Dean Barber

Archive for January, 2017|Monthly archive page

People, Infrastructure and Cost: Key to Community Competitiveness

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on January 29, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Years ago, I knew this man in Alabama who described himself as a “simple cotton farmer.” He was far more than that.

He was successful businessman and the chairman to the local economic development organization. In fact, he was a far better negotiator and salesman that the economic developer of that community.

His town became a finalist for a large manufacturing project, and I will always remember what he told the company executives during our meetings.

“What is important to you is important to us.”

It is a statement that has stuck with me over the years. He said, in effect, we’re listening to you and will do our best to address your concerns.

That is customer service, which should the hallmark and mission of all economic development organizations and really all businesses. Do more than just sell. Listen to your customers. Help them when you can. Be an ally, and apply the Golden Rule.

It seems the idea of customer service is eroding during this time of digital disruption, being viewed in some quarters as “quaint” but not practical. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I have run across some IT companies that do not publish telephone numbers as they don’t want to be bothered.

Big mistake in my book. But then again, I am not driving a Ferrari in Silicon Valley, so what do I know.

Listen and Ask

What I do know something about is corporate site selection. It is not, nor should it be, a core strength for most companies, which is all the more reason why they should not attempt it on their own. Indeed, it can be a real minefield, with the wrong decision being very costly.

Thankfully, I have surrounded myself and learned from experienced mine detectors. We have come to know, through experience, the different wants and needs of companies. We also know they can differ from company to company.

What is important and required by a manufacturer will differ from that of a data center or a corporate headquarters/back office operation.

The key for me is listening. It also means probing, asking questions, and drilling down to gain a better understanding a company’s operations. As a site selection consultant, I also need to know why a company wants to expand to a new location and the intended ramifications.

A Weighted Ranking

At some point, after extensive discussions with senior management, I must come up with a weighted ranking for site selection criteria based on what I have learned. I will share this with the company, asking for feedback so that we are on the same page.

What is important to them is important to me, so I better dang well get this right.

So what are these site selection criteria? Again, they will differ in their order of importance from project to project, but they will generally fall into three broad categories — people, infrastructure and cost.

Now I am not including quality of life, which often is very important. But I would suggest that quality of life is largely derived from people, infrastructure and cost. I will write about quality of life, which means different things to different people, in a future blog.

Let’s take a very abbreviated look at people, infrastructure and cost and see how we factor in the site selection process.

People

In a nutshell, we are looking for both quality and quantity of the labor market. We’re focusing on the talent pool and the extent of it.

Ultimately, I want to know if a community has the sufficient human resources to staff a prospective operation. I want to see the numbers pertaining to the different skill sets. I also want to see a pipeline for talent for the future.

If there are local high schools and/or community colleges turning out students with vocational skills, I certainly want to know about it, and even go over the curriculum. Frankly, I would be suspect of any community that is not addressing vocational training in a big way.

I also want to see evidence of a close working relationship between the community college, existing industry, and the local economic development groups. In so many places, that partnership simply does not exist.

It should be no surprise that we want to have a good handle on the cost of hiring the talent that we would need, so the prevailing wage rates, based on recent surveys, in a community are important.

Infrastructure & Real Estate

When referring to infrastructure, I’m using a very broad brush. It can include (and typically does) transportation, utilities, and telecommunications. But I will deviate a bit and throw in real estate product (available of buildings and sites).

It’s all the physical stuff that would or could be needed to make a particular business operation a go or no go in a particular place.

For most manufacturers, a good highway system is needed in order to get product efficiently on the road and moving. Some need rail. For a data center, a robust dual system for electrical and broadband is needed. For food processors, we’re looking for excess capacity in water and wastewater treatment.

Finally, a community has to have real estate product. It means available buildings and sites. A company has to go into some physical space. If a community doesn’t have that space, be it a building or a site, it loses out.

Even when a community has real estate product, it may not be the right fit. I know of an industrial park in the Southeast, where the nearest natural gas line is 30 miles away. Leave it to say, that park hasn’t done so well.

One last thing on real estate, we have little or no interest in unimproved raw land. That is not a real site in our book. It could be made into one with the proper investment.

Generally, in terms of infrastructure and real estate, a community either has what we are looking for or it doesn’t. And again, that can change from project to project. Certainly, if there are concrete plans for infrastructure expansion, we want to know about it because that could be game changing.

Cost

On cost, well, the bottom line is that cost affects the bottom line. We want to know the total cost, including the elements of labor, taxes, permitting and regulation.

We want to know utility costs and the cost of real estate. In short, we want to determine the cost of entry what the total continuing costs will be.

Generally speaking, smaller communities, especially those outside of metropolitan areas, are less expensive in terms of the cost of real estate, labor and taxes, but often they may fall short of the needed talent pool or be geographically isolated.

The cost of energy may be very important to a manufacturer or a data center, but not so much for a corporate headquarters or back office operation.

The tax bite is a tangible cost that must be considered. Eighteen states have adopted individual income tax cuts since 2008, and 15 states have reduced corporate income taxes over the same span, but a number of states have raised sales tax rates.

Forty-four states levy a corporate income tax. Rates range from 4 percent in North Carolina to 12 percent in Iowa. The good news is that states have been eliminating or reducing reliance on tangible personal property taxes (generally levied on business property like equipment and fixtures) and that trend will likely continue.

The high property tax burdens in New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Illinois are largely due to the metropolitan centers of New York City, Chicago, and Dallas, where I happen to live.

The cost of construction is something for a company to factor if it intends to build a new facility. It is safe to say that building an office building in Manhattan, Kansas, will be less expensive than Manhattan in New York. Same goes for Philadelphia, Miss., and Philadelphia, Pa. The same goes for leases.

Permitting and the regulatory climate in some places can be a royal pain the petute. (Forgive me for the technical language.) It can appreciably slow down construction in some venues and impact the company speed to market goals.

We all know that time is money. Expedited, one-stop-shop, permitting is always viewed favorably.

Important to Existing Industry, Too.

And it’s not just companies engaged in a site search that are concerned with people, infrastructure and costs. It matters big to existing companies that would consider an expansion or even remaining in a community.

If an existing company is having problems – whether it is finding workers (people), getting faster broadband or a turning lane installed (infrastructure), or is asking for tax or permitting relief (cost), the local economic developer should darn well be aware and doing all he or she can to find solutions.

That is the essence of BR&E. It’s listening to your customers. Helping when you can. And this ties back to business attraction. Believe it or not, I want to see evidence of a serious BR&E program during a site search.

Why? I will answer with a question. Do you think I would advise a company to go to a place where it will be taken for granted and where its future concerns will be largely ignored?

Website Advisor

Last week, I helped two economic development organizations with their websites. I am not in the website building business and never will be. But I can help in terms of what information should be included and how it should be should be presented.

I come across good and bad economic development websites all the time. Where I may differ from many site selection consultants is that I will not eliminate a community for a project simply because it has, and this is another very technical term, a “shitty” website.

I explain my reasoning in a past blog, if you are so interested.

Ideally, an ED website should address the old-three legged stool model of building wealth in any given place – entrepreneurial or business startups; business retention and expansion, and business attraction.

But most websites are slanted more toward business attraction. With that in mind, I think it is smart to emphasize people, infrastructure and costs in a community. They are their own legs of a stool, and economic developers should know them like the back of their hand.

Remember the cotton farmer’s motto, and you’ll 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. BBA helps companies and communities. Mr. Barber can be reached at dbarber@barberadvisors.com or at 972-890-3733. He is available as a keynote speaker.

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Seek and Ye Shall Find: Connecting in a Connected World

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on January 22, 2017 at 7:50 am

Economic development, really all business development, is an exercise in outreach. Making contact is the very foundation of the purpose. With no yin, there’s no yang.

In last week’s blog, I made reference to a three-legged stool approach, which I advocate to all communities, big, small, urban and rural. To recap, I’m talking about business retention and expansion (BR&E), entrepreneurial growth, and business attraction.

All three strategies necessitate business outreach in some form or fashion.  Again, I believe economic development organizations should be doing all three.

One important tool in the toolbox is LinkedIn. Now I am not a happy camper of late with LinkedIn, which I will touch on later, but I nonetheless recognize its value. And apparently so does Microsoft, which bought it last month for $26.4 billion.

Big, Very Big

Consider that as of 2016, 46 percent of the world’s population (3.4 billion people) have been on the internet within the past year. That is over 100 times more people than were using it in 1995.

Now consider LinkedIn, which allows business people to create profiles and “connections” to each other in an online social network designed for real-world professional relationships.

LinkedIn calls itself the “World’s Largest Professional Network,” a lofty claim, but it has more than 467 million accounts, out of which about 106 million are active. That’s big, very big.

I have more than 5,200 contacts and more than 6,100 followers on LinkedIn. It means that virtually every day I am in contact with business people on my network concerning something, most of the time on how I can be of help.

By leveraging LinkedIn, I have had face-to-face meetings with CEOs and senior business executives from across the nation on matters of site selection. I have met with economic developers and elected officials, largely because of this digital connection.

If you are reading this blog now, it is because that you, too, have seen the light and have made the connection.

And yet, I continue to run across economic developers and business people who are either not on LinkedIn or have demonstrated that they have little interest or understanding of it by having few contacts.

It begs the question: If the very essence of your job is business outreach, how can you ignore a tool that more than 100 million business people use?

I’ll be frank, it is hard for me to take an economic developer seriously if he or she is not on LinkedIn in a big way. When I say big, I mean at least 500 contacts.

I recently came across the president of chamber of commerce in a major city in Texas, the principal ED entity, who had one contact.

I saw a vice president, the person in charge of economic development for a prominent electric utility company in the Southeast, with only 54 contacts. His boss, a senior vice president for marketing and business development, is nowhere to be found on LinkedIn. I guess those job titles don’t mean much in that company.

Just this past week, I was exchanging messages on LinkedIn with an economic developer who had more than 500 contacts, but her boss, the president of the ED group, had four contacts. Really?

When They Come

Groups of economic developers periodically come to Dallas to call on site selection consultants, and I am always happy to meet with them if I am in town. I am scheduled to meet with some from Georgia and North Carolina very soon.

Recently, I met with one from California who contacted me through, you guessed it, LinkedIn.

Last year, Tim Feemster, principal of Foremost Quality Logistics, and I met with a group from North Carolina. I noticed beforehand that one group member was not on LinkedIn. When I asked him about it during our breakfast meeting, he said, “I thought I was on it.” He wasn’t, but his answer certainly revealed a lack of interest or understanding.

And you want me to bring you a project? Hmmm.

Last year, an economic developer from Alabama wanted to meet with Tim and I in Dallas. When I saw that he was not on LinkedIn (I always check), I asked Tim if he would cover for me, as I really wasn’t interested. Tim did, because he is nicer than me. Honest.

(During SWOT analyses for communities, we forgo public town hall meetings in favor of behind-closed-doors, not-for-attribution interviews with stakeholders. Sometimes, that entails a good-cop, bad-cop strategy to elicit answers. Now guess which cop you think I am?)

Go to the Light

If a person has fewer than 100 connections on LinkedIn, I have little desire to connect with them, because they have not seen the light. My advice: Go to the light, brothers and sisters. Seek and ye shall find. And I may will connect with thee. (Well, most of the time.)

The light emanates from digital technologies that are constantly changing business models. A Digital Darwinism is at work, to which I frequently write and speak about. As I have said many times, we are in the early stages of a new digital machine age, that will make the Industrial Revolution look like child’s play.

People, organizations and places that adapt, will stay relevant. Those that don’t, well, that’s not so hard to figure out.

Am I Being Unreasonable?

Still, I wonder if I might be judging economic developers and so-called business development people too harshly who do not use LinkedIn. So I reached out to a couple of my colleagues who are site selection consultants to get their take. Oh, by the way, I contacted them via LinkedIn messaging and got their responses with 15 minutes.

One site selector friend, based in the Southeast, wrote back, “LinkedIn is kind of like table stakes. Right now, at least, you need it to be in the game.”

Another, based in the Northeast, said, “I would be very suspect” of an economic developer with little or no presence on LinkedIn.

“One of the key roles of an economic developer – Economic Development 101 -is outreach to businesses, whether that’s to attract new ones or help to retain and grow existing ones. I would think that LinkedIn would be a primary tool used for that outreach and would expect to see hundreds, if not thousands, of connections …”

I should also mention that both of these site selection consultants have more than 500 contacts each, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

The “New and Improved” LinkedIn

Rest assured that I am no shill for LinkedIn. As a matter of fact, I am angry with them right now. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has announced that it will be eliminating tags and notes features associated with contacts come March.

That will hurt me, because I have tagged, that is categorized, my more than 5,000 contacts into specific industry groups, such as aerospace, automotive, IT and the like. I also made reference notes – often including a business email address, a telephone conversation or on having met someone — pertaining to my contacts.

Soon, the so-called new and improved LinkedIn, won’t allow for that. But if you ever tried to actually speak to someone at LinkedIn, don’t bother. This is a company, like so many in Silicon Valley, that doesn’t want to talk to people, even its customers.

Despite all that, I don’t see a better digital alternative right now to LinkedIn for what it does. And again, I (and some fellow site selection consultants) don’t see how an economic developer, whose primary mission is business outreach, can ignore it.

When I pointed that out to the ED project manager who had more than 500 contacts but whose boss had four, she defended him in an admirable manner. She said he was “old school and what he lacks on the technology end he more than makes up for in knowledge and networking/relationship building in person.”

Maybe, Just Maybe

I had to think about that. Being that I am approaching geezerhood (I’m 62), I could relate to a degree. After all, I have my own technological shortcomings. I have not learned GIS mapping but depend on another team member to do that on our projects.

Maybe, just maybe, I am the one who has lost sight, that the old school approach of ignoring digital technologies is the right way after all, that forming face-to-face, honest-to-God relationships with people in order to forge the growth of a community, which in turn becomes a center for commerce, learning, healing, culture and the arts, where everyone enjoys the fruits of having a high household income, and where recreational opportunities abound, and where the natural environment is protected and cherished, and cultural diversity is deemed good, righteous and celebrated, and people love and respect each other and hold that all men and women are created equal and are able to pursue their unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

… Naaaah.

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. BBA helps companies and communities. Mr. Barber can be reached at dbarber@barberadvisors.com or at 972-890-3733. He is available as a keynote speaker.

Where There is Hope: Our Plan for a Rural Town

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on January 15, 2017 at 7:30 am

We do not know with certainty how this story will end. Most towns in rural America do not end so much as linger. Some grow. Some shrink. Some die.

Their skeletons are typically found in remote areas, ghost towns, where hope died and the people left. But I believe where there is hope, there are possibilities – that good things can and do happen if concerted action is taken.

We, a team of consultants, were hired by a small rural western town that was facing the prospect of losing its single largest and very dominant employer. In an earlier blog, I called it “A Small Town with a Company on the Hill.”

We knew what we were getting into – that economic development in rural America is and probably always will be a tough row to hoe.

But the more we learned about the community, the more we realized just how important our work would be for its future. That is not to say that we don’t take all such economic development missions as serious undertakings, but this one was of vital importance because of the potential loss of this large dominant employer.

City Slickers Who Listen

After many conversations with city officials, our thinking morphed from “strategic plan” to what we called a “Target Market Strategy Study.” I realize that these are just labels, but it became clear to us what our client wanted and we responded. But with some provisos, which I will touch on.

In short, our charge was to provide hope and direction, and I believe to a large degree that we did that.  And while I was confident in our ultimate findings and recommendations, I was bit apprehensive about what kind of reception we would get during a public meeting of the city council.

We assembled an excellent team for this project. Tim Feemster, principal of Foremost Quality Logistics, served as the project manager and spokesman. The other members were John Hoover and Valerie Battle, of the Modalgistics consulting group within Norfolk-Southern Corporation, and myself.

In comparison to our client, we were big city slickers — John and Valerie from Atlanta, Tim and me from Dallas. And while we frequently work in rural America – both on corporate site search and economic development projects – I felt somewhat self-conscious.

During our presentation at City Hall, I noticed that Tim, John and I were the only people in the room with ties.

Talking SWOT

Tim spoke for hour, with occasional interjections from John and me. Using a PowerPoint to highlight our 140-page report, he explained how we conducted our many behind-closed-doors, not-for-attribution interviews with stakeholders and came to our SWOT findings.

For the uninitiated, SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. All places, big, small, urban and rural, have them. Even in Heaven there is no beer.

Tim got through the SWOT phase of the presentation, with no jeers or fruit or vegetables being hurled his way from the audience. One city councilman asked a good question, but it was far from hostile. I’m thinking, so far, so good.

Tim then spoke about our freight-flow analysis, which identified and classified physicals products coming in and out of the community, and the demographic profile of the community. Together those elements, in combination with our SWOT, gave us insight in identifying the target industry groups.

Giving Lagniappe

Tim explained how and why we got there with our five identified target industry groups. Thankfully, no crank from the audience jumped up and yelled, “How come you don’t say nothing about ostrich farming and chinchilla furs?” to which Tim would have answered, “Well, sir, that would come under agribusiness, which we have listed.”

After explaining the target industry groups, Tim informed the council that we would be providing what we considered a bonus in our report — the descriptive profiles of more than 200 companies, including addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of senior executives (about 300 names) within those target industry groups.

We thought of this as lagniappe, that 13th donut. It wasn’t asked for, but we thought it would be helpful to their future business attraction efforts once they hired a new economic development director. The previous one left, seeing the writing on the wall with the big dominant employer and following a significant other to another state, while a prospective candidate reneged on taking the job.

Dance with the One

It was at this point in the presentation, repeated in our report, that we gave an important cautionary note. It is a caveat that is often given scant attention by economic development organizations and elected officials, partially because it does not draw headlines.

And it is this: that existing employers typically create far more jobs than by recruiting new companies to any given place.

In short, it means you dance with the one that brung ya. Never, ever forget your existing industry base, for that is the lifeblood of a community. You can and should do business attraction, but keep in mind that there are 15,000 economic development organizations in this country potentially vying for several hundred new corporate site projects every year.

Those are not great odds. It is far more efficient to concentrate on your existing employers, and try to help solve their problems whenever  possible. Also, it makes imminent sense to create a favorable environment for entrepreneurial growth and business startups.

Growing your own is the best way to achieve job growth in the vast majority of places nationwide. It is a message that I cannot hammer home enough, despite the fact that I am often involved in business attraction on the corporate side by providing site selection services to companies. My teammates feel the same way.

Do All Three

In our PowerPoint, I gave Tim an image of a three-legged stool, which represents separate strategies for successful local economic development – business retention and expansion (BR&E), entrepreneurial growth, and business attraction.

Our recommendation to any community anywhere: Do all three.

Tim ended the presentation at City Hall with our recommendations on going forward. It was obvious to us that the council members and audience respected our findings and recommendations.

After the meeting outside the council chambers, representatives from the local community college officials said they thought we were too tough on them concerning vocational training. Our response, respectful in tone: We are willing to modify our report if you show us case studies, proof that you have done what you say you can do.

Proof in the Pudding

Earlier in the day, when we were out and about in the community (we arrived in the morning and our presentation was at night), we learned that a metal fabricating company had agreed to buy a vacant manufacturing facility, and would begin production there. It would start off small, with 15 employees, but with the plan to ramp up to 100 or more.

Being the sleuths that we are, we learned this from a source when we stopped at the empty building and went inside. We weren’t invited. We just went there.

Of course, we were very happy for the town, but it also vindicated one of our target industry groups. We said metal fabrication made sense for a variety of reasons and this was proof in the pudding.

Love Conquers All

We also learned that the owner/CEO of the fabricating company was standing in line at Starbucks and started asking people what they thought of their town. The answers he received, essentially sealed the deal for him. They loved their town, and he decided that he would, too.

Naturally we would have preferred that this CEO had hired us to be his site selection consultant, and we could have analyzed multiple communities on a whole host of business factors to arrive at recommendations for an optimal location.

But he did it his way, and his way may very well turn out to be a good way. Until the day comes when artificial intelligence supplants CEOs, COOs and CFOs, there always will be an emotional aspect to decision making because we are human. We feel.

We want the very best for this small town in the West where we did our work. Because we feel for them, we will periodically be checking in with them to see how they are doing. Certainly, we want to help that new economic developer when he or she is hired, because we are now emotionally attached to this small rural town in the West.

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. BBA helps companies and communities. Mr. Barber can be reached at dbarber@barberadvisors.com or at 972-890-3733. He is available as a keynote speaker.

Digital Darwinism at Work

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development on January 9, 2017 at 10:06 am

Admittedly, they are not in not the same industries, but they are both old names in the annals of exceptional American companies.

Sears, Roebuck & Company, founded in 1886, might be in a slow death spiral, while conglomerate General Electric, with roots dating back to 1889, continues to invest in digital transformation in order to adapt and outperform peers.

If this smacks of Digital Darwinism, well, welcome to today, an era where technology and society are evolving faster than some businesses can naturally adapt. This will mean new business models to come, which some companies can pull off and others cannot.

When I speak at conferences, I harp on this to both companies and economic development organizations. You have to embrace digital transformation, not fight it, if you want to remain relevant.

That entails looking beyond the world as you know it, observing how things are changing on the outside, and then changing your own philosophies, models, and systems on the inside in response.

GE has been successful at doing this. Sears not so much.

At GE’s recent 2017 outlook event a few weeks ago, CEO Jeff Immelt was asked how he can get investors to appreciate the company’s new digital transformation and 3-D printing investments. His response: It “makes a shitload more sense than Six Sigma did.”

Indeed.

The Trip

A few months ago, I was an old port city on the Ohio River. The reminders of the old industrial revolution were evident, but surprisingly, it was here where I encountered a small digital company, a defense contractor, doing some seemingly out-of-this world stuff.

And when I say out of this world, I mean it. Because when I put on a virtual reality headset, I took a trip and didn’t leave the farm.

Besides being safer than psychedelic drugs, which I do not advocate, what would be the practical use for virtual reality? Certainly, I do not have all the answers, and it is safe to say that virtual reality (VR) technologies are still lagging behind the visions that people have for their use.

The Possibilities

But I can foresee the day when it will be commonplace in real estate, construction, economic development and site selection.

Donning headsets in a client company’s office in Chicago or New York, a senior executive and I can tour spec buildings in the Southeast or the Southwest. Nice high ceilings, don’t you think? Let’s go outside and look at the surrounding area. Hmmm, curb and gutter, sidewalks and landscaping, too. Not bad.

How about we go downtown and then look at some residential neighborhoods and then pop over to the local community college?

If it sounds a bit far-fetched, then slip on a VR headset for a few minutes and ponder the possibilities. From what I can tell, most VR companies are working to come up with better displays, wireless, and less bulky designs. They are not quite there yet, but they are getting there, along with a whole onslaught of other things related to the digital revolution.

The Promise of 3-D

On the digital side, GE announced in September that it would buy two 3-D printing companies for a combined $1.3 billion.

The move “adds to our strategy to become the premier digital industrial company,” Immelt said on a conference call with analysts. “These two companies bring, in addition to just equipment, a number of ideas in terms of what we can do in the future.”

If that sounds like a company leaning forward, well, you’re right.

GE believes it can sell $1 billion worth of additive metal manufacturing technology by 2020, while using the 3-D printers to drive its own costs down by as much as $5 billion. That beats Six Sigma hands down.

3-D printers build objects by fusing together thin layers of materials such as plastic powder, metal or liquid resin. The parts, built from computer-drawn blueprints, can be used to make products ranging from car parts to surgical implants.

The global market for 3-D printing is growing as companies increasingly use the technology for production of commercial parts. The aviation industry has been an early adopter because it enables more complex designs and lighter parts, cutting waste of expensive materials on factory floors. GE said it expects to print 40,000 fuel nozzles for jet engines by 2020.

Sears was The Disruptor

The news is not so positive for Sears, which announced last week that it will shutter another 150 unprofitable stores, including 108 Kmart and 42 Sears stores in order to curtail losses. How many years now has Sears been closing stores?

But at one time, Sears was the big disruptor, and changed the landscape of retail. In the late 1800s, people began moving to the suburbs and out of the inner cities. Richard Sears believed local supplies were too costly because de-urbanization had caused consumers to disperse; perhaps people would be comfortable with ordering, by mail, products they’d bought in the past at retail stores.

Sears used the railroads and post office in ways no one had, disrupting the status quo, with distribution tactics that resembled the ecommerce experience we know today.

Sears used to charge a fee for access to its mail-order catalog. If that subscription model sounds a lot like Amazon Prime, well, it was.

Now It’s Amazon

But times change. Today, Amazon is worth more than Sears, Macy’s, Kohl’s , JCPenney, Nordstrom, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Dillard’s, Gap and Target combined.

Overall, Amazon’s share of the 2016 holiday online market share was 38 percent. Best Buy was a distant second, at 3.9 percent, Target at 2.9 percent and Walmart at 2.6 percent.

Amazon’s largest share of online retail hit 47.8 percent on Dec. 18, 49.2 percent on Dec. 19 and and 48.2 percent on Dec. 20, according to data from Slice Intelligence. On Christmas day, Amazon’s total share of online sales shot to 46.1 percent.

Department stores up and down the price spectrum are under growing pressure to show they can still be relevant, and 2017 will be pivotal in which retailers plow ahead in the internet era and which get left behind. Digital Darwinism at work.

You, Too, Can Be a Futurist

Last month, after giving a speech to a group of stakeholders to an economic development organization, the local ED guy said I sounded like a futurist. I took that as a compliment (and I think he meant it as such.)

That’s what I have to be, and I submit that is what economic developers and company executives have to be. You don’t have to be a computer whiz. You do have to have an imagination.

I believe we are in the early stages of a digital revolution that will both destroy and create jobs. That requires us to lean forward and imagine what could be or what should be if our companies and our communities are to remain competitive and ultimately relevant.

Yes, you, too, can be a futurist. If you want, I will send you a secret decoder ring to make it official.

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 dbarber@barberadvisors.com or at 972-890-3733. Mr. Barber is available as a keynote speaker.