Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Humpty Dumpty Marketers

This post does not mark the end of my annual hiatus which will run into August.

I’ve been mulling over a future post that a business school professor-friend of mind asked me to write about what I see as the future for community destination marketing organizations, my former profession.

It will be an opportunity for me to practice what I preach about looking back to see forward for strategic insight.

It pains me to admit that many in my former profession don’t seem to be the brightest bulbs in some respects or there would be far more than 200+ of these organizations that are accredited.

Maybe I resemble that remark in some respects (smile.)

But even accreditation, which is essentially a diagnostic to identify areas for continuing improvement, isn’t a guarantee against a proclivity common among far too many DMO execs.

This is the regressive tendency of a few tenacious but well-meaning and otherwise reasonable execs to waste everyone’s time trying to put the proverbial “Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

What these folks fail to grasp is that forms of organizational structure and marketing strategy along with various tactics become obsolete because essentially the “ecosystem” of tourism has rapidly and perpetually evolved.

They could easily spot these paradigm shifts in SWOTS analysis if they were not in such a hurry to check that process of the list rather than mine it for insight.

Brian Solis, a strategic analyst, futurist and principal for Altimeter Group, now a Prophet Company, has a great line.  “The future of marketing has little to do with marketing.” He is referring to traditional marketing and especially advertising.Cleansville Billboard in Durham

Some businesses and organizations in the various industries that make up travel and tourism are guilty of hypocritically keeping roadside billboards on life support.

I call their use “desecration marketing” because they underwrite no content other than the advertiser “yelling at you” while blighting the communities and scenic assets that motivate travel.

All of this to reach 2/10th of 1 percent of people who are motivated to buy something in a given year based on that form of message.

If you have read some earlier posts, you will see the irony in the message on the image captured of a billboard in this essay.  It was posted on one of the 80 or so remaining in Durham, North Carolina where I live and where billboards were banned in the early-1980s.

For those new to this blog, between smart devices and in-vehicle navigation systems, eight times the percentage of Americans who aren’t turned off by billboards in general have already shifted to navigation systems for both directions and to find points of interest such as gas stations.

The advertiser on that billboard shown above is proud of its efforts at conservation and environmental restoration but that apparently doesn’t extend to scenic preservation including eliminating sense-of-place pollution such as sign blight.

It is not the first company where company marketers apparently feel exempt from social responsibility policies when it comes to where they advertise or oblivious to metrics such as turn-off ratios.

Traditional advertising overall (in newspapers and on radio, television and billboards) began an overall decline in effectiveness three decades ago that by 2010 had reached a negative return on investment.

When adjusted for inflation, ad revenues for newspapers today have fallen below where they were in 1950.  Even when digital and other revenues are included they are essentially where they were 65 years ago.

Other traditional advertising mediums are or will be following suit.  Analysts now project that newspapers are poised to replace local television when it comes to local video content within the next ten years.

The rapid shift to online advertising instead has created what experts such as Mathew Ingram, a senior writer for Fortune, described as an “arms race” this month between advertisers who still don’t get it and viewers determined to block out ad content.

Marketers engaged in this arms race have failed to notice that even online, where ad blocking has grown 7 times just over the past five years, that the ecosystem for advertising period has changed.

If you want to reach consumers, it no longer works to yell at them which is essentially what advertising is. There is no use trying to put that obsolete “Humpty Dumpty” back together again.

It isn’t the nature of advertising that changed; it is the overall consumer ecosystem.  It is long overdue for communicators to also evolve.

But many marketers, including more than a few in my former profession of community destination marketing simply won’t.  That’s apparent by their steadfast refusal to evolve or perhaps due to stakeholders who won’t let them or peers who keep pulling them into futile schemes to reassemble old “Humpty.”

Billboards are an example.  The first one was erected in the United States in the 1830s.  They had become a pariah to consumers by the 1880s when billboard owners turned to out-of-step lawmakers to keep them on life support.

Oblivious or lacking a strategic bone in their body, many advertisers who are obviously also very bad at math still insist on using them today, even though eight consumers are turned off by their use for every one who isn’t.

Like I said, not the sharpest knives in the drawer.  But hey, neither was “Humpty Dumpty.”

Friday, July 10, 2015

Before Adios, A Word About Engagement

Regular readers know that over the course of a year I manage to research and write one of these little essays every 1.4 days.

On average, it takes me four or five hours to research and write each one, which is about the amount of time Americans spend working and commuting each weekday.

It’s what I do in retirement; one of the things I enjoy for fun.

I take some extended breaks each year and one of them, give or take, will be over the next four weeks, as I do about this time each summer.

According to a Harris Poll, 90% of Americans take breaks this time of year, one-in-five over last week’s July 4th holiday.  Nearly a third of us (31%) take a plane and 75% of us use a car to travel.

One of ours will be in the Jeep and the other a cross-country flight.  Both will involve family in various parts of the country as will 46% of trips this summer.

Americans traveling this summer will, on average, travel 660 miles round trip.  Each of our trips will far exceed that.

Even though my career involved marketing destinations to potential visitors and then encouraging them to circulate as much as possible, it took the fun out of travel for me.

I’ve always been more of a homebody-lake-excursion person anyway, but in retirement I am now free to enjoy a trip without it feeling like work.

It is probably higher by now, but a 2012 survey found that 71% of travelers are attempting to make more environmentally-friendly choices when it comes to transportation, lodging and food sources.

While there are still some destinations and visitor features that hypocritically practice desecration marketing (such as using roadside billboards) while claiming be eco-friendly—a  few even featuring exhibitions about the environment—they are more noticeable now as exceptions.

I’ve had my eye on a UK company in particular that offers water management solutions and software to hotels and other customers called Waterscan.

The company has found that a hotel, for example, will typically use about 53 gallons of water per day for each occupied guest room.

That can be reduced 30% by harvesting rainwater which can be treated and fed back into the building for non-potable purposes such as irrigation, vehicle washing and flushing toilets.

The amount of water used can be further reduced another 40% by recycling gray water from showering and bathing.

This involves an ultra-filtration membrane system using three underground tanks.

One collects and treats the gray water and feeds it to a filtration tank while the third is a reservoir from which it is fed back into the hotel, again, for non-potable uses.

I suspect it could also be used to treat storm water.

This is especially efficient for hotels because there is an equilibrium of uses and a cost savings of 70% on water use.

For nearly a decade now, Gallup has studied what makes some customers engaged while others are indifferent or even actively disengaged such as being passive aggressive.

Fully engaged customers, researchers have found, are “emotionally attached and rationally loyal” as contrasted to those who are indifferent or neutral with a take it or leave it allegiance.

Activity disengaged customers are detached emotionally from a product or service and may become virulently antagonistic.

I believe those who actively seek out environmentally-friendly brands are likely to be fully engaged and it makes a big difference to the bottom line.

In visitor-related industries, for instance, Gallup found that fully engaged patrons of casual dining restaurants make 56% more visits per month than actively disengaged customers.

Even for fast food restaurants, it is 28% more visits per month.  In hotels, guests who are fully engaged spend 46% more per year than actively disengaged guests.

While many many brands hope to change consumer perceptions by “embarking on big traditional advertising and marketing campaigns,” even social media, according to Gallup has a great deal of influence on only 5% of purchasing decisions and no influence at all on 62%.

But it is the currency of actively disengaged consumers.   Fully engaged consumers are far more attracted by concerns that are aligned with their values.  Fully aligned brands also have double the “share of wallet.”

Communities, businesses and features such as museums, athletic teams and theaters should take note, especially those using desecration marketing such as billboards or those that flippantly cast aside sense of place seeking to be mainstream.

For hotels, as an example, only 28% of guests are fully engaged while 25% are actively disengaged.  The other 47% are indifferent.

Nearly half (45%) of economy hotels as well as 38% of those in midscale properties and 22% of those in upscale properties are actively disengaged.

Even in luxury properties where 38% of guest are fully engaged, 13% are actively disengaged.  Recently, the Ritz Carlton in Charlotte was called out for discrimination after it applied a special service charge during a tournament for a league of historically black colleges.

Some called it a “black tax.”  The hotel apologized and made a charitable contribution to the tournament when challenged.  But there, most likely the service charge was added because studies have shown that black people are notoriously poor tippers, even when holding constant for social economic factors.

While the hotel was probably trying to watch out for its service staff, many of whom were probably also minorities, it may have strayed from its values.

One way or the other, it will now have a lot of actively disengaged consumers over those dates next year.  There is only room for one person at a time to stand on principle.

It is clear that the road to differentiation and alignment begins with knowing who you are as a community, business or organization and then remaining true to that brand.  That doesn’t include paying huge subsidies to attract groups for whom that makes little or no difference.

Unfortunately, only 46% of managers and 37% of non-management employees strongly agree that they know what their organization, business or community stands for and what makes it different, or in other words, a staff that is aligned.

More on this when I get back but read Gallup’s State of the American Consumer.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Origin of Poverty and Our Biases Today

The four-county area centered around Durham, where I live, along with Chapel Hill, North Carolina is possibly the most highly acclaimed in the nation when you take into the breadth of the accolades it has earned as an MSA and those of its individual cities.

It also has the distinction of being the 20th MSA with the widest gap between rich and poor, according to the blog 24/7 Wall St.  The wealthiest half of households earn more than half (53.5%) of all income earned here while the poorest 20% earn just 3%.

The wealthiest 5% have one of the highest household incomes in the nation for that percentile.

In the book I mentioned yesterday about the history of capital and related inequality, French economist Thomas Piketty notes that worldwide, the poorest half of the population still owns nothing, while the middle class now owns between a quarter and a third of total wealth.

He continues to explain that “the wealthiest 10% now own two-thirds of what there is to own.”  Apparently, it was even worse a century ago.  Anyone interested in closing this gap needs to read Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

It may not sound like a page-turner but it is.  In a very easy to understand way, Dr. Piketty weaves historical events and data with paradigm shifts.

In part, income equality is rooted in the shift from land to things like profits, dividends, interest, rents.

In other words, income generated from capital and what Piketty calls “the  long-term evolution of the relative roles of inheritance and savings in capital formation.”

When inheritance rather than work and savings begins to predominate, “the past tends to devour the future.”

I’ve written before that Durham’s poverty rate took root in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the number of jobs plateaued but the community continued its rapid growth, in large part, due to it historical role as a magnet for those looking for work.

This was also a period when Durham economy began to rapidly transform from tobacco and textile manufacturing to education, research and development and high tech industries.

Despite efforts to re-educate the workforce, many who had come here for blue collar work and failing to see the paradigm shift, merely went home and waited for the next call-back to the factories as they had done for generations during layoffs.

Some have now become disconnected from society altogether while those who did shift gears found primarily low-wage jobs.  By 1960, 1-in-3 Durham County residents lived in poverty as did 40% of North Carolinians overall.

All the while, Durham’s economy skyrocketed but with jobs requiring far more education.  While much lower now than in 1960 when the economic transformation took hold, poverty still haunts nearly one-in-five residents in the City of Durham.

Last year a scientific opinion poll of Americans asked, “When people are poor, do you think that’s more likely to be because they had fewer opportunities or because of individual failings?”

Overall, 30% said “personal failings,” including 17% of Blacks and 30% of Hispanics, as did 48% of Republicans and Conservatives as well as 41% of those with household incomes over $100,000.

But 44% of Americans said “fewer opportunities,” including well more than half of minorities and those making under $40,000 as a household and including 36% of households making $100,000 plus, 28% of Conservatives and 23% of Republicans.

Americans were also asked, “When people are poor, do you think that’s more likely to be because good jobs aren’t available, or because they have a poor work ethic?”

Overall, 28% cited poor work ethic including 21% of Blacks and 33% of Hispanics as well as 49% of Republicans, 44% of Conservatives, 35% of those with household incomes over $100,000 and 24% of those making $40,000 or less.

But 47% of Americans said it is because good jobs weren’t available including 33% of Conservatives, 21% of Republicans and 42% of households making over $100,000.

When asked how some people became wealthy, 52% of Americans chalked it up to having more opportunities compared to 31% who believed they worked harder including 50% of Republicans but only 36% of Conservatives and 33% of those with incomes over $100,000.

Nearly 60% of Republicans believe unemployed people could find jobs if they really wanted to, a view also held by 51% of Conservatives as well as 53% with incomes over $100,000 and 35% of those making less than $40,000.

Interestingly a new study in Germany finds that more-trusting people on average have an increase in income over those who are cynical.

No community that I know of is more determined or does more to eliminate poverty than Durham. Hopefully, this will be useful perspective, both macro and micro, for those on the front lines.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Catastrophizing Ultimately is Really About Expectations

If my parents ever disagreed, it was often about politics, religion or money.

In fact, as life-long Republicans, if they couldn’t come to agreement on who they would vote for, my dad would famously say that they just as well not vote then because they would just cancel each other out.

Their marriage lasted 36 years, but during that span, mom usually prevailed when it came to money and religion, but it is the latter that ultimately brought their union to an end.

They are both gone now but a survey of Americans last year found that about 35% of Americans today also find it difficult to discuss politics, and even then I suspect what they hear is influenced by adversarial listening.

Religion falls close behind at 32% but taxes and personal health fall to 21% and 20% respectively.

According to a 2013 poll by Market Pulse on behalf of Wells Fargo, it is finances that Americans find most difficult to discuss (44%) even more than death (38%.)

Ironically, although 71% today learned the importance of saving from their parents, only slightly more than a third (36%) of parents report discussing the importance of saving money with their children on a frequent basis and a large percentage not at all.

American couples find it as hard to discuss money as they do discussing sex.

More than religion, it may have been my father’s struggle with deep episodes of depression as well as my mom’s emotional relationship with money -- spending it that is -- that ultimately pulled them apart.

My dad suddenly showed up to visit me in Alaska after the breakup.  He was deeply depressed but it wouldn’t be for another twenty years before I could talk with him about his depression.

He never let it affect his work but during these episodes he would often sit for hours in the dark without talking.  When I was little, it would scare me.

I know now that he was struggling with deep bouts of feeling inadequate, just as he probably was during his visit to Anchorage after his break up.  I could have said so much that would have been helpful but back then I was more prone to change the subject.

In his extraordinary book entitled, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, Dr. David Burns, a Stanford researcher who helped develop Cognitive Therapy, notes that we really don’t know yet how the brain creates emotions.

Reflection on our own thoughts can either be a powerful stimulant to insight or a spiraling cycle of negative thoughts.  Learning to foster the former and intervene to break the latter is a challenge everyone faces I suppose.

My mom’s emotional relationships with money and food fed into a set of expectations that were very different than my dad’s.  That’s what they really needed to discuss.

I’ve always envied, in a way, the people whom I have come across in life whose “my way or the highway” way of thinking and rationalizing seems so effortless.

Most often though, whenever I was obligated to stand up to someone like this I failed to discuss expectations and instead sailed into analysis.

Occasionally, before catching myself through reflection, I would fall into the all or nothing or black and white thinking trap as well.

A foundation built on clearly understanding expectations is the most essential element for fruitful strategic partnerships.

It is no different with another couple in dispute, Germany and Greece.

French economist Thomas Piketty who wrote, Capital in the Twenty-First Century a book that deals with the evolution of inequality and wealth concentration, reminds us that Germany is being more than a bit hypocritical when it comes to Greece.

Greece was among a number of countries in 1953 that stepped forward to forgive 50% of the massive bailout given to Germany following WWII.

He makes a good point.  Of course, what led to Germany’s indebtedness in 1953 and to Greece’s problems today are very different but no less “moral in stance.”

“Until 2009”, according to Piketty as reported by Chris Harlan on Wonkblog, “Greece forged its books.”  But he notes that austerity measures are forcing the burden on subsequent generations who were not part of that.

Similarly, the post-WWII government in Germany was trying to dig out from under a mess left by the Nazis.  Greece and other countries could have insisted on repayment, creating the same austerity forced on them after WWI which led to WWII.

The struggle regarding Greece’s bailout today is really about expectations more than it is money.

The “catastrophizing,” as cognitive behavior therapists call it, on both sides is just another form of all or nothing thinking.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Significance of our Ephemeral Little Brook

On each morning’s walk before hiking up the slopes of what we affectionately call Mt. Rockwood in Durham, North Carolina where we live, we cross repeatedly over a small unnamed brook.

It is smaller than a stream and way smaller than a creek, or as we said growing up in Idaho, “crick.”  Seasonal or storm-fed waterways such as this make up 60% of the stream miles in America.

There are no fish that I’ve seen but it is certainly home to choruses of bullfrogs.  Similar to 53% of the stream miles in the United States, it is classified as “small, intermittent or headwater,” and like almost 60% of the stream miles in America, it is seasonal and/or depends on groundwater seeps and storms.

They are the subject of efforts in Congress right now, where, at the behest of special interests I suppose such as mining companies, frackers and maybe even developers, who want to exempt these most seminal of waterways from the Clean Water Act.

They have also enlisted more than two dozen states controlled by legislatures holding the same ideology. Here is a link to the definitions to which they object.

The one over which we zigzag each morning comes off a nearby hillside and after flowing through Rockwood Park, it feeds into Third Fork Creek, near its genesis, one of 14 watersheds in Durham.

Much of this fragile brook was protected when a developer named Willie Carver deeded the parkland to the City of Durham in the 1940s; apparently even before this area a little more than a mile from Downtown had been incorporated.

It was a time when developers innately grasped the importance of green infrastructure.  Maybe it should be named “Willie Brook.”

After joining with several other creeks, it now helps fill the 14,000-acre Jordan Lake, a drinking water reservoir south of Durham that outlets as the Cape Fear River where waters from the little brook flow another 200 miles and then into the Atlantic Ocean.

In the March issue of Scientific American, two UCLA scientists give the example that “If Earth was a fully loaded Boeing 777, then its ocean would have the mass of a single passenger.  As strange as it may seem, proportionally our planet is some 100 times drier than old bone.”

And it all starts with these small, intermittent, often epemeral trickles that originate from springs or seeps of groundwater and then combine with storm run-off to create tiny brooks that build into streams and then creeks and rivers.

Even though it is impossible for the Clean Water Act to achieve its purpose without dealing with these intermittent waterways, some in Congress today are seeking to exclude them rather than permit regulations adjusted to address a technicality.

They apparently aren’t listening to 77% of Americans including 58% of Republicans who want even stricter environmental protections.

Nor are they listening to the 155,000 members of Trout Unlimited or for that matter to the $114 billion that 33.1 million anglers such as this generate to the economy.

Many people assume sportsmen and sportswomen such as these are conservative in ideology and half are.  But overall they are all conservationists by nature.

According to surveys, nearly 40% of those who fish and/or hunt believe we have a moral obligation to confront climate change.

When the NRA speaks out against gun control, it represents only 1-in-4 hunters and even then three-out-of-four NRA households overwhelmingly support various controls such as background checks on private gun sales.

Nearly a third support bans on high-capacity clips and assault-style weapons.

Watersheds are often called basins from which various waterways collect.

Durham is divided into two major watershed that fall from each side of the ridge that runs through Downtown, along the railroad tracks.  But each of these break down into several others.

To the north they break down into six or seven watersheds, two that are intercepted to fill two Durham drinking water reservoirs. The remainder, fill Falls Lake, created here so it could be tapped for drinking water down in Raleigh, to make that city viable.

The two rivers tapped for Durham drinking water, the Flat and Little, originate from small headwaters in adjacent southern Person County and north-central Orange County respectively.

In fact, the north and south forks combine to form the Flat River just a stone’s throw from where Willie Carver was born and just before the river becomes a class I-III whitewater river in Durham after storms.

Another, the Eno originates in a 10-acre farm pond in northwest Durham, which after collecting Little River and joining with Flat River and filling Falls Lake spill down to form the 248-mile Neuse River before it flows into Pamlico Sound.

Hyco and Mayo lakes up along the border with Virginia north of Durham are part of the Roanoke River watershed.  That river originates in brooks high in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and flows down into North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound.

Headwaters are particularly vulnerable to land use changes which is why I’m guessing that special interests, and not just ideology, are behind the push to exempt them from the Clean Water Act.

Rivers are a continuum, a reference coined in a 1980 study that determined, “A river is more than a sum of its parts and that to understand what is happening at any point along the way, you must understand what is happening upstream and what is entering the watershed.”

In North Carolina, 66% of overall stream miles are in headwater streams and 38% are intermittent but because some major rivers and watersheds here are headwatered in Virginia, it is important to understand that state’s make up too.

In Virginia 62% of stream miles are headwater streams.  In the specific area where the Roanoke River begins its journey to Albemarle Sound in North Carolina, 58% of the streams are intermittent while 63% are headwaters.

Angler enthusiasts including many of the 1.5 million in North Carolina along with another 329,000 who visit have spent tens of millions of their own dollars to restore and protect these intermittent streams including 700,000 volunteer hours each year by Trout Unlimited members alone.

In many ways trout are the sentinels of clear water.  It is in these intermittent headwater brooks, streams and creeks that you find native trout such as the Yellowstone Cutthroat I marveled at as a boy growing up near the Henry’s Fork in Idaho’s the Yellowstone-Teton nook.

In North Carolina, it is the Brook trout that is native.

There are still 25 native trout species unique to regions of the country out of the 28 that once existed.  But according to the just-published State of the Trout report, thirteen occupy less than 25% of their historic habitat.

As noted by Chris Wood who is President and CEO of Trout Unlimited, “If you care about clean drinkable water, you should care about trout because they persist in only the highest quality water.”

They are also the “proverbial canary-in-the-coal mine for the effects of a changing climate.”

Monday, July 06, 2015

Americans Can Hold Contradictions – Why Not Lawmakers

Anyone bent on loosening regulations on water quality and environmental protection overall is well advised to look at the new Harris Poll.

It shows that 77% of Americans support stricter environmental protection, a ratio of more than 3-to-1. This includes 58% of Republicans.

Showing the strength of those sentiments, those who feel strongly are 4 to 1 in favor of stricter environmental protection.

Americans also support less government regulation by a ratio of 2.4 to 1, including 57% of Democrats and 76% of Independents.

Those who feel strongly are 4.6-to-1 in favor of less government regulation.

Of course, according to Republican friends of mine who have held high office, opposition in that party is more about the fact that regulations aren’t being enforced and when they are, all too often it is unevenly.

So why is it then, that seemingly well-intended Republican lawmakers at the state and national level seem so indiscriminate when it comes to what they call regulation reform?

Some pundits speculate that it is a passive-aggressive reaction among those who have not had to actually govern before.  Others think it is because they hear or listen only to an eco-chamber of confirmation bias.

Others fear it is due to “solution aversion,” or what’s called “motivated skepticism.”

But it might be as simple as the inability for many people to “hold contradictions in creative tension,” a condition that seems to escalate when people are elected to high office where they become adversarial listeners.

It’s the same discomfort that prevents so many of us from thinking strategically, a discomfort with uncertainty, paradox and ambiguity.

There is a term for the inability to hold contradictory ideas simultaneously.  Researchers In psychology call it cognitive dissonance.

It makes some elected officials seem suddenly too stupid to accept what their constituents obviously can, the seeming paradoxical views that we need stricter environmental protection and less government regulation.

Or is it that special interests won’t let them?

The issue of gun rights is another example.  By a margin of 59% to 41%, Americans support stricter gun control including more than a third of Republicans.

Americans opposed to stricter gun measures also include 43% of Independents and 20% of Democrats.

Those who feel strongly in favor of stricter gun control (38%) outnumber those strongly opposed (24%) according to the Harris poll.

Even more telling though, according to recent Pew poll, is that even a majority of NRA member households while adamant about protecting gun rights are also heavily (74%) in favor some measures of gun control such as background checks for private gun sales.

In fact, a third also support bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

Political ideology has been defined as “an interrelated set of moral and political attitudes that possesses cognitive, affective, and motivational components.”

It may be useful as a means to funnel and align ideas but it can also make us blind to subtleties and contradictions we hold.  At its worst though, in the words of Pope Francis, it makes us “hostile and arrogant” as well as stupid.

Many of us want desperately for our states and nation to be led by lawmakers who can hold contradictions such as those I’ve used as examples in this essay but that will mean more than a swing of the pendulum of whose in the majority.

As Americans, we each need to be better at expressing the contradistinctions we hold rather than just hoping elected officials more diligently read opinion polls.

In his extraordinary book entitled Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Dr. Parker J. Palmer, a Quaker educator and writer, notes that five interwoven habits of the heart are needed.

He uses two words to summarize all five: “chutzpah and humility.”

By chutzpah he means having “a voice that needs to be heard and the right to speak it.”

By humility he means “accepting the fact that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all – so I need to listen with openness and respect, especially to “the other,” as much as I need to speak my own voice with clarity and conviction.”

Usually, anyone running for office has the first on steroids.

When we elect representatives, I dare say that it is the latter that should guide our choice.

Friday, July 03, 2015

How Small Business Comes To Be So Misrepresented

There is one discovery I find especially intriguing when I drill down into surveys of businesses such as Bloomberg’s, which goes deep enough to reveal the sentiments of truly small businesses.

These are the concerns that make up 90% of small businesses nationwide, those that employ 5 or fewer employees including all startups.  Seventy percent are owned and operated by a single person.

Three-quarters, according to other polls, rely on locals for all or most of their business, making them the very backbone of economic development.

These so-called micro businesses, according to Gallup, make up an incredible 80% of all businesses in the United States.  Some calculations go as high as 92% by expanding the definition to include those that employ 10 or fewer employees.

Don’t even ask why the so-called Small Business Administration still defines small businesses in general by metrics as large as 500 employees.

But I have a hunch, that similar to the way official dietary recommendations were originally established, it was originally superimposed by special interests and politicians, not science.

However, these truly small businesses generate 7 of every 10 new jobs.

Fostering and fueling the retention and growth of these micro businesses is the “low-hanging fruit of economic development” overlooked by communities firmly addicted to providing incentives to larger but less fruitful concerns.

A study in 2012 found that micro businesses of 5 or fewer employees directly employed 26 million Americans and indirectly supported another 1.9 million jobs while inducing 13.4 million other jobs.

But these concerns don’t often show up on the radar or in the actions of self-described business advocacy organizations such as chambers of commerce.

Neither do they typically show up in any representative sample during public hearings regarding pending legislation.

While they are claimed as a cause celeb by many along the spectrum of political ideology, the sentiment that tells me these small businesses are not being accurately represented is how they regard government regulations.

In fact, in North Carolina, the political party now in power, often uses this group as an excuse to unravel these public protections.

However surveys such as the one conducted for Bloomberg, show that only 2.2% of these concerns rank complying with government regulations as one of their top problems, making it 10th on the list of concerns among small businesses in North Carolina.

The percentage with this view nationwide is 2.6%.

So what segment of business are Republicans really representing when they seek to undermine public protections in the name of being business friendly?

Well it isn’t large employers in North Carolina where it is a top concern for only 4.7%, making it 7th on their list of concerns and hardly emblematic for what partisan elected officials claim.

Nationwide, the view is held by only 4.3% of large employers, making it 9th on the list.

Taxes aren’t much of a concern either, ranking a top concern among only 7% of small businesses and 4.7% of large employers in North Carolina.

Of far more concern to small businesses are issues such as access to capital where studies show they are largely reliant on small, local banks which are being squeezed out of business by mid-sized and large banks.

Small, community-based financial institutions now have just 24% of overall banking assets and yet they make 60% of all small business loans while giant banks now control 59% of all banking assets and yet make only 23% of small business loans.

The reason is so-called regulation reform and the silence among the elected officials responsible is deafening.  This is in part because of the feed-back loop they helped create.

For instance, while only 2% of small businesses have regulations as an issue, nonetheless for having been caught for years in an echo chamber, this is one of the top two issues that Republicans say will influence their vote.

Just don’t blame small businesses.

So what is really forcing concerns of far less concern to small and large businesses alike, such as taxes and regulations, to the very top of the list for the Republican majority now dominating North Carolina’s three branches of government?

How does an ideology, any ideology, so often find itself so narrow in its representation?

I have witnessed personally, that in some cases, this happens when elected officials come to think it is their opinions they should push rather than those of their constituents.

I have also been privy to how large blocks of elected officials begin to view their constituency more as the special interests that financed their campaigns rather than all voters.

It doesn’t take much to form a vacuum-sealed feedback loop, especially when special interests have lobbyists that seemingly vote their opinions every single day at the state capitol while voters, in general, officially only get to weigh in every few years.

Cities that have taken the lead to require a livable wage aren’t just avoiding these feedback loops, they are fully disaggregating and examining the sentiments of employers rather than just listening to those who pay people to attend meetings.

This is an idea still novel to many officials.  But it is more complicated than that.

An understanding of how an entire political party or ideology can become out of step with business owners and other voters can be found in a paper published by Duke University business and psychology researchers.

It is entitled “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief, and weaves together a series of behavior studies.

“Solution aversion” explains a lot about how organizations such as business advocacy groups and elected officials can become so estranged from the views of their constituents.

It isn’t just because very few constituents have time to attend meetings or the patience to deal with the games played by those who do.

It is because we can all form cherished beliefs and then ideologically align with people who share those same beliefs based on biases rather than information in such a way that we are led to pair solutions and problems, not based on empirical and generalizable information, but on fear.

For anyone caught in an ideology or belief system that seems averse to solutions or trapped in positions where the same old worn out solutions are recycled with the same disappointing results, whether it be in business or politics or religion, this paper is an extremely worthwhile read.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Cooling Pond Futures - Hyco and Mayo

Along the north shore of Hyco Lake, near the border with Virginia north of Durham where I live is a dock with a roof covered by solar panels.

That’s seemingly incongruous only because Hyco is one of a pair of lakes created on each side of the small town of Roxboro to serve as gigantic cooling ponds for coal-fired steam generation power plants.

In fact, an astonishing 38% of the nation’s fresh water goes to cooling power plants.

Recreation on Hyco and Mayo lakes, including cabins, lake houses, as well as houses on the two lakes (there is a difference) have become byproducts from the water needed for their respective power plants.

But as I will note, changes are underway that may soon elevate these to the primary purpose of these lakes.

Of personal interest is Mayo, the lake on the east side of the 8,000 person town.  The lakes differ greatly and so do the steam plants for which they were created.

Mayo Lake not only has 25% less surface, it has 52% of the shoreline of Hyco Lake.  On Mayo, the northern third around the plant is undeveloped, making it rarely, if ever, in view.

Technically, Duke Energy owns up to the 420’ mark around each lake, but while on Hyco there are little or no restrictions, Mayo reflects the concern for the environment that later emerged in the 1970s.

Around Mayo Lake, according to observers this buffer is protected natural vegetation as habitat for “black bear, white-tailed deer, red fox, opossum, skunk, beaver, and bobcat as well as hundreds of bird species such as grebes, herons, ospreys, red-tailed hawks and owls.”

Motorized watercraft are permitted on both but Hyco Lake seems more “recreational” in nature, as in amusements.  Kind of like “camp” vs. nature preserve.

Mayo does not permit “permanent” docks, while Hyco has elaborate docks and boat houses that cost as much as some lake houses.  Both have public parks to launch boats and swim.

The power plants are much different, too.  The one for which Hyco, known as the Roxboro Steam Plant was created is a couple of decades older and is more than three times larger than the Mayo Plant shown in the image in this essay.

Both are now equipped with “scrubbers” required by the EPA to cut down on air pollution and first mandated by Congress in 1977.

They each burn a lot of coal including about 5.5 million tons annually at Hyco and 1.8 million tons at Mayo.

To put that in perspective, the Hyco plant burns between a 100-car train and a half to two and a half trains of coal a day, each coal car carrying about a 100 tons. A 45-60 day supply or so is kept in reserve.

Mayo uses a third as much.

Occasionally, some coal supply may come from as far away as northeastern Wyoming, but primarily, both plants are supplied from mines in Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky via routes through Virginia.

Remember the haunting song You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive?

Both lakes have coal ash stored on site, Mayo’s stretching up toward South Boston, Virginia, while Hyco’s stretches toward Roxboro.

The Mayo plant sells about a quarter of its 160,000 tons of annual coal ash for use in road and building construction.

The Hyco plant generates around 500,000 tons of coal ash.  It is one of the largest in the country and for the past six years, the remaining coal ash from Mayo has been trucked over there.

A year ago, a state of the art, special landfill with groundwater monitoring was opened downstream from the Mayo Plant which will eventually grow to 100 acres.

The solution, though, is more than tougher limits on emissions and conversion of the plants to natural gas.  Natural gas is now used to generate more than 30% of electricity compared to less than 37% generated by coal.

But while natural gas generation uses four times less water for cooling than coal, a savings of nearly 20 trillion gallons of water since 2005, fracking, the technology used to source the natural gas uses 28 times more water than it did 15 years ago.

An even better alternative is a new patented closed-loop process pioneered here in Durham by NetPower called the Allam Cycle which eliminates all air emissions including carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.

NetPower’s technology is not equipment to control pollution but an entirely new combustion process called oxy-combustion.  It has turned a major problem into a recyclable solution, in part, utilizing carbon capture.

In effect, it eliminates the entire steam process, which wastes 30% to 40% of its energy, and all of the associated equipment.

Ironically, it very well may be this Durham-inspired innovation that will finally bring Republican skeptics onboard regarding climate change, turning their pejorative “Whatever else they do in Durham,” into an accolade.

As noted by local journalist Alex Dixon, it is a phenomenon of behavioral change identified in a recent study conducted here at Duke entitled, “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief.”

NetPower’s new technology also means that power plants such as Hyco and Mayo can be greatly downsized as they convert, while also lowering the cost of the power generated.

They also probably won’t be needing those “cooling ponds,” leaving Hyco and Mayo lakes as a lifestyle legacy.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A Personal Story of Why I See Immigrants As Patriots

In May of 1775 as a set of my 4th and 5th great grandparents set sail for America from Belfast on a 350-ton brig named The Pennsylvania Farmer, they already knew what civil war was like.

But they probably hadn’t heard yet about the clash less than two weeks earlier on Lexington Green between colonial militiamen and British Army regulars.

Nor were they aware that the makings of the revolution and even after, in places such as North Carolina where they planned to settle was already more like a civil war.

Four years earlier, in the Battle of Alamance, North Carolinians fighting as colonial militia on behalf of the Royal Governor defeated North Carolinian rebels known as Regulators.

The ship my ancestors were on had meant to dock in Charleston, South Carolina.

But cross-Atlantic voyages at the time, even aboard a ship as fast and maneuverable as a two-masted brig were often blown off course and forced to land at other ports.

So on July 1, 1775 The Pennsylvania Farmer (similar to the brig shown in the image in this essay) dropped my ancestors off in Baltimore instead.

Soon Thomas and Hannah McCrory along with my 17-year-old 4th great grandfather James plus some other relatives began trekking down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia on the Great Wagon Road.

They were at the tail end of the Great Migration of 200,000 Scots-Irish who immigrated here between 1717 and 1775, most settling inland along the Appalachians and western Piedmont.

They were Presbyterians of differing factions whose lowland Scottish ancestors had been transplanted to Northern Ireland by the British.  Even in religious, they understood civil war.

It is from their folk music, by the way, that country music spawned.

Initially it was successive droughts in Northern Ireland that drove them to leave.  My ancestors, though, were weavers who also left because the linen market had collapsed and British estates had cancelled the land they leased.

Shortly after passing through the relatively new Moravian settlement of Salem, North Carolina (part of present-day Winston-Salem,) they planned to cut south on the Georgia Road to their final destination Waxhaw, North Carolina.

It was an area just south of the village of Charlotte where the month after their departure from Belfast, the defiant Mecklenburg Resolves had been signed as one of the earliest declarations of Independence.

But it may have been at Salem, that one of my 4th great grandfathers, James McCrory, decided to settle 28 miles east instead at a new crossroads that had sprung up around the Guilford Courthouse the year before, while Thomas and Hannah continued a hundred miles further south to Waxhaw.

After less than a year as Americans, Thomas enlisted as a captain overseeing a company of troops in the 9th North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army commanded by Col. John P. Williams.

James also enlisted first under his father and then seemingly transferred to another company in the same regiment under Captain Ramsey.

Ironically, this is also when North Carolina purchased their old ship The Pennsylvania Farmer in New Bern and began to arm her as the centerpiece of the colony-soon-to-be-state’s Navy.

The regiment soon marched north to join General Washington in Middlebrook, NJ.  They soon engaged the British Army in battles at Brandywine and Germantown where my 5th great grandfather was apparently mortally wounded in action.

His body must have been taken home to Waxhaw because he is buried near there on Mint Hill.

James eventually served in nearly every major battle in the Southern campaign including at Guildford Courthouse before marrying after the war and heading over the mountains in 1783 into Tennessee and eventually down along the Tombigbee River.

But why leave North Carolina?  After Generals Greene and Cornwallis left the state, the nearly seven year Revolutionary War soon concluded in victory of Americans.

But in North Carolina, the vacuum meant the civil war continued to rage on between loosely organized gangs of armed men terrorized Tar Heels while presenting themselves as either revolutionaries or loyalists.

Totally undisciplined, according to the late Dr. William S. Powell in his book entitled, North Carolina Through Four Centuries, they were more like “robbers.”

These partisan gangs “burned houses, murdered men, and attacked women indiscriminately,” terrorizing large areas of the state while taking hundreds of prisoners hostage.

Normalcy wouldn’t come to North Carolina for nearly a decade.

Powell reminds us that during this period there were almost 350,000 people living here, a quarter in bondage with no hope of freedom and a third of those who were white still loyal to Great Britain.

Even after the war, only 40% of Tar Heels were un-ambivalent about Independence.  A faction known as “conservatives” wanted a return to prewar ideals and conditions including renewal of trade with England.

Back then they even wanted to “tap the breaks” on Independence.  Another known as “radicals” or “rioters” wanted even more change.

Sound familiar?  I obviously come from a long line of moderates.  But during that time Tennessee was part of North Carolina which had been granting land their to soldiers and their families.

My McCrory ancestors were close to the family of later US President Andrew Jackson both because they lived in the same Waxhaw district but also because Jackson’s brother married a Crawford relative of James’ mother Hannah.’'

Judging by the year, Jackson, my 4th great grandparents James and Jane McCrory along with his brother Thomas, Jackson’s friend, all migrated to Tennessee together in 1783, during this period of anarchy.

But life there was anything but peaceful.

While living on land along Cripple Creek, James was fired on by Indians just north of the Cumberland River in 1792.

By 1811 when my 3rd great grandmother Sarah Ann McCrory was born, her parents had purchased land down in the recently opened Mississippi Territory, along the Tombigbee near the western border of what five years later would become Alabama.

It was a still a tense time for the young family.  A civil war soon broke out within the Creek Nation of Native Americans due to a hostile faction known as the “Red Sticks” because of of the red war clubs they used.

It soon spilled over with the massacre of settlers.  In addition, there was the threat of invasion by the British via New Orleans as war broke out again in 1812.

This in turn drew General Andrew Jackson’s troops down from Tennessee in defense, along his friend my 4th great grandfather’s brother, Col. Thomas McCrory, who had built a two story cabin in 1790 along what is now Old Hickory Blvd. in Forest Hills, Tennessee.

The cabin is now on the National Register of History Places.

When the old solider, James McCrory finally died in his 80s, my great-great-grandmother Sarah Ann headed to Illinois and then across Iowa with her family hoping to make it into my native Rockies.

She died in route, just south of Des Moines, in the harsh winter of 1847 but it is in part from her daughter Amanda, who was five at the time, that I draw my 5th generation Idaho roots.

McCrorys were late comers compared to all but a couple of lines of ancestors who immigrated to America in the 1850s and 60s.  Most had been here since the 1600s.

But uncovering their story and placing it in context makes me even more proud to be an American.