due to deviance, inattention and lack of ability while failures due to uncertainty about the future, hypothesis testing and exploratory testing fall at the praiseworthy end.

Process inadequacy and task challenge fell in the middle.

Unfortunately, people quick to complain about “micromanagement” are often still on a steep learning curve and/or don’t see failure and coaching as a pivotal part of learning.

Worse, they don’t take responsibility for their failures.

Researchers such as Dr. Carol Dweck have found that the ability to view failure as just a part of learning is a mindset gleaned by the third grade.

Regrettably, many people come into the workforce with a fixed mentality, resistant to not only critical thinking and teaching, but going so far as to view questions as criticism.

They contribute to the 51% of the workforce who are “not engaged” in their work (just putting in time,) according to Gallup, as well a fair proportion of the 18% who are “actively disengaged” and working to undermine workplace.

Last year, researchers at Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill and Harvard found that when we take personal ownership of our failures we are much more likely to learn from them and work harder.

Last January, in a speech to the students there, the president of Brigham Young University argued that any quest for perfection should place the emphasis more on “quest” than on perfection.

The ability to learn from mistakes and failure as well as soak up feedback and make adjustments are propensities similar to character, all of which are best inculcated between birth and the age of 8.

Non-cognitive factors, such as perseverance, motivation and grit are tough to teach or learn in school, let alone the workplace.

This is true even when reading and applying science in books such as John Medina’s Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.

Hint: men learn best when given the gist, women want details.

As with so many issues such as poverty and academic achievement, things such as this get gridlocked in the “chicken and egg” divide between those who argue that it is an issue of capacity and those who view it as individual responsibility.

In my experience, the solutions are both/and with far to little emphasis in society, it seems, on the latter.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Parting Ways and New Beginnings

I parted ways with an good friend yesterday.

We had only been together for a little more than six years.

It may be a sign of how tightly I firewalled my professional life from my personal life that when we first became acquainted many people seized on the relationship as part of my identity.

Or was it just that people found us seemingly such an odd couple, a community marketer and a biker.

My departed friend is a Harley-Davidson Cross Bones.Reyn_on_Bike_1

I had always wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle so at the age of 61 I went at it with purpose, learning to ride and enjoy what are called heavy bikes.

The curb weight of a Cross Bones when outfitted like mine is just north of 750 pounds.  That means with my weight and gear and occasionally a passenger, I had to learn to balance and maneuver as much a half ton.

The urge to learn to ride was instilled while riding behind a close boyhood friend on his mini-Honda Trail 50 in the early 1960s.

Having said goodbye to the “Bones,” we have a new challenge now, or better said an old one.

It is a well-maintained 1985 Century Mustang II inboard-outboard bow-rider roundabout boat that we keep at the nearby lake where we spend a few days each week.

When I was about 9, I first learned to water ski behind an old plywood boat that was powered by a little 35 horse power Evinrude.  The one we have now is closer to the one my parents had in the late-1970s.

It came to me while writing this bit of memoir that I often left activities behind during my career.

I don’t know about you but I’ve often wondered about the seeming association of activities such as this with place and time and why we leave some behind and take up others.

For instance, I left downhill skiing skiing, tennis and water skiing behind when I moved from Spokane to Anchorage in 1978 although there was ample opportunity for both in each city.

Downhill and Nordic skiing were actually more accessible in Anchorage with several areas right in the municipality including Alyeska, a resort 40 miles from downtown that has been ranked among the top 25 destinations.

Big Lake lies a few miles across Knik Arm from downtown Anchorage but 60 minutes by highway skirting that waterway.  The “bridge to nowhere,” would have actually had a destination.

Similarly I carried on a love of nature photography when I moved from Spokane to Anchorage but then left it behind when I moved to Durham in 1989.

Part of the reason, I guess, could be that a person’s career tends to intensify over time, at least the way I went about mine.   Or is it just that our leisure pursuits become more ambitious?

Another reason is that my job in community marketing meant that when I wasn’t showcasing activities such as these, I was spending my time thinking about how to do it better.

But about five years before I retired when I gave notice to my governing board and the community, my mind opened to what I would be able to do when that time came.

I started going down the list of what I had been postponing doing such as learning to ride a motorcycle, learning to fly an airplane, digging into family history and researching and writing essays such as these.

During my four decade career and into retirement has been the overarching dream of spending time lakeside.

Now that that time has come, for as long as I’m able my leisure, physical and intellectual activities will revolve around the lake, which is just fine with me.

I can always rent a bike from time to time.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The New Community Marketing Model

I promised during the last post entitled, “Community Marketing Malpractice to touch in this sequel on the “new model” that has replaced the marketing paradigms that were found so broken ten years ago.

For many marketers, not just community marketers, nothing has really changed. It is tragic that their marketing practices remain frozen in time even though they began to lose steam thirty to fifty years ago.

Oh, they may have added some new jargon and layered on a new tactic or two such as digital but at the core, their approach really hasn’t changed from what was done more than two generations ago.

To be fair, many community marketers who want to change remain captive to stakeholders and officials who are trapped in the past.

Overall, though, at the root of this inertia is a multi-billion dollar “industrial complex” that in the words of Seth Godin is trapped because “no one owns the problem,” so “no one is working very hard to fix it.”

When no one appears to be taking accountability, a friend of mine calls that, “No one owning the file.”

Casualties are not only malpractice and negligence in marketing but a failure at its own hand of a model that has until now underwritten information and entertainment in our culture.

Those marketers, though, who are blazing a new model have one thing in common.  They never saw marketing as static, not because they have “schpilkas,” a yiddish term used to mean “ants-in-the-pants.”

They understand that the underlying purpose of marketing is differentiation and that includes differentiation of how one conducts marketing.

These pioneers are also fortunate to have stakeholders who give them that latitude.

So what is the new marketing model?  For one, it is truly data-driven which means that advertising is dead and that doesn’t just mean traditional advertising.

The essence of new paradigms is almost always found evident in the ones that are replaced.

Marketers have long distinguished earned media from paid media, although both cost money.  The latter is an attempt to buy consumer attention while the former involves working hard to earn it.

In the old days, it meant generating interest through publicity including news coverage (earned) vs. trying to buy that attention (advertising,) which has always been much more cost-effective.

But today it involves a wide range of ways to engage customers including “search, social and content marketing.”  It is why analysts predict that by next year marketing will involve greater technology budgets than organizations typically devote to IT overall.

Another equally important element of this new marketing model is the importance of content design.

Others helping to shape this new model distinguish earned, owned and paid media with things such as a web and/or mobile site, blogs and social media channels falling under “owned” media and search engine optimization overlapping with “earned” media.

They still use paid media but only where its turn-on ratio far exceeds any turn-off such as where the medium reinforces owned and earned media, e.g. an official visitors guide to a community or state or local, state or regional lifestyle magazines and websites.

One of the key metrics is Word of Mouth (WOM) impact on business.  Studies show that two-thirds will be offline and one-third will be via social sites, blogs, reader boards and photo and video sharing tracking positive, neutral and negative.

Recent studies show that two-thirds of the impact of word of mouth is direct and one-third is as an amplifier of paid media.  The impact is also more immediate compared to traditional media.

Up to 80% of offline WOM occurs in the first two weeks as well as up to 95% of online WOM, compared to between 30 and 60% for television.  WOM drives 5 times more sales than paid advertising impressions.

It happens that in Durham, North Carolina where I live, the DMO is one of the first in North America to use an approach to measuring WOM called The Net Promoter Score.

Building on its pioneering public opinion research, the Durham DMO uses the method to not only measure promoters, passives and detractors among both internal and external audiences but the net strength of those sentiments.

It measures how likely people are to recommend visiting Durham.  More on the latest results in a few weeks but based on studies of the sources consumers find most trustworthy, it is one of the most crucial marketing metrics.

Analysts have also found that earned and owned media has 10 to 100 times the value of a paid advertisement.

Nielsen, which is in the business of quantifying traditional paid advertising, has found that “on average, expert content lifted familiarity of a brand 88% more than branded content and 50% more than user reviews.”

They also found that expert content far outperforms paid content for lifting purchase consideration.  Other Nielsen studies have found that organic search wins out over paid search results on Google and Bing, for instance, 94% of the time.

The new paradigms for marketing are more staff intensive and require a lot harder work as well as a pioneering and innovative organizational culture.

They also require new levels of sincerity and authenticity as consumers grow ever more vigilant about content and media in general.

It will be both/and for a while longer as all such shifts are but the fulcrum has shifted quickly and dramatically in favor of earned and owned content compared to paid content.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Community Marketing Malpractice

My degrees were in history and political science.  I also studied law.  But my career was in marketing; or more specifically, the marketing of communities.

Fortunately, my collegiate exposure to marketing was a theoretical survey course using the provocative teachings of Harvard’s Dr. Theodore Levitt.

So I always had a much different, and many would say provocative approach to community destination marketing than my DMO peers, who over-relied on the components of traditional sales and advertising.

Results would suggest far more successful too, than those who over-relied on the components of traditional sales and advertising.

Far too many still do today, which is puzzling.  This post may help young community marketers avoid what had been termed “marketing malpractice” by the time I retired nearly six years ago.

A lot about marketing has changed during that span.  Maybe it intrigues me as to why many DMO execs aren’t keeping up because my intellectual curiosity hasn’t yet retired.

Marketing includes the elements of sales and advertising but it fundamentally differs in its overall purpose.

Myopically, to use one of Dr. Levitt favorite words, “selling” customarily has focused on the needs of the seller.

Many use the term relational “selling” today but then still pretty much focus on what “they” have to sell rather than what the customer needs.

Advertising is and has always been focused on “getting” attention.  Trying to “demand” attention is far more like it, which is why so many marketers call it a form of “yelling.”

This is confirmed in this age of waning attention spans when so many lazy practitioners desperately seem to only know how to “yell” louder and louder.

Marketing weaves these and five or so other components into a blend designed instead on creating and satisfying customers, according to Levitt, which means “un-creating” customers for your community if that means directing their attention to destinations more suited.

A longitudinal study at USC determined in 2010 that traditional advertising now has an overall negative return of investment but that its decline began three decades ago, a decade before the Internet was made available for public use.

Still, many of those who bothered to read the study theorized that the demise of advertising was due to the Internet or the fragmentation of media or even clutter, meaning a proliferation of too many ads.

But marketing historians were aware that complaints about ad “cutter” date, at least, to January 20, 1759 when a copywriter and essayist noted, “Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused.”

Dr. Thales Teixeira (Tech-Sarah,) a contemporary Harvard marketing researcher, is an expert in what he calls the “economics of attention.” 

From various studies he has graphed that attention to even  television ads had plummeted from 97% of viewers in 1990 to fewer than 2 in 10 today, even though ads are more than 75% shorter in length.

Attention to ads was plummeting long before the Internet was an alternative and had fallen by nearly half when TiVo, the first DVR device that enabled ad-skipping was introduced in 1999.

This was also long before mobile devices divided the attention of the 44% of viewers who multitask into even thinner slices.

Illustrating the desperation of advertisers, including most that are oblivious to the drop in attentiveness, is that during that span the cost per 1,000 primetime viewers has skyrocketed from $18 to nearly $200 per view, while the quality of attention has severely degraded.

Dr. Teixeira calculates that “Attention is one of our three most valuable, scarce and fungible resources.”

Now even Levitt recognized in his 1993 treatise entitled Advertising: “The Poetry of Becoming,” that ads at the very least provides “variety and changes the pace.”

It’s not unlike the rationale one my friends argues on behalf of billboards, a long-obsolete medium.  But this calculus fails to take into account the turn-of to turn-on ratio of ads.

Yup, and a few people only buy print magazines that are purposely laden with ads.  But attention today, and for several decades now, is something you earn rather than demand.

It is about “them,” not “you” and “yelling” about your product, your community, your brand is a turn-off even when you try to be cute and entertaining.

In the words of Seth Godin, “the goal of marketing interaction isn’t to close the sales, any more than the goal of a first date is to get married.  No, the opportunity is to move foreword, earn attention and trust and curiosity and conversation.”

Trust is the key to earning attention and “you must build trust before you need it,” or want it.

Godin also explains why advertisers seem clueless and only respond by increasing clutter.  “And as with pollution, because no one owns the problem, no one is working very hard to solve it.”

“Advertising” he argues, while explaining why consumers are now “using a sledgehammer to block them all” is in “a relentless race to the bottom.”

A former classmate of mine at BYU who is now renowned Harvard business professor by the name of Dr. Clay Christensen, argued several years before I retired that the paradigms of marketing itself are broken and must be reconfigured beginning with the way we segment customer prospects.

He shows how any communication under the umbrella of marketing, including advertising, must, in the end, show consumers what “job” they need to hire your product or community to do, exposing the flaw in communities that try to be appealing at everything, only to find they have sold their soul.

Christensen, who is famous for coining the concept of disruptive innovation, would not only agree with me that many of my peers, though much younger are marketing dinosaurs but that they are committing “Marketing Malpractice.”

I will continue this primer in the next post by reviewing why techniques such as advertising, not just roadside billboards, are now so obsolete.

Unfortunately, most marketing dinosaurs probably didn’t get this far (sigh.)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Where Durham Dawdles

While one of the most broadly acclaimed communities in America, Durham, NC where I live seems to be dawdling its way to one 15 year-old best practice only in fits and starts.

Before I get to the theory of why that is, as given to me this week by a landscaper friend of mine, let me share why even this practice requires yet another layer of best practice to be truly effective.

While Durham has dawdled, some cities are closing in on fulfilling a goal to plant 1 million new trees.  The movement stems from a goal by then Republican Vice President George Bush in 1991 encouraging Americans to plant 30 million trees.

He was bucking popular members of his party and some Democrats who had the convoluted notion that trees cause pollution.  In some cases they can, but science before and since has clarified that trees are crucial to regulating climate.

Deforestation hawks eventually undermined the initiative but it inspired many cities and states to take up the cause.  Tree hawks eventually stalled state initiatives but many cities forge ahead.

Most notable is New York City which faced much more daunting challenges than others.

Many cities were doomed when they tried to do it on the cheap using only donations and volunteers while failing to factor in ongoing maintenance.

However, NYC began with research in 2006 and 2007 to quantify both its municipal trees as well as the overall tree canopy across all five boroughs.

Then the city set an ambitious goal to plant a million new trees, 70% of which would be on city property such as along streets and right-of-ways, parks and public housing while rallying another 30% planted by homeowners, landlords, apartment complexes, businesses and non-profits.

But what makes the NY program truly stand out is that it not only incorporated caring for the trees into the initiative but worked with nurseries and growers to provide supplies of quality trees that would be sustainable in order to truly optimize long-term benefit.

An effort this strategic is only possible when elected officials and administrators weave it throughout each agency and department as well as understand the need for intensive, unrelenting data-based marketing communications.

The folks at Deep Root have calculated, in part by using i-Tree, that to plant a million trees using the right kind of trees with proper planting and maintenance will generate a $25 billion return over 50 years compared to a minus $3 billion if done improperly.

Only when leaders grasp that trees are a form of infrastructure is this type of commitment likely.

So why are so many other cities such as Durham failing to catch on or mount a concerted, strategic effort such as New York?

My landscaper friend believes it is we all in general, including elected leaders and administrators, even the one-percenters, make the same strategic mistake at home.

Even rich people put $100,000 into landscaping but then balk at paying a $100 a month for maintenance.  These same people also insist on overplanting to create a short term impression and expressing shock when it inevitably must be thinned and then, over time, ages out and must be replaced.

It isn’t just governments that often don’t get it.

While opinion polls in Durham show a high regard for tree canopy, the reality is that we don’t understand nor are we led to understand the true cost of things.

So many taxpayers complained at the $16 million cost of building the Durham Bulls Athletic Park only to be flabbergasted when it costs another $20 million to refresh it after two decades.

Part of the problem is that we, as the general public, don’t get it.

But we also don’t have leaders who deluding themselves don’t educate us.  In fact, many play into our ignorance by fostering resentment of government and taxes without revealing that we will be cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Durham leaders may eventually catch on and fully embrace its coveted tree canopy.  If and when it does, hopefully we do it right and learn from NYC.

Why is he so grumpy, some readers are probably muttering?

Hey, I spent a good share of my heart and soul defending Durham but that never stopped me from shining a light on areas where I believe we must improve.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Perceptions of Teachers and Teacher Pay

It’s funny how some people get when it comes to how much other people get paid, so I was curious when Harris polled Americans about perceptions of what school teachers make where they live.

Six in ten Americans consider teaching a prestigious occupation, with 21% holding it in high esteem compared to 10% who feel it is not prestigious at all according to an earlier Harris Poll.

Eight in ten would encourage a child to pursue teaching, double the proportion that would encourage being a member of Congress, for instance.

Perceptions of teacher pay have changed since I was in high school 50 years ago.  At that time 42% of Americans perceived their local teachers were paid too little and 2% thought it was too much.

Today, more than half of Americans believe local teachers are paid too little while 8% believe they are paid too much.

The perceptions vary by region, urban vs. rural and, of course, political philosophy, but maybe not in the way you might think based on Tea Party rhetoric or the influence they appear to have had on lawmakers in some states.

Conservatives, overall, are five times more likely to believe teachers are paid too much compared to liberals.  No surprise.

But they are also more than twice as likely as moderates to believe this, although these days ultra conservatives often seem to fail to distinguish liberals from moderates.

A greater percentage of rural Americans hold that view, but news to many lawmakers where I live is that only 2% of Southerners think their teachers are paid too much, while a national high of nearly 7 in 10 in the South think teachers are paid too little.

The stinginess is also not about resentment of institutional burdens on taxpayers vs. what individual teachers are paid.  Southerners are also more likely than Americans in other parts of the country to believe that not enough is being spent on public schools overall.

Surveys such as these illuminate the growing disconnect between the lavish news coverage of Americans who are either fiscally and cultural angry or estranged, and that given to the opinions of Americans as a whole.

Friday, October 09, 2015

“Foresensing”–The Key to Evergreen

In the days before texting I had friends, who even after email had become common via mobile devices, would always call or leave a voice mail message when they needed something or had a question.

It typically involved a document or some research finding.  So I would fulfill the requests quickly via email to leave a paper trail, but these individuals would invariably call again for clarification.

That is unless they disagreed with the information I had sent or something our organization was doing predicated on the findings, in which case they would write a lengthy email neglecting to include the background and copy a trillion other people, now understood as a cardinal sin.

Boy, I sure miss that drama.  But don’t jump to the conclusion that they had a learning or reading disability.

People who did that may have been much more strategic and savvy than it seems.  They probably accepted something I, too, understood at the time but chose not to further enable:

1. Many people no longer read;  2. Even more prefer to shape decisions and opinions on anecdotes and personalities rather than data and information; and 3. Very few are paying attention to the future or evolving.

In community work, like business and government, the world is awash with dead or dying organizational models which are kept on life support by people either addicted to those behaviors or overly conscious of those still all-too-prevalent conditions.

This is why “best practices” are so easy to spot, not merely for purposes of copying, but because the organizations that exhibit them are purposely wired for what entrepreneurial researcher Dr. Joseph Pistrui calls “nextsensing.”

During my now-concluded career in community destination marketing to generate visitor-centric economic and cultural development in four different parts of the country, I was what some would now characterize as an “evergreen entrepreneur.”

Only, I was on the quasi-public-private side of things. Still, according to some, I exhibited all 7 characteristics of evergreen entrepreneurs to some extent in the five different startups with which I was involved and/or led.

I enjoyed startups because you not only get to build an organization from scratch but you get to evolve each one by quantum leaps each time.  During the last half of my career, I learned to do this every few months with the same organization.

Nextsensing doesn’t come from “group-think” exercises such as brainstorming which, as studies have shown, is a pure waste of time unless accompanied with a very healthy dose of critical thinking.

Unfortunately, most people who facilitate or are drawn to the “kumbaya” school of brainstorming seem averse to thinking at all, let alone critically, because to them, asking questions is criticism.

But this is only one of the reasons that the traditional approach to making strategic plans is often futile, or when successful, are destined to be quickly relegated to a dusty shelf (buried on a rarely seen portion of a computer drive.)

An even more compelling reason these plans are now ineffective is that true strategic insight, strategic foresight or “nextsensing,” must be woven into the DNA of an organization in such a way that it occurs organically in real time.

Writing about this aspect in a classic book entitled, The Living Company: Growth, Learning and Longevity in Business, author and researcher Arie de Geus famously wrote “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be your only sustainable advantage.”

Earlier, in 1988, de Geus termed this as “institutional learning” in an article in Harvard Business Review.  He explained that this type of learning is much more difficult than individual learning.

Organizations that are “evergreen” outperform those that are focused only on near-term returns.  According to studies, de Geus explains that they “institutionalize change” rather than reacting to crisis.

In the past, even evolving organizations could afford to gestate learning anywhere from 12 to 18 months before acting on it.

Today, that evolution must be in real time.

Researchers involved with the Nextsensing Project have identified four skills needed to see the future in real time:

  1. Stretch Sensibilities – A mindset and commitment to exploration.
  2. Stand for Change – Set new directions and adjust priorities.
  3. Create a new Order – Retool the enterprise to set new goals and trigger actions no one else has set or achieved.
  4. Lead with “Foresense” – Transform hunch to vision and new skills.

In late 1970s, Bert Lance, a banker and native-Georgian who headed the Office of Budget and Management for then President Jimmy Carter popularized the expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” an old Swedish proverb.

No even remotely sustainable organization has that luxury today.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Much More Important Than That

Last spring, after reading one of my posts referencing urban trees as a form of green infrastructure, a friend of mine in high office tried gently to break the news to me.

He emailed, “Local officials or residents generally don’t see trees as what they typically think of as ‘infrastructure.’”  My friend reassured me that “we mostly think of trees as wonderful and beautiful and necessary, but not as infrastructure.”

He’s right, unfortunately.

This reminded me of a hilarious response the editor of the now defunct Business 2.0 gave to me when I tried, in my former role, to explain that Durham and Raleigh are distinct communities and metro areas.

He quipped the oxymoron (contradictory terms appearing in conjunction) that until “Durham is better known,” his magazine would “continue to refer to it as Raleigh.”

No wonder the magazine went out of business in 2007.

Actually, opinion polls have long shown that Durham has nearly the same awareness level as Raleigh even though the latter has the advantage of being memorized as a state capital by nearly all school children.

But the role of the community marketing organization I led at the time was to raise that awareness, especially among prospective visitors for which Durham would be a good fit, while aiding those for whom it wouldn't, to seek alternatives.

Yes, community marketing is not missionary work, but I digress.

Likewise, the general public’s recognition of “green infrastructure” will take time and rely on awareness generated by local governments.

To be fair, it wasn’t until about two decades ago that the term “green infrastructure” began to be used in government circles, although it had been taught as part of planning and administration long before that.

EPA is working hard to further this understanding and I would think that Durham officials will soon catch on.  But more importantly, will they realize their responsibility to educate residents in this regard?

Equally pertinent, will they accept stewardship for not only government-owned trees here but the broader tree canopy?  Will they finally execute a study to quantify that value?

But as Washington Post science journalist, Chris Mooney, suggests, the quantification of ecosystem services (“blending concepts from ecology and economics”) may be missing the even greater benefit of trees and other forms of green infrastructure to public health.

Ecosystem services are things such as provisioning food, regulating services such as water purification, or cultural services such as sense of place or aesthetics.

National Parks, for instance, generate $10 into the economy for every $1 invested by taxpayers, including tourism, but they also pull or sequester $580 million of carbon out of the air annually.

As Mooney did in this week’s column about a proposal by Harvard’s Dr. E.O. Wilson to set aside for our own sake half of the earth’s land area and 70% of the ocean in the form of nature reserves, he often covers research that deepens the connection between health and nature.

I’ve always been healthy but I am arguably healthier now than I’ve been in more than 40 years.  Wherever I’ve lived in Durham over the last 26 of those years, I’ve been surrounded by forests, nowhere more than where I live now.

On the eve after my birthday this past July, new research was published that concluded, “Having 10 more trees in a city block, on average, improves health perception in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000…,” or “being 7 years younger.”

The lots where I split my time, one in Durham and one on a nearby lake each have more than 100 trees alone which obviously contribute to my feeling younger.

Lets see now, research has recently shown that tree cover, not just government-owned trees but the entire tree canopy of a community, has an impact on public health, public works, taxable property values, crime reduction, social services, economic and neighborhood vitality, mental health, air and water quality etc.

Maybe they aren’t a form of infrastructure which is defined as the basics needed for the operation of society.

They are much more important than that.

Friday, October 02, 2015

It Never Leaves You

You can’t grow up in the tiny Yellowstone-Teton nook of eastern Idaho that noses up between Montana and Wyoming as I did during my formative years on an ancestral cattle ranch, without being constantly aware that it will happen again.

There are 40 distinct geologic formations there, but dominant is a huge volcanic eruption that took place there 2 million years ago.

That was the largest in a chain-reaction of eruptions that began 17 million years ago in the southwest nook of Idaho near its borders with Oregon and Nevada.

Sweeping to the northeast, the eruptions worked their way up what became the 400 mile Snake River Plain, which widens from 30 miles to 125 miles as it reaches my native nook where in the shadow of the Rockies that stupendous eruption created an alpine bench above the plain.

A much smaller eruption in that chain created the Yellowstone Plateau just 600,000 years ago and a crater, or caldera, as large as Los Angeles.

Five miles below its surface is a volcano of molten rock the size of Mount Everest, one of 10 Super Volcanoes in the World.

It will blow again someday and the consequences will be felt globally.

But a far greater imprint on my youth was a river formed from springs that filter through the Yellowstone Plateau where it leans on my native nook of Idaho, called the Henry’s Fork.

It surfaces at the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide just 10 miles from the headwaters of the Missouri River on the other side: the waters of the former destined for the Pacific and the waters of the latter to the Atlantic.

It is impossible to describe how beautiful this area is, especially the first 70 miles of the river’s 127 mile length, so I’ll just link to this video. This is the part my parents crisscrossed when they first brought me home from the hospital.

We crossed it to provision in Ashton, to and from school and church, to watch my dad play softball in the evening down near Chester and for Sunday family dinners along with my with my aunts, uncles and cousins down at my grandparent’s house in Saint Anthony.

The Henry’s Fork is where I learned to wade and explore, catch frogs and fly fish, as well as experience the transformative, spiritual influence of nature.

I rarely return, maybe every 20 years or so, but the Henry’s Fork never leaves you.

It is really more like five different rivers in that first half of the river from where a huge spring turns to a river within a hundred feet, through forests, winding across the pastures and native grasses of a caldera, down through steep canyons creating three huge water falls.

Along that stretch it collects creeks such as Buffalo, Elk and Robinson and rivers such as Warm River and Fall River which cascading out of the southwest corner of Yellowstone known as Bechler Meadows.

Herds of Elk “summer” in the meadows there and further up the Henry’s Fork, migrate just above and below the ranch my great-grandparents settled to “winter” at wildlife refuges at Camas and along Sand Creek.

Just beyond Saint Anthony, the Henry’s Fork breaks into channels becoming more like a large, inland delta as it collects the Teton River west of Rexburg and before joining the South Fork as it flows down out of Palisades to form the Snake River north of Idaho Falls.

The portion of the river so important to my formative years is between its headwaters and the Vernon bridge north of Chester.

Most of that time was spent exploring a half mile of riffles and runs located in the tail waters between the Ora bridge and the Ashton Dam.

We crossed the Ora bridge almost daily for one reason or another.  It is near there that my parents first met when my dad stopped to pull my mom’s family out of the gravel roadside’s roadside borrow pit.

When it was erected in 1911, the reservoir created by the Ashton Dam and the Ora bridge installed below it shortened the route to town for my rancher paternal great-grandparents and grandparents.

In the 1940s, its owner the Utah Power & Light Company brought my maternal grandfather and his family there for a few years to operate the dam.

The Henry’s Fork earned a reputation in the west for fly-fishing among enthusiasts in the 1930s but in 1975 I just may have had a hand in gaining it worldwide renown.

Before, during and after the Expo ‘74, a World’s Fair for the Environment in Spokane, I worked to help start a community destination marketing organization to leverage and build on the success of the event.

Part of our job was to interest outdoor writers in story ideas and pre and post trips related to the event as well as laying the groundwork for hosting the Outdoor Writers of America national convention.

Spokane, Washington hosted the six month affair, in part because of its proximity within a day’s drive from so many the Pacific Northwest’s great rivers, lakes, national forests and parks, including the Henry’s Fork.

Who knows? The effort may have even planted or germinated the seed for an article written in Sports Afield magazine in 1975.

The article appeared during my first year as the DMO’s chief exec entitled, The Best Dry Fly River in America—The Henry's Fork, written by Ernie Schwiebert.

Schwiebert, who passed away in 2005, was already a legend and respected author and illustrator.

As an architect, he took advantage of his business travels to scout fly fishing streams.  He had also influenced the founding and growth of a conservation group called Trout Unlimited.

Now 150,000 members strong with 400 chapters including one named for Ernie, this past year alone Trout Unlimited protected 1,400 stream miles and 7.8 million acres of land while reconnecting over 570 miles of spawning and rearing habitat and restoring over 140 miles of river.

But within a few years of Ernie’s 1975 accolade, worry spread among residents along the Henry’s Fork about its sustainability and by 1983 they coalesced in the formation of the Henry’s Fork Foundation.

Watershed organizations such as this were extremely rare back then and unheard of in eastern Idaho.

A relatively short river, the Henry’s Fork watershed still generates an incredible 2.8 million acre-feet of water supply each year including shallow groundwater.

For us lay folks, an acre-foot of water is 325,900 gallons.  About 59% of that flows downstream into the Snake along with 29% in the form of groundwater outflow.

The remainder is consumed for irrigation, expanded for domestic, commercial and industrial use or lost through evaporation.

One of the major economic drivers of this nook of Idaho is tourism and recreation including fishing, which relies on consistent seasonal flows along the river.

So the rub, even where there isn’t a drought, is to calibrate use of the river over the course of the year so that it is healthy, bio-diverse and economically viable for all uses.

At issue is irrigation, not because of overall consumption for that purpose, which has been stable since the 1970s, but because of the way it has changed technologically.

Rather than relying on snowmelt, it now relies primarily on groundwater recharge and discharge.  Officials everywhere often make the mistake of thinking of surface water and groundwater as different but it is all related.

Actually, rivers are crucial to groundwater and groundwater outflow is crucial to rivers.  They are inter-related.

Along the Henry’s Fork, about 24% of the groundwater is recharged by rain and snow.  Another 9% comes from stream seepage and 38% from seepage from canals.

Another 29% seeps back into groundwater when the irrigation is applied.  But irrigation technology has challenged areas along the river, resulting in too much in low areas and not enough in others.

Idaho, as well as North Carolina where I live, are very conservative states.  But unlike a regressive wing of conservatives in North Carolina,  lawmakers in Idaho, part of the more arid west, seem to know better than to tamper with water quality provisions.

Idaho also better understands, out of necessity, the importance of collaboration.

This includes close collaboration between federal and state agencies as well as collaboration between non-government organizations such as the HF Foundation, water users, landowners, businesses and other stakeholders working together as the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council.

Over the last few years, state and federal agencies have re-worked a management plan for the Henry’s Fork watershed.  They have distilled of more than 50 options in the areas of surface storage, groundwater recharge and water conservation, down to 12.

None of the options involve rolling back water quality standards as we apparently just did in North Carolina to please special interests.

The final product is a tactical plan for achieving strategic objectives in the future.  It is well worth reading and emulating.

There is a bright future for the Henry’s Fork River.  The river continued over the last four decades to rack up accolades for fly fishing.

But as noted in a recent overview by Trout Unlimited, fishing there is “indeed not what it used to be.  It is better.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Feeding Frenzy Lesson for Community Image

Some of my former peers in visitor-centric economic and cultural development seemed relieved to learn something that became clear to me nearly a decade ago.

Less than four years before I retired after nearly four decades in that profession, a year-long firestorm of negative news coverage erupted.

Fortunately, the community marketing organization (DMO) I led at the time was already far more savvy than most about reputation management.

More on that lesson learned later but some of my colleagues seem to be drawing a mistaken conclusion from visitor surveys that negative news obsessions - even when local - are harmless to a community’s potential to draw visitors.

A few clarifications are in order:

  • There is no such thing as local news.  News outlets measure audience by huge swaths of counties including dozens and dozens of cities and towns, based on where they hope to have influence.

Durham, North Carolina, where I live is part of a so-called media market that stretches over 22 counties and parts of two states.

It is an archaic, obsolete model in a digital world where businesses and consumers now have truly hyper local alternatives.

  • Even when periodic resident surveys show a community’s self-image is high and relatively immune from negative “local” news, there is another consideration.

It can still contaminate the views of not only potential daytrip visitors from surrounding communities but if, like Durham, a community generates so many jobs that 2 in 3 are held by commuting non-residents it results in the perpetuation of negative water-cooler myths.

When these non-residents hold hospitality-related jobs and interface with visitors at airports and in hotels, restaurants, stores and features, the impact can be hugely negative.

So management of a community’s reputation and defense of its brand or personality is broader than just what populations of potential visitors think or how immune they may be to negative “local” news.

Of course, all of this requires a DMO to continually monitor the opinions of residents, commuters and nearby, statewide, regional and national populations.

There are other uses of this information.  Local stakeholders, including businesses owned or operated by non-residents and especially elected officials and local governments, often fall under the misconception that a community can build its way to prominence.

There are a lot of good reasons for a community to continually augment its visitor-related product, especially if it freshens place-based assets that truly differentiate a community without selling its soul to generica.

Regular opinion surveys such as those I mention above will not show any linkage of opinion to new developments.

I say “any” because after studying scores of these, there is little or no linkage to perception.  Buzz created around new developments, even when and if sustained, just can’t reach enough people to dent misimpression, which are fueled by much more pervasive influences.

The DMOs I led used image surveys dating back to the very early 1980s so I’m not basing these observations on just one community or a particular building splurge or series of developments over time.

I was always intrigued that new development had little or no impact on perceptions but, as I promised, I will delve into what we learned from that year-long news frenzy from March 2006 until April 2007.

Because it a DMOs role to deal with news coverage, promoting and facilitating stories and making clarifications as well as serving the needs of journalists and editors whether they be “local,” state, regional, national or global, a byproduct of this event is that a lot of local stakeholders became more cognizant and appreciative of our role.

The coverage was regarding allegations of rape by some lacrosse team members at Duke.

Both the Durham Police and truly local news media were confident the allegations, while troubling, were without merit.

But then the newspaper in nearby Raleigh began to fan the flames which in turn reignited listserv chatter, especially among well-meaning social justice activists.

I happened to be on one such listserv during that re-ignition.

Thanks to amplification by the state AP office based in Raleigh, we were soon besieged by news trucks and a feeding frenzy of inaccurate information, innuendo, pejorative and speculation.

The Durham Police were forced to reopen the investigation and a lot of individual reputations and careers were ultimately destroyed by the time the Attorney General’s office came to the same conclusion made initially by investigators.

The experience has forever made me skeptical that during news frenzies we are really getting full and balanced information.

Well-meaning chamber types here, failing to understand or respect roles and always eager for a parade to lead, called meetings and began to reinvent the wheel about Durham’s image.

This gave us the opportunity to explain what was being done by the Durham DMO and an innovative coalition it created and facilitates called the Durham Public Information & Communications Council.

Made by those unaware that advertising has long been proven ineffective when it comes to reputation management, the suggestion was made to place full-page ads in national newspapers to set the record straight.

The Durham DMO responded that first we should probably see if perceptions had changed due to the intense and frenzied coverage and ran one of its periodic surveys.

We learned that nationwide, Durham’s positive rating was up and its negative rating down but that some people who didn’t know before had moved to neutral.

By the year after the frenzy, Durham’s image was higher than ever and its negative rating at an all-time low.  Awareness was at an all time high.

The community’s image as a place to visit reached an all-time high with a 16-to-1 positive to negative ratio.  Its image as a place for new business and growth potential was also higher than ever.

Many credited the opportunity Durham’s DMO took during the crisis to better familiarize reporters and editors and lay the seeds for future stories still being reaped today.

The lesson, of course, is not to go out and manufacture negative news frenzies as a means to boost awareness. 

The take-away is that reputation is the product of a lot of very subtle but manageable influences, not just the news.  Covering news is a very difficult profession but at its best a blunt instrument when it comes to getting the “full story” about something.

This is especially true, now that so many national news outlets, rather than take time to investigate, often just quote other news including reporters and editors.

It has been made even more difficult by the fact that as a nation we seem to expect every issue to be viewed as scripted, reality television, even, it appears, our elections for higher office.

I still shake my head at how many communities when faced by a similar frenzy, push their DMOs into wasting millions in advertising not just because ads have long been shown ineffective but because they haven’t even benchmarked perceptions through scientific polling.

Ads, by the way, are scientifically proven to be ineffective because they far too blunt a marketing tactic.  Studies show that they merely harden existing perceptions both negative and positive.

Yelling about yourself as a community, which is what ads are, is not the way to build credibility with external audiences although they may give boosters and officials a false but expensive sense of solace.

Being authentic, honest and persistently earning the respect of national news channels over time is far more effective.  Standing up to inaccuracies and injustice is better done one on one and by equipping grass-roots movements to intervene.

This isn’t to take news media off the hook.  Time has proven the validity of Dr. Barry Glassner’s research in his excellent book entitled, The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, something lost on a business journal tactic of stirring up what we should fear from restaurants with an A health rating.

As traditional media collapses, except for those with steadied and principled news management, we will see more and more news outlets manufacturing fear and ruining reputations, if not to stir up ratings, then to blackmail reluctant advertisers.