Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clearing My Head

My Mom died suddenly this week.  I’m heading out west to the funeral with Mugs, my English Bulldog, on a cross-country road trip to clear my head and process.

For today’s post, below is the obituary I wrote for her.  I’ll write more about this remarkable woman and her incredible influence on me in the future.  Right now I’m still too numb.

Dawn W. Vincent

(previously known as Dawn White Bowman)

(January 27, 1929 – January 19, 2015)

Dawn Vincent passed away in the wee hours of 19 January, 2015 with her daughter Myrle at her side in Everett, Washington near where she had been living in Mill Creek.

She was born Dawn LaBeth White to Mark and Deane White in American Fork, Utah near their home in Highland, the oldest of four children, two of whom survive her, Monte White and his wife Joyce and Eleanor Van Liew and her husband Bob.00001_p_aaeuyfyqe0557

During her high school years they moved near Ashton, Idaho where she met and married Reynol M. Bowman, a nearby rancher before he headed off to WWII. On his return, they had three children beginning in 1948, when she was just 19, all of whom survive them: Reyn Bowman, Raemarie Steele and Myrle Guthrie.

The family also lived in Connell, Spokane and Redmond, Washington as well as Idaho Falls, Idaho and Sandy, Utah. Dawn had a 37-year career working her way up from secretary to accountant and medical center manager.

Thirty-three years ago, she was remarried to W. Leon Vincent and became step-mother to Vicky, Dan, Jeff and Richard Vincent.

Dawn was a devout member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and held the positions of chorister, Relief Society president and pianist. She and Leon served a mission to Cambodian immigrants south of Los Angeles and later served as temple workers in Utah and Washington State where they lived in retirement.

Her varied interests included gardening, reading, playing violin and piano, singing and genealogy.  She was also an incredible cook.

Dawn is also survived by two son-in-laws, Rick Guthrie and Dan Steele, seven grandchildren, Emily Haley, Mark and Megan Guthrie and Ben, Zach, Sam and Adam Steele as well as eight great-grandchildren, Oliver and Charlie Haley, Mattie, Ella and Liam Guthrie and Amelia, Ellie and Harper Steele.

She was a loving and devoted daughter, mother, wife, grandmother and great-grandmother. For countless reasons she will be greatly missed including her resilience, sense of humor, twinkling eyes, love of the lake, drive, determination, independence, grit and boundless optimism.

Graveside services will be held at the cemetery in Spanish Fork, Utah on Friday, January 30, 2015 at 1:00 p.m.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Failing to Account for Changes in Consumer Behavior

Analysis of data gathered as part of the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts shows that Americans attending performing arts performances dropped from 39% in 1982 to 33.4% in 2012.

The percentage attending musicals has fallen from 17.1% to 15.2% between 2002 and 2012, during a decade when communities, especially in the South, went on an explosive spending spree predicated on that art form, while attendance at arts events in the South Atlantic fell lower than it did nationwide.

Even more worrisome, the number of annual visits per attendee by these musical theater-goers fell from 2.3 to 2 during that decade with attendance from various minority groups still a fraction of the overall population they represent.A Decade of Arts Engagement

Nearly 60% of attendance at musicals is now from those with household incomes of $100,000 or more, with 32.4% making $150,000 or more, predominantly older, white Americans.

This is hardly reassuring given the rapid transformation underway in demographics which is often disguised by increases in the overall population.  Nor is the percentage of Americans attending performing arts the only cultural activity in decline.

The percentage attending visual arts festivals or crafts fairs has declined from 33.4% to 22.4% over the decade between 2002 and 2012.

The percentage visiting historic sites or historic neighborhoods and architecture has fallen from 31.6% to 23.9% over that span while the percentage attending amateur or professional sports events fell from 35% to 30%.

Community destination marketing organizations (DMOs) will be able to find useful benchmarks in the analysis.

DMOs have the means to obtain the percentage of Americans who participate in individual activities.  If a DMO has subscribed to receive this data, it can be compared to general interest in an activity from studies such as this one as a means to understand potential.

On trips of 50 miles or more away, less than 10% of Americans will participate in particular activities of interest they enjoy while at home.

A handful of DMOs, such as the one for Durham, NC, where I live, gather marketing intelligence on day-trip visitors who travel less than 50 miles from home.

Studies such as this one provide an idea of the interest level for an activity in that radius, although again, the proportion interested in enjoying that activity while away, regardless of proximity, is a third of what it is at home.

But there are many other consumer behaviors to take into account.

Access to opportunity is one.  It is the long observed behavior that the more access a consumer has to an activity, the less likely or motivated they are to participate.

This means, for example, that the motivation to go to a musical or concert will lessen now that there are theaters offering those events in Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro and Raleigh.

Another is that participation can rapidly change over time as lifestyles change.

We’ve been aware for two decades now that the talent communities seek to attract is much less likely than earlier generations to frequent events in large-scale venues.

Rather than paying a large sum to sit looking forward without interacting for several hours is much less interesting to them than a street scene where they can come and go to a smorgasbord of various establishments such as restaurants, stores and nightclubs.

Even an analysis of motivations behind attendance at performing arts shows finds that more than three-quarters do it to socialize with family or friends.  Of those who didn’t attend, 44% cited lack of time and cost as the reasons.

Only 6.9% cited lack of interest in the program or event as a barrier to attending.

Musicals, in particular, should take note.  From my experience, the songs are far too long and the entire production is often twice the length it needs to be for the same impact.  I’m obviously not their target audience but neither is half the audience and it never hurts to recalibrate.

Communities spend tens of millions on cultural venues but usually have their minds made up by the time they do a feasibility study having already dismissed data available from their DMO, should it be data-driven.

But even if officials didn’t have those wires crossed or were better at fending off special interests focused on propping up property values to instead keep their minds open, few consultants are inclined or able to factor in some of the things noted above.

Almost never do these consultants analyze the effects of access to opportunity or even inventory a community’s comp set to index the number of venues to population.

Also missing, in the words of Indiana professor Joanna Woronkowski, an expert on cultural policy is an analysis of whether these proposed facilities risk “wasting scarce public resources and creating negative externalities” such as unwanted gentrification by destroying the day to day linkages that foster entrepreneurialism.

I’ve never found a feasibility report that looks at the risk new mainstream facilities can do to a community’s sense of place ecosystem or closely examine the mistakes of other communities who did something similar rather than only those they envy.

Of course, travel and leisure activities are not the only areas of activity undergoing fundamental change.

Durham largest and oldest Rotary Club is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year dating back to when the movement was born.  Through valiant effort, it is transforming its membership to be younger, more diverse.

But here and across the world, models such as this were focused not only to provide social interaction and feeding ground for extroverts but to harness critical mass to solve problems and improve communities.

Leaders there are well advised to read The Vanishing Neighborhood by researcher Marc Dunkelman.  In part, it is a review of books and studies dealing with a behavioral transformation among Americans since WWII which appears to be accelerating.

As the author notes, “mainframe” approaches such as this which have become as much about fundraising as about socializing or doing are giving way to generations now more comfortable with ad hoc groups that form around issues or projects and then dissolve.

DMOs have been forced for decades by stakeholders to keep scores of obsolete organizations on life support that at one time made sense but failed to grasp when their missions were accomplished or no longer relevant.

Communities and groups are well advised to be much more judicious when adding to cultural offerings by studying more closely the changes in consumer behaviors and the concept of obsolescence.

It will take them back to a deeper appreciation of what makes a community distinct and organically appealing and the values and traits that make a particular place worthy of love.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Trait Shared By “Big Game Hunters”

Community destination marketing organizations that fall into the trap of “big game hunting” share a cultural trait dating back to before the 1920s when leisure travel emerged as mainstream.

They are generally marketing organizations in name only, having untethered sales from its constraints as an element of marketing along with any focus on distinctiveness, differentiation, sense of place or fit.

“Big game hunters” are individuals or groups of enablers who, lacking awareness or patience with fostering the sense of particular place, seek instead to import it by going shopping for culture and bringing back one of everything.

They also have in common a sales focus in the traditional sense (e.g., I have produced something to sell and need to convince you to buy it even if it requires subsidies) as it was when community destination marketing organizations first evolved in the 1890s and was being taught in colleges by 1904.

Marketing thought and practice (e.g.,what do you need and maybe I have something that will fit that need) including a customer-focused integration of sales was already rapidly evolving.

Some community marketing organizations began to adopt marketing including a different focus to sales in the 1920s and especially during the 1930s, while many never made the shift.

Many still remained glued to old fashioned sales by the time marketing theory and practice really took immediately after WWII.

This is also when marketing became scientific as documented by authors such as Wroe Alderson in his co-authored 1948 book Towards a Theory of Marketing, the year I was born.

It was followed by his 1957 book, Marketing Behavior and Executive Action, still in use as a textbook when I entered college a decade laterBut many community marketing organizations as they are today remained stuck in the 1890s.

Nor did they budge when in 1960, Harvard professor Theodore Levitt published a paper, later expanded into a book by the same name entitled Marketing Myopia, describing the difference between untethered sales and integrated marketing.

My four decade career leading community destination marketing organizations didn’t consciously begin until 1973, the year after I graduated, but reading that paper as a class assignment while helping to jumpstart an office to market the BYU campus for youth conferences, as a part-time job, had made me aware of what marketing meant.

Even as I began my career in earnest helping to create a community marketing organization for Spokane, peer organizations still stuck in the 1890s sales mindset mounted furious opposition to even changing the name of these organizations to add the word visitor after conventions, my first exposure to “big game hunters.”

Though mine had allowed me to escape being trapped, I can easily trace the DNA of the organizations today that remain stuck in the 1890s by tracing those influential in their background.

It is hard to say if I just happened to choose communities eager to avoid that trap or they found me, but I was dogged throughout my career by “big game hunters” in each of the three communities I served, all of whom were eager to pull us back into the past, several coming close to having me fired.

Communities that forgo sense of place and authenticity to “big game hunt” instead for mega-facilities or events that make them the same as other communities and then resort to subsidies to underwrite their appeal appeal, are still practicing sales as it was well more than a hundred years ago.

Marketing a community requires finesse by appealing to visitors who will find a particular place a good fit in return for their time and treasure while pursuing groups and events only when they meet these criteria:

  • Occur during time periods where they won’t distract from homegrown events
  • Won’t displace existing visitors
  • Won’t siphon away underwriting, audience and volunteers from homegrown events
  • Are complimentary with a community’s unique stature

Untethered from marketing, a sales-dominant focus superimposes these criteria with quotas and winning new accounts against a far too narrow metric such as just filling hotel rooms.

Surveys across all kinds of organizations show that only 18% of sales teams are held accountable for minimizing churn and only 30% are accountable for maintaining margins and avoiding discounts and subsidies, the hallmarks of “big game hunters.”

By using myopic metrics, they also fail to be accountable for a return that even replenishes the dollars used as subsidy.  Had they not untethered from marketing they would be seeing returns closer to 6-to-1 in tax revenues to the community overall.

The battle to protect sense of place from the forces of mainstream entertainment and fantasy dates at least to April 7. 1858 when two Democrats (the conservatives of that day) appointed to the Central Park Board tried to pollute, a week after it had been approved, the plan by Fredrick Law Omsted and his partner.

“Big game hunting” by communities hoping to import sense of place rather than foster it indigenously by intensified in the 1940s in the immediate aftermath of WWII.

Most communities in the 1920s and 1930s had broadened to a marketing focus when leisure travel achieved mass appeal but this was coopted when after WWII, developers inured to destruction of historic buildings during that conflict and settling for churn began to gain influence over public expenditures.

Beginning in the mid to late 1940s, many cities stopped viewing facilities such as convention centers, stadiums and performance halls for their inherent potential.

Instead, pushed by “big game hunters,” elected officials began to build them instead, with tax dollars, as a way to shore up private property values, something still very common today.

It should be no surprise that this is also when the owners of sports teams, emerging as a form of mainstream entertainment, began to shop for cities under the spell of “big game hunters.” 

While the owners of the NFL’s Boston Braves may have been the first to do so, changing to Redskins and relocating to Washington D.C. in 1937, they were quickly followed after WWII by the Buffalo Bisons of the NBA, moving first to Moline as the Blackhawks then in 1951 to Saint Louis as the Hawks, then to Atlanta in 1968 for a new arena.

In Major League Baseball, it began in 1953 when the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee before relocating again in 1966 to Atlanta, lured by a community built on “big game hunting.”

When in 1955 the owner of the Dodgers moved to LA, persuading the owner of the cross-town Giants to move to San Francisco, he was lured by LA’s “big game hunters.”

Both marketing and the element of sales have continued to evolve but many community marketing organizations, even if they wanted to move away from sales as it was practiced more than a hundred years ago are trapped by the undue influence of “big game hunters” in their communities.

Those that long ago shifted are never entirely safe when local officials fall under the spell of “big game hunters” who see marketing as a threat to their main stream fixations and relentlessly push behind the scenes to gain control of the community marketing organizations in their communities.

Communities that value the higher performance gained by fostering and preserving the things that make them distinct vs. “big game hunting” must not only make sure their community marketing organization isn’t trapped in the past but relentlessly protect local officials from undue influence by “big game hunters.”

All of this is not to suggest that sales isn’t an important element of marketing for community marketing organizations.  Those that have made the shift as revealed in this study illustrate the difference between high performing sales teams and others, in part, because they practice a much higher level of accountability.

These high performers are also much more focused on the quality of sales, such as avoiding discounts and especially subsidies.

“Big game hunters” hate these constraints, preferring myopic metrics rather than information driven decision-making and the “who’s asking” approach to decision-making.

Some communities still have a choice about whether to cave in to these powerful interests or instead foster an indigenous sense of place ecosystem protected by a community marketing organization with that as its focus.

For far too many, it no longer matters what century their community marketing is in.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Prosperity Linked to Proximity to Protected Lands

News headlines about my native Intermountain West always seem limited to a few angry white extremists with guns or elected officials pandering to campaign contributors eager to exploit its natural resources.

Rarely, by the time news gets back to Durham, North Carolina where I live, does it provide more nuanced coverage of this complicated region including news of studies that run counter to those narratives.

Studies I’ve been reading, including one that analyzes the 284 non-metro counties in the west as a whole where there are substantial amounts of protected federal lands, are fascinating.

One study zeroed in on those with lands protected for conservation and analyzes non-metro, county-level economic performance in these places from the present to, in some cases, back as far as the 1970s.  Others analyze the performance of a all 413 counties in the 11 contiguous western states.

The current wave of anti-regulation rhetoric dates not to the 1960s regulations to protect water, air and the food supply or when the EPA was created as many assume or the anti-government rhetoric used by the Reagan administration but not shared by the American public in the 1980s.

The anti-regulation chant of today has its roots in 1947, when partisan post-WWII Republicans resumed the drumbeat of how regulations are a burden regulations are on business, while dismissing that without them an even greater burden is shouldered by individual Americans.

I was born and spent my early years during this period in a million acre- Idaho county wedged into that nook between Montana and Wyoming.  Only 31% of the land area was in private hands such as our ancestral ranch just west of the Henry’s Fork.

More than 58% of Fremont County is under federal protection on behalf of all Americans including a portion of Yellowstone National Park and the Targhee National Forest.

To put this in perspective, the amount of federal lands in my native Fremont County, Idaho is 3.6 times the land area of Durham County, North Carolina where I live but with only 3% of the population.

Only 67,642 acres of the more than of Fremont County is protected for conservation purposes and relevant to the study of all 284 non-metro counties in the west with such lands.

The studies were done by the independent, non-profit, non-partisan Headwaters Economics based in Bozeman, Montana, up and over the Continental Divide and 150 miles north of our ranch where my parents eloped as my dad headed off to WWII.

The study was conducted to determine if these projected lands were associated with decreased or increased economic performance.  The numbers show that performance is higher for every 10,000 acres of protected federal land a county has.

It turns out that the economic performance in non-metro western counties with protected federal lands is as much as 345% on average compared in some areas compared to 83% for non-metro lands in the west with no protected federal land.

Between my junior and senior years of high school, I read A Wilderness Bill of Rights by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who grew up along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State.

Appointed when he was just 40 years of age, his time on the highest court spanned from when my dad was in high school until my law school days.

His words transformed my spiritual and restorative feelings about nature into an entitlement for all Americans, as important as freedoms of speech and religion.

It had a profound impact.

Five years after Douglas retired from the high court, as President Ronald Reagan was elected, the news media, made the mistaken assumption that his popularity meant that his anti-government rhetoric must be widely shared, amplifying partisan news releases.

But both the news media and publicists were mistaken.  Polls following the election showed that only 21% of Americans shared that notion, about the same percentage as in 1976, possibly contributing to approval ratings for Reagan that several years later dipped into the 30% range.

It is the same today.  Americans don’t share anti-regulation rhetoric when the consequences become clear even though the term regulation has been sequestered and demonized my entire lifetime .

Campaign strategists then and now were brilliant, seeking not to sway public opinion but to make certain words radioactive such as environmentalist, federal government and taxes, creating a political correctness that distorted the self-perception of Americans.

It still gridlocks us today.

I much prefer to look at analysis of the actual numbers, not because they will change anyone’s mind but because they provide relief.

Oh, and by the way, studies show that non-rural counties in the west that are exploited for natural resources, actually in the long term suffer economically.

Just sayin’.  Too bad facts don’t have lobbyists.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Looking Past Present Hyperbole to Entrepreneurial Roots

Durham, NC “stayers” have always known better but “boomers” who bought into Raleigh, NC’s narratives over the years stand out because they believe Durham wasn’t “cool” to young people until recent developments made it “cool.”

By young people they typically mean those ages 18-39.  Those under the spell of this narrative can be identified because they demean Durham as it was 10 or more years ago.

The same people stand out because they also mischaracterize entrepreneurs and start-ups as being driven by people in this age group.

It turns out that by 1980, Wake County, where Raleigh is dominant, had only a half of a percent more of its population in the age group 18-34 than Durham County where the City of Durham is even more dominant.

By 1990, both experienced a slight decline proportionally.  But during the 1990s when that taunting was taking place, it turns our Durham surpassed Wake/Raleigh in appeal to this age group.

By 2000, well before downtown Durham became “cool,” Durham had already surged ahead by 3 percentage points, a gap it widened to 5 between 2009 and 2013.

In fact for more than twenty years, Durham has had a greater proportion of this age group in its population than any other urban area and the state as a whole.

Durham also excels in the percentage of this population with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, greatly exceeding Wake/Raleigh over more than three decades.  Durham is now double the proportion statewide in this category.

But Durham’s entrepreneurial nature dates to before settlement and has never been reliant on this age group alone.  In fact, studies in other urban areas such as Silicon Valley and New York City have found that founders of start-ups average 31 years of age with the median age today about age 38.

A third were 40 or older and about a quarter were in their later 30s.

What should be of interest to state officials who have been critical of colleges for the majors their students choose is that 64% of the tech founders in New York City did not major in engineering, mathematics, electrical engineering, computer science or other STEM categories.

In fact, more studied history, philosophy, marketing, business and political science.

A relatively new book I’ve been reading entitled, The Vanishing Neighborhood: The Transformation of American Community, by Marc Dunkelman, a researcher at Brown, is commended for many reasons.

One, is that it provides insight into why and how communities such as Durham have sustained entrepreneurialism in its DNA for nearly 200 years and why other communities, however bad they seek it including those nearby have remained “stovepiped.”

It also gives insight into why the way Durham is going about revitalization of its downtown may be too one dimensional, putting at risk rather than enhancing the community’s sixteen decade old tradition.

Dunkelman cites evidence that “economic dynamism, in essence, emerges less in the cliques…than in the longer list of contacts we each maintain in our virtual rolodexes.”

This goes back to a study in 1973, less than a year after I graduated from college, by Dr. Mark Granovetter, that found that when it comes “to the spread of innovative concepts, the connections we maintain with our closest contacts are not nearly as important as the breadth of our extended networks.

There is an editorial from the Raleigh newspaper in the decades after the Civil War that ridiculed Durham by opining,  “Have you seen what they are doing in Durham? Whites and Negroes are working side by side on the same street, like a wild west town.”

But according to studies, it was this characteristic that had long before and after the editorial has fueled Durham’s entrepreneurial character, an incarnation of which is heralded today as though it is something novel.

Washington Duke, Julian Carr and James Buchanan Duke were early entrepreneurs in Durham but hardly the first.  Yet, what fueled entrepreneurialism here, I can see from the studies reviewed in Dunkelman’s book, including Granovetter’s seminal work, was not the connections among friends and family or cliques among Durham’s elite.

An example that scholars have studied, is that different than other southern cities at the time, blacks and whites in Durham enjoyed extended friendships and relationships and invested in one another’s ideas and startups.

Researchers at the Neighborhood Policy Institute were analyzing and writing about entrepreneurial enclaves such as Durham a quarter of a century ago when I first arrived here.

John Merrick, one of the founders of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, an anchor on “Black Wall Street” here in the late 1800s, was a barber for Washington Duke and Julian Carr who invested in his idea.

In this newest reincarnation, many here rightfully worry that downtown Durham, by becoming a little too cute and more of a creative class resort is purging this socio-economic diversity so critical to Durham’s entrepreneurial DNA.

It is in grave danger of losing the “side by side” heritage that has repeatedly propelled its entrepreneurial bones.

Research in The Vanishing Neighborhood would strongly suggest that fostering entrepreneurs in Durham's future will take a lot more than hubs that let startups and researchers rub shoulders.

There is incredible value from respecting, mining and learning from our community’s past.  Durham “stayers” know this and it is why for decades now, while repeatedly leapfrogged by officials and developers, they have ranked a local history museum as the top cultural priority.

Just as important to Durham’s entrepreneurial future is repopulating it with the black, Hispanic and Asian businesses that give Durham as a whole its character, as well as people from a wide socio-economic range.

It is important to remember that not only has Durham been a magnet for residents age 18 to 34 including a much higher percentage with college degrees, but it also has a higher percentage who live in poverty.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Spiritual and Economic Dividend

I was too distracted by the magnificence of the peaks towering ahead to pay much attention a few years ago when with Mugs, my English Bulldog and travel companion, we twice crossed the Two Medicine River.

So too, has most of the mainstream media, failed to notice two remarkable developments there recently.

That afternoon, Mugs and I were on one of our annual cross-country road trips to rendezvous with family lakeside in the Northern Rockies.  The 60-mile Two Medicine River spills out of mountain lakes on the east side of the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park.

But it quickly cuts a deep valley, creating cliffs as it goes through the southwest part of the Blackfeet Reservation, a tiny fragment of the ancestral lands for that people in Canada and the U.S.

Where the Two Medicine drops out of the mountains to create its valley is known as the Rocky Mountain Front, which marks the meeting of the Rockies and the Plains.

As an aside, had it not been for the influence of gold interests in Congress, the front was meant to be the border between northern Idaho and Montana, denying the latter its distinctive western Indian Chieftain-like face and making it more Dakota in shape.

I was born and spent my early years on an ancestral ranch about three hundred miles south just on the western side of the Divide in that Yellowstone nook where Idaho, Montana and Wyoming meet.

This nook is also where several Indian cultures met long before Mountain Men would rendezvous there including the Blackfeet, Shoshone and Crow peoples.

These three groups from my youth really did fit the stereotypes applied to Native Americans in the late 1800s by Dime Westerns and Wild West shows including being great horsemen, living in teepees, and wearing deerskin, war bonnets and beads.

I was most familiar with Northern Shoshone, for whom one of my great-great grandfathers had been an interpreter in the early 1860s during a time of intense misunderstanding.  Tragically, he was unable to prevent a massacre by U.S. Cavalry a few miles from my grandparents place.

These ancestors lived in territorial days along the Cub River and an old Shoshone trail between winter and summer grounds, later also used by the Pony Express.  It was about 175 miles south of the ancestral ranch of my youth.

It has long been thought that around the mid-to-late 1700s while in meeting places such as where I grew up along the Tetons, that Shoshone introduced horses to bands of Blackfoot.

The Shoshone had been introduced to these transformative animals by Cheyenne coming up from what is now Kansas after having first adopted them in 1745.

Of course these are Anglicized names for these peoples.

Blackfoot is the name for the tribe in Canada, Blackfeet is the name given in the United States, which bothers many members.  I grew up taught to use “feet” for the group and “foot” for an individual member or band.

But the name comes from a loose translation in English describing the dark moccasins worn by this nation, a confederation of several groups connected by language.

The group along the Two Medicine would have called themselves Piikáni or Piegan, as they do today.

Until a few months before Mugs and I crossed the Two Medicine, prevailing theory was that individual families and bands organized into larger groups when they came into possession of the horse.

But when oil and gas leasing created an urgency about cultural sites long revered by the Blackfeet, archeologists from the University of Arizona were led to dig into a site along the cliffs above the Two Medicine.

They learned that organizational social changes began not with the horse, but as early as A.D. 900, when a dramatic increase in precipitation along the plains resulted in high grass and led to a dramatic increase in Buffalo populations.

Something remarkable occurred along the Two Medicine by around A.D 1500, still two hundred years before they had the horse, just after Europeans established permanent settlements along America’s eastern shores, and 300 years before the Blackfeet would encounter members of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Ancestors of the Piegan Blackfoot developed a sophisticated system of coordination and planning needed to develop a series of cairns, which are stacks of stones creating chutes through which they would drive Buffalo over the cliffs as a means to harvest food and hides.

They devised not just one but nearly a dozen of these along a 20-mile stretch of the Two Medicine, roughly bookended by the two westerly routes we traversed across the Rocky Mountain front that day.

Except for those in my native Yellowstone nook, Buffalo were extinguished from Idaho by the 1840s when my ancestors began to settle in the Rockies.  They were gone from Blackfeet country by 1881.

But their preservation on tribal lands is as much spiritual as economic.  Along one of our crossings of the Two Medicine that summer was a tribal herd of 250 Buffalo, part of 20,000 on tribal lands in the U.S. today.

A few months ago, near that crossing, the Blackfeet were among many to sign the Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty, committing to the preservation and conservation of Buffalo.

A few miles south of my crossings of the Two Medicine, another significant development has escaped the mainstream media.  In December, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act.

It was the result of 37 years of passion and advocacy including a law that was passed in the early 1980s, after the Forest Service began leasing every acre of the Front for oil and gas development, only to be vetoed by President Reagan.

Along a hundred miles of Front I drove that day, the new bipartisan legislation designates 67,000 acres of National Forest as part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Scapegoat Wilderness.   It protects another 208,000 acres in a conservation management area.

The conservation area prevents the expansion of motorized use, prohibits new roads and protects horse, foot and cycling trails as well as what biologists consider among the top 1% of wildlife habitat in America.

An average of nearly 70% of the private land use in the three counties most involved is still used for pasture, rangeland and cropland.  The legislation had the support of many ranchers including Dusty Crary near Choteau.

Tourism and recreation, along this stretch of Rocky Mountain Front, now generates 19% of employment and growing.

In the West overall, areas such as this along federally protected lands are associated with higher rates of job growth, 345% between 1970 and 2010, compared to 83% in non-metro counties with no protected federal lands.

There is definitely a dividend from conservation.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Strengthening Counter Narratives

It occurred to me that a recommendation I read in a commentary shortly after the recent murders by Islamic extremists in Paris may also be applicable to other groups who feel under siege.

This could include guns rights activists and ethnic groups here in the United States including blacks and Hispanic and others fearful of losing rights or being profiled and stereotyped because of the actions of a few.

Dr. H.A. Hellyer points out that it isn’t enough for Muslins to condemn terrorism or to lay down their lives fighting extremist.

What is really needed, he suggests, is a strengthening of internal “counter narratives” within that religious culture including being more openly critical when there are abuses in Muslim states.

No doubt that law enforcement agencies need to purge the small number in their midst who are racist including those who hide abuses of their authority behind a badge.

Both police officers and protestors have valid points but the real solution for populations where the individuals feel unfairly criticized for the actions of a few is to admit there is some validity to other points of view and strengthen internal counter narratives.

Master narratives often anchor group behavior and attempt to purge outliers for “airing dirty laundry” on the premise that there is only one issue and one solution and admitting otherwise will bring disgrace.

Groups caught up in master narratives lose sympathy this way, even though internally they exhibit a far wider range of opinions.

Mormons, for example, were always divided about the practice of polygamy which before its ban by church leaders in 1890 was practiced by 20-30% of its members, most as a “calling” from local officials.

To have acknowledged the internal tension, which had been expressed since the mid-1830s, was considered off limits because it would show lack of solidarity, undermine authority and strengthen those who persecuted members.

The same could be said of blacks as a group since the mid-1960s who worry internally about self-inflicted problems but rarely admit them, other than to friends, for fear these more complicated concerns would undermine the master narrative of discrimination and victimization.

Occasionally, individuals and groups within that race, have spoken out, such as Dr. Shelby Steele who in 1990 authored a book entitled The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America.

He was roundly criticized by black leaders fearful that acknowledging the role of rearing and personal and neighborhood responsibility would dilute the master narrative, although many blacks agreed with him in private and began marches to that end.

Hispanics often do the same regarding illegal immigration or Hispanic gangs.  And the NRA and other gun rights groups have taken the master narrative to a new level.

But quietly or periodically condemning certain behaviors while insisting the problem is externally imposed never really works.  Counter narratives also don’t require airing “dirty laundry,” so to speak.

Granted, with today’s news feeding frenzies, it is hard for groups to hear themselves think and openly discussing shared responsibility when anecdotal news turns agenda-like, focused only, it seems, on “he said-she said” dialogue which quickly forces binary conclusions.

In the words of Steele,  this ends up pandering to those who “want to make a movement out of an anomaly.”  One activist recently wrote that the grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island had “refused to indict.”

Really?  Refused?  Or maybe their conclusion after seeing all of the evidence was just not convenient to some people’s master narrative.

One of the books I’ve mentioned reading for a few minutes each morning to get centered is A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.

You can’t turn a page without reading a counter narrative.

If he were alive, I believe he may have joined the recent protests but he would have also pointedly shed light on the responsibilities on both sides of the tragedies and directed attention not just to institutional change but individual, family, neighborhood and community behavior.

In doing so, he gradually enlisted support from unlikely groups that he would have alienated with only the master narrative.

Newtown, Ferguson, Staten Island and Paris deserve more.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

When and Why Facts and Data Backfire

To hear some people talk, you would think that tourism to Durham, North Carolina took off only after the opening of the acclaimed Durham Performing Arts Center.

I’ll correct this misperception, but more importantly use this essay to show why the facts will backfire with many of these people.

Durham draws 9 million visitors a year, 6.26 million for leisure.  About 300,000 attend events at DPAC, a little over two thirds with that as the main purpose of their visit or about 3% of Durham leisure visitation.

During the span DPAC has been open, the overall visitation to Durham has increased by about 44% overall and 40% for leisure travel, or 1.79 million visitors of which visitors to DPAC as their main reason was 13% if no one was diverted visiting elsewhere in Durham anyway.

Significant but hardly a tipping point for visitation.

Many Durham features, events and businesses harvest the same proportion of visitors to overall attendance as DPAC does.  Visitation to a community is highly fragmented when it comes to activity.

If there is a silver bullet that ties all of these fragments together it is promotion of the sense of place in Durham’s DNA.  Without this communities become more like shopping malls of clustered features that can be found in nearly every mall of this type.

People who wake up to the fact a community is visitor worthy only when something new opens may be fooled into that mistaken inference by anecdotally-driven news hyperbole.

But even residents of a community rarely have any idea numerically of their community’s visitor appeal.  That typically requires a DMO savvy enough to perpetually communicate to internal audiences the importance overall of visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

During my long-concluded four-decade career in community destination marketing I found this kind of misperception was far more frequently rooted in segments of the population with lukewarm if not border-line negative perceptions of the potential or sense of a particular place.

But my breakdown of the facts above has been scientifically shown to pucker many up, tightening their grip instead on misperception.

In mid-1978, when I took the reins of the DMO in Anchorage, there was a perception that all tourism activity was related to passengers of cruise ships docking solely at the time in Southeast Alaska when a portion added group excursions overland before or after.

It took me 30 months but by 1981 we had conducted research to shed much more light on visitors to Anchorage.  Not counting visiting friends and relatives, business travelers including convention delegates or the 22% who combined business and pleasure, 7% was related to visitors taking a cruise ship or ferry to Alaska.

This was about 1-in-5 vacation visitors to Anchorage in 1981.  Studying the origins, length of stay and activities of the other 4-in-5 gave us the marketing intelligence to strategically and significantly expand visitation to Anchorage within just a few years without taking anything away from traditional Alaska tourism.

Even more shocking from the 1981 data, 67% of visitation to Anchorage came in the non-summer months, 80% from outside Alaska and more than a fifth during months where there is snow.

Offseason visitation had been 1 visitor for every 10 when I arrived in Anchorage and before I left it would be 1 to 1.

What I didn’t expect though from that 1981 data is that for a few,  it shook their belief-system right to the core.  They took the data revelations as criticism and soon painted a target on my back.

Unforunately, they were not unique that way.

Changing perceptions, let alone saving my hide, was never the goal of the study.

Most in Anchorage were open-minded about visitation and not only delighted with the new information and perspective but relieved that its relatively nascent community marketing agency was using these newly discovered facts to set strategy.

It has been more than three decades since then, and sadly, the vast majority of communities still have no idea how many visitors they have, let alone why they came or what they do while visiting.

This makes these places subject to mistaken conventional wisdom, faulty belief systems and big game hunting that instead of reinforcing whatever part of their unique sense of place remains, gradually hollows it out instead.

Durham, where I finished the last half of my career and still live in obscurity (smile) is an exception, probably 1-in-500, having begun to regularly secure data specific to its visitation twenty five years ago.

Still, I was always caught off guard throughout my career at how many officials, developers and boosters seemed much more comfortable instead with making decisions when it comes to tourism infrastructure on what what’s “new and shiny” or what they hear, or “who was asking,”  spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars that way.

It wouldn’t be until a year or so before I retired at the end of 2009 that a series of studies by researchers at the University of Michigan and Georgia State University shed light on how facts backfire with misinformed people, particularly if their belief system is based on motivated reasoning.

In the words of journalist Joe Keohane who penned a review of the studies, “Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation stronger.”

That’s something obviously still more than a bit lost on me if you are a regular reader (smile.)

According to the researchers, this is a natural defense mechanism to avoid the cognitive dissonance of having to admit we’re wrong.  It is also far more comfortable to be close-minded than to endure the ambiguity and uncertainty of being open-minded.

But it is a sure death knell for community sense of place.

It is also, in part, why other studies find that nearly all traditional advertising is now a waste, especially as a means of changing opinions about or the image of product, including communities. 

Advertising, in the traditional sense, merely reinforces the belief systems of consumers who are already positive or negative.  It is incapable in the few seconds the average person pays attention, and lacks the credibility to influence any who are neutral.

The overwhelming reason for a DMO to use facts and far more effective content-based marketing is to help consumers who are unsure but open-mined about a product including the potential of a place to visit or live.

They are, in fact, open to corrections, to being informed, to facts.

Communities that fail to use facts when it comes to evolving their delicate sense of place ecosystems leave themselves open to the “motivated reasoning” of boosters, “boomers” and “big game hunters,” most of whom lack faith in a community’s ability or the necessity of evolving to remain distinctive, futilely seeking imports instead.

They are the reason that being data-driven community destination marketing agency is so hazardous.  “Motivated reasoning” also makes people very mean.

But just remember:  communities that remain worthy of love are worthy of good and fearless defenders.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In Search of Boots

A quarter of a century ago, I was recruited from my native west to Durham, North Carolina, where I still live in retirement.  Unlike today, back then there wasn’t a place for a native westerner to provision cowboy boots or a good Stetson.

But a new acquaintance told me of a place thirty miles west which had been frequented a year or so earlier by actors and film-makers producing the movie Bull Durham here.

Off I went early one Saturday morning in a venerable Porsche 911 to find Tom Baily’s Pony Express.

The postal service, which long ago began to purposely ignore the importance of aligning delivery addresses with actual physical locations, took me the long way in the days before GPS.

The store isn’t in Graham, but I’ll bet that is where the carrier picks up the mail for delivery.

It is actually located on NC Route 87, a third of the way down to Pittsboro about a half mile above the Cedar Cliff cut-off and only three miles from Saxapahaw, which it seems would have been a more accurate postal designation.

Not even 50 years old when we met that day, Tom Bailey and I found a lot in common including his handcrafting of custom saddles and American Quarter Horses.  I became a frequent visitor.

A month or two before I retired five years ago, a friend and I stopped there to replace some boots and to show Tom, my new Harley Cross Bones and were stunned to learn he had passed away a few weeks earlier.

He was just the age I am now now.

The store is still there but it isn’t the only connection between the western wear of my native Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho where I ended four generations of ranchers going back to territorial days.

If you cut 38 miles southwest through Snow Camp and then up the highway to Greensboro, you arrive at VF Jeanswear, the headquarters of Wrangler jeans.

But it didn’t start out that way.00523_p_10aeuyf6sw0647_b

Wranglers came along the year before I was born but in 1904 the company started in Greensboro as Hudson Overall Company, about the time my great grandparents and post-frontier grandfather were homesteading ranches along the Henry’s Fork River.

Note their dress in the 1907 photograph shown in this essay.

Westerners didn't begin wearing jeans and cowboy hats until the 1870s and even later along the western slopes of the Rockies, shortly after after they adopted cowboy boots.

This was many decades after my ancestors began to settle the west and about the time westerners gradually began to dress like tourists from the east expected them to, based on Wild West shows and Dime Novels.

Before then, they wore wool pants in the winter and canvas pants in the summer with possibly a variation of wellingtons and bowler and/or slouch hats.

Western snap shirts didn’t come along until 1940 or so, a few years before bolo ties became common.

In my part of Idaho, bolo it is pronounced more like “BOWla.”

By the time I came along, my grandfather always dressed in a Stetson, khaki pants and khaki shirt buttoned to the top but like my dad had after returning from WWII, boots patterned more after those worn by GIs during the war.

My dad, by then, had also shifted to wearing ball caps, a habit picked up in the army and to my horror, overalls, like he had worn as a kid  such as the predecessors of Wranglers and sometimes overalls.

During my early years, 50s TV westerns such as Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger, Sky King, Roy Rogers and Death Valley Days were the arbiters of what ranchers were meant to wear.

I still prefer Wranglers, slim fit boot cut.  Jeans aren’t what they used to be. Even Levis seem paper thin.  But looking back on western wear, it may be that it never was what it used to be.

One thing is for sure, just as it is today from Greensboro, near where I live, western wear originates as much from the south and east, while the west, as it has always been is exploited and despoiled by easterners and their enablers for natural resources.

But I miss Tom.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Pivotal First 36 Months

Studies I’ve been reading on “rearing” have made me reflect on my own as well as how much they should inform solutions to problems in today’s headlines.

I was destined to be a fifth generation Idaho rancher and based on the fact that my mother dropped out of school when she was 16, it wasn’t likely I would go to college.

A mother’s education level is usually a strong predictor of a child’s educational aspiration, attainment and occupational success.  Still in her mid-twenties my mother taught herself to type and worked her way up to managing the practices of two doctors and two dentists.

She is a bit of an anomaly as that predictor goes, because she dropped out of high school to elope with my dad as he headed into WWII, staying near Camp Roberts, while he was training for a tank battalion and then spending the time he was overseas working in Denver.

I got off to a rocky start when I came along three years after the war due to an allergic reaction to formula that wasn’t resolved until I was six months old when during a blizzard my parents gave me whole milk.

It was an inauspicious start for my then fifth-generation rancher destiny as the only son of an only son.

So maybe that is why my fourth generation rancher father tried so hard from then through my preschool years to “breathe fire into me,” something I would also futilely try to do during my now concluded career for some co-workers.

Throughout my career, no one ever accused me of not having enough fire, but trying to “breathe fire” into someone never works, regardless of the education level.

People who aren’t ambitious or passionate or growth-oriented by then, also lack what the Japanese call Kaizen, a drive for continuous and never-ending improvement that may trace to their first 36 months of life.

Still in his 20s, my dad - whether he realized it or not – was trying in his own intense way to give me the “scaffolding” necessary to instill the handful of life-skills that must be largely inculcated during those first 36 to 60 months including rising to challenges and learning from mistakes.

My mom, who was in her early 20s, had a different type of intensity but in her own way also helped erect this “scaffolding,” especially through music.

It is clear that my parents incorporated many things into their parenting style.  The examples they set offset my mother’s lack of educational attainment, including a relentless focus on effort over talent and perseverance in the face of obstacles.

They weren’t what today we call “helicopter parents,” preferring a balance of unstructured play, especially in nature, to organized activities.  Nor did they ever tolerate a second of entitlement.

I can see now how much attention they also gave to learning from criticism, persistence, and embracing challenges.  All of these factors have now been confirmed by researchers in psychology to lead to high performance.

I am not aware of a statistical breakdown of adults in society with executive function and self-regulatory deficits (beyond attention-deficit) but I’ll bet kindergarten and elementary school teachers could give an educated guess.

Regardless of class status, today’s parents spend far too much time either making excuses for their children’s educational or work performance or greatly overestimating and placing too much emphasis on their intelligence vs. their effort and performance.

K-12 teachers are slightly more “engaged” and slightly less “actively disengaged” than Americans as a whole, but parenting may be partially responsible for why those who are not engaged miss 2.3 million more workdays annually than teachers who are.

As an aside, officials concerned with creating jobs such as Governor Pat McCrory in North Carolina, where I live, would do well to study Gallup’s reports on worker engagement.

Engaged workers report twice as much job creation as well as good customer ratings, profitability and productivity as well as lower turnover, fewer safety incidents, less theft, absenteeism and defects.

North Carolinians are not as engaged as we think we are.  Unfortunately, the Governor must deal with the fact that engagement among members of the General Assembly is no better than workers overall, fewer than 1-in-3 there with nearly 1-in-5 at cross-purposes even within his own party.

In my mother’s lifetime (my dad passed away shortly after 9/11,) she has seen her children and seven grandchildren leap from the working class backgrounds of my grandparents to middle and upper middle class.

Three have undergraduate college degrees, one a law school degree and another just accepted into top tier law schools, one with a Master’s and another with a PhD, and one who leapt directly from community college to a career in IT administration for the world’s largest video game concern.

More importantly, they are all hard workers and thrive in the workplace, engagement that is never guaranteed by educational attainment.

Americans believe in the individual-centered American DreamIt is rooted in the belief that “all men [and women] are created equal” but science shows that there are many other more powerful influences that shape individual aspiration, none more important than those detailed in the book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life.

According to the study, “two-thirds of society ultimately reproduce their parents’ level of educational attainment while about one-third take another path.”

But it is purely arrogant for those of us who transcended to delude ourselves into believing that it is due to our own willfulness.

A few months after I retired, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign identified something of a paradox regarding willfulness and willpower.

As an aside, nearly all of the campus is located in Urbana but Champaign was added to placate Champaign boosters-sound familiar?  A toxic sense of entitlement can invade communities as well (smile.)

It turns out that people willing to ask questions and those who question whether they will succeed, perform better than those who are convinced they will or who spend too much time on self-affirmation.

By the time we reach the ages of 3 to 5 years old, we learn the handful of building blocks needed for success in life known as “executive function and self-regulation skills.”

Dimensions of these skills include:

  • “The ability to hold information in mind and use it.
  • The ability to master thoughts and impulses so as to resist temptations, distractions, and habits, and to pause the think before acting.
  • The capacity to switch gears and adjust to changing demand, priorities and perspectives.”

Self-regulation is the ability to override one response or behavior and replace it with a less common but more desired response.

The researchers who discovered the paradox of will power have already turned to the study of how what we say to ourselves “shapes the course of our behaviors,” the essence of self-regulation.

Parents such as mine gave me the “scaffolding” for developing these skills by challenging me and then stepping back and letting me try to manage things on my own and learn from my mistakes as well as helping me talk and think through what worked and what didn’t work.

I owe them everything.  We may all be “created equal” but those of us who think we are living the American Dream were fortunate enough to have these influences in those first few years.

We have an obligation to help those who didn’t, but the real solution is to focus society on remediation for kids between the years of 3 and 5 before it is too late.

I ran into more than a few people in responsible positions during my career with deficits or even dysfunction in one or more of the three skills noted above, some with high IQs.

Other than being irritating to those who had to work with them, they imposed a lot of lost productivity and long-term contributed to some very poor outcomes, but they were functional nonetheless.

None of us demonstrate mastery of executive function skills 100% of the time.  But our jails and prisons are populated by individuals who never learned them or were never given the chance to learn them because their parents never learned them.

A meta-analysis of studies published a few months ago by neuropsychology and criminology researchers in Amsterdam and led by Jesse Meijers found “a robust relationship between antisocial behavior and executive function deficits.”

In studies published in 2004 and 2008, researchers have determined that “impoverished rearing conditions” actually alter brain functions responsible for executive functions.  To many, we should be looking at rearing and parenting for solutions rather than law enforcement or the justice system.

For children in that 36 month window, reading this simple little 16-page guide is a way today’s new parents can learn how to teach them.  However, the guide won’t teach someone how to show by example or instill them in parents who missed out when they were young.

The more I live and learn, the more I realize how lucky I am and how unfortunate many are.

Maybe the American Dream is really about humility.

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Flaw of Trying To Import Sense of Place

More troubling unfortunate news about the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC is once again affirmation of the harm “big game hunting” does to communities.

The term refers to otherwise well-meaning people who, impatient with evolving or lacking faith in a distinctive community sense of place, are perpetually motivated instead to try to import the cultural aspect.

Then these imported facilities and events invariably and very imperceptibly begin to hollow out sense of place by siphoning away capacity, underwriting, exposure, patience and volunteers.

Once past the tipping point, they begin to tap and draw off audience from other more homegrown events and venues.

Communities with more grass-roots power bases involving activists and neighborhoods can seem immune to “big game hunters.”

But as has happened in even the most self-aware communities, this can be reversed in a matter of a few years when elected bodies, chambers of commerce and even community marketing agencies - charged as sense of place guardians - become enablers by falling under the spell of or trying to placate “big game hunters.”

The mantra of a “big game hunter” is that a community is nothing if it isn’t main stream, “major league” and “big picture,” generally used as put downs on anyone concerned with authentic sense of place.

Unfortunately, analysis shows that facilities and events fitting these descriptors are most often the road to “sameness” and ubiquity, rather than the uniqueness shown to have appeal with the vast majority of travelers.

Of course, sense of place lies along a spectrum.  But it can only survive and thrive if the fulcrum always tips in favor of the distinctive, indigenous and “real.”

Unfortunately, “big game hunting” is addictive and power-hungry and knows no balance.

Sense of place is a delicate ecosystem, fostered more by gardening than hunting and can never be imported.

After cities build large-scale, mainstream cultural facilities, policy makers almost always pay attention to the wrong metrics such as attendance or operating profit or loss.

“Big game hunting” is based partly on lack of appreciation for the distinctive, partly on delusion and partly on failure to focus on broad enough metrics.

Most who truly read the 2006 proposal for the NASCAR Museum in Charlotte could readily see that the numbers didn’t make sense but for a community addicted to “facilities,” it (for once) seemed to make sense for Charlotte’s sense of place.

At first blush, Charlotte’s claim to NASCAR is merely one of proximity, located in the state that hosted 30 of the 52 races in the 1949 inaugural season, close to nearby Concord’s major speedway and close to the area where many of the racing teams are based and conduct research, development and race preparation.

But Charlotte at one time had at least three raceways located there and hosted the first “strictly stock” event in 1949.  Auto dealerships there have also been key as track and race team owners.

But Charlotte “big game hunters” apparently “cooked the books” far too much in the desperate effort to win out over other cities.

Numbers from a 2003 report on the importance of motorsports was misused or misread.  In the gross, the sector had more than a $5 billion annual impact on North Carolina, $4 billion of which occurred in the 12 counties near Charlotte.

But “big game hunters” neglected to mention that the “value added” or net to North Carolina was just over $2 billion and about $99 million tourism-related.

The price-tag was also significantly understated and promoters failed to grasp that most tourism (daytrip and overnight) drawn through the turnstiles for such facilities would be unrelated to the facility, meaning it would be siphoned from other facilities and events in Charlotte’s already stressed cultural ecosystem.

Ironically, “big game hunters” argued it would be augmented by visitors attending heavily subsidized events such as conventions further undermining the purpose of visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

Part of the problem is that instead of allowing its community destination marketing organization to drive tourism demand from which its facilities then become feasible and harvest a share, the community has shackled its DMO to operate facilities, subsidize events and cover deficits, giving “big game hunters” cover.

The Hall of Fame is not an anomaly, it is merely another symbol that “build it and they will come” never really works, and that main stream facilities such as these, including convention centers, often cannibalize not only more destination-authentic venues and events but in the end one another.

The City of Charlotte is now offering to pay $5 million toward loan guarantees from banks there (actually the city is volunteering the visitor authority to pay that amount, diverting it from marketing where, if not restricted by the state as a condition of permitting Charlotte to exceed use guidelines, it would be instead generating a 6-to-1 return local tax revenue.)

This means if used to pump revenues instead of subsidy, the city would have $30 million in hand for that offer.

But the most significant way the Hall of Fame will undermine that community’s true sense of place is related to Charlotte’s request that its banks “write off” or “extinguish” $14.1 million in principle and another $3.7 million in accrued interest in return for free sponsorships.

State taxpayers who surrendered $20 million worth of land to make the $195 million deal work will ostensibly, for now, also have any hope of a return “extinguished.”

I have no doubt that the Hall of Fame will stabilize as expectations are recalibrated but the tragic consequences that “big game hunters” and enablers fail to grasp or refuse to take responsibility for include three other more tragic losses:

  1. In Charlotte, the banks will be less likely now to shoulder backing on behalf of smaller, less conspicuous but far more essential events and facilities to sense of place.
  2. Lawmakers will be suspicious of future proposals to end-run guidelines for worthy purposes.
  3. Philanthropic gestures will be hardened if not curtailed as will be any cultural innovation.

But a reality is that communities susceptible, if not addicted, to “big game hunting” are also suffering from Dunning-Kruger Effect, the inability to learn from mistakes.  Under its spell, they fail to recognize incompetence or genuine alternatives.

In the words of Dr. David Dunning of Cornell, who identified this cognitive bias along with Dr. Justin Kruger now at the NYU Stern School of Business, for communities and individuals so-addicted, “the trouble with ignorance is that it feels so much like expertise.”

Another reality for communities susceptible to “big game hunting” is not just the massive sums it consumes or siphons but the even more significant investments those dollars could have made if directed instead to fostering and making sustainable a community’s distinctiveness.

The great irony of “big game hunting” is that it isn’t “thinking big” at all but thinking zero sum and a failure of faith that a community can be inherently worthy of love.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Exceptionalism Imperative

My lineage as an American goes back 376 years.  By 1840, all but two lines had perpetually been frontiersmen and would continue to forge new settlements for another hundred years, long after the Census declared the frontier closed.

This gives me a different understanding of American “exceptionalism” than many today.  All of my ancestors came to this country in search of religious freedom as Remonstrates, Huguenots, Quakers, Amish, Palatines and Mormons to name a few.

But while forging a new land, they continued to reach back to their homelands and import “best practices.”

Many who wrap themselves in “exceptionalism” today may not have the benefit of that perspective for they seem to have given up on learning from other countries.

A few of my ancestors were Scandinavian including the linage of those who rode with William the Conqueror nearly a thousand years ago to establish what we know as Great Britain.

While throttling American progress over the last three decades or more with anti-tax, antigovernment rhetoric, today’s “exceptionalist wannabees” have ridiculed Scandinavia countries as tax and spend welfare states.

But they have ignored that Scandinavian countries also have some of the strongest economic outcomes in the world.

This country’s founders made it imperative to study and glean everything they could from the powers of that day.  Maybe that is the part we have neglected.

A new study by Dr. Henrik Kleven, a researchers and economist at the London School of Economics, who has also studied at Columbia and UC-Berkeley, unwraps some things we can learn from Scandinavian countries.

Apparently, the data shows that three factors are more important than the level of taxation:

  1. Broadening the tax base.
  2. Limiting legal tax avoidance (e.g. loopholes.)
  3. Public spending focused on complements to work.

Complements to work include using tax revenue to fund universal child care, preschool and elder care etc.

A key finding in the study is that Scandinavians have a different view of poor people than most Americans.  In surveys, only 10-15% of Scandinavians view poor people as lazy compared to 60% of Americans.

The study also notes that “large tax collections go hand in hand with a number of measures of social cohesiveness like civic participation, voter turnout, trust, low crime and so on.”

As for something Americans have been arguing about since our nation’s founding, the study finds that there is a small amount of “tax-charity crowdout,” or the reduction of philanthropy when taxes go up.

But studies show no negative relationship between coercive taxation and voluntary donations, nor does it indicate that Scandinavians are less involved in charity than populations facing smaller tax takes.

There is much to learn from this study but unfortunately belief systems are rarely based on facts.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Yellowstone As Metaphor

Because I am representative of both sides, I am eager to read a book due to be released this summer entitled, The Battle for Yellowstone: Morality and the Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict.

It is a study of old west belief systems such as those held by my great grandparents, grandparents and parents who forged ancestral ranchland where I was born along the Idaho edge of Yellowstone.

It also concerns the overlapping “new west” concern for protecting and restoring habitat and wildlife.

But while the data is both quantitative and qualitative, Yellowstone is used as a spiritual metaphor for how Americans approach moral disputes overall.

My Idaho roots stretch back to territorial days a dozen years before the creation of Yellowstone as America’s first national park, straddled a few decades later, when my my ancestors who began settling the Rockies in 1847, forged the horse and cattle ranch of my youth along the park’s western border.

By the time I came along the Bowmans had pushed large populations of Grizzlies back into the park and equally proximate Targhee National Forest, almost eliminating wolves and subduing the resulting over populations of beaver. 

But ranchers back then had an innate grasp of ecological balance, and most were early conservationists, if not considered early environmentalists.  Today those camps have become tribes who see the other as enemies.

In my experience, the battle there is not between old west and new west but sterilized, extremist versions of each who refuse to listen to one another.

In other words a microcosm of what’s gone wrong with America.

In a quote in The Economist recently, Dr. Jeff Hardin a devout Christian and zoologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison put it succinctly while noting that “Many partisans subscribe to the post-Enlightenment idea that giving people lots of facts ought to be enough to convince people.”

Guilty as charged.

But today and maybe always according to Hardin, “most of us hold our beliefs in a tangled ball of yarn.”  “Tug on one thread, and people fear that their very identity is under attack.”

I don’t have much patience for some of today’s ranchers who see the rebalancing of populations of wolves, Grizzlies and bison as surrogate agents of the federal government.

But environmentalists can also fail to accept or inform opinions with new information, such as this report in High Country News, revealing that reintroduction of wolves is not a panacea in Yellowstone and that some ecosystems once altered may never recover.

Last month, a jury in my native Fremont County, Idaho convicted a hunter of illegally killing a Grizzly bear and it reminded me that in the 1840s when most of my ancestors settled in the Rockies, the historic population outside of Alaska of 50,000 Grizzlies between the Pacific coast and the Mississippi River had already been pushed back into what are now the plains states.

Settlements back then required hunters such as my great (x3) grandfather Thomas Graham to protect against Grizzlies.

He was killed by one in November 1864 while protecting another ancestor and livestock in Northern Utah about 28 miles from the Idaho border.

But until recently, the last known Grizzly in Utah were seen in 1923, the year my father was born.  Today, they no longer exist in six western states, including California the “Golden Bear” state, where they had been driven out by 1922.

By the time I was graduating from BYU in 1972, only a few hundred were in existence with a concentration in and around Yellowstone including Targhee National Forest near our ranch.

There were several hundred verified sightings in our nook of Idaho between 1965 and 2000.  Male Yellowstone Grizzlies can range more than 300 square miles, far more widely than other populations.

Between 1974 and 1979 when I was marketing Spokane, scientists tracked Grizzlies in and around my native nook of Idaho along the border of Yellowstone to document clashes with livestock such as cattle and sheep.

It was a lot less than ranchers believed but it only takes one encounter to inflame fears.  The truth is that raising livestock on rangeland is inherently risky for many reasons and predators such as wolves and Grizzlies are easy scapegoats as is the fear of disease from bison.

But thanks to endangered species protection, Grizzlies in and around Yellowstone are now back to a sustainable high of 700 or more Grizzlies.  Nor do they stay put, ranging five times the distance our ranch was from Yellowstone.

It may be time for delisting and based on the recent conviction turning the species over to state management, at least in Idaho where a management plan has long been in place.

In my native Fremont County nook of Idaho, ranchers, farmers, conservationists, settlements and sportsmen also have a proven track record of reaching compromises to protect the famed Henry’s Fork River, from which Grizzlies scoop up their share of native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout.

But environmentalists are distrustful, giving too much credibility to the relatively small group of vocal ranchers who refuse to accept the importance of ecological balance or even sit down to listen even if to agree to disagree.

There are solutions but just as with the innovations of the Affordable Care Act, they come from admitting that some parts of alternative views are with merit, while acknowledging that something one might have disagreed with is actually working.

Our way out of gridlock is to put those with extreme either/or views on the sidelines and to return to the practical middle ground that is part of what made this country so exceptional.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Rare Pedigree of Orneriness

My father and paternal grandfather shared the same middle name, Melvin but the name is in honor of my great-great grandmother, Amanda Melvina Poorman.

In America, her first and middle names were popular in the late 18th and early 19th century among descendants from Ireland, Scotland and England due to their literary use.

But I was intrigued recently to learn that her father, John Poorman had been only the 31st person baptized into the Mormon Church barely two months after it was organized as the Church of Christ and nearly two years before Brigham Young.

He was baptized by immersion on June 9, 1830 at the northern end of Seneca Lake a few miles from his farm by his neighbor David Whitmer famed as one of the witnesses who had actually laid eyes on the ancient “golden plates” from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Whitmer had been baptized a year earlier and was one of the six founders of the new restorationist Christian religion, today the third largest by affiliation in America.

But those first eight years from mid-1830 to mid-1838 were tumultuous as much internally as from external persecution including several name changes as the new church rapidly grew to nearly 18,000 members, up to half in Great Britain.

My great (x3) grandfather Poorman followed church leaders to the area around Kirtland (northeast) Ohio in early 1831, fighting off a mob of 40-50 men a year later who tarred and tried to suffocate church founder and prophet Joseph Smith.

By 1833, Poorman was among the first  couple of hundred Mormons who settled in northwestern Missouri along the western banks of the (Big) Blue River which at the time was the edge of the American frontier, long before the existence of Kansas City.

Mormons including my ancestors there were defending themselves from mobs of vigilantes.  These Mormons were from the northeast, with abolitionist sensibilities, when it came to slavery.

The mobs were from the upper south and worried that voting as a block Mormons would threaten Missouri’s status as a slave state.  Little did they know the discord and internal friction among Mormons at the time.

The battle took place in an area along the I-435 beltway, an alternative route from I-70 around downtown Kansas City and one to which I will pay much more attention whenever future cross-country road trips with Mugs (my English Bulldog) take us along that route.

The Blue River flows out of Kansas and just before it flows into the Missouri River near Independence, Missouri is where Poorman was involved in the Battle of the Blue in November of 1833 to fight off mobs of vigilantes.

A few miles north, across the Missouri River in Liberty is where Poorman married my great (x3) grandmother Nancy Botkin Davis three years later, apparently four or five months after my great-great grandmother was born (ahem) and help to raise her children by a previous marriage.

However, internal strife and power struggles were beginning to take a toll.  Two years later, in 1838, his friend David Whitmer, who had headed the church in Missouri, suddenly resigned.

Refusing to defend himself, Whitmer was then excommunicated ostensibly as part of a coup to topple Joseph Smith over the then secret practice of polygamy as well as the word of wisdom.

But many times subsequent to parting ways, including on his deathbed, Whitmer reaffirmed his witness of the “golden plates.”

My Poorman ancestors had lived in the same Kaw Township settlement with Whitmer.  While there is no record they were involved, I am sure it distressed them to see their long-time friend ostracized.

Politics had taken a toll.

Ironically, a little more than fifty years later and thirteen years after Whitmer’s death in Missouri, Mormon leaders would disavow polygamy but without reinstating those who had resisted it from the beginning.

That fall of 1838 the Mormons were expelled from Missouri after the governor signed an extermination order.  But my great (x3) grandparents were among a few who stayed, relocating about fifty miles north and a bit west to Washington Township, a few miles west of St. Josephs.

Until then, this “nose” of Missouri had been set aside in treaty as Indian lands but by just as my Poorman ancestors sought sanctuary there, the area was being annexed into the United States as part of Missouri with Platte Purchase.

Records show that the Mormon church lost track of the Poormans after 1840 so they would not have met many of my other ancestors then gathering in Nauvoo, Illinois as recent converts.

But as the Mormons were also driven out of Illinois after the murder of Joseph Smith in 1844 and across Iowa in very early 1846, it is possible the Poormans were contacted by Mormon agents sent into Missouri to buy supplies.

They may have also met members of the Mormon Battalion including several other ancestors as it marched through St. Joseph in route from Iowa to Fort Leavenworth in preparation for marching southwest into the war with Mexico.

Mormons talk as if its members had all gathered in Winter Quarters, Nebraska or back across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs but these places were only major staging areas for the nearly half of all members preparing to head west beginning in 1847 when three of my ancestors paved the way.

Approximately 15,000 members who were gathered along the river were scattered in 90 settlements, some only 20 miles from the Missouri border and only 60 miles from where the Poormans lived.

Sometime around 1853, my great-great grandmother Amanda Melvina Poorman traveled up the Missouri and caught a wagon train west to join Mormons gathering in the Rockies, probably upon the death of her father.

Her mother died the following year, just as Amanda, out west, was marrying George Washington Kent, someone with whom she had played during her early years in Missouri.

She died in her early 40s and was buried in Richmond, Utah near the Idaho border, less than four years before her daughter Margaret would marry Hyrum Edward Bowman, two decades before they would head up into the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho to a ranch where I was born and where they are buried.

When my ancestors established the first settlement in my native Idaho, the Mormon Church had just surpassed 61,000 members.  When great-great grandmother Amanda died, it has just surpassed 100,000 members.

It reached 180,000 when my paternal grandfather Mel was born and 231,000 when my grandmother Adah was born.  It crested 300,000 before they and my great grandparents homesteaded our ancestral ranch along the Henry’s Fork.

Mormon membership reached 576,000 the year my dad was born on that same ranch and 664,000 when my mom was born.  By the time I was born it had just passed 1 million.

When my daughter was born and involvement lapsed more than forty years ago, membership was well past three million.  When my grandsons were born it was surpassing 12 million and today there are more than 15 million, counting the 40% who are lapsed.

It not only gives me pause to think my great-great-great grandfather was among the first 31 but I can empathize that the internal politics took their toll.

The same occurred to my great-grandfather who married into that line when a Mormon Apostle and neighbor refused to take back a defective piece of equipment he had bought and then refused to let my great grandfather be buried in the clothing in which he had married my great-grandmother.

Their son, my grandfather, famously caught a church Bishop stealing water while others were in church services.   As the story is told, using he old Winchester hanging on my wall, he fired into the air as a warning.

By the time I entered grade school, classmates had exaggerated the story giving me a reputation for toughness.

My dad tried to be active as we were growing up but politics intervened when he was released after insisting there be no swearing during church ball games.

Yet we have all lived lives intertwined with that culture and its values.

I have other ancestors who joined shortly after John Poorman, most by 1840, and all had become Mormons by 1855 when there were fewer than 64,000 members.

For several years after the Mormons settled in the Rockies, membership declined, in part, because of radicalization during a movement by hardliners called the Mormon Reformation.

Several ancestors were dis-fellowshipped for speaking their minds when they disagreed with local church leaders over civil issues and controversial decisions and one or possibly two were required to undergo re-baptism.

Nearly all of this family background was unknown to me when my own involvement lapsed more than four decades ago.  Genetic expression is different among decedents but some traits are apparently very consistent.

There are very few with my pedigree today in that spiritual tradition and possibly even fewer with a legacy of such orneriness.

But I wouldn’t trade those genes or my heritage or my cultural values with anyone.