Other countries, many of them are fine places, and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting more than few. And some are, in the words of Lyndon B. Johnson, “pissant.”
But this country truly is an extraordinary country. And the more I see it, the more it continues to intrigue and surprise me. And I’ve seen a lot of it.
I have ridden a mule 30 miles from the nearest paved road in Montana. I have sat around a campfire with friends in Tennessee drinking moonshine and have wandered around lost in the high desert of Utah with no water wondering just how stupid I could be.
I have plied the sidewalks of Manhattan, snorkeled in the Florida Keys, motorcycled in the Black Hills of South Dakota and stood over corpses as a police reporter in Columbus, Georgia.
In Bloody Lane
I have drank 20-cent draft beer in Milwaukee, hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail in multiple states, spent a spooky night alone in Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island, Alabama, and driven around in Pittsburgh with absolutely no sense of direction.
I posed for Japanese tourists standing beside my 1969 Cadillac convertible at the Four Corners Monument. I have attended art shows in Miami, a black rodeo in Mesquite, Texas, and industry car shows in Detroit.
I have ridden horseback on the Gettysburg battlefield, slept on the ground as a reenactor at the Shiloh battlefield, stood in the bloody lane at Antietam, and was with my grandfather when he stooped down and picked up a union coat button on property adjoining the Murfreesboro (Stones River) battlefield.
Hopped a Freight
I’ve been to the Little Big Horn, the Alamo, Valley Forge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, and I soaked in hot sulfur pools (probably illegally) in a remote spot in Yellowstone National Park.
I bicycled over the Brooklyn Bridge (which was no fun at the time) and hopped a freight train for a few miles in Georgia just to see what it felt like.
I’ve eaten Tex-Mex in El Paso, soul food in Harlem, low-country boil near Savannah and Charleston, steak in Omaha, pizza in New York, hotdogs in Chicago, cheesesteak in Philadelphia, chili in Cincinnati, Copper River salmon in Alaska, barbecue ribs at Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and barbecue brisket at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas.
I’ve drank craft beer in Duluth, Minn., enjoyed turtle soup in the Garden District in New Orleans, and ate raw oysters in Apalachicola, Fla.
I’ve been to juke joints in Mississippi, Broadway plays in New York, and church services in Washington, D.C.
FedEx Moose, the Klan, Clifftop and Nellie’s
I’ve watched moose amble about in a FedEx parking lot at the Anchorage International Airport, and I’ve hula danced in Maui to the hoots and howls of friends. I covered a Ku Klux Klan rally one night in rural Georgia as a newspaper reporter. No friends there.
I camped for 10 days at George Washington Carver State Park in West Virginia, playing banjo and guitar at the Appalachian String Band Festival, commonly known as “Clifftop” among aficionados. (I plan to go back this year.) And I’ve performed with old-time string bands in Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama. (See theLone Star String Band.)
With my brother, I’ve hunted for coyote, wild boar and deer, and shot pool on a sawdust floor, all in rural California of all places. With my father, I fished in the Missouri Ozarks, baited trotlines in Watts Bar Lake in Tennessee, dipped for smelt in the Great Lakes, set crab traps in Chesapeake Bay, and raked clams in Delaware Bay.
Both my dad and my brother have since passed, and I miss them still.
I once got into mud wrestling match with an acquaintance at a festival in Russell County, Ala. I remember him throwing me around like a rag doll. That fellow would later be convicted as a serial killer.
I remember seeing a night sky like I have never seen before while camped at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. A canvas of stars and coyotes yipping in the night. It was truly wondrous.
And I once drank a can of Budweiser beer in the wee hours of the morning in a nondescript frame house in Natchez, Miss. The place was called Nellie’s and it was a long-time protected institution.
A can of beer is all that I got there that night. No, I take that back. I got a purple T-shirt, too. It said, “Follow Me to Nellie’s.”
The place later burned down and Nellie Jackson, who I remember as a kindly woman, tragically died in the fire, which was deliberately set.
Before and After Jobs
Before college, I worked in restaurants, on dairy farms shoveling manure, on factory assembly lines, and in a foundry smashing my fingers and toes, which convinced me to go to college to study business and journalism.
After college, I was a newspaper reporter and then a business editor, and then an economic developer, and now a consultant, which seems to suit me just fine.
Looking back, some of the things that I did, especially in my younger days, were foolhardy, indiscrete, dangerous and downright stupid. (I am still capable of doing stupid things. Just ask my wife.)
I’ve learned that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Except for bears. Bears will kill you.
What Companies and Communities Want
A good portion of my travels have come about because of my consulting practice. For those who do not know, I do corporate site selection, location analysis for companies. I also do economic development consulting for communities. I enjoy both.
What is almost a universal truth is that companies, whatever their industry group, want to be in places that best suit them in terms of efficient operations and profitability. And communities want quality of life and good paying jobs.
Making the Fit
My job typically is to match and marry the wants and needs of Corporate America with that of Main Street America. Making the fit right both for company and community is a primary concern and a win for all.
Companies hire us because they rightly understand that site selection/location analysis is not a core strength for them. If they attempt it on their own, they will make a royal mess of it. (See Why Companies Should Outsource Site Selection)
Economic development organizations hire us because they often cannot see the forest because of the trees, and they are in need of a plan. I always liked the saying by fame oilman T. Boone Pickens: “A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan any day.”
My advice to communities that want to be an active player in economic development: Get a plan.
With All Due Respect, Governor
If I were advising the governor of any state on matters of business climate, I would urge that he or she double down on education, especially vocational education, to ensure that a pipeline of talent is available and ready for the jobs of the future.
Education and workforce development go hand in glove. And it is the lifeblood for all communities, big or small. People are a resource.
I would also urge any governor of any political persuasion to take a long hard look at the regulatory climate in his or her state. Red tape, unnecessary regulations, truly is a cost burden on American businesses, and it is detrimental to our nation’s competitive position in the world.
The same goes with taxes. Certainly taxes are needed to fund and operate government. But tax rates should not be so high as to make U.S. businesses want to escape one jurisdiction for another. Witness GE leaving Connecticut. Witness the U.S. with tax inversions.
Finally, if I were advising any governor in any state, I would say to be watchful for and vigilant against any legislation that would disenfranchise any citizens of their civil rights.
I would base that recommendation partly on the sentiments of millennials, who will take over the reins of power, and partly of that of Corporate America, which is looking to millennials as their main focus in terms of workforce and buying power.
As I wrote in my blog last week (and the week before), discrimination is bad for business and it certainly is bad for attraction and retention of talent. Bigotry is a lost cause, but some still cling to it. Amazingly, some are state legislators.
There is a chance that Missouri and Tennessee could join North Carolina and Mississippi in the Dumb and Dumber Club by passing “religious freedom” bills into law that would essentially sanction discrimination against gay people.
I don’t think that would be a wise move, but I have come to believe what Abba Eban, an Israeli politician and diplomat, said: “Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources.”
So in the end, I am an optimist. From Maine to California, from Canada to Mexico, I see strength and wisdom in the American people. Never bet against this country. We will get it right, even if it is a bumpy ride at times.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 972-890-3733.