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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

HDR Letter to the Editor: 'Time to come together on economic development'

Jerry Willard was my Economic and Government teacher when I was in 9th grade (1980-81) at Newton-Conover Junior High School. A great mentor and role model to many in this community through the years.


Hickory Daily Record Letter to the Editor: ‘Time to come together on economic development’ - (August 16. 2017)
Some years ago, I wrote a letter to the community through this forum to help us remember a founding principle of Catawba County’s birth and economic development.

I highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit of our founders who found conditions, resources, and the strong work ethic which made our region grow and prosper.

While I have seen and heard much in my time as an educator (now teaching in year 47) about economic development, I have yet to see a real plan that taps into that entrepreneurial spirit that made this area a great place to live.

As a component of a new plan, I advocate marketing to the nation and the world, “Young folks with great ideas for start-ups, we have buildings and plans to grow new businesses, provide you incentives, and a commitment to foster the Catawba Valley entrepreneurial spirit. Come on in.”

I call on leaders to make sure all stake holders have been included in the development and implementation of plans, and that all plans, especially those which have promised results from bond funding can be assessed for effectiveness?

I feel we spend way too much time and money putting lipstick on pigs to attract the “big companies” rather than truly developing economic foundations.

It’s time to focus on growing the culture and environment that made this a great place to live in the first place. It takes work, transparency, and a great plan to enhance a culture.

We have a vibrant university in town, we have solid and well-focused public schools, we have growing and niche based private and parochial schools. We have a great place to live; but we don’t have a sound, researched-based economic development plan.

This is not a factor of not caring. We care, and our leaders care. I feel we just don’t have the knowledge, research, and models to make us more aware and more successful.

You know, Greenville, S.C. didn’t just happen. They had a highly sophisticated and transparent plan based on consensus goals with metrics for measuring success.

If this county and region has financial resources to support economic growth, it’s time to make sure those resources are part of a sound plan. A house built on lipstick and sand might make us feel pretty and that we are at the beach, but we know the results of such foundations; the Good Book tells us the same thing.

It’s time to come together on economic development with a little Christ-like humility on a plan that is researched-based, and that works for all of our citizens.

It’s time for our citizens to ask some hard questions about economic development.

Jerry Willard


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Letter to the Editor: We've been selling. People aren't buying.

Below is my Letter to the Editor that was in Tuesday's (August 1, 2017) Hickory Daily Record - My mother encapsulated the thought about Hickory's 2017 Mayoral election when she told me, 'I read all of those press releases. It's like the same person wrote them.' I'm not here to cast aspersions about this issue. You can go read articles and threads from this website. It is all about the true, real Economic Development plan that this community has been in desperate need of for a long, long time.

At tonight's City Council meeting City Manager Warren Wood talked about the creation of a plan for Long Term Economic Development. Essentially, there is going to be a new chain of command and accountability. God, I hope so, but this is about the people we elect more than the paid professionals. I'm on board with Warren, because I think he is open-minded about possibilities. 

For far too long, we've put the cart before the horse. Somebody in a position of authority would get a wild hair up their (#youknowwhere) and decide to run with it. That's the absolutely 100% wrong way to do things. Democracy can be uncomfortable, but when you get people of diverse circumstances to come together and hash out issues, then you come up with the best ideas, you get everyone to buy-in and pull in the same direction. It makes for a happier community even when circumstances are less than ideal. When you dictate policy through a top-down authoritative chain of command, then people feel #miserable.

Like Warren pointed out tonight, we have some real opportunities and possibilities for Economic Development. This will not happen unless the elected leadership and the people who vote for them understand that we can't afford to continue with the S.O.S.O. (Same Ole Same Ole)... and folks we are still on the path of the same ole same ole, no matter what they say.

Like I've said, I don't pretend to have all the answers. I don't think any one person does. I am willing to listen and I hope others will afford an open mind. If anyone wants to send me an e-mail about what they think would be a good idea, then please do so -- 

I had another good friend pass away this week. Richard Garrison, a news reporter with WMNC in Morganton passed away due to complications from Diabetes. Richard would sit beside me at Council meetings and he was one of the people I spent hours speaking with. I will miss him greatly. He actually worked with my grandmother at WIRC radio back in the 1980s. She ran the swap shop at that time and it was one of Richard's first jobs in radio. We had a special bond because of that. Richard loved politics and he knew all kinds of stuff and he loved informing me about happenings around the area, the State, and basically everywhere. I called him Rickee, he'd laugh cause no one else called him that. Peace Be With You Rickee. You are now immortal.

Below is my letter.


Election season is upon us and in Hickory we see four contenders for Mayor. We've read press releases in this paper about why they are running, those reasons sound as if the same person wrote the summaries. They all tell us about job creation, attracting population, and building out infrastructure.

These candidates tell us that our economic problems have been related to issues with "Branding", our "Message", Marketing and "Selling" our community. Personally. I don't think our issues relate to all of that as much as what is the Substance of our message.

This community deserves specifics about each candidate's "Economic Development Plans" and their "Vision" moving forward. What are the objectives of their plan? How would they strategically implement it? Will they pledge to transparency and accountability measures? How will they work towards community buy-in? What will they define as success?

I believe that the candidate that can articulate the above is the person who could help bring businesses here.

Honestly, we don't have a sales problem in our community. Look at the decision makers in our community. They are all salespeople. They sell Insurance, Financial Services, Real Estate, Furniture, Hotel Rooms, etc. I'm not here to dismiss the capabilities of a good salesperson, but maybe we need to take a look at the other side of the Economic Equation.

In economics, the other side of the sales equation is demand. We live in a growing State. Since 2000, Charlotte's population has grown by more than 50%, Raleigh up 65%,  Asheville up 30%, Wilmington up 55%.

In that time, Hickory's population is up by 8% and virtually nothing since 2010. For more than a decade, we've been working on branding, messages, and marketing. We've been spending a lot of public money on such initiatives. We've been selling. People aren't buying.

I understand that people want a positive message, but I think we really need a serious message. We don't need a "Me Too" message. We need a Mayor who understands the demand side of the equation. What do people and businesses want?

Catch Phrases and Buzzwords might make for comfort, but it isn't going to bring in big business or the masses. The future Mayor will have a choice to make. Is he going to go along for the ride or is he going to drive. I'm interested to find out.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

HDR Letter to the Editor Letter to the Editor - Dr. Ralph Griffith has legitimate concerns

Below is my Letter to the Editor that was in Sunday's (July 9, 2017) Hickory Daily Record - They entitled the article "City needs to consider recent bond projects debate"... I wrote the letter because of some of the false premises that I read related to Dr. Griffith's resignation from the Bond Commission. The Bond vote passed and I am not going to belabor a three year old issue, but I believe that there is still room for discussion about the "Economic Development Plan" side of the story. We still need to look at it's objectives, the strategic implementation, the need for constant (re)evaluation of the plan, transparency, accountability measures, community buy-in, and the pay off - what will we define as success?.

I don't pretend to have all the answers and I don't think any one person does. I also don't think people locked within a Daytight Compartment, that becomes an echo chamber, can come up with a plan that will be truly successful. Anyone can say something is successful, but will it be organically successful? Will it feel successful to most of the people of Hickory?

What you need is to bring people from all backgrounds, cultural and economic, together where the thought is that no ideas are considered bad and/or looked down upon. Everyone has something to contribute in a real community. You shouldn't determine outcomes before you begin strategic processes. You shouldn't rig processes. You should use an open-minded, open-ended discussion of ideas to move forward with a strategic process that develops a plan through consensus, not dictates, that genuinely benefits the community (the entity) as a whole.


10 years ago, I was permitted to write a guest column, in this newspaper, about my view of the economic plight of this community. At that time, some of my statements were construed as a little less than congenial. Last week, I read how Professor Ralph Griffith, had resigned from the Bond Commission, because he did not agree with its progress and direction. It seems that Dr. Griffith is now being misconstrued as a rabble-rouser, because he isn't "All-In" on the message of the power structure that controls the City of Hickory.

Over this past week, I have listened and spoken with Dr. Griffith. I did not know him before, but I will tell you that he isn't a trouble maker. He has actually studied and taught Entrepreneurship and Economics and his goal is to help people in this community, where he lives and works. Personally, I have a degree in Finance from UNC-Wilmington and I have 30+ years of working experience in one of the few growing sectors of business in this community. I understand where he is coming from. We should look at the real, big picture.

Years ago, I was at the forefront of telling this community about its losses, including the loss of younger people. Initially, I was ignored, now much of what I spoke of has become commonly accepted.

What's the deal? I truly believe in order for our community to move forward towards viable economic growth, citizens need to demand a strategic plan to accompany the Bond Projects. This should have been in place prior to the referendum, instead of the "If you build it, they will come" trek that we have been taken down. City leaders talk about Greenville, South Carolina as a model to follow. First, Greenville got BMW, which led to all of their community development efforts. Greenville then developed a solid plan that is transparent and has accountability measures. That is what this community needs.

A narrative has been created that the "Bond Projects" are a done deal. The Bond Ordinance, as voted upon, specifically outlines "Other Projects." As much as some people may not like it, the ordinance allows for dialog on "Other Projects." Before we dive completely into the deep end, we may want to rethink our objectives in the $40 million bond issuance that this community is going to be on the hook for.

James Thomas Shell

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Peace of Mind Devotion

I was placed in charge of delivering a devotion to my Church Council last Sunday and here it is. I know I haven't been writing. Just haven't felt the need, had the energy, or the calling. I would like to say that I am sorry about Mayor Wright. Prayers to him and especially his family. I hate that anyone loses their Peace of Mind to that extent. It's certainly been a tough couple of years. Peace and Blessings as we all move forward together through life.

Peace of Mind Devotion

“So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17 (NKJV)

I have a hard time with my career. I love cooking, but I don't really like doing it to earn bucks, because I don't get to cook what I want. I'm a Hessian. I'm a hired gun. My skills aren't used to cook for connoisseurs of fine food. I'm cooking for eaters and eaters don't often care about Escoffier or the five Mother Sauces or cooking techniques or the timing involved in getting food just right. Dey Hongry and they want it right now.

As a chef, I have to be both a scientist and an artist. Heck, some people even expect me to be their nutritionist. I have to be creative, yet structured. I take my job seriously, because it is my career, but sometimes I just want to let go. It can be very frustrating and these days, because of current economic conditions it isn't very rewarding and me having a background in Finance, not having financial success equates to not being successful.

I don't sleep well, because I worry about how I might have messed up that night, said something bad or that might be misconstrued in the Heat of the Moment, performed below my personal expectations, which in my mind can be conjured up to be perfection, which we all know is impossible, but isn't that what is sold to us by our society -- "Mission Perfection" which is "Mission Impossible".

I am talking about stress. I worry, because I'm not sleeping and between Friday at 3pm to Sunday at 10pm, I'm going to be working 29 of those 56 hours. And I've got to keep chugging along, because I have to keep paying my bills and meeting my obligations. So I worry past tense, present tense, and future tense.

Philippians 4:6 says “ Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” I try not to worry, but it creeps in. It's just part of my nature. But, I do pray and I do want and need God. That is why I'm here. I probably wouldn't be here, if I didn't have those worries. I want to be a good person.

Worry is part of our human nature. It is the consequence of our imperfect world brought about by ourselves and our surroundings dating back to original sin. We are the product of all of that and we carry it forward.

Our imperfect human nature always displays what it is to be separated from God. That divide usually appears in the emotions of fear and anxiety.

As a child of God, we are called to be faithful and devoted to God, not fearful and anxious towards ourselves. Personally, I have always believed that everything happens for a reason, not necessarily because of some form of predestination, but because of the lessons of life we all must learn and go through to create the synergies that make the whole of this world greater than the sum of its parts.

You remember Schleprock from the Flintstones. He always walked around with a cloud over his head. At times, I've been guilty of that. What if we all walk around like Schleprock, with clouds over our heads. We all face challenges. That is the reality of this world. We have a choice. God gives us that choice. The world isn't perfect. I do not say that we can make everyone positive, but the world isn't going to be perfectly negative either.

You might not understand this, but we are all farmers in this world. We plant seeds (ideas, actions, and mindsets). Our ideas, actions, and mindsets germinate, grow, and bear fruit. Does a plant bear one fruit? Think about that tree and all of the fruit it bears.

We can take our personal lessons, as individuals, and have wowsy, wowsy, woo-woo negative attitudes and if we affect change in that manner, then we are going to grow a dark world filled with exponential negativity or we can sow our seeds as problem solvers and have a can do spirit and reap a harvest of exponential positivity.

Where do our fears and anxieties come from? Generally they come from the unknown. In our mind, we create our own monsters. We conjure up those monsters from uncertainty and unknowns. Left to our own devices, we can turn an ant into a dragon.

How do we turn away from that? How do we tame that beast that our mind can become? Reach for certainty. Reach for the known. We know that God loves us. How many times are we told this in the Bible. Trust in God and know that he loves you. Think about God, when you are lonely in this world and think it is you versus the world. Your Faith can push back your anxiety and your fear. Fear will always be there, but you need to learn how to tame it -- to control it.

God has a plan for us. We can't see the future and we don't know what our harvest will bring, but I do believe we understand God's plan.

Remember Philippians 4 verse 6
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Philippians 4: 7-10 goes on to tell us
7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Remember that God will always be with us!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Warren Wood will be new Hickory City Manager

Warren Wood, former Hickory Assistant City Manager, will assume the position of Hickory City Manager on April 10, 2017. Warren, as many of you know is a Hickory Native. He has been the City Manager of Waxhaw, NC for the past couple of years after leaving the Assistant City Manager position he had held in Hickory.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On behalf of Billy Sudderth - Hickory City Council - December 6, 2016

I stand here again tonight with a heavy heart over the loss of a friend and an associate. Billy Sudderth was a great man who went above and beyond the call of duty seeking justice and equality for people who have many times been forgotten and not accounted for in this community.

I came to meet Billy during the issue with the pools that were demolished by Hickory Incorporated back in 2011. I would like to thank this very body for helping bring together the circumstances that created the Citizens for Equity in Government movement during that time. If not for those circumstances, I wouldn't have gotten to know Billy Sudderth, Walter Witherspoon, Jesse McArthur and other gentlemen of Color and their perspective, the way that I was allowed to. I had associations with Larry Pope prior to that time, but these circumstances took our relationship to a whole new level.

When President-Elect Donald Trump has spoken about rebuilding the inner cities of our nation, which let's be honest, the poor state of inner cities has mostly effected minorities, he has stated that these minorities should give the populist movement a chance, because what has been going on is not working.

Eight men met at Starbuck's in Viewmont just to talk and come to an understanding about what we had seen. The gentlemen I mentioned above along with Joe Brannock, Harry Hipps, Cliff Moone, and myself were the precursor to what Mr. Trump espoused. 'What did we have to lose?'

This body didn't take us seriously at the time, but we all know that you learned to take us seriously.

But I'll get to Billy. Billy was the founder of the Citizens for Equity in Government. He's no longer with us and y'all haven't heard from the CEG in a while, but please do not mistake this and think that the CEG movement is no longer with us. It is very much alive in this room tonight. Billy and Larry are in this room with us tonight.

I was at Billy's funeral last week. It was another uplifting celebration of another man who lived a life for others. It was spoken from the Bible, Romans chapter 12, which is a Book about Man versus Government in relation to God:

The chapter is about Love in Action

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


I don't think anyone in this room can say that Billy didn't show this body respect. Larry Pope and Billy Sudderth had different methods in dealing with the government here in Hickory. Larry would many times be openly militant and bristle with hostility standing at this podium. Billy was soft spoken, mild mannered, courteous, conciliatory, and overly respectful to this body.

Larry was told that it's easier to attract Bees with honey than vinegar and that was Billy's exact approach -- 'the attitude of gratitude' and both were summarily dismissed by this community.

The other day, Billy's pastor talked about fighting the power and doing the right thing. This was in reference to Ridgeview's relationship with y'all. I felt the energy, the room crackled, during this part of the service. The emotion was palpable.

You could feel Billy's spiritual presence in this moment. Billy always seemed to enjoy the struggle. Billy focused on the perpetual battle. I don't think he even cared about winning or losing. Larry Pope wanted to win. He always thought that one day we would win. He told me exactly that. Billy and Larry both thought that government would provide an eventual victory, if it ever came, probably through the court system. Personally, I don't consider the circumstance of a court ruling to ever be a victory.

Personally, I don't enjoy the struggle. Life is too short to struggle. I would openly ask Billy, Why do you expect the very government that is mutually viewed as an opponent to provide you an ultimate victory?

Billy would reply in his cool manner, "HaHa... I know man. I know." You have to go into a battle with an expectation of victory. You have to fight to win.

But, I can never pretend that I went through what gentlemen like Billy and Larry went through and completely understand their perspective.

Billy's pastor the other day said you gotta love yourself before you can love others. What I learned from Billy is that you've gotta love your neighbors before you can love yourself. Billy and Larry took the hit to their personal being and welfare to move the ball forward. They were sincere team players. They were sincere community members. They were leaders. It was never about them. It was always about others.

God has always used imperfect people, imperfect actions, imperfect processes to demonstrate his power. Billy was that person... Larry was that person... I am that person on this night.

Numerically this is an ending year 2+0+1+6 = 9. The end of so many things. Next year is a beginning year 2+0+1+7 =10... 1+0 = 1 ... a new beginning. It is time for a fresh start. It is time for reconciliation.

Billy came before this body over the past couple years seeking your help in building a Multi-Cultural Resource Center in Ridgeview next to the library. Billy looked at this Multi-Cultural Resource Center as a way of our local government reconciling with Ridgeview for what happened with the swimming pools. I don't know where that issue stands, but let's give Billy and this project the respect it deserves. Billy showed you respect, let's have mutual respect.

At some point in time, I hope we can give him a spiritual victory that he didn't get to enjoy when he was physically present.

Feel the Power... Do the right thing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"Mainstream Media" just isn't getting it - New York Times on President Elect Trump

OK, I've taken the year off basically and there have been reasons for that, but I want to weigh in on the subject of Traditional Media that has evolved into Corporate (shill) media and their personal biases against anyone and anything that doesn't toe their line. They don't represent a spectrum of opinion and they have chosen a role of Issue Creationism. Instead of providing information about the relevant current events that effect the public's lives, they are trying to create issues and formulate public opinion based on the issues they create.

I've also been hearing and reading a lot about what the Establishment and Status Quoers define as "Fake News" and "Fake News Sites". This all has evolved because people are seeking alternative sources of information, because the Establishment media has done what I describe above. The Establishment Media has narrowed their focus to the issues that define the Global Corporatists' agenda and seek to delegitimize anything that doesn't have a viewpoint through that prism. Make no mistake, those who push the "Fake News" meme are outing themselves as Global Corporatists. They should be called out on it.

I had the opportunity to listen to an audio from President-Elect Donald Trump's meeting with the New York Times (NYT) today. NYT felt a need to do a play-by-play description of the interview, which is fine, but goes a lot to the heart of the issue of what we saw with the traditional press's reporting of the elections this year.

What we have seen is that the traditional press has blurred the line between what should be editorial content versus the newsworthy actions that have taken place. There is a pride with traditional "old school" media that leaves no room for the reality of evolution and new technology. It is a sword that they are in the process of falling upon.

Mr. Trump believes he was treated unfairly by his hometown newspaper -- and as he states other media outlets. NYT and other media seem to take umbrage with the depiction, feigning innocence, teling the reading/listening world that they were only doing their job. Well, that would be perfectly fine, if they had covered the Hillary Clinton campaign with the same fervent gusto in editorializing Mr. Trump on every issues he brought forward or was brought forward against him in this campaign, instead NYT chose to fill a role as advocate for the Hillary and the Democrats.

Personally editorializing, I have no issue with NYT, or any other media outlet, being an advocate for a candidate, candidates, or issues; but they should be honest and upfront with the utmost transparency about where they stand. NYT, and other media outlets, have made the mistake, it seems, to believe that the news is about them and not the subject they are reporting on. Think about an artist. That is what a journalist is supposed to correlate with -- literature. Think about the portrait they are painting. Think about a fine work of art. In the Mona Lisa, I don't see Da Vinci's face in the picture. Yet, these self-important "journalists" seem to believe that part of their job is to now interject themselves into every subject.

NYT's presentation drips with the irony I describe above. We, the public, are supposed to look up to NYT, because of who they are. Their reporters tell us so in the lead up to the excerpts of this interview. The reporter (Ross Douthat) says that (his personal opinion, but he doesn't say it is his personal opinion - so is he speaking for everyone?) their is a fundamental surrealism about the man, Donald Trump. The reporter says he doesn't have a disrespect for the man, then he goes into Mr. Trump's background as a celebrity and businessman. Then he talks about how this meeting wasn't a formal and traditional meeting of a President and they aren't in awe of him.

Right there, from the get go, shows how biased and disrespectful this whole situation is. What made a Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or Bill Clinton seemingly so awe inspiring? versus Mr. Trump? You see, that is this journalist's opinion, and it shows that the reporter isn't going to give Mr. Trump a fair shake, because he is essentially saying he doesn't respect him.

The reporter, Mr. Douthat states that he expected Mr. Trump to come in and be gracious (to the NYT) in a way he wasn't gracious to other media outlets in a recent meeting. Personally, I have learned, that isn't part of being a journalist. It is about having some sort of respect commodity. You earn respect by producing relevant information that has value. When you produce worthless opinionated tripe, then you aren't going to be respected. You are even entitled to have an opinion, if it is fair, justified, and constructive creating value.

To show the NYT's representative conceit, the reporter goes as far as to say that he expected Mr. Trump to be conciliatory showing deference to what a jewel the NYT is. Why should Mr. Trump be conciliatory. He won the Presidency in spite of all your newspaper did to try to keep that from happening. Your paper should be the ones who show conciliation in some form by at least going back and showing some humility in how wrong you had it about this election on so many accounts.

Mr. Trump even says that the NYT is a jewel. Not to put words in his mouth, but I believe he is speaking to what NYT was and represented, not the current iteration of what I believe are entitled, self-important pseudo-journalists who seem to feel that just because they work for the NYT they have been anointed as experts in the realm of whatever it is that they are reporting on. It doesn't work that way in the real world. In the real world you earn your position by creating value. Journalists create value by having credibility. Credibility comes from getting "it" (the news) right more than you get it wrong. The NYT got it completely wrong when it came to this election and that sinks their credibility rating. It doesn't matter what you have done in the past if you self-destruct your present.

I can go on and on, but you can go to the link to the article below and listen to the tone. It's basically another round table discussion on Trump. This is much of what personality and issue information has become. The media plays snippets of events and a group of people sit around and hash the subject matter out based upon a context they create through personal opinion. This is the echo chamber. This is where the lack of depth on issues comes from. Why not just throw a camera/microphone up in a bar. This is fine as an adjunct to news issues for further discussion of pertinent issues, but this is not news reporting.

I'll be back...

Audio: Inside the Room With President-Elect Donald Trump [The Run-Up]
- New York Times - Michael Barbaro - November 23, 2016

Edits had to be done because my batteries were running low on my keyboard and so I had to proof read and re-edit. Peace to everyone on Thanksgiving.