Dean Barber

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A Workers’ Story

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2014 at 12:52 pm

This is a pretty crazy story, one that I may not fully grasp. But it’s still important for us to try. My hunch is that there are some lessons to be learned here.

Appropriately, it happened or concluded nearly on the eve of Labor Day, in which we celebrate the American working man and woman.

Make no mistake about it, this is a workers’ story, one that is “unprecedented in modern U.S. labor history,” according to Thomas Kochan, professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Christopher Mackin at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations echoed that sentiment saying, “This is unheard of in corporate America.”

The Summer of Market Basket

So there you go, this is an odd story but maybe not so much when you reflect more upon it. For the “Summer of Market Basket” was not a labor strike in the traditional sense.

That’s because there was no union involved. What’s more, white-collar managers of a 71-store supermarket chain in New England found themselves protesting alongside blue-collar workers they supervised.

So that in itself makes it strange. But it became much more so when non-unionized employees, vendors and customers, too, of Market Basket banded together to protest the firing of company CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and a shift in corporate strategy that would benefit owners at the expense of a loyal workforce.

Think about that for a moment – workers walking off the job, risking their own jobs for that of their boss. Talk about putting it all out on the line.

To be sure, the striking workers who demanded that “Artie T.” be returned to his position as CEO, did so out of their own financial interest. He subscribed to a business model of keeping prices low and compensation and benefits above average. (Starting salaries for full-time clerks are $4 higher than Massachusetts’ minimum wage.)

A Personal Touch

But there may be more to it than that. There were stories of Arthur T.’s phone calls to workers, attending their relatives’ funeral services. One store manager told of how he came to her dying husband’s bedside at the hospital, and thanking them both for their service to the company.

In doing so, he gained an almost mythical hero status among the workers, as they truly believed that he cared about “his employees.”

Now I’m not sure if that personal touch can be taught in a business school, although maybe we should try. Because in the end, employees, which should be considered the greatest asset of any business, will be loyal to a management that is loyal to them.

To Give is to Receive

The loyalty factor actually comes to play in corporate site selection, to which I serve in a consulting role. Companies want less turnover and a loyal workforce as it adds stability and efficiency at the workplace. But again, to be the recipient of loyalty, a company must give it as well.

That’s my big takeaway. People matter and companies should damn well treat them like that, as it makes ultimately good business sense. I only wish more executives in Corporate America and Wall Street could get that into their heads.

An aside. This past week, my wife was among a small group of employees who had lunch with the company CEO. She works for a Japanese-owned company and he was predictably so Japanese. But she found him very nice and thought he took a genuine interest in the lives of “his employees.” She came home very upbeat about the company and her role in it.

Guess Who Won

Oh, but back to Market Street. You should know that the workers won. Market Basket’s board of directors last week approved the reinstatement of Arthur T. as CEO. His cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and his allies agreed to sell their 50.5 percent stake in the company to Arthur T. and his allies, who own 49.5 percent. The price was more than $1.6 billion, which puts the value of the chain at about $3.2 billion.

So ends one of the strangest labor actions in American business history, with the sole demand of the workers, from top management to the lowliest clerks, being met.

So the workers are the heroes of this story. They took on and triumphed over those Wall Street analysts who would criticize companies that choose to pay employees well and build a loyal customer base rather than just maximize shareholder returns.

Two Competing Philosophies

Thankfully, there are good companies out there who have consistently proved that they can provide good jobs, products and services, and good profits and long-term shareholder returns by treating all stakeholders fairly and with the respect they deserve. Costco and Southwest Airlines are examples that come to mind.

And then there are the others, dominated by senior corporate executives who choose to enrich themselves at the expense of their workforce and their customers. I tell you that is not a sustainable business practice and there will be a reckoning if you continue such short-sighted policies.

While Market Basket may be unique in the annals of labor history, people are getting fed up. And believe me, I am no proponent for unions. None was needed here.

Capt. Jack Understood

I am in the process of reading one incredible book right now – “Empire of the Summer Moon.” It’s about the rise and fall of the Comanches, probably the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. Much of it is set where I live in North Texas.

In the course of the book, I came across the exploits of Jack Hayes, arguably the greatest Texas Ranger of all and the one person whom the Comanches really feared.

Hayes taught his rough bunch of hard-drinking, knife fighters that they would more likely stay alive by adopting the Comanche style of fighting on horseback. And despite leading rangers into pitched battle, he had a reputation of keeping them alive.

“He was extremely cautious where his men’s safety was concerned, and almost motherly in his care of them when they were wounded.”

Consequently, they would follow him to hell and back. And frequently did.

So a first rule of management, one that Jack Hayes instinctively knew and one demonstrated by Arthur T. Demoulas at Market Basket, is to take care of your people. If you do so, they will respond in ways that will surprise even themselves.

Yes, the workers are the heroes. On this Labor Day. On all Labor Days.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

If you liked what you saw here, invite me to speak at your next meeting.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, but only if expressed permission has been granted.

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The Center of the World

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development, Uncategorized on August 9, 2014 at 9:43 pm

NEW YORK – Even when I am on vacation, I cannot escape my role as a location investigator, a place sleuth. Delving into how and why a place works in the way it does is what I do as a consultant for both companies and economic development organizations.

A vacation, therefore, is never going to be a simple outing, and especially so when I am visiting what I believe is one of the most complex places in the world. Suddenly, I found myself on a mission, which is par for the course in New York, where everyone is on a mission of some sort.

As the most-populous city in the United States, with an estimated record high of 8,405,837 residents as of 2013, more people live here than in the next two most-populous U.S. cities (Los Angeles and Chicago) combined

Not surprisingly, this is a tough place. A crowded place. A noisy and chaotic place. An expensive place. A very diverse place. And in so many ways, New York is and remains, as filmmaker Ric Burns termed it in a 2001 documentary, the “Center of the World.”

I had been to New York on business before, but this was the first time that I was able to really explore it. My wife and I were there for a week.

The American Dream Lives

In front of the National Museum of the American Indian, formerly the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, I spoke to a man from Sierra Leone from the West Coast of Africa. He had been living in New York for the past 15 years. For him, this country and this city represented freedom and opportunity to build a purposeful life.

“There is no place better on Earth,” he said. “No place.”

In his eyes, the American Dream, which had nothing to do with home ownership or even building great wealth, was far from dead.

Today, about about 37 percent of the city’s population is foreign born, but no single country of origin dominates in that regard. The 10 largest sources of foreign-born individuals in the city as of 2011 were the Dominican Republic, China, Mexico, Guyana, Jamaica, Ecuador, Haiti, India, Russia, and Trinidad and Tobago. Based on the many languages that I heard uttered, I think ran across every one of these groups.

But that didn’t bother me in the least. No, I see our diversity as a continuing strength and in keeping with an American tradition of essentially creating and molding a group of new Americans to follow their dreams.

In his Letters from an American Farmer (1782), J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur writes, in response to his own question, “What then is the American, this new man?” I think I met him in New York.

A Reminder of Who We Are

Yes, New York has its Wall Street, the financial district of the city and home to the New York Stock Exchange, the world’s largest stock exchange. But there is another story here, one I find just as compelling, of immigrants, reminding us just who we really are.

For we should never forget that New York was the first place where many of our ancestors first set foot on American soil. Some would eventually venture away from the city and settle into the interior. But New York was their starting point, their launching pad for a new life in a new country.

Christian Friedrich Martin is a prime example. He arrived with his family in New York in 1833 from Austria, eventually moving to Nazareth, Pa., where in 1839 he established a guitar making shop. Martin guitars are still made in Nazareth today. (At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my wife and I happened upon an exhibition of mostly 19th century Martin guitars. As an owner of two Martins, I was just enthralled.)

But many of the newly arrived would stay in the city and find a neighborhood where they felt most comfortable around their fellow countrymen of origin. Said immigrant Patrick Murphy, “New York is a grand handsome city. But you would hardly know you had left Ireland.”

A decade later, many of Murphy’s compatriots would join the Union army after literally stepping off the boat. Lured at the prospect earning $13 a month, thousands would die in a strange land called Dixie. The 69th New York State Volunteers flew a green flag with a golden harp on it, symbolizing Ireland.

The Great Shifting

During our many travails around the city – by foot, cab, bus and subway — the ethnicity of neighborhoods was still apparent – Little Italy, now a tiny fragment of what it once was; Chinatown, home to the largest enclave of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere; a Greek enclave in Astoria in Queens, and an ultra-orthodox Satmar Jewish community in Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Many if not most of these neighborhoods are losing their ethnic identities with gentrification, which translates into he or she with the most bucks takes home the marbles.

This shift toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values is one of the bigger stories that I picked up during our week-long stay in New York.

Gentrification happens with increased investment in a community by real estate developers and local government, thereby spurring more business growth and lower crime rates. This is generally a good thing.

But gentrification also leads to poorer residents being displaced by wealthier newcomers, thereby changing the character of the neighborhood. Gentrification “has become shorthand for an urban neighborhood where muggings are down and espresso is roasted,” wrote New York Times reporter Andrea Elliot.

Harlem would be an example. New York’s most iconic black neighborhood, no longer has a stigma urban decay, is experiencing another rebirth, reflected in new restaurant hot spots like Red Rooster Harlem and The Cecil, where we had our best meals.

Census data maps show significant drops in the African-American population in Harlem, largely because long-time residents are being priced out of the neighborhood. Between 2010 and 2011, the median housing prices in central Harlem jumped by over 18 percent, the Times reported.

But gentrification has been happening all over the city, making the once affordable neighborhoods, like the Meatpacking District, Greenwich Village, Soho, not longer affordable except to the wealthy.

Rent City

According to census data prepared by the sociology department at Queens College, there are about 582,000 rentals in Manhattan, as opposed to 165,000 owned units, meaning rentals make up 78 percent of the total.

New rental projects coming onto the market are rare. Land costs have skyrocketed in the last few years, to the point that prime Manhattan sites can go for $850 a square foot.

With rents of $3,000 a month typical for a one-bedroom apartment, recouping an investment could take years. For most real estate developers, building pricey condos and selling them for a hefty $3,000 a square foot is the better bet.

But despite the high cost of living, immigrants from all over the world continue to flock to New York, with the Bronx probably the most affordable of the five boroughs. But even there, where graffiti adorns many buildings, high rents have some locals packing up and leaving.

Rich and the Richer

As a global hub of international business and commerce, it should be of no surprise that New York has the highest density of millionaires per capita among major U.S. cities in 2014, at 4.6 percent of residents. It is also home to the highest number of the world’s billionaires, higher than the next five U.S. cities combined.

The city is a major center for banking and finance, retail, world trade, transportation, tourism, real estate, media, advertising, legal services, accountancy, insurance, theater, fashion, the arts, you name it and it’s probably here.

And while economists talk of the demise of manufacturing in the city, there are companies who are engaged in manufacturing, driven by technological advances that shrink the size of manufacturing equipment. Indeed, about 14,000 residents of the Bronx are employed in manufacturing.

Silicon Alley

Home to hundreds of tech startups, the tech sector continues to expand in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I stood on the sidewalk outside Chelsea Market, gawking at 111 Eighth Ave., Google’s New York City headquarters, wondering what the heck was going on inside there. Nobody came outside to tell me.

Google bought 111 Eighth Ave., a 3 million-square-foot office building, just more than two years ago, paying almost $2 billion.

Since the recession ended five years ago, New York has added more tech jobs than any city with the exception of San Francisco. The tech sector is now a major part of New York’s economy–by some counts the amount of venture, angel, and private equity cash poured into New York has grown from $799 million in 2009 to about $3 billion in 2013.

In the last four years, the city added 25,000 tech jobs — up 33 percent. The sector, responsible directly or indirectly for 291,000 jobs, is now 7 percent of the city job market, behind health care at 16 percent and retail at 8 percent.

Lunch Atop a Skyscraper

A favorite photograph, one that I never tire looking at, is Lunch Atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam). You have probably seen this black-and-white photograph, which depicts 11 dusty construction workers, mostly immigrants, eating sandwiches and smoking cigarettes, as they casually sit nonchalantly on a crossbeam 840 feet above New York City streets.

The photo was taken on September 20, 1932, during the height of the Great Depression, on the 69th floor of the RCA Building, now called the GE Building. According to archivists, the photo was staged to promote the opening of the skyscraper, but nevertheless those were real ironworkers who were part of the construction project.

There is something about that photograph that harkens the American experience. And while they are white men, of European extraction, a similar photograph could be taken today of men and women at work of different races from other parts of the world who are here because they believe in America and the opportunities that they see here.

I wonder sometimes if we can see what they can see. New York, despite all its foibles, continues to say, “Yes, you can,” probably more so than any place in America. And for that we should be thankful.

Sociologists now largely disregard the term “melting pot,” as being outdated and inaccurate. I don’t have the academic background to argue with them, but I would think that immigrants and their descendants would want to adapt and assimilate to their new surroundings in order to prosper.

In his 1905 travel narrative The American Scene, Henry James writes about cultural intermixing in New York City as a “fusion, as of elements in solution in a vast hot pot.”

My hope is that the pot stays hot, thereby keeping New York as the Center of the World.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

If you liked what you saw here, invite me to speak at your next meeting.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, but only if expressed permission has been granted.

My Pet Peeves

In Corporate Site Selection and Economic Development, Uncategorized on June 22, 2014 at 6:13 am

I always welcome the opportunity to meet with economic developers when they come to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to call on site selection consultants. If my schedule permits, I’m with you.

Sometimes those invitations come via email and sometimes by phone calls. It matters not to me which way I am initially contacted, although email follow-up will be requested so that I don’t have to tie a string around my finger.

But how people want to be communicated with is a personal preference. And when you are engaged in business development, it is something to take note of and even document.

I recently finished making a slew of appointments with aviation/aerospace/defense industry contacts in Southern California. I noticed that I was far more effective by using a combination of LinkedIn messages/phone calls than I was by email.

If someone has more than 500 LinkedIn contacts, that is a pretty good sign that they take LinkedIn seriously as a business tool, which means it might be a good way to make initial contact with them.

A friend of mine, an economic developer with a utility company, told me this past week that his company forbids the use of any social media at the workplace. Now I understand that to a point – “Hey, here’s a picture of my dog Roscoe fetching a stick that I threw into a pond.”

Social Media can be abused at the job. No doubt about it. But when I asked my friend if his employer understood the value that LinkedIn could provide in business development, he sighed. “They don’t get it.”

It continually amazes me how many business people do not use LinkedIn — that this can be a valuable business development tool in the proverbial tool box. Oh well, some folks just don’t get it.

That’s not a pet peeve so much as a fact.

How About a Yes or a No?

But we all have our pet peeves, things that bother us that probably shouldn’t but still do.

The older I get, the more I try not to let the small stuff get under my skin. Still, I cannot help but notice that there is such a thing as business etiquette, most of it founded upon common sense and just good manners.

For example, if I am asked to submit a proposal – whether it is a strategic/action plan for an economic development organization or for a company on a site selection project — it usually happens as a result of a conference call or a meeting  with that potential client.

And in the aftermath of discussing the wants and needs of that potential client, I am going to put forth substantial time and effort in writing a proposal. It is expected of me, a precursor to winning the job and performing the work.

And, in turn, I would hope and expect for an eventual answer, whether it be a yes or a no. But sometimes, weeks and even months go by and there is silence, even after some gentle prodding. Not getting an answer, after putting forth time and effort, just bugs the heck out of me.

Truly, I would rather hear “no” than not to get an answer at all.

Now this is a common complaint from economic developers, which I think is absolutely valid. If my community is eliminated from consideration on a site selection project after I have submitted an often lengthy request for information/proposal, please let me know. Just don’t leave me hanging. I got a board breathing down my neck.

As a former economic developer, I can relate, and will do all that I can to timely inform those who submitted RFI’s as to whether they remain in the running or not on a given project. To me, it’s a simple courtesy that they deserve.

Think Follow Up

This does not bother me nearly to the same degree, but I cannot help but take note of it and so will mention it.

An economic development group has asked to meet with me while visiting here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We schedule a meeting, and it turns out to be a productive meeting. I learned stuff as a result. That’s always a good thing.

But then there’s no follow up. I never hear from them. Now mind you, I am not expecting a hand-written perfumed card. But a simple email follow-up with contact information would be nice.

To me, that’s business development 101. But I wonder about the economic developers who do not do that. Were they just going through the motions to meet some matrix or quota when they met with me?

About half of the meetings that I have with visiting economic developers from around the country who come to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there is no follow up from them. Strange but true.

Give it To Me Straight

I cannot help but admire business rebels and pathfinders, entrepreneurs who shake up an industry by building a top-notch company that doesn’t follow but leads by its own way. I am a big fan of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, and famed oilman T. Boone Pickens.

These are very plain spoken men. You know exactly what they are saying, because they refuse to engage in corporate/consultant jargon. Here’s a couple of my favorite T. Boone quotes. The first one, he attributes to his father.

“Son, a fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan any day.”

“A plan without action isn’t a plan, it’s a speech.”

 “If you are going to run with the big dogs, you have to get out from under the porch.”

Branson is not so folksy. That’s not him. But he does appreciate the use of clear understandable language. Here’s a story he recently told, which by the way, I picked up on LinkedIn.

“Some people love speaking in jargon, using fancy words and turning everything into acronyms. Personally, I find this simply slows things down, confuses people and causes them to lose interest. It’s far better to use a simple term and commonplace words that everyone will understand, rather than showing off and annoying your audience.

“In some industries, technical terms are everywhere – especially in the financial sector. As somebody who didn’t understand the difference between net and gross for many years, despite running several billion dollar companies, I have always preferred when financial issues are explained clearly.

“A few years ago we were looking into investing money in a financial company. The person I was talking to said: “We only have a 5 percent bid offer spread.” Later I asked one of my team what the guy was talking about. He explained how they were using jargon as a way of hiding the fact they were stealing 5 percent before we even started!

“Sometimes there are more sinister reasons for using jargon, and it is all too easy to fall foul of these tricks. Do you wish people would tell it to you straight rather than blinding you with terminology?”

We’re No. 1!

Now this is a pet peeve that I should just bury internally and ignore. 

And it involves a claim that is often seen on economic development websites but sometimes even uttered aloud, – that a particular place is the very “best” place for   all businesses under the sun, bar none.

Not long ago I met a group of economic developers from a state that I see as having a very favorable business climate. But one local economic developer kept making the claim, repeatedly, that her community was “the best” for all businesses.

More often, you will hear this outlandish statement from an elected official, typically a mayor, who just don’t know any better. But an economic developer should know better.

“I’m sorry, but there is no such a place,” I replied to her dryly. She looked at me as if I had cussed in church.

 “If there were such a place – a single best place for business – don’t you think they would all be there? No, there’s just better places for certain kinds of businesses, which is really the basis for my site selection consulting business.”

“No, really, our city is the best,” she doubled downed.

Alrighty then.

A Transcript Please

This past week alone, I have received emailed invitations from economic development organizations in California and Florida, to attend luncheons. Clearly, these invitations were designed for a local audience, that is, community stakeholders, on local subject manner.

But still, I get these emails on a regular basis. And sometimes, I have the audacity to reply to them.

“Please forgive me, as I will not be catching a plane to attend your luncheon which is 1,300 miles away from me. But I am most interested in the remarks from your local animal control officer. Please send me a transcript if possible.”

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

If you liked what you saw here, invite me to speak at your next meeting.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, but only if expressed permission has been granted.

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A Recovery at Half Speed

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2014 at 6:05 am

Ever since I was a boy, I have been drawn to reading history. Now I realize that my knowledge of the Old West gunfighter Doc Holliday having briefly practiced dentistry in Dallas will likely never be of much use to me on a practical level. Still, I do not believe my reading of history has been an altogether useless endeavor.

You see, history can provide telltale markers and clues as to the workings of what is happening today. When we look at things from a historical perspective, we can sometimes detect and recognize certain trends and timelines, which thereby gives us a deeper understanding of how things are and how they may play out.

And in the business of corporate site selection – one of my core functions as a consultant – ascertaining historical knowledge can be of huge significance in determining where and how to risk capital resources.

This whole notion of business climate is largely derived from how state and local governments interact with businesses, particularly on regulatory and tax matters. In that regard, some places have a better history than others.

Intertwined Histories

So I was pleased and impressed when I heard Dr. Al Niemi, dean of the Edwin L. Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, give his annual economic forecast to an audience of business people at the school’s branch campus near my home in Plano.

That’s because he based much of his analysis on history. You may recall that I did some of that in my blog last week, in which I cited the long-term trend of history as the reason why manufacturing, which is becoming ever more efficient in a new digital machine age, will not produce a significant jobs revival in this country despite all the hoopla to the contrary.

Dr. Niemi and I also have our own personal histories that have intertwined. He was briefly the dean of the business school of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and I was the business editor of The Birmingham News, then the dominant daily newspaper in the state.

I visited with him at UAB, either in late 1996 or early 1997, having learned that the powers that be within the University of Alabama system were thwarting his efforts to build up the Birmingham program, as it was viewed as a threat to the main campus in Tuscaloosa. It’s the age-old story of politics and fiefdoms.

Dr. Niemi, who had earlier served as a dean to the business school at the University of Georgia, promptly left UAB in 1997 for a much better job at SMU, where he has been ever since. He now leads what has become one of the top-ranked business schools in the nation, and the students there are lucky to have him. I know I could learn a thing or two by sitting in on the “Evolution of American Capitalism,” a history class that he teaches.

But for purposes of this blog, it’s what he said about our current economy, which is of most interest. It was why he attracted a crowd of business people for his luncheon address, which he warned from the outset, “Folks, I don’t have a lot of good news today.”

The good doctor is no spin doctor. He calls it like he sees it. So here is a smattering of what he said.

The Slowest Recover in Our Lifetime

We will know more soon, but our nation’s economic growth in 2013 will probably clock in at the 1.7-1.8 percent range, certainly nothing stellar and par for the course of late. And therein lies the problem.

“There have been 10 economic expansions since World War II, and we are in the 11th expansion right now,” said Dr. Niemi. “If you look at the previous 10 expansions going back to the 40s, the average rate of real growth was 4.7 percent. 

“So far in the expansion that started in July 2009 the real rate of growth over those 18 quarters is 2.4 percent. So to put our current recovery in perspective, it is a recovery at half speed. … We are living through the slowest recovery in our lifetime.”

Unprecedented

I was born in 1954, during a recession that began the year before. It took 21 months after the end of that recession before we got back to the same number of people who were at work before the recession began. That was pretty much true with our other recessions. Typically, the number of people who eventually got back to work after a recession equaled the pre-recessionary levels after 15 to 25 months. In short, it takes some time to recover.

But we are now in our 73rd month since the recession ended in July 2009. And yet we still have about 2 million fewer people working today than we did in December of 2007 at our peak employment. “That is unprecedented in American history,” Dr. Niemi said.

The Illusion of Good News

The headlines are not telling the whole story. The real story behind the story of dropping unemployment rates is due to the fact that more Americans are simply leaving the labor force, usually discouraged, rather than gaining actual employment.

This takes the unemployment rate down, as unemployment only counts those individuals “looking for work.” In fact the number of working age Americans over the age of 16 no longer in the labor force just hit an all time high of 91.8 million.

Taking into account the discouraged workers who have taken themselves out of the workforce and the underemployed, those people working in jobs that are below their skill levels, the real unemployment rate in America is probably more like 16 or 17 percent, Dr. Niemi said.

And even if we were to add 200,000 jobs a month, this country would not reach full employment (now a rate of 5 percent unemployment) until 2029. If the economy picks up more steam and we averaged 250,000 jobs a month, we would only reach full employment by 2021, Dr. Niemi said.

“We got back to full employment 11 years after the Great Depression. If we go to 2029, that is 20 years and there is nothing like it in American history. And that is a very likely scenario,” Dr. Niemi said.

 Friday’s Anemic Report

Certainly the latest jobs report, released Friday, doesn’t provide much in the way of hope. The economy added a paltry 113,000 jobs in January. That anemic report was only marginally better than the 74,000 jobs created in December, which was the worst month of job creation in three years.

Space does not permit me to tell you more of what Dr. Niemi said about the current state of our economy. But he did say this, which I take true to heart and is good advice:

If you are right of center in your politics, force yourself for a week to read the editorial page of The New York Times and watch MSNBC to see what the “other side” is saying. Conversely, if you are left of center in your political leanings, force yourself for a week to read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and watch Fox News.

Both sides have their spins, and it may seem as if we are living in two different worlds, but the truth is usually somewhere in between.

The Good and Not So Good in Tennessee

Two big developments in Tennessee this past week have caught my eye and could be of huge significance in terms of site selection. On the face of it, one is good and one is not so good. First the good.

In his State of the State Address, Gov. Bill Haslam offered the “Tennessee Promise.” It’s something that other governors may want to steal a page from.

“The Tennessee Promise is an ongoing commitment to every student – from every kindergartner to every high school senior. We will promise that he or she can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free.

“If students then choose to go on to a four-year school, our transfer pathways program makes it possible for those students to start as a junior. By getting their first two years free, the cost of a four-year degree is cut in half.”

The governor has promised putting $300 million in surplus lottery reserves into an endowment to cover the $34 million-a-year cost of Tennessee Promise. This is music to my ears if it happens.

And now the not so good. In a move that it bound to have ramifications throughout the Southern auto industry, hourly workers at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga will vote Feb. 12-14 on whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers.

The National Labor Relations Board set the election after Volkswagen Group of America and the UAW reached an agreement. The UAW has other ongoing organizing drives to attempt to represent workers at Nissan plants in Mississippi and Tennessee and at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama.

UAW membership has fallen steadily since reaching a peak of nearly 1.5 million in 1979 to almost 400,000 in 2012, attributable to automation at assembly plants and a declining share of the U.S. auto market for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler Group. Outside of union membership at a Mitsubishi Motors plant in the Midwest, nearly all UAW members at automakers are from GM, Ford and Chrysler.

VW has emphasized its neutrality in the vote by secret ballot. And I actually believe that because VW’s supervisory board, the equivalent of a U.S. company’s board of directors, is evenly split between labor and management members.

Whatever happens, this vote is a shot across the bow for all the foreign-owned, non-union automotive plants throughout the Southeast. In short, this could only help Mexico. Stay tuned.

Nice Job

Finally, kudos to Michigan-based Consultant Connect for putting together this past week the Summit Dallas, where I got to meet economic developers from Big  Sky Economic Development, Montana; the Roanoke Regional Parntership, Virginia; AEP/Indiana Michigan Power; Northwest Arkansas Council; Amarillo EDC, Texas; Pennsylvania Community and Economic Development; Indy Partnership, Indiana; and the Southwest Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana.

The economic developers were a topnotch group as were the site selection consultants who provided them counsel. Good event.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, but only if expressed permission has been granted.

 

Can Manufacturing Spur a Jobs Revival?

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2014 at 8:30 am

In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama spoke in laudatory terms of “a manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.”

Well, technically that is true. Manufacturing jobs, after a long and steep decline, have grown by about 570,000 since early 2010, coming out of what can only be accurately called as the Great Recession.

But what the president didn’t say was that job growth at factories has slowed sharply in the past three years — from 207,000 in 2011, to 154,000 in 2012, to just 77,000 last year, according to the Labor Department.

I think it is safe to say that much of what the president said about a resurgence of the nation’s industrial sector can best characterized  by what Peter Tchir of TF Market Advisors would call a big dose of “hopium.”

As a student of American history, I suspect that most presidents, past, present and future, have and will use their office as a bully pulpit to instill hope among the American people.  And maybe that is altogether proper. Maybe the nation’s highest office should be occupied by a cheerleader in chief, albeit one who can get things done.

But getting things done does not characterize the present environment in Washington. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll shows that the federal government, at 21 percent, leads the list of what Americans consider the most important problems facing the country.

Mega-Trends in Our Favor

Despite the uncertainties and frailties caused by a dysfunctional government, a cursory view would indicate that U.S. manufacturing is on a much better footing today than it was just a few years ago. We have some mega-trends in our favor.

Rising wages in China and cheaper energy costs in this country have raised hopes that more U.S. companies will bring back manufacturing work and jobs to America — a prospect that Obama specifically mentioned in his speech. And some of that has actually happened and no doubt will continue to happen.

A recent example is Kent International, a New Jersey-based bicycle maker, which announced that it will move its production to Clarendon, South Carolina, and create 175 new jobs and assemble 500,000 bicycles annually by 2016. The company had moved all of its production overseas in 1990s because of lower costs of production abroad. The company’s bicycles are sold at Wal-Mart and Target among other retailers.

But here’s the kicker — most experts don’t see a big burst of new manufacturing jobs taking place despite all the hopium about a “manufacturing renaissance” in this country.

The Second Machine Age 

That’s because to some degree people, or at least most people, are becoming functionally obsolete for advanced manufacturing. Technological change has resulted in the automation of  so many functions in the manufacturing process, in which software-driven machines have essentially become substitutes, not complements, to people on the factory floor. We are entering “The Second Machine Age,” which is the title of a new book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

In the book, the authors tell of Dutch chess grandmaster Jan Hein Donner, who was asked how he’d prepare for a chess match against a computer, like I.B.M.’s Deep Blue. Donner replied: “I would bring a hammer.”

For those relatively few people who will still be needed to run increasingly automated manufacturing systems, plant managers say they can’t find enough of them with the desired skill sets required. That problem will likely only worsen by the fact that about 2.7 million manufacturing workers are expected to retire between now and 2018.

Confessions of a Plant Manager

I was recently in a manufacturing plant in Georgia, where the plant manager told me that his biggest challenge, the one thing that kept him up at night, was the prospect of finding suitable talent to take over from the process engineers and maintenance technicians who would soon be retiring after many years of service. The potential replacement candidates with the needed skills are few and far between, he said.

In his State of the Union address, Obama said improved job training will be key to his administration’s efforts to make it easier for Americans to join and stay in the middle class. At a General Electric factory near Milwaukee, Obama signed a presidential memo directing Vice President Joe Biden to lead the review, and to work with cities, businesses and labor leaders to better match training to employer needs.

“Our economy’s changing,” Obama said. “Not all of today’s good jobs need a four-year degree. But the ones that don’t need a college degree do need some specialized training.”

After his remarks, Obama signed a presidential memorandum directing a review of how to make federal training programs more focused on helping workers get the right skills for in-demand jobs and remain a part of the middle class.

The Great Uncoupling

Now that sounds all very good. I would be hard pressed to say that upping the ante on training is a bad approach. Certainly corporate clients that I have represented during site selection projects look favorably at those locations where training programs can be offered, usually through a local community college.

And the president’s idea of creating high-tech manufacturing research hubs around the nation to spark innovation, I mean, how could I be against innovation and research and development? Continued investment in technologies does for the most part drive future production.

But where this could all break down is in the cruel reality of the numbers. Does a manufacturing revival necessarily go hand-in-hand with a big jobs revival? The evidence would indicate that the two can be – and increasingly are – uncoupled.

History provides us with some important clues. Manufacturing in America accounted for slightly less than 20 million jobs at its peak in 1979. Today, it’s barely 11 million. The picture is even bleaker when you consider population growth, since the labor force in 1979 was about 105 million whereas it now stands at about 155 million.

Correspondingly, manufacturing accounted for 28 percent of U.S. gross domestic product in 1953; 20 percent in 1980; and 12 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Over that same period, GDP increased from $2.6 trillion to $15.5 trillion. In short, manufacturing output more than tripled during that 60-year span, but the stuff being manufactured was being produced by fewer and fewer people.

And that has been true in all developed countries – Germany, Japan, and even China.

Where Most Job Growth Occurred

Also keep in mind that nearly 54 percent of jobs created in 2013 were in the low wage sector, a key reason steady hiring has yet to strongly push up wages. The biggest percentage increase in job growth occurred in the temporary help industry, according to Labor Department data. Those jobs tend to pay less and provide fewer benefits.

Hotels, restaurants, amusement parks and other entertainment firms posted the next biggest percentage gain. The third-largest gain was at retail businesses.

None of this is to say that the United States won’t continue to be a powerhouse in manufacturing. I believe that our manufacturing sector, after sustaining some serious body blows, has found its technological footing to compete and win on a global scale. By virtue of the fact that more CEOs are even suggesting taking a long hard look at re-shoring would indicate as much.

With the shale gas revolution, which we are only now starting to understand, and disruptive technologies such as 3D printing, still in its infancy, you have to wonder if we may be at “the beginning of something big,” as noted by Bruce Katz, a vice president at the Brookings Institution.

Shooting for a Miracle

We just might. My gut says we are, even if I have my doubts as to whether that will translate into millions of new manufacturing jobs being created. With 6 million manufacturing jobs lost in the last decade, if we could recoup one-third of that number, I would chalk it up to be an incredible feat, a miracle in the making. But even the most bullish economists aren’t predicting that, as it just goes against the tide of history.

I did hear one featured speaker at a gathering of economic developers this past fall in Tucson, Arizona, predict that the energy boom, which is quite real, would result in millions of newly-created manufacturing jobs. He said that the manufacturing slice of the total workforce pie would rise to 15 percent from its current 12 percent.

Too bad that manufacturing represents only about 9 percent of all jobs today. Oh well.

So taking all these things in account, with some positive headwinds blowing our way, it is not surprising that President Obama speaks in terms of restoring lost manufacturing jobs. One could argue that would be his job as the cheerleader in chief.

But I have to wonder if the machines in this new age will permit that to actually happen. I’m not so sure. He might have to bring a hammer.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, but only if expressed permission has been granted.

 

The Issue for Our Time

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2014 at 6:00 am

It was 1998 when I left the newsroom after a 20-year stint working with daily newspapers. It was a good run. I have no regrets.

Newspaper work was probably the hardest work that I ever did, and I truly loved it. My identity was wrapped into what I did like nothing I have ever done since. I lived and breathed it 24/7. The ink was in my blood,

To this day I’m not quite sure why I walked away from it. I was the business editor of The Birmingham News in Birmingham, Ala. I think I just wanted another challenge, and I got it with the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

As director of international development, I had a dream job that sent me all over the world. I think I got up to eight languages on how to ask for a beer and the restroom. (I may be down to three or four now.)

My Sixth Sense

Both journalism and economic development have left their marks on me today as a consultant and to good advantage. I’m jesting here, but economic development taught me how the patient nurturing of a garden could result in the sprouting and growing of very lovely plants that would bring joy to all. Peace in the valley. Let freedom ring.

Whereas journalism taught me death by deadline, a hell-for-leather mission to expose any and all conniving bastards who deserved exposing, bringing the walls down around them by laying out the facts for all the world to see. No prisoners taken. Rawhide!

But seriously, probably what journalism taught me more than anything was how to dig for information, to go beyond the surface and ferret out what is real from what is, how should I say this delicately? … bullhockey. Call it a sixth sense.

Giving Edges

My resulting investigative skills and nature now serve my consulting clients well. Ascertaining information that can be used in a strategic manner can give an organization a big competitive edge.  And that’s what my consulting business is all about – giving edges to those I serve.

And largely because of my newspaper upbringing, I strive to write in plain English rather than in some jargon-inflated consultantese. Some of that proffered gobbledygook may initially look or sound pretty impressive. But when you actually parse the words, you’ll see they’re often just calling a duck a duck.

So the skeptical and somewhat cynical journalist will always be a part of me. I’ll often question the official line, because sometimes it simply needs to be questioned. Digging below the surface, I’ll find that sometimes it’s accurate, sometimes it’s partly accurate, and sometimes it’s just a bunch of bullhockey.

Recognizing the Big Story

And I also continue to look for the “big story,” that mega-trend in business that can be leveraged in order to get that competitive edge. That holds true in both my site selection consulting work for companies and my economic development advisory work for communities.

 I’m no futurist, mind you. If I was one of them, I would be able to charge three or four times what I do now. But I do lean forward and try to figure out what the heck is going on.

So during the past year, in speeches that I made around the country and in this blog, I have been telling about this new digital machine age that I believe that we are in the early stages of, and which is having consequences on how we work and maybe more importantly, who gets work.

I have also been talking and writing about this shale gas revolution, which if I would have predicted five years ago, I would have been termed a nutjob. Truly, the hydraulic fracturing technologies have unleashed a huge natural resource that can and should give the United States a competitive advantage in terms of energy costs vis a vis the rest of the world for decades to come. And that can only bode well for our manufacturing sector.

Now a Mainstream Issue

But the story that I have not written much about, but which may be the biggest story of all, is now becoming quite mainstream. Indeed, I’m convinced it is being talked about around kitchen tables throughout America. And that subject matter is the inequality that exists between the ultra-rich and the rest of, well, us.

Many if not most leading economists believe this wealth gag, now the widest since the 1920s, has a detrimental affect on both big business and small business alike, and thereby creates a drag on our economy and economies worldwide.

This was the overriding topic this past week at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where heads of state, Nobel laureates, CEOs and media titans gathered.

Although Pope Francis didn’t go to Davos, his message read at the opening ceremony helped put inequality at the forefront for the event’s 2,500-plus attendees. The pontiff urged business leaders and global influencers to put people above profits, and use their wealth to serve humanitarian causes.

“I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it,” the pontiff said.

A Growing Embarrassment

“The kind of people over there (in Davos), other than the professors, are making a great deal of money more than their predecessors were a generation ago,” University of Maryland economist Peter Morici told CNBC.  “This is a growing embarrassment. The differences in income between Wall Street and the rest of America are astronomical.”

Also last week, on the eve of Davos, we learned that the combined wealth of the world’s richest 85 people is now equivalent to that owned by half of the world’s population – or 3.5 billion of the poorest people. 

In a report titled “Working for the Few,” the global aid and development organization Oxfam reported that the wealth of the richest 1 percent of people in the world now amounts to $110 trillion, or 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.

Bad for Everyone

Henry Blodget, co-founder, CEO and Editor-In Chief of Business Insider, one of the fastest-growing business and tech news sites in the world, writes that “America is rapidly becoming a country of a few million overlords and 300 million serfs.”

He contends that such polarization is bad for everyone, including the overlords.

“Because when inequality gets bad enough, serfs can’t afford to buy products from overlords. This hurts the overlords’ ability to get even richer. And that’s what’s wrong with the American economy right now. The serfs are tapped out. The overlords are responding by cutting costs (firing serfs), to increase profits. Unfortunately, one person’s “costs” are another person’s “wages,” so this is making the problem worse.”

Blodget says, and I believe he is correct, that increasing taxes on the rich is not the answer, as it only inflames arguments of class warfare and has people yelling of socialism.

“The best way to fix inequality is to persuade our overlords that it is in their best interests to share more of their wealth by paying their employees more for their work — work that, not incidentally, is what makes the overlords rich,” Blodget wrote. “In other words, the best way is to persuade companies that it’s better to focus on creating value rather than just profit.”

I like Blodget’s reasoning, but it will be a tough sell to shareholders who are very much focused on profits.

A Rigged System

A Gallup poll published this past week shows that 67 percent of Americans are displeased with the ways income and wealth are distributed.  Exactly three-fourths of Democrats said they were “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied, whereas surveyors recorded 54 percent of Republicans agreeing to the same question.

“I really think this is the issue for our time,” co-host Joe Scarborough said on Tuesday’s Morning Joe. “We’ve got a system that is not just rigged by politicians in Washington, D.C.”

The Gallup poll suggests that people are really hurting after 30 years of stagnation for the middle and working class.

“This is not about party,” said Scarborough, a former Republican congressman. “We’ve got a systemic problem, a generational problem, and we’ve got to fix it or this country is not going to look like itself and this world isn’t going to look like itself 15 years from now.”

Joe is right — this is the issue for our time, and we’ve got to fix it.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, but only if expressed permission has been granted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Whistle Dixie

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2014 at 5:41 am

From the Oval Office of the White House, President Richard Nixon, under assault from the Watergate scandal, uttered a remark to his aides that is now in the annals of history: “We can do that, but it would be wrong.”

That phrase has resonated with me over the years. On more than one occasion, I have thought, “Yea, we could do that, but …

Most of us have an internal governor that serves us well in distinguishing between right and wrong. Now we may choose for convenience sake or that of greed to ignore our conscience, but it is there nonetheless, a nagging guidepost within.

Mind you, there are those rare psychopaths who truly lack behavior controls and have an absence of empathy. In his book, “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry,” British journalist Jon Ronson reported the incidence of psychopathy among CEOs is about 4 percent, which is about four times what it is in the general population. 

If the Whiskey Holds Out

In my rather long career, I believe I have come into close working contact with only one such CEO, whom I believe would aptly fit into the psychopath category. Instead of empathy, I detected a certain joy in manipulating people, a lack of remorse, and a distinct belief that the rules do not apply to them. 

These human versions of great white sharks are relatively rare, but they are out there. For them, an ethics course in business would be beyond the pale. It would do them no good.

But for the rest of us, this notion of business ethics is something that we should both recognize and be reminded of on a regular basis. If you are to do right by yourself and others, it behooves you to think about the rightness or wrongness of what you are doing or what you are considering to do.

I am reminded of a book by the late Larry L. King (not to be mistaken with the former CNN broadcaster), which was entitled, “Of Outlaws, Con Men, Whores, Politicians and Other Artists,” probably long out of print, which focused on the ethical lapses. This Lone Star letterman once quipped, “If the whiskey holds out and you’re not under indictment, you can have fun anywhere.”

If only it were true. But of course, it’s not.

I Walk the Line

As a business consultant, a man with a briefcase who lives at least 40 miles away from you and who has all the answers to all your problems for now and evermore, I don’t mind telling you that I have my own ethical tightropes to walk. This is true in both site selection consulting for corporate clients and economic development consulting for communities, which are my two fortes. I walk the line by the very nature of what I do.

The immediate question that came to mind when I first formed Barber Business Advisors some years ago was if there was an inherent conflict of interest in offering consulting services to companies for purposes of site selection and then also to economic development organizations. And I concluded that there most certainly can be such a conflict, depending on what actions I might take.

I have heard stories, none of which I can confirm, of site selection consultants who require payment not only from the corporate client that they are supposedly serving, but also from the finalist community that is to be objectively “chosen” as the best site. From my standpoint, that is wronger than wrong. (Yes, I know there is no such word as “wronger” but it fits here nonetheless.)

In short, a consulting engagement is not dominoes. You cannot rightly play both ends at once in terms of getting paid.

Any consultant employed by a company that would seek money from a community in order to be the chosen place in a site selection project is demanding a bribe. Certainly they are not serving their corporate master well. By the same token, any community that would cede to such a demand is engaged in graft.

I Tried and I Really Can’t

But it’s not always the consultants who are the culprits. A couple of years ago, I received an email from an economic developer offering me a $50,000 bounty to bring his community a project. Now, think about that for a moment. If I am employed by a company to provide site selection consulting services to them, I could no more take a community’s bribe money, and let’s call it what it really is, than I can whistle Dixie. (I actually tried after writing this and I really can’t.)

Similarly, I found myself squirming in my seat not so long ago when an economic developer from Ireland, visiting me here in Dallas, spoke of a sanctioned program in which the Irish government would pay me, the consultant, a bounty for every job that I would bring to his country.

I told him that I liked Ireland, which was the truth, and thought that its business and tax climate was one of the better if not the best in all of Europe. But I also said that if I were to bring a project to Ireland, it would be because I was in the employ of a company to do so. Therefore, I could not accept such a bounty.

Again, the very idea of taking money from both ends just doesn’t sit right with me. Mind you, I would not have a problem if the Irish government were to make a direct payment to a company that I represented as a financial inducement for it to locate there. That’s a different story. I have no problem in representing a company during incentive negotiations, as I believe that is a necessary component in getting a deal done.

But if I am holding myself up to be an objective site selection consultant, to serve a corporate client to the best of my ability, I cannot ask that communities pay me a pay-to-play fee. The ultimate site chosen will depend on the business needs of the company, and not some kickback scheme.

Again, we are not talking about financial incentives to the company, which I believe is a legitimate practice. Periodic talk of banning financial incentives, sometimes even by economic developers themselves (which really surprises me), indicates to me a fundamental lack of understanding of the financial commitment and risks being taken by a company when it chooses a location for capital investment.

Be assured that it is never a given that any such endeavor will be successful. If anything, incentives only hedge a company’s bet, which should be predicated on solid business reasons – you know, stuff like workforce availability, transportation infrastructure, energy costs, taxes and the like — and not incentives alone. Maybe this should be subject for a future blog.

No Quid Pro Quo

But here is where it can get a little tricky, but only if I let it. (And I won’t.)

In addition to site consulting, I do economic development consulting work. Among the different services that I offer is site certification and strategic planning. By virtue of the fact that a community has hired me to guide them through either one of these processes, the question may present itself as to whether that community should be afforded preferential treatment later down the line when I am representing a corporate client on a site selection job.

Well, I hope you would understand that the answer is no. There is no quid pro quo, but there are some caveats.

I don’t believe I can ethically give a community preferential treatment in a corporate site search project simply because I have done work for them in the past. Having said that, and this is important to note, I will probably know that site and/or community like the back of my hand as a result of my past work.

And if that site/community falls within the search parameters of a future corporate client, that it could meet the company’s specific needs, well then I will dutifully inform my client company about that particular site and community. I am simply acting on information that I have derived through the course of my work, hopefully to the benefit of my client.

But I have to be transparent about the whole thing. I will make the company fully aware of the fact that I had done work for that ED organization in the past. It’s all got to be above board. That’s just how we roll.

Now I hope I don’t come across as overly preachy with this blog. Rest assured, I’m more sinner than saint. But I do believe that ethical considerations are something that we all face in our daily lives, particularly so in business. Just pay attention to that inner voice and you will usually be fine.

Parting Quote

Now back to Larry King, who wrote an article in Texas Monthly back in August 1974 entitled “Redneck.”

King wrote about the difference between a “redneck,” whom he sees as a perpetual loser, from the aspiring “good ole boy,” which may prove helpful in our treatise on ethics. If my memory serves me right, the article was excerpted from the aforementioned book, which unfortunately I no longer possess.

The bona fide Good Ole Boy may or may not have been to college. But bet your ass he’s a climber, an achiever, a con man looking for the edge. He’ll lay a lot of semi-smarmy charm on you, and middling-to-high-grade bullshit. He acts dumber than he is when he knows something, and smarter than he is when he doesn’t. Such parts of his Redneck heritage as may be judged eccentric or humorous enough to be useful will be retained in his mildly self-deprecating stories, and may come in handy while he’s working up to relieving you of your billfold or your panties.

Be forewarned.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, but only if expressed permission has been granted.

 

 

 

 

 

Suicide Bombers with the American Economy

In Uncategorized on October 6, 2013 at 7:23 am

Every morning when the United States Senate convenes, Senate Chaplain Barry Black opens each session with a prayer to guide the senators throughout their day.

Black, a retired Navy rear admiral with 20 years service, has delivered some tough admonitions of late on “the unfortunate dialectic of us versus them.”

“Have mercy upon us, oh God, and save us from the madness,” Black prayed Thursday morning. “We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness, and our pride. Create in us clean hearts, oh God, and renew a right spirit within us.”

But here’s the line that really got me to sit up and take note: “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”

Now that said it all. Preach the word, preacher.

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I write about business trends and how it affects corporate investment (primarily site selection) and economic development (competitiveness for communities.) As a consultant for hire, this is my bailiwick. I tend to shy away from politics, because I don’t want half of you out there hating me.

Government’s profound effect

But the truth is that government – whether it be through laws, policies, regulations, action and/or inaction – has a profound effect and influence upon corporate investment in this country and all over world for that matter.

As part of a site selection process, and it is a process to which I speaking about this coming week at the Texas Data Center Summit in Dallas, government regulation, permitting, taxation and the like, goes a long way in determining if a place is best suited for a particular kind of investment. In a broad brush way, government is often a key component to whether a community has a “business friendly” environment. (I spoke to one real estate developer last week who told me that it took him 6 ½ years to get a piece of property rezoned.)

For years, there has been a faction of the Republican party, a minority to be sure, that believes that government is the enemy, the root cause for much of the nation’s problems. This can be sourced back to President Ronald Reagan who famously said that the federal government was not the solution but the problem.

In fact, Reagan was a master of government and used it in ways to provide solutions. A new book is out by Chris Matthews – Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked – reveals that President Reagan was quite deft at the art of compromise with then Democrat House Speaker Tip O’Neil in forging and passing legislation.

Real governing can mean growth

Reagan and O’Neil, stalwarts in their own respective partisan camps, were able to get past blame-game rhetoric, develop a personal relationship, and thereby find ways to accommodate, if not partially, the other side to make government function.

And it’s my belief that their collaborative effort provided for stability and economic prosperity. In short, the business community responded favorably by investing. Fifty-five months after the recession started in July 1981, the Reagan recovery had created 7.8 million more jobs than when the recession started, and real per capita gross domestic product was up by $3,091.

Fifty-five months after the recession that began in December 2007, there were 4 million fewer Americans working than when the recession started, and real per capita GDP was down $803. That would indicate, at least to me, that Corporate America does not have great confidence in the current environment in terms of capital investment and job creation. The Progressive Policy Institute estimated companies have delayed spending by as much as $2.2 trillion since 2008.

The cards dealt us

Today we have an intellectual if not professorial president who has not displayed the schmoozing skills of a Reagan or a Bill Clinton and who only fairly recently began inviting Republican senators to the White House for dinner.

Pair that with the fact that you have a modern-day know-nothing wing of the Republican party, mostly House members, who detest this president and will not concede that he is in office legitimately. They have proved that they will do virtually anything to thwart any and all policies coming from this administration. If Jesus Christ were to return and step foot on the White House grounds, they would deny it.

This Tea Party faction took office not to govern, but to destroy. And it is through their efforts that they have hi-jacked what I consider and venerate as the once Grand Old Party, the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

This may come as a hard blow to certain people – particularly those left and right who want to hate and demonize the other side — but I will say it nonetheless: I can actually respect the tenants of both liberalism (now re-termed as “progressive”) and conservatism. I find neither particularly threatening if and when practiced by reasonable, thoughtful people who understand that government is the art of compromise.

Which is why I have every intention of reading Matthew’s Tip and the Gipper.

Business askance with GOP?

Be aware that the current shutdown is costing the U.S. economy $300 million a day, according to IHS, a global market research firm. And it may signal a shift of sorts, a reconfiguration and a shifting of power. Judging from the comments I hear from business leaders, they are rethinking whether the Republican party is the party of business.

From the austerity imposed by the sequestration to the refusal to reform immigration laws to the shutdown and now another debt ceiling showdown, when the U.S. borrowing authority expires on Oct. 17, let’s just say the GOP’s actions have put a strain on its relationship with certain previously supportive CEOs.

For years, business people have been asking for at least a modicum of stability so as to make prudent business decisions on investment. Washington has been offering anything but that. And increasingly, the GOP is taking the heat.

Get over it, it’s the law

Look, Obamacare is law. It passed both houses of Congress. It was signed by the president. It was upheld by a conservative Supreme Court. Now it matters not if you like it or not (I’m personally taking a wait-and-see mode), it is the law of the land.

If Congress in its wisdom (now that is an oxymoron) wants to amend the law by passing a new law, that’s one thing. Have at it, boys and girls. But shutting down the government because a minority faction of legislators do not want a law enacted, well, that’s a whole different matter. You don’t hold the government hostage for such a lame-brained reason. That’s not the way government was designed to work.

Be clear that there is no exit strategy at work here. There never was. Was this Tea Bag minority so delusional as to really believe that the president would just keel over and dismantle, in whole or in part, the hallmark of his administration?

Again, Obamacare may prove to be good or bad (keep in mind that even the most conservative retirees do love their Medicare), but presidents going back to Teddy Roosevelt have been talking about a national healthcare system that would be accessible and affordable to all. It boils down to a philosophical belief on whether health care is a right. That concept is not currently embraced by the Republican Party, which means they’re on the wrong side of history on this.

Lunacy at work

So in a poorly-hatched scheme to somehow derail Obamacare, they shut down the government and what is even worse, flirt with the prospect of allowing the U.S. government to default on its debt. Folks, that’s not conservatism. That’s just damn lunacy. You don’t spit on Superman’s cape and you don’t mess around with the faith and credit of the United States government, which absolutely must pay its bills.

If a default were to happen, the consequences to the economy could be catastrophic. The Treasury Department warned Thursday that a failure to raise the debt ceiling could lead to a financial crisis and recession even more damaging than the financial crisis of 2008.

A failure of the U.S. to pay its obligations if the debt limit is not raised “would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic,” Treasury said in a brief report intended for members of Congress and also released publicly by the agency.
“Credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse,” the report said.

Is that what you want, Ted? Is that your end game?

Grownups must take control

The only reason why I am deviating into politics in this blog is because too much is at stake in terms of not just my business as a consultant for industry and economic development groups, but for all business. Folks, this is important stuff.

Now it’s true that we have had shutdowns of the federal government in the past, 17 to be exact. Wall Street, more so than the business community, views Congress as a bunch of idiots but who will at the end of the day figure things out and do the safe thing.

But this Tea Party minority, which has undue sway in the Republican Party, is a different crew. We’ve never had a group quite like this before — suicide bombers with the American economy.

Look, the GOP already has a history of putting off immigrants, young people, minorities, suburban women. And now they want to alienate the business community? No, the grownups have to take control and wrench the party back from the influence of these waacko birds.

This isn’t just politics. This is business, and the economy is at stake. As Senate Chaplain Barry Black said in his prayer on Thursday, “save us from the madness.” Preach it, preacher.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas.

If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.

Telephone: 972-767-9518. Email: dbarber@barberadvisors.com Visit our website at http://www.barberadvisors.com

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, but only if expressed permission has been granted.

Can We Cross that Bridge When We Come to It?

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2013 at 7:47 am

Infrastructure is the glue that connects our nation’s businesses, communities, and people. It is foundational to our economy and how we live our lives.

On a more micro level, infrastructure serves as a basic building block in the site selection process as it differentiates land from a site. It actually took me years to figure that out – that land does not equate to a site.

As a site selection consultant, I am not so much interested in raw land, as it poses too many risks for too many reasons. But a site where infrastructure exists in full or in part or a site where infrastructure is planned for with accompanying documentation with timelines and cost estimates, well that may just suit the bill for a corporate client. 

This is why there is the trend toward site certification, a service which I provide to economic development organizations. But enough on that. I am not here to sell you, at least not now. No, now I want to tell you a story.

What Agnes Taught Me

At the time, it was the costliest hurricane to hit the United States in recorded history. Hurricane Agnes was especially brutal on Pennsylvania, where floodwaters ravaged cities, towns and countryside.

The year was 1972 and I was 17 years old, that awkward stage on the cusp of becoming a man, but still very much a boy. I was living in Lebanon, Pa., and I can remember standing awestruck on the edge of fast-moving, churning brown floodwaters that had closed a highway on the outskirts of town. I walked through thigh-deep water in the downtown. It was quite the adventure.

But as a result of Agnes, I got my first job the following summer. It was a public works job, rebuilding curbs and sidewalks. I was now 18, and I got to wear a hard hat, work outside with my shirt off, and goggle at girls. I loved it.

By being armed with a shovel and part of a team, that job taught me things that I would carry with me later in life.  I learned there was an honor to work, even unskilled manual labor, and a certain freedom offered by having some money in my back pocket.

My job was to rebuild needed infrastructure that had been destroyed by the storm. Even then as a largely unfocused teenager, I sensed that I was working for the public good.

Today, 40 years later, I see the need for the building and the rebuilding of infrastructure as an essential public good. I truly believe it is key to keeping the United States a competitive world power.  We have to invest in ourselves.

Much Closer to Home

There is an old farmer’s saying that bears repeating: Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

It’s not London Bridge that is falling down. No, it’s much closer to home than that.

The collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington state, on the eve of the travel-heavy Memorial Day Weekend, was the latest sign of what’s ahead if we do not address our country’s deepening infrastructure deficit.  

The 58-year-old bridge had been listed as “functionally obsolete” in the 2012 National Bridge Inventory, meaning that it was no longer “functionally adequate for its task.”

In its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that one-quarter of the 607,380 bridges nationwide were functionally obsolete or structurally deficient in 2012. It means it’s just a matter of time before another bridge comes falling down.

In its report card, the Society of Civil Engineers delivered grades of C+ for the nation’s bridges and D for its roads, and estimated that $846 billion will be needed to bring surface transportation up to a B grade by 2020.

This should not be a big surprise to anyone. Shelves of legislative reports and independent studies have confirmed that the highway infrastructure gap is becoming more serious by the year, and that state and federal gas tax revenues have not been able to keep up with the need to operate, maintain, repair and rebuild our roads.

Failure is Not an Option

Well, let me restate that, failure should not be an option. Just two days before the Skagit River collapse, Tony Puntin, the Society of Civil Engineers’ president-elect nominee, calculated the costs that will incur the U.S. by 2020 if we do not act and close the infrastructure gap.

These are jaw-dropping numbers, folks:  $3.1 trillion in gross domestic product; $1.1 trillion in trade; $3,100 per year in personal disposable income per household due to rolling blackouts, lost travel time and higher vehicle maintenance costs; and 3.5 million jobs.

Highway congestion costs American commuters $121 billion in lost time and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel in 2011, according to a recent study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. That translates to $818 per U.S. commuter. Of that total, about $27 billion worth was wasted time and diesel fuel from trucks moving goods on the system.

The truth is that congested, aging, or inadequate infrastructure represents a major barrier to growth.

President Obama has called for spending $50 billion to pay for bridge and road construction, as well as setting up a national infrastructure bank. It’s an idea that’s gained little traction so far in Congress.

Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a supporter of a national infrastructure bank, wants Congress to hold a hearing on bridge safety.

“At a time where our economy is still recovering and the unemployment rate in the communities that I represent is higher than the national average, infrastructure investment means much needed, good paying construction jobs,” she said in a prepared statement last month before the bridge collapse. 

I think the Congresswoman is right. Not only do we need to address real problems of deteriorating infrastructure, but we can put people back to work in the process. In short, we need to be serious about job creation and building the country back up. We can do this. We have done this before.

A Closer Look at Unemployment

The economy appears to be improving somewhat as the unemployment rate has fallen to a four-year low of 7.5 percent, down from 10 percent in October 2009.

But keep in mind that much of the decrease is because many people have given up looking for work. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively searching for a job.

There are about 6.7 million people have stopped looking for work since late 2007, says Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute. These are not people who are collecting unemployment insurance. Rather, they have — at least, temporarily— exited the workforce. In March, the jobs report showed that 496,000 had essentially dropped out.

In addition to the discouraged who have quit looking, there still are nearly 8 million people in the U.S. who want a better job (the underemployed), while more than 11.5 million remain unemployed.

We can put millions back to work only if we act. The US Department of Transportation estimates that each $1 billion of transportation investment creates and supports over 47,000 jobs.

Out with the Old and in with the New

The problem is the old model of relying on some combination of tax increases, additional debt, and help from Washington has fallen victim to fiscal and political challenges. We are living in the days of austerity and sequestration, so any plan to increase infrastructure spending immediately becomes a political football.

As a result of these political issues, spending on infrastructure as a percentage of GDP has continued to drop since 2008. For their part, voters are dubious about funding infrastructure spending through tax hikes. That is the simple reality.

“Europe currently invests 5 percent of GDP on transportation infrastructure, while China is investing 9 percent. In the U.S., we’re stuck at 2.4 percent and begrudging every dollar. It won’t be long before the economic consequences from this investment gap start piling up,” wrote Jonathan Tisch, co-chairman of Loews Corp.

Borrowing from Silicon Valley, one idea is the civic crowdfunding.  The basic premise is simple: using sites that look much like Kickstarter, individual investors would pool their money together to build important new infrastructure projects, and in return, would receive some kind of perks in recognition for their civic virtue.

Tisch proposes public-private partnerships as an answer. He cites a study indicating $250 billion in private capital is available for infrastructure investments and that 50 pension funds with $38 billion in available funds have expressed interest in investing in infrastructure. That is a fraction of the estimated $3.6 trillion required to fix America’s massive infrastructure, but it is a start.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if we had a president who actually pushed hard for change instead of just talking about change. It would be most helpful if we had a Congress that could deliver a bipartisan infrastructure investment bill, in which ideology would take a back seat to pragmatic solutions.

However this gets done, either old model, new model or a combination of the two, we must lean forward to replace the smell of decay with the smell of construction. The nation’s surface transportation systems, wastewater treatment facilities, waterways, and airports are all in need of repair and updates.

The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission concluded in 2009: “We need to invest at least $225 billion annually from all sources for the next 50 years to upgrade our existing system to a state of good repair and create a more advanced surface transportation system to sustain and ensure strong economic growth for our families. We are spending less than 40 percent of this amount today.”

When it comes to infrastructure, it’s no longer a case of we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. That bridge might not be there.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm in Plano, Texas —http://www.barberadvisors.com He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com

If you work for a company seeking site selection consulting or an economic development organization in need of counsel, ask for our separate brochures (pdfs) outlining how we can help. All requests for information will be considered confidential.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dean Barber and Barberbiz with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprises Galore at the Edge of Nowhere

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2013 at 7:23 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In the Lone Star State where I live, there is no shortage of “braggin’ rights” about the valor, vision, pride, and perseverance of Texans. To be sure, the mystique of Texas is promulgated with a certain amount of swagger. It’s pretty much a cottage industry here.

Baseball pitching legend Jay Hannah “Dizzy” Dean was not a Texan but he should have been. He was fond of saying, “It ain’t braggin’ if ya can back it up.”

South Dakota, where I have been this past week, is a curious place in that in many ways, it really can back it up, but where there is scant tradition of bragging. I theorize that this is due to the fact that most of these people come from German/Scandinavian/Lutheran stock. They place much value on work, and will celebrate and suffer quietly.

There is strength and humbleness that resides here, even if most people believe they have it better than other parts of the country. You just don’t crow about it. You put your hands on the plow, do the best you can, and save your money. Providence protects.

Apparently so. The Great Recession was little more than a blip in South Dakota, where the unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in March compared to the national rate of 7.6 percent.

Meet Dennis

Now it’s not every day that you actually get served by a governor. I’m talking about being literally served.  I was among a group of site selection consultants who ate lunch with Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who walked around the table handing out plates, stopping and talking to every person with an outstretched hand.

There is something different about this man, a modesty that I found compelling. He seemed  not smitten by power, almost normal. I like that. I like that a lot.

His background may provide some clues as to his manner. Daugaard was raised on a family farm near Garretson, South Dakota by his mother and father who were both deaf.  Sign language was the main method of communication at home.  Like many in the area, his family stock was from immigrants from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. He went to a one-room country school.

After attending the University of South Dakota, Daugaard would periodically hop a friend’s egg truck bound for Chicago to attend law school.  While there in the big city, the future governor drove bus to pay for his schooling.

Last fall, South Dakota recently made the cover of Barron’s, the Dow Jones financial weekly, as the best-run state in the nation. The state earned the top spot due to its low debt by keeping spending in check and responsible pension funding. Most governors would puff up and take full credit. Not Daugaard.

“This is great news and a reflection on governors and legislatures, long before me, who understood the importance of debt avoidance, sound financial decisions, and making only commitments that can be kept,” he said.

Not More Taxes, More Taxpayers

While he is a true believer that South Dakota does offer a superior business environment with low taxes, greater productivity and a reasonable regulatory climate, Gov. Daugaard was hesitant to be boastful about it while visiting with companies in California.

“I felt somewhat guilty pointing out the differences,” he told the consultants.

Keep in mind that South Dakota has no corporate income tax, no personal income tax, no personal property tax, no business inventory tax, no inheritance tax. The overriding philosophy: Not more taxes, but more taxpayers. Business has taken notice and people are migrating to this right-to-work state.

Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city with a population of about 156,000 and an MSA of 232,000, picks up about 2,500 new residents annually and has historically driven most of the state’s population growth.

One of the recent transplants was Jason Engle, the CEO of Legacy Electronics Corporation. He moved his company from San Clemente, Calif., to Sioux Falls in 2011 so as to reduce costs and be able to compete with Asian companies that also made high-density memory modules and printed circuit boards.

He said his company has realized a cost savings of about 30 percent by making the move to South Dakota.  Soon after the company began operations in Sioux Falls, the governor came calling.

“He made a point to specifically introduce himself to every employee. He would stop, shake their hand, look them in the eye, and ask questions of each one of them.”

Later one of the Legacy employees received a two-page handwritten letter on governor’s office stationery. It was signed “Dennis.”

We Get Sh-t Done

On the city website, he is referred to as “Mayor Mike.” With a background in marketing, Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether is none too shy about calling attention to his city.

“We should make the top two or three with every project you have,” he unabashedly told the assembled site selection consultants.

My experience is that a company will often have pretty good ideas on where it needs to be, as was exemplified by an email that I received from a CEO on Friday. My job, of course, is to refine those ideas and then find the best place, based on a whole lot of tailored criteria, where the risks are minimized and the chances for success are optimized.

I’m sorry to report to Hizzoner that Sioux Falls will not always make the finalist list. There are certain practicalities specific to a project that will simply prevent that from happening. I know it’s hard to imagine, Mr. Mayor, but sometimes your city will not be the best fit.

But I do believe the mayor, truly I do, when he passionately states that red tape doesn’t stand much of a chance in his city, with expedited permitting guaranteed. “We get shit done,” he said.

I only wish there were more like him.

Said Matt Healy, operations manager with Glanbia Nutritionals, now building a cereal ingredient processing plant in Sioux Falls: “The city and the state have been remarkably supportive. They have been exactly who they said they were.”

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

As a site selection consultant, I tend to remember statements like that by Healy. Often it is not what you say about yourself that resonates with me, but what others say about you. I will take all with a certain grain of salt, knowing full well that there are underlying truths and half-truths about every place under the sun. My job is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Probably what surprised me more than anything about Sioux Falls was the size and scope of the financial services and health care/medical research industries.

Citibank set the stage in 1981 for bigger things to come when it moved its credit card operations center to Sioux Falls prompted by a change in state law. Fast forward to today and the state now ranks No. 1 in the country in total bank assets valued at $2.5 trillion. Yes, it’s true, about 18 percent of the country’s total bank assets reside in South Dakota.

Now who would have thunk?

Jerry Nachtigal, senior vice president of public affairs for Citibank, said the bank’s workforce in South Dakota, which numbers about 3,000, is 15 percent more productive in comparison to the bank’s other operations around the country.

Engle, the CEO at Legacy, noticed that as well.

“People who come to work in South Dakota genuinely want to work. They enjoy working and they give it their all. And that is a breath of fresh air from an employer’s standpoint,” he said.

Health care was also a huge surprise. There are two dominant players, both engaged in medical research the likes of which I have never seen in a community without a major research university.

Sanford Research, part of Sanford Health, the largest rural, not-for-profit health organization in the United States with a presence in 111 communities, eight states and three countries, is housed in state-of-the-art facilities at the Sanford Center.

I was simply wowed by what I saw in this 300,000-square-foot building, which formerly housed Hutchinson Technology, a computer parts maker that shut down in 2009. Today, much of the focus is toward finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes and breast cancer. Space does not permit me to tell you about a Sanford sports complex now being built, but it will be key component to Sioux Fall’s quality of life picture.

I was equally impressed with the Avera Cancer Institute, which was designed with the input of patients in mind and opened in 2010. This was a feel-good place, where hope was purposely brought into play. If I lived in Sioux Falls, I think I would come here just to eat lunch and be inspired. This place touched me in a way that I cannot fully explain.

Avera is the health ministry of the Benedictine and Presentation Sisters, 300 locations in eastern South Dakota and surrounding states. They are good folks doing incredible work.

Living on the Fringe

Slater Barr, president of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, tells the story of a reporter with The Economist who proclaimed that Sioux Falls was “in the middle of nowhere.”

To prove to the contrary, Slater proceeded to show the reporter a population density map of the United States. That elicited a modified response from the reporter who said that Sioux Falls was on the “edge of nowhere.”

But being a “fringe city” on the edge of greater population density does have it benefits, exemplified by growth that has taken place. To be sure, the site selectors wondered aloud if the labor market was too tight to support a large project.

My take on the people of South Dakota may be somewhat in error. They may not be that humble crew after all. While at the airport waiting for my return flight home, I walked into a gift shop and spied a hunter’s ball cap. It was florescent orange with a camouflaged brim. Embossed on the crown were the words “South Dakota,” below which was a drawing of pheasant in flight.

And then the most memorable proclamation: “Big Cock Country.”

I bought that cap and took it home to Texas, where I hope to muster up the courage to wear it one day. Well, maybe not.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm in Plano, Texas —http://www.barberadvisors.com He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com

If you work for a company seeking site selection consulting or an economic development organization in need of counsel, ask for our separate brochures (pdfs) outlining how we can help. All requests for information will be considered confidential.

© Unauthorized use of this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dean Barber and Barberbiz with specific direction to the original content.