Dean Barber

Archive for May, 2016|Monthly archive page

Pure Innovation: The Continuing Story of Dayton

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on May 31, 2016 at 4:18 pm

The history and the culture of a place remains forever telling. And like the people they embody, cities have their own peculiar stories, shaped by those who have left their tale tell marks.

Last week, I was in Dayton, Ohio. Ostensibly, I was there to give a speech at the annual meeting of the I-70/75 Development Association, a group committed to economic growth in the Dayton region.

In my speech, I did impart some thoughts on the future of work in what I see as the early stages of a revolutionary new digital machine age. But I believe I learned far more from my hosts than what they learned from me.

First and foremost, I learned of an incredibly rich industrial history of Dayton, to which I have concluded that this city in southwestern Ohio truly was the original Silicon Valley, a place of incredible innovation.

An Inventor’s Town

Keep in mind that this was the hometown of the Wilbur and Orville Wright, two brothers who forever changed the world by designing and building the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft from their bicycle shop on West Third Street.

In a speech years later, Wilbur would say that if he were to give advice to a young man on how to get ahead in life, he would say, “Pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”

Dayton was the home of by James Ritty, the owner of a saloon who wanted to stop employees from pilfering his profits. The Ritty Model I was the first cash register, invented in 1879, followed by “Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier” patented in 1883.

Ritty sold his cash register business to Jacob H. Eckert of Cincinnati, who in turn sold the company in 1884 to John H. Patterson, who renamed it the National Cash Register Company, later to be called NCR Corp.

Kettering’s Spark

In 1906, while working at the National Cash Register Company, inventor Charles F. Kettering designed a cash register with an electric motor.

Kettering and Edward Deeds in 1909 founded Delco, the name derived from Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. The company would later become the Delco Products Division of General Motors. While at Delco, Kettering would invent the first reliable battery ignition system and the first practical automobile self-starter.

Dayton Thinks

As general sales manager at National Cash Register, Thomas J. Watson, Sr., who would eventually become the CEO of International Business Machine (IBM) interrupted a sales meeting, saying, “The trouble with every one of us is that we don’t think enough. We don’t get paid for working with our feet — we get paid for working with our heads.”

Watson then wrote “THINK” on an easel, and signs with this motto were erected in National Cash Register buildings throughout Dayton during the mid-1890s.

It was at this same time that Dayton had been granted more patents per capita than any other U.S. city.

Patterson fired Watson in 1914, afterwhich Watson joined IBM, and “THINK” later became a widely known symbol of IBM.

Dayton resident Arthur E. Morgan did his share of thinking when he came up with the “hydraulic jump”, a flood prevention mechanism that helped pioneer modern-day hydraulic engineering following a devastating flood to the city in 1913.

More thinking in World War II, when the city hosted the Dayton Project, a branch of the larger Manhattan Project, to develop polonium triggers which were used in early atomic bombs. National Cash Register also helped develop a code-breaking machine that helped crack the German Enigma machine cipher.

The List Goes On and On

Other inventions (and this is not a complete list) originating from Dayton included the parachute, the first retractable landing gear, the ice cube tray, the stepladder, the air conditioning refrigerant Freon, the electric wheelchair, microencapsulation for the carbonless copy paper industry, microfiche, the parking meter, the gas mask, Ethyl leaded gasoline, the explosion-proof electric gasoline pump, the photoelectric cell, the LCD screen, and the pop-top aluminum can.

“We are talking about things that effect everybody, and they were born here. The list goes on and on. Try to go one day without using a Dayton invention and it is pretty difficult,” said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History.

On the pop-top can, legend has it that Ermal Fraze, owner of Dayton Reliable Tool and Manufacturing Company, was at a family picnic in the late 1950s. He wanted to drink a can of beer but had no opener. He eventually opened his beer using a car bumper, but vowed to develop an easy-opening can.

In short, Dayton was and I would argue remains to this day a hub of technological innovation, with a legacy of collaboration and creativity that will forever remain in the city’s DNA. I cannot fully fathom how or why Dayton became this patent capital, but it did. Maybe it’s the water.

My theory is that brain power somehow bequeaths brain power, and that smart genes just took root, creating a rather unique environment for experiments and wonder.

Tough Times

That is not to say that Dayton has not had it rough and tumble times.

Since the 1980s, Dayton’s population has been in decline, much of it due to the loss of manufacturing jobs. NCR Corporation stunned the city of its birth when it announced in June 2009 that it was leaving for suburban Atlanta. With the move came the loss of 1,300 jobs.

The announcement by NCR came only about six months after General Motors had shut down an assembly plant in nearby Moraine in December 2008, that once employed up to 5,000 people.

Also in 2009, Delphi closed its Vandalia plant. At one time, the automotive supplier employed more than 10,000 workers in the area.

To say that Dayton and the surrounding Miami Valley region was staggered would be an understatement. Dayton had the third-greatest percentage loss of population Ohio since the 1980s, behind only Cleveland and Youngstown.

“When manufacturing left, nothing filled the void,” wrote one Dayton resident in 2009. “My city was gone.”

A New Optimism

Well, it wasn’t gone. Dayton was down during the height of the Great Recession, but it was not out. Last week, I saw things that tell me that the city is not only on the mend, but that big things are yet in store, with a new optimism reigning.

First, and this may sound trivial but it is not, I witnessed a packed house at Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons, a highly successful minor league baseball team and affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

Every game in the team’s 15-year existence has been a sellout. The Dragons continued their sellout streak throughout 2015 and finished the season with their 1,121st straight sold-out game.

Since NCR’s departure, other blue-chip companies have come, and I openly wonder if they would had come if NCR remained. I’m not sure so sure, but that’s speculation on my part.

What is true is that the city no longer had to expend so much energy on a company whose CEO did not want to be there, indeed, had never lived there. He said it was difficult to recruit talent to Dayton. Companies that have come since NCR’s departure have cited just the opposite.

21st Century Stuff

In April 2011, GE Aviation broke ground on its $53 million Electrical Power Integrated Systems Research and Development Center (EPISCENTER) on the University of Dayton campus.

The center’s close proximity to talent residing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the University of Dayton Research Institute was all important. University researchers will work with GE to develop and deploy computer modeling, simulation and analysis of advanced, dynamic electric power systems design and controls.

Trust me, this is 21st century stuff.

Pure Innovation

Also on campus, also due largely to the presence of the University of Dayton Research Institute and also cutting edge 21st century technology is the Emerson Climate Technologies’ Helix Innovation Center. Its purpose is to advance research and education for the global heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) industry.

The 40,000-square-foot center officially opened on April 27. Inside the Helix, which I toured, was a fully functional two-story, three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot home. The outside chamber offers temperature simulations from minus 20°F to 120°.

Said Emerson CEO David Farr at the grand opening, “This is pure innovation the way it should be done.”

Farr’s comment hits to the heart of what Dayton has always been about.

More Big Projects

There have been other big capital investments that have come to the Dayton area. In nearby Union, near the Dayton International Airport and Interstate 70, Procter & Gamble has built a flagship, 1.8 million-square-foot, multi-brand distribution center. It employs about 1,300 people.

Northwest of Dayton in nearby Clayton, Caterpillar, Inc. moved into a new 1.5 million-square-foot distribution and assembly facility in 2010. The building was designed and constructed in just 10 ½ months.

Chinese-owned Fuyao Glass, the largest automotive glass manufacturer in the world, has invested $450 million in a portion of the former GM plant in nearby Moraine. About 1,400 workers are employed there, but that number could increase by another 1,000, said company chairman Cho Tak Wong, who paid to $15 million to buy much of the former auto plant in 2013.

Also in Moraine, DMAX, announced last year that it will invest $142 million at its 584,000-square-foot engine plant. About 150 jobs will be added over the next three years to the current level of 600 people now working there.

Also out by the airport, where road improvements and utility infrastructure continues to be built, groundbreaking should commence by mid-June for a yet announced project, which will include research and development, manufacturing and warehouse distribution.

Downtown Recovers

Big, culture-changing downtown development projects are in the works, including redevelopment of the Historic Arcade, an architecturally elegant complex built between 1902 and 1904.

The Arcade consists of five interconnecting buildings topped by a glass-domed rotunda, 70 feet high and 90 feet in diameter, adorned with oak leaves and acorns, grain, rams’ heads, wild turkeys. Vacant for nearly three decades, it needs to be saved and restored to its previous glory.

Five Rivers MetroParks manages some of the best natural areas in Montgomery County, including RiverScape Metro Park on the Miami River, in downtown Dayton. A bike hub is here, the first east of the Mississippi, and the center of the 330-mile trail network, the largest in the country.

Anyone living in downtown Dayton could, if they so desired, ride their bike to Cincinnati, more than 50 miles away. Kayaking and canoeing are big draws on the Miami River.

I already told you about Fifth Third Field and the sellout Dayton Dragons.

A Pipeline to Talent

I have always been convinced that talent matters, that it separates certain communities from others. But you need to draw out talent from a population and provide opportunities for personal growth.

Three local institutions of higher learning are doing that, providing a pipeline of talent to employers in the area.

I mentioned before the University of Dayton, a top-tier national Catholic research university with a mission of service and leadership in community. One of three Marianist universities in the nation, it is the largest private university in Ohio.

Wright State University is a public research university located near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, a suburb of Dayton. Originally operating as a branch campus for Ohio State University and Miami University, Wright State became independent in 1967.

Located in downtown Dayton, Sinclair Community College is  the largest community college at a single location in the state of Ohio one of the largest (by enrollment) community college campuses in North America.

It was at Sinclair where I met the workforce development officials for all three schools and heard about their programs. I could tell that they all knew each other and worked well together.

It was also at Sinclair where I gave my speech to community stakeholders and toured a laboratory dedicated to research and development of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Center of the Universe

I could write a heck of a lot more about Dayton, including the soon to be opened Montgomery County Business Solutions Center, which will provide workforce and strategic development services for free to local businesses.

I could tell you about BusinessFirst! For A Greater Dayton Region and how Erik Collins, head of Montgomery County Community & Economic Development, places a premium on business retention and expansion.

A quotable quote from my friend, “Business retention is the center of the universe, period.”

Now I call that sage talk, absolutely great advice to any economic developer anywhere, period.

The Stories I Could Tell

I could tell you about the incredible National Cash Register collection of machines at Carillon Historical Park and the original locker room of the Dayton Triangles, which won the very first NFL game on Oct. 3, 1920. It also now sits in the park.

I could tell you how the aforementioned Brady Kress, a fascinating fellow, learned to make beer, thereby creating the Carillon Brewing Co., making 19th century (warm) beer stored in wooden casks. It is also in the park.

I could tell you about Wright Flyer III, the first practical airplane, which flew in 1905. The actual plane, not a reproduction, sits within the confines of Carillon Park. (That’s me in the photo with the plane. Sorry.)

I could tell you how I walked my legs off at the 1.1 million-square-foot National Museum of the United States Air Force  at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (The sole of one of my shoes actually separated as a result.)

I could tell you about Warped Wing, a craft brewery that I visited in downtown Dayton, named in honor of the Wright Brothers and their theory of how to achieve aeronautical lift. I know the beer sure gave me a lift.

And while I’m on a roll, I could tell you about the Century Bar, listed by Men’s Journal as among the 10 Best Bourbon Bars in America. The actual wood bar dates back to the 1860s and I think they may have hundreds of different whiskeys in stock.

The Biggest Story

But the biggest story of all concerning Dayton is that of its resilience. This town really took it on the chin during the Great Recession, greater than most places.

But it’s leaning forward today. A history of innovation and experimentation lives on here. It’s still in the DNA. You cannot say that about all places, which is why I think Dayton will do just fine.

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 or at 972-890-3733.  Mr. Barber is available as a keynote speaker.


Holy $#@T: My Industrial Park Tour in Mexico

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on May 15, 2016 at 10:19 am

Even Donald Trump would have been impressed. After all, he is a real estate developer, a businessman.

Last week, I spent several days in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, a place that I will wager that most Americans have never heard of but they should.

This is a city in central Mexico with a metro area population of about 1.5 million people. But more importantly, and the reason why I was there, it is a hotspot for manufacturing.

Indeed, what I saw in the industrial zone south of the city literally took my breath away and left me wondering about previously held beliefs.

I rode past a $550 million Goodyear plant under construction. I walked on a graded site where Ford will build a $1.6 billion assembly plant.  Only last month, Ford confirmed that it would build the plant, which Trump has termed “an absolute disgrace.”

On the way to the Ford site, I passed by a 2-million-square-foot General Motors plant completed in 2009. I also saw the construction site for a future $1 billion BMW plant.

Keep in mind, all of these sites are within a few miles of each other.

Holy (insert word here)

I also toured, again in this same very area, one of the finest industrial parks that I have ever seen.

The entire park is a free trade zone, the first in Mexico, and it featured the largest intermodal hub facility in the country, owned and operated by the Kansas City Southern railway. With a customs office in the park, product-laden trains roll north unencumbered, not having to stop at the border and tariff free because of NAFTA.

One final thing, the workers in this ultra-modern industrial park, occupied by blue-chip companies, are being paid $8 to $10 a day. (Minimum wage in San Luis is about $4 a day.)

To which, I thought to myself, “Holy Toledo. (You may insert another word for Toledo.) How in the blue hades can we (the United States) compete with this?”

And all on the doorstep of the U.S.

Our Story Begins

A few weeks back, I got a call from my friend Dave Lewis. Dave is an industrial architect based in Greenville, S.C. He heads a firm called Context Design, and we’ve known each other for many years, principally through automotive projects.

“Hey, Dean, I want you to see something in Mexico. You ever heard of San Luis Potosi.”

“Yeah, believe it or not, about 15 years ago, I actually drove through San Luis. I was headed down to San Miguel de Allende for some R&R.”

“Well, it’s changed a lot since then. I want you to see an industrial park down there where I have done some work. The owners will take care of your travel expenses. Interested?”

“Sure, why not. I could use a little adventure.”

“You won’t be sorry.”

Not a Good Start

My flight from Dallas was like something out a Six Flags, a real roller coaster affair because of turbulence.

I arrived at my hotel about midnight, two hours late because of the weather. To his credit, Dave had sat up and met me at the entrance of the lobby. He could tell I was in a foul mood, and immediately got me a drink from the bar, which was closing.

I grumbled thanks and went to my room, with drink in hand, wondering what I was getting into.

But the next day was a new day, and after breakfast we were soon on the road in a bus marked “WTC Industrial.”  I would soon learn in a meeting that WTC is a subsidiary of Grupo Valoran, a privately-owned conglomerate based in San Luis.

You name it, and they probably do it. They do real estate development (commercial, industrial and residential) highway construction, wastewater treatment plants, concrete construction, fast food franchises, gas stations, restaurants, logistics, and funeral homes.

The owner, Vincente Rangel Jr., lives with his family in Houston. I couldn’t find much on him with an internet search, probably by design.

On the WTC bus, I was headed to his WTC Industrial park, referred to as WTC 1, where I would have a series of meetings with my hosts and then tour the park. I would also see WTC 2, but more on that later.

No Rhyme or Reason Until …

I’m convinced that our eyes become accustomed to certain surroundings, and that when we are thrust into new environments, it takes us awhile to get our bearings.

To me, as an outsider, San Luis Potosi seemed a jumbled affair, where nice, modern buildings sat next to other buildings that had a distinct third world look.

A strip joint might set next to an auto repair garage, next to an office building, next to homes, next to whatever the heck that building is. Zoning be damned, which probably works fine for San Luis. For my eyes, a bit confusing.

Even the industrial zone had a jumbled look to it. There was seemingly no rhyme or reason for where certain factories sat,  as if some manufacturing god tossed dominoes in the air to see where they would land. That is until we arrived at the park.

Here the world suddenly became very orderly. Here we entered an ultra-modern master-planned realm. And it was here in WTC 1 where I saw top-ranked companies from the U.S., Europe and Asia. Such names as MetoKote, Faurecia, Valeo, Dräxlmaier, TI Automotive, ABB and Nippon Express, to name a few.

Two Premiere Parks

The $550 million Goodyear plant that I mentioned is being built in WTC 1, which is now almost built out. WTC 1 is 1,610 acres or 700 hectares, as commonly measured in Mexico.

The new Ford facility will go up in WTC 2, a park twice the size of WTC 1, meaning 1,400 hectares or 3,220 acres. And I wouldn’t be surprised if a future WTC 3 might be in the works.

I’ve been in many, many industrial parks over all the U.S., and very few, if any, would compare to WTC 1. The truth is that most of our parks pale in comparison.

Here in the U.S., we have a penchant for big box, metal buildings, devoid of any architecture. Such parks don’t particularly age well. They get ugly fast.

Ostensibly, I was to offer my WTC hosts learned counsel, being that I am a learned site selection consultant. In reality, about all I could say was, “keep up the good work because it’s obvious that you are doing something right.”  Two other site selection consultants present really couldn’t offer much more either.

The truth is that WTC Industrial brought us there so that we might spread the word to any corporate clients about these premiere parks. And I must admit that San Luis is now an intriguing option.

I Have to Wonder    

That is not to say that I don’t questions. The parks, which sit in an arid region, are dependent on drilled wells for water. I was assured that sufficient capacity is there, but I would want to learn more. I wonder about the current state of the aquifer below.

Also, with all these mega projects in the works, on top of the existing companies, most of which are automotive suppliers, I wonder about the availability of labor.

Will all these big projects suck the oxygen out of the room? Will there be the quality and quantity of labor to meet the needs of these companies? So I have to wonder.

No local economic developers were present in our meetings to give me assurance about existing worker training programs. So I have to wonder.

After all, site selection is about risk assessment and you can never get too much information.

More Plants on the Way

If you were to do an internet search for automotive news in Mexico, you would see a story about Milwaukee-based Strattec Security Corp., the world’s largest producer of automotive locks and keys, having just broken ground on a $22 million factory in Leon, Mexico. It’s also in that central valley area, just south of San Luis Potosi.

In 2015, the Mexican auto industry set numerous records. Production rose 5.6 percent from a year earlier to 3.4 million vehicles. Exports grew 4.4 percent to 2.76 million, and local sales jumped 19 percent to 1.35 million cars and light trucks, according to the Mexican Automotive Industry Association.

And while auto exports have dropped 7.4 percent in the first four months of this year to 854,118 vehicles, compared with 922,029 last year, capacity will be growing. Kia will open a new car assembly plant in coming weeks and Audi plans to open a light-truck factory in the second half of the year.

The new factories could add about 100,000 units to Mexico’s light-vehicle production tally for the year, putting it back into record territory by the end of 2016.

My Kind Hosts

On a personal note, I must say that I really liked my hosts at WTC Industrial. Michele Porrino, Esteban Puente Bustindui, and Fermin Rodriguez Sosa, were great guys, very professional and yet fun to be around.

I’ve always liked Mexico, with its rich cultural history and friendly people, and this trip only reinforced that. The people smile even with my horrible attempts at speaking Spanish.

Still, I recognize that there are problems. Most Mexicans would agree that corruption remains a huge problem, and drug gang violence, while waning and limited to certain areas, do give companies pause. But the WTC parks in the central region are removed from that, and I consider them safe and secure.

San Luis Potosi sits in the center of Mexico’s golden triangle — Monterrey to the north, Guadalajara to the southwest, and Mexico City to the southeast. It is here where 76 percent of the country’s gross national product is derived.

The big question is whether I would take a corporate client, so inclined, to look here. The answer is yes, and the WTC parks might very well be the answer.

But I must confess that I am now questioning my previously held beliefs on free trade. Both parties comprising the political establishment in the U.S. have favored free trade, but $8 to $10 a day? And with millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs lost?

Well, I have to wonder. You have probably noticed that I wonder a lot.

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 or at 972-890-3733.  Mr. Barber is available as a keynote speaker.

The Answers Have to Be Yours

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on May 1, 2016 at 12:22 pm

The company had reached out to me, and I was scheduled to have a conference call with the CEO. As a consultant, that’s music to my ears.

Not wanting to go into the conversation cold. I had to bone up for the call. Reading the company’s website helped, as did some recent news stories about its activities.

It turned out this was a real estate development company that specialized in specific types of industrial properties. But why did this CEO want to talk to me?

Relying on an Old Trick

Ten minutes before the scheduled call, I pulled out a notepad and wrote this at the top of the page:

“Who, what, when, where, how, why and why not?”

This was an old trick or habit from my newspaper days. You get answers to these questions and chances are that you are going to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on.

And worked it to the extent that I came away from the conversation knowing what CEO wanted. I’m still ruminating on whether I will be able help in a meaningful way.

I Still Interview

I’ve been out of the newspaper world for 20 years, but I frequently interview people in my role as a consultant. I do this simply to figure out what is going on and how I can possibly be of help.

After all, that’s what I am supposed to do as a consultant – help.

Whether it is a corporate site selection project — helping a company find an optimal location for future operations — or an economic development consulting project — helping a community with direction and focus – I am going to ask a lot of questions.

Probably the biggest compliment I have received of late was when another consultant who I was partnered with on a project said, sort of in awe, “Wow, Dean, people tell you stuff.”

To which I replied, “Yes they do.”

I’m on Their Side

And the reason they do is that I ask questions in a non-threatening, conversational manner. I want them to know that I’m on their side. I want to get their take, their input, so that I can be of help.

On a corporate site search, having a deep understanding of why senior management wants to expand to a new location is critical,  as is determining what is the most important criteria for a best possible location. It’s not the same for every company.

For me to develop that deep understanding and ultimately serve the company well, I have to interview senior management to learn the hows and whys of the project.

The same goes with communities. When we do a strategic/action plan for an economic development group, more often than not, we will do a SWOT analysis in which we come to a community and interview stakeholders, all off the record.

Trust is Paramount

That means nobody will be quoted. We just want to get a better understanding of the place, its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This will be the foundation from which we will build upon.

Not surprisingly, trust is paramount. I learned a long time ago as a reporter that people won’t talk to you if they think you might burn them. You have to protect your sources.

Off the record or not for attribution means we may use something you tell us, but nobody is going to know what you told us. We’re not quoting anybody for purposes of our report.

Conflicting Opinions are Good

When we interview senior managers for a corporate location analysis project, we often get different takes on why the expansion should happen and what are the most important factors are to be considered.

But that’s Ok. That gives us a greater breadth of understanding the company’s needs.

The same holds true for communities. We expect conflicting ideas and opinions. If everybody said the same thing, I would start to wonder if the people we were talking to were scripted and for what reason.

If we ask the right questions of the right people, a bigger picture will emerge and a plan can evolve.

I Can Only Ask

Management consultant and business visionary. Peter F. Drucker, once said:  “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions. I can only ask questions. The answers have to be yours.”

Sometimes, with permission, I will record interviews. And sometimes I will get very angry with myself in listening to the recordings.

I’ll catch myself cutting somebody off when they were elaborating on an answer that would be very useful. Or I will miss asking an obvious follow-up question that was staring me in the face.

“Dean, you friggin’ idiot,” I may say out loud, upon listening to the recording.

You don’t have to be a former journalist to interview people. Just write the “five W’s and one H” at the top of your note-taking page — “who, what, when, where, how, why and why not? (That’s actually six W’s.) – and go for it.

The good part is that the more you do it, the better you get at it. Also, the people you are interviewing don’t need to think of it as an interview, but rather a conversation, which takes the pressure off everyone.

You are seeking their thoughts, getting their take, and people are often flattered by that.  Oh, tell me, wise one, what is the true meaning of life?

Love and chocolate, my son. Now go in peace.

A Quick Study on Drones

This coming week I will be in New Orleans attending XPONENTIAL 2016, a trade show put on by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which is committed to fostering, developing, and promoting unmanned systems and robotics technologies.

I expect much of the focus, although not all, will be on unmanned aerial vehicles, aircraft with no pilot on board. We commonly refer to them as drones.

So I hope to become a quick study on drones. This is a relatively new industry that is causing disruption, consternation, and a great opening of new possibilities, which means it is a pretty fluid and exciting time.

We think of drones as a relatively recent phenomenon used by our military to watch and take out jihadists. But during the Civil War, both confederate and union forces used balloons for reconnaissance, having that eye in the sky.

New Rules for a New Industry

But with anything new, there is a bit of a fumbling around, with mistakes, growing pains, and regulatory concerns.

The Federal Aviation Administration is moving forward on a plan to integrate small, commercial drones into the National Airspace System, as the industry needs a clear set of rules to begin capturing the untapped opportunities presented by this innovative technology.

Industry analysts say unmanned aerial systems could create $13.6 billion in economic value and 70,000 new jobs within the first three years after this plan comes to fruition.

The Possibilities Seem Almost Endless

On April 20, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation filed comments with the FAA urging agency to adopt a regulatory framework that encourages commercial applications and bolsters U.S. competitiveness with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. In its conclusion, ITIF said this:

“With this technology, energy companies, construction companies, and government transportation departments will be able to inspect their infrastructure without endangering workers. Search and-rescue operations will be able to cover more ground and potentially save more lives.

“Artists, photographers, and cinematographers will be able to enhance their art by capturing high-quality photos and film with low-cost alternatives to helicopters. Journalists will be able to use UAS technologies to better cover disasters, weather, sports, and the environment.

“Farmers will be able to use drones to improve their efficiency, monitor their livestock, protect their crops, and cut their costs. Retailers will be able to deliver goods to consumers faster and more efficiently. There could be vast improvement to Americans’ daily lives if this technology is interwoven into society—including cost savings, innovative services, and more jobs.”

Wow, the possibilities seem almost endless, which makes for a pretty exciting landscape. If you are in New Orleans this coming week, feel free to look me up.

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 or at 972-890-3733.