Friday, April 29, 2011

Community Mission Statements

Before you start, perhaps you should write a mission statement for your community. You could call it a  Statement of Purpose or "What Farmington Means" statement.

Opinion: most corporate mission statements are poorly written. They tend to be descriptions of all the organization's purpose's, and try to cover all information possible. It should be a tool, but some are like a wrench that weighs as much as an automobile. It is too heavy and unwieldy, so no one ever uses it for anything. It hangs on a plaque in the lobby, read by visitors only if they are asked to wait for a long time.

The mission statement should not, on the other hand, be a marketing slogan. Here are some ideas that I like:

"Farmington is a place where people like to live, where businesses are encouraged to thrive, and where nature is encouraged."

"Farmington is the best place on earth because people support the community and the community supports people. We help each other."

"Pine Hill City strives to improve quality of life for residents and to offer meaningful diversions for visitors, and seeks to maintain safety for all."

Advice: keep it simple.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Artist Guilds

We're trying to build an artist co-op in our town. They will together build a brand.

The idea, structurally, makes sense.  They want to do the art, and let someone else take care of "back-office" functions. They would share the cost and effort needed for marketing.

I have some concerns. Artists can be erratic. They all have different opinions of what "art" means, as they should. But brands need consistency and unity. Conflicting types of art would cause confusion in the minds of consumers.

The idea of creating brands and guilds and co-ops is sound. Just remember, the execution is complicated.

I think we can do it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Purposeful Tourism

(This is a repeat,as yesterday's post was lost due to a glitch)

Many small towns, seeking to reinvigorate local economic conditions, will create initiatives to increase tourism. They'll promote sites and amenities. I recommend taking that a step further.

A few months ago, I ranked people in the community according to their commitment to the community.

  - Passer-through (person who stops and maybe buys fuel)
  - Tourist (spends a week or a few months)
  - Citizen (born and lives in the area)
  - Citizen who has traveled widely (understands the hometown better than the homebody) 

A tourist is an outsider. But why not engage with the tourists, rather than merely accepting their money? Participative Tourism can add to your region's store of learning and energy.

Just a few ideas to get you started in thinking of an idea of your own:

 - living history exhibit programs
 - folk art training (much more engaging than mere folk
    art viewing)
          - how about classes on blacksmithing, rope making,
             wool spinning, etc.? These are suddenly very hip.

 - Outdoor recreation that focuses on groups

Building something significant--even reaching critical mass--takes a long, long, long time. So starting soon is a good idea.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Most communities have what are called "CAVEs," or Citizens Against Virtually Everything. These intractable folk oppose any initiative, even those in their own best interest.

Let's try to learn about them.

I hear progressive people (the opposite of CAVEs) refer to them as Republicans. That is actually not accurate. The CAVEs in my town are generally Democrats. That is important because being inaccurate is not useful. Here are my observations for why someone might be an intentional continual show stopper.

  -  Personality or character issues (this is irrelevant to political
  -  Childhood trauma, which causes mistrustful sentiments
  -  Some might just need to be heard. They want their feelings
     and concerns to be acknowledged.

Trying to change hearts and minds through debate is rarely productive. "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," as Stephen Covey would advise, is a better strategy.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

What we CAN do to improve our community

The interplay of diverse types of people can spark innovation.

Do you want an innovative rural community? Creating more ethnic and religious diversity (etc.) would be ideal. But can we realistically recruit people to a boring town without jobs? Can we force them to join us?

They might choose to move here, after we reach critical mass of progress, but that would mean we had already solved the problem without them. They might come, however, after we prime the pump, using people we already have.

We can make the citizenry as diverse as we can, simply by first focusing on age diversity.

Start now, by convincing at least some youth to stay put and start micro-ventures after graduation, and by encouraging younger professionals to return to town after they have gone into the world and learned a skill.

Building the type of amenities that younger people like will help. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rural Jobs to be Hit as Well

Interested in which jobs will most decline in number during the next several years?  No need to wade through the volumes of figures on the Bureau of Labor Statistics site.

Endangered Jobs

Some of it is good news, some of it is bad news. All of it is something you need to consider.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why we need Nauvoo

The Nauvoo Commuter blog is produced in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the Midwestern U.S.  It behooves us to introduce our town.

Nauvoo was first settled by Mormon refugees, who bought the area from land speculators. They had come with the intent to build a utopian society. The community flourished for several years until economic competition with a jealous neighboring community led to religious persecution. The Mormons decided to leave. At gunpoint.

The city was then settled by European immigrants seeking a better life. A few years later, another utopian society settled the area. The Icarian movement from France developed a communal society here in Nauvoo.

In my line of work, I interact with business leaders, hedge fund managers, political technicians, and market traders around the world, and I hear a lot of discouragement. Nauvoo is an antidote representing idealism, the concept that a community can be formed to bring about some ideal society for which we yearn. That is our message to the world.

I can't see into Nauvoo's future, but of one thing I am sure. The world needs Nauvoo. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Lowest Common Denominator

To build excitement in your market, you need to do something remarkable and original.

Unfortunately, many companies (and especially media companies) struggle to create something original. So they resort to shock value.

Shocking people doesn't build, edify, or in any way make the world a better place. It does get people talking about you for a short time, and the short term has become our sole focus. Most organizations have given up on building long term value.

The market is full of Lindsay Lohans, doing egregious things just for attention. "Our product is lousy, so we'll keep you interested with prurient appeal." It creates a spark of interest that burns out fast, and puts you at the bottom of the rubbish heap even quicker.

Our advice: instead of appealing to the lowest common denominator, shoot for the stars. That will make you unique.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rural-city Disparity

In the city, people have the opportunity to make use of all of their talents.

If my daughter is a sufficient singer, she can participate in the opera. I can hone my persuasion skills by competing for time in front of legislators or before boards. We can get noticed by talent gatekeepers. Most importantly, I am able to rub shoulders with other talented people. We encourage each other and share ideas, creating better ideas through our combined efforts.

And in the city, people see more possibilities, so they raise their aspirations.

In here the country, people might be just as smart, but we have fewer opportunities. We have fewer of everything except open spaces. So people are less likely to excel.

Obviously the lifestyle has many advantages. The air is clean, the nights are quiet, and less energy is wasted by various annoyances.

But in terms of personal development, the lifestyle does have limits. Can we change this? Can we replicate the city advantages while keeping life simple?

The answer is: maybe. We might be able to, but we won't. It takes too long, we don't have the will, and one or two "show stoppers" in a community can scuttle any progress.

But let's keep talking anyway.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why you should eat your own food

Urban farming is becoming increasingly popular. Increasing attention is being paid to community gardens, school-yard gardens, and gardens in window boxes and on roofs.

Will people save huge amounts of money from their grocery budget? Hardly. You only spend (on average) nine percent of your income on food. If you achieve a 10 percent savings on your food budget, you've only saved .9 percent overall. That is not worth the many hours you spend pulling weeds. You can't out compete Mexican or Chilean or Chinese farm laborers.

But it is still very much worth the effort. The food you grow is far more healthy for your body and for your soul. Watching the miracle of life is a spiritual experience. Collecting dirt under your fingernails as you pull weeds is a spiritual experience.

And you will know exactly what is in this food you make yourself. Does your town have a community garden?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dear Small Town in Missouri

Highways going through small towns in the Midwest often feature a "business loop." A highway passes through a small town, but the newly-built highway passes around it. So drivers that would pass by are invited to take the alternate route, through the town.

On route 136 in Missouri, the normal route passed through a town, but the "alternate route" around the town was the main route. Drivers were invited to bypass the commerce in town.

Don't buy fuel here!  Stop looking at the Subway sandwich shop, threatening to purchase food. Hey you, don't you dare patronize our book store or gift shop. Those books and gifts are for us!

I know that eliminating truck traffic is the right thing in order to promote lifestyle. And lifestyle is important. But if you don't sell anything, you won't have any lifestyle left to promote. 

Dear Nebraska

Dear Nebraska,

Warren Buffett won't live forever, so you might consider re-branding your state.

The entrance to the state in Interstate 15 indicates you are the home of Arbor Day. But we don't observe more trees than in Iowa or Missouri (you certainly have more than Wyoming, but Wyoming has meticulously landscaped the entire state east of the Tetons to resemble the moon's surface. The effect is chilling but remarkable, and few states have the resources to replicate such a grand scheme.)

Do you have other trees we cannot see from the interstate? Why don't we know about them? You cannot compete with naturally forested regions in tree numbers, but you CAN be the state that plants more.  ...or claims to plant more.

Part of your job is to tell us you are special.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Everyone has fears. Some of them are reasonable, like fear of undertow at the beach, fear of making the toilet overflow when you visit a friend's home, or fear of your town being "Walmartified."

Some are unreasonable, like fear of zombies, fear of having your eyes pecked out by possessed birds, or the unnatural fear of clowns.

Some are reasonable, but still crippling, such as the fear of disappointing people. I know a few people who need to be a little more conscientious about disappointing people. But for most of us, it is debilitating. It is a fear we need to overcome.

We worry about failing as spouses, parents, neighbors. This is particularly dangerous for entrepreneurs. If you fear failing investors, partners, or your family, you probably will not be able to succeed. So beat it. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Government spending, responsibly

Yesterday, the Nauvoo Commuter drove across the North American continent to attend a funeral in the state of Utah, out in the Great Basin. Of course assisting with the funeral arrangements is the top priority, but I have had time to ponder the environment.

Utah ranks #1, as the best place to do business. They are the economic leader, according to Forbes Magazine. Last year, the state LOWERED corporate tax, while Illinois governor Pat Quinn is increasing corporate tax. Utah is "knocking the cover off the ball" while Illinois is languishing.

Cutting spending to the point of anemia is not necessarily a good idea, but wouldn't you rather be ranked #1, with a growing economy, than to be ranked #37?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cultural Values

This week I was reading my copy of Mother Earth News and was intrigued by an article called "Great Places You've (Maybe) Never Heard Of." One of the six places jumped out at me: Floyd, Virginia because I had just visited Virginia a few days before.

The town, with a population of 432, has become a preserver of American folk music. Why not become a propagator of Rap or string quartets or Euro-electronica?

American folk has influenced all the music we now export around the world, and deserves to be preserved. But Floyd's choice wasn't random or based on the mayor's personal taste. Floyd lies in the heart of the region where mountain music started. It is what they are good at doing. They've cultivated themselves as a center, and now people gather at the Floyd Country Store on Friday nights for the music jamboree.

What are some folk culture traditions unique to your region? Are you preserving them? Can you create a business that does this?

If your business is in tourism or entertainment, then stick with something authentic to the area. Tourists and potential high-value residents love authenticity.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Becoming a Creativity Magnet

Richard Florida wants you to promote lifestyle options in order to attract creative people. Not just symphonies and operas, but trendy restaurants and bars featuring punk rock might be good. We want edgy people, the truly creative, to bring their crazy innovative ways to our city. Some cities have successfully done this. Others have attempted and failed. But the concept is sound.

You should try this. You can build some eateries featuring "California cuisine"in the cornfields and coerce someone into selling smoothies next to the grain silos on the edge of town. Maybe this will spark something, and it will bring in some creative types, who will bring in more "lifestyle" and it will build on itself, and soon your little town will be as hip as Austin, Texas.

But can you, out on the edge of the prairie, really do this?  It might actually work, given 150 years or so. But these things take time, especially when you are starting on such a small scale. We'll need to prime the pump in a quicker way.

So how can you do that?  Let's keep talking.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Futures and Options

Aldi is my favorite store. The Batavia, Illinois subsidiary of German grocery chain Aldi Sud sells cheap food. Really cheap. Like, a fraction of Walmart.

I don't like shopping at Aldi simply because of cost or because I like shoddy quality. I like Aldi because they offer so few choices. I can walk in, by the groceries I need, and get out quickly. 

We have been taught that having more options will make us happier. But it actually makes us less happy. 

When we have too many choices, we fret each decision. Of all these many choices, which options will I NOT choose? Sociology professor Barry Schwartz, who calls it the "Paradox of Choice," is one of the the voices verbalizing this principle. 

The marketing lesson from this is clear: don't overwhelm your customers with too many options. The more options offered, the likelihood a choice will be made becomes less. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why I write this blog

The cultural divide between rural and metropolitan continues to widen. City people are so enlightened, they would never consider uttering racial slurs. But slamming country folk is still very acceptable. That is wrong.

I have lived half of my adult life in the world's largest city. I now live in a town with population of about 1,000. I love both places. They are both charming. Both have smart people.

But the idea that "progressive" is smart and "traditional" is backward is a backward philosophy. I strongly disagree with the belief that a place failing to host the so-called SOB (symphony/opera/ballet) makes the residents lesser people. The idea is insidious. And I aim to disprove it.

Please stay tuned.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bad news, good news

Bad news: seems as though quantitative easing has worked its magic. Inflation is here. Third World countries are in commotion, and families in the U.S. are strapped.

Good news: in commodity price increases are helping rural America. The majority of the world's grain is grown in the Midwest and Great Plains regions. And they cost more. So farmers are earning more, they are hiring more, they are spending in town more. Farm land prices are increasing.

A lot of that money is being redistributed to urban municipalities, so our schools and roads are not improving. But farmers are still doing well.

The good news has not yet improved life attitudes among rural dwellers. But a lag time usually exists between statistical improvement and the trickle down to people's lives.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Each community is composed of various clans.

They might be people connected by blood (why I always say "don't talk badly of anyone in your town, because you might unknowingly be talking to their cousin.") They might be unrelated people combined into a special-interest group. They might be allied by their mutual disdain for a certain institution, person, or project.

Clans might be permanent, they might be temporary. Some are obvious, some are clandestine. All are joined by some need:

   - need for alliance to accomplish a task or rally to a cause
   - need for companionship
   - need for opportunity to exert leadership or just to be heard
   - opportunity to socialize
   - loyalty to family

Understanding all of these connections are very important, you want to see progress. (Hint: you probably understand them less than you do.)