Dean Barber

Cutting Loose in Appalachia

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2012 at 9:17 am

It was time to reboot, revamp, recharge and revitalize. So I took my first vacation in three years  (which is the reason you have not been hearing from me of late), and I came back home refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges at hand.

But when I was behind the wheel for the nearly 3,000 miles that I drove with a pop-up camper in tow, I will admit to pangs of guilt about taking off. You see, when you are self-employed as I am, there will always be that nagging feeling that you are missing out on something big.

So I tried to split the difference to some degree, knowing full well that it would be hard for me to separate myself totally from work. Along the way in my eastern trek from Texas to Appalachia, I met with clients and potential clients, even showing up in a suit for some meetings.  Never mind that out in the parking lot was my camper,  beckoning for my return.

Most of the time, I confided with my corporate contacts that I was mixing business with pleasure and was on my way to attend a music festival in West Virginia. Invariably, that would prompt the question if I played a musical instrument and that’s where things would get dicey.

Exec: So what instrument do you play?

Me: Hey, I see that you have expanded your operations at this plant and that you are considering re-shoring more production back to the states.

Exec: So what do you play?

Me:  You know, I couldn’t help but notice the pictures on your desk. You have a beautiful family.

Exec: Yes, I do. I am very blessed. Now what instrument do you play, Dean?

Me: Well, you know, it’s a stringed instrument.

Exec:  Yes?

Me: You wouldn’t be interested. Hey, I wanted to ask you about your new distribution center on the east coast.

Exec: Dean, I would very much like to know what instrument you play.

Me: Uh, yea, well you see, uh, it’s the, hmm, you know, the …. the banjo.

Exec:  Gosh, that’s great, Dean. Good to see you. Thanks for dropping by. Hope you have a great trip.

Me: You know, I really believe that I could save your company millions of dollars in operational costs by helping you find the right place when you are ready to expand.

Exec: Yes, we do need to talk about that, but now is not the time. I have an important meeting that I must attend shortly.

Me:  I was hoping for a plant tour.

Exec:  Next time, Dean. Next time, I promise.

Me:  Did I tell you I played the guitar, too?

Exec: That’s wonderful. I bet you play it well, too.  Now you drive safe. Take care.

But if the banjo does not sell well in the corporate suites, it does serve as a shining star at the Appalachian String Band Festival near the tiny village of Clifftop, WV., which was my final destination. There, I got at least a modicum of respect.

And there in the mountains, 20 miles from the nearest town, I relaxed and had fun with a bunch of musician friends from all over the country. And then something very good happened.

My not so smart phone died. Just quit working. There would be no phone calls, no emails. I was isolated and removed from the pressures of my work and somehow I came to love it. For that time and place, business be damned.

But I’m not totally stupid. I did get word to my boss, aka the wife, through a friend’s cell phone on how to reach me in case of emergency.

Still, I felt cut loose. Indeed, I cut the noose. There is something about getting away, escaping from normal routine of work and life, that simply does the body and mind good. Numerous studies seem to support this notion that long breaks do replenish job performance.

“The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound,” said Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles in speaking to ABC News. “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”

The bottom line is that breaks are good for the brain. If you care about your own productivity and your decision making, take off and go work on your golf game. Or in my case, finding solace in the glorious banjo with fiddle players and guitar players in the mountain wilds of West Virginia.

Yes, folks, it’s true (at least for me) — hillbilly music heals.

Things I Thought About While on the Road,

Driving from Texas to West Virginia and back provides you plenty of time to think about things. The wondrous landscapes that I saw in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee, confirmed in me that there must be a higher power at work, a Creator. The moonshine that I tasted also confirmed that these mountain people knew a few things about creation, too.

I marvel and give thanks to the fact that we have an interstate highway system in this country that permitted me to make 500 miles a day, rather easily, with a trailer in tow.

In terms of interstate commerce, that is huge. Most produce in this country moves by truck. President Eisenhower didn’t conceive the Interstate System, but his support led to enactment of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which established the program for funding and building it.

President Obama signed a $105 billion transportation bill into law on July 6, bringing to an end a three-year battle over road and transit spending. The bill passed by a vote of 373-52 in the House of Representatives and 74-19 in the Senate, revealing that Congress can actually get something done if it only tries.

The new law supposedly will streamline the lengthy project approval process, consolidate or eliminate federal programs, and ensure that states have more flexibility to direct limited resources to high-priority needs. Let us hope.

The U.S. freight economy, particularly for trucking, is projected to grow significantly despite current economic conditions. The American Trucking Association, IHS Global Insight and Martin Labbe Associates forecast total freight tonnage to grow 21 percent by 2023, with revenue for the freight transportation industry rising 59 percent during the same period.

Trucking’s share of the tonnage market will rise more than 2 percentage points to 69.6 percent by 2023, while the industry’s share of freight revenues will rise from 80.9 percent to 81.7 percent. And having driven in some pretty remote areas of late, I can believe the claim by the ATA that 80 percent of U.S. communities receive their goods exclusively by truck. That is certainly true in the mountains.

In short, expect more and maybe even bigger trucks on the road in the future, which will only underscore the need for roadway improvements.

Having an interstate network is this country is central to the movement of people and goods, but having driven nearly 3,000 miles in the last couple of weeks tells me that there are stretches that are in need of upgrading. A focused strategy to upgrade our transportation infrastructure would put legions of people back to work who would be building new highways, upgrading existing roadways, replacing aged (and even dangerous) bridges.

This is a matter of economic development that should transcend party affiliation and political philosophy. This is a matter of economic housekeeping with an eye toward the future.

I’ve always believed that you have to spend money to make money. Investing in ourselves enables industry to better compete on a world stage. And whether we like it or not, that’s the stage that we are on.

Open for Anything?

Economic developers are infatuated with this whole concept of brand. Brand is what we want people to think of us or associate us as being. Personally, I kinda like the bumper stickers and the T-shirts that I have seen to “Keep Austin Weird,” although most chamber types would probably cringe at the thought.

But so many brand attempts play off the obvious and the superficial to such a degree that you can only conclude that those coming up with these ideas must take us for idiots. In the recently released movie “The Campaign”, Will Ferrell portrays an incumbent congressman seeking re-election who shamelessly resorts to stringing the words “America, Jesus and Freedom” together for effect.

Now how many communities, how many states, how many times am I going to hear that a place is “Open for Business?” And what does that really mean? Does that mean you are open for any kind of business under the sun to come to your community? Really? Well, if that is the case, it doesn’t speak much for you.

Sometimes it’s what others say about you that has more weight than what you say about yourself. Think about that. My advice – resist the obvious clichéd slogans. Focus on what makes sense not only for you but for your customer. In short, think fit and solution and resist the smarmy slogans.

When I was a teenager only dreaming about my first car, I remember reading the classified ads in a major northeastern newspaper. There was one used car dealer who would always describe the car being advertised as a “real creampuff.”

Believe it or not, I was even skeptical then.

Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at Please visit our website at

  1. Good article. No doubt that a little down time does us all some good.

  2. I have the superlative community. We are not only ‘Open for Business’, but we also have a ‘Great Quality of Life’. Which means we would be impressed by a banjo player.

    Enjoyable post and welcome back.

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