Google Groups
Join To Get Blog Update Notices
Visit the Hickory Hound Group

Monday, August 31, 2009

First Talk (WHKY) - Monday Morning meeting with the Mayor - 8/31/2009

Below is the question I was going to ask the Mayor, in full. The question was messed up by the phones:

The other day I was fortunate to be present and hear a presentation made by Taylor Dellinger of the Council of Governments and I also received a Newsletter that has his studies in it.

The stats in that Newsletter show that this decade, the 18 to 44 year old population in our metro grew by just 45 people, while the population older than that grew by 18,589. The population of 0 to 4 year olds has actually fallen by nearly 8%. To me, that shows that people of child bearing age have left the area.

Statistics show that this area has the worst personal income level of any area in the state and wage growth is in the bottom 5% in the nation.

People talk about our educational attainment levels being so low, but those stats only factor people 25 and older that have a four year degree, not anything about drop outs. I don’t condone dropping out, but it doesn’t factor into the equation.

We get stuck in this notion about Education, Education, Education. Test scores amongst high schoolers are actually pretty good in this area. As a person with two college degrees that is having a really hard time finding a job around here to match his skill set, I can tell you that without jobs, no level of education matters and that is the reason why we can’t retain our best and brightest and attract other young college educated people to the area. Because of Job Quality.

Mr. Mayor what are we going to do to attract industries to this area that will encourage the younger generations to take part in this community?

Here is the Audio Link of My Conversation with the Mayor on Hal Row's show

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Hickory Hound's 1st Anniversary

The Hound was launched on August 28, 2008. Since that time we have had 13,261 unique visitors. I have studied the issue and come up with an estimate that 1 out of 4 of those visitors resides in Hickory. That estimate would mean that 3,315 locals have looked at this blog.

Let's put that in perspective. That means that 1 out of every 12 people in Hickory have looked at this blog. That means that practically anywhere you go in this area, somebody knows about the Hickory Hound. Did you know that fewer than 5,000 voted in the city wide election two years ago? Did you know that only a little over 6,000 people voted in the city wide election four years ago, which included a Mayoral race.

People from all over the globe have looked at this blog and I think that is good for Hickory. Those visitors include people who were originally from here and want to check on home; people who reside here, but may be away at school, in the military, or some other venture; or people who might be researching the area to move here or possibly locate a business here. I have received messages from many different people who have happened upon this site and they are very much interested in our story.

The Hound has over 200 people who are on the various e-mail or message lists including Google Groups, Facebook, and Twitter. There I notify my frequently returning visitors of any new articles. Since last year, 203 articles have been introduced and I believe that I have been fair in those contributions. I have been chastised from all sides from time to time and I believe that says that the purpose is right on. Many times people have told me I am right on. Even when they tell me that they don't always agree with me, they say I have it right on most accounts. Hardly anyone has said that I don't have a clue.

Content wise, there have been 4 "10 Questions with ..." articles. I have not abandoned this idea and I look forward to expanding this over time. It's political season and people are posturing and preening, so right now it is hard to get polticos to participate. There have been 100 articles of Hickory Hound Commentary, 65 articles about Hickory City leadership, and 31 articles about Hickory City meetings. Many of the "Powers That Be" have had problems these articles, because this is where the criticism can be leveled. But, I believe that I have been fair in my assessments and when the evolutionary process of thought shows me to be wrong, I have admitted where I was wrong. It is obvious to many, that leaders in this area are not used to any level of criticism, whether judged to be fair or not, and they don't want anyone delving into their thought processes, especially when a negative light may be shed on their actions. I believe this blog has been a game changer in the area of accountability.

As we begin the second year of the Hound, I think people are starting to realize that we aren't going anywhere. The evolutionary process and this age of constant and rapid change may transform our mission, but my intent is to always make the Hound more accessible, more credible, and more integral to the needs of the people. This Blog is only about me to the extent of my opinions. I try to separate the facts from the opinion and I hope I do a good enough job of expressing the difference.

In the end, the Hickory Hound is about Hickory and its relationship to all of the people. It isn't just about Hickory's City Leadership or Hickory Proper's Citizens. It is about everyone who has a relationship with this city and this region and the effects that "Hickory" has on the world and the people based on Commerce, Governance, Politics, Action, and Quality of Life issues based upon "Hickory's" vitality, growth, and future. If you have never read The Objectives of the Hickory Hound, then I encourage you to do so. I believe we have adhered to these principles and this mission throughout the last year and we will continue to do so.

As we move forward, we will continue to gain more and more viewership, but I intend to have the same intent as day one. I am proud of how far we have come in the last year and I expect to see a lot more saturation in the near term. My intent is not to ruffle feathers, it is to move this area forward. I hope that you will continue to participate and that this Blog will be a source that you can continue to rely on to get information and depth of thought that just isn't available elsewhere. This is a community and I encourage you to participate and I appreciate any constructive comments you may offer.

Thank You,
James Thomas Shell

Friday, August 28, 2009

Head of the Atlanta Federal Reserve confirms Higher Unemployment Numbers

Real US unemployment rate at 16% by the head of the Atlanta Federal Reserve - As we await the local unemployment fiures which should come out today, I found the above story on Breitbart where the head of the Federal Reserve in Atlanta basically credits the U-6 unemployment number is correct.
Here is a quote on manufacturing from this article - Prior to the recession, he said, construction and manufacturing combined accounted for slightly more than 15 percent of employment. But during the recession, their job losses made up more than 40 percent of all US job losses. Here is a quote on Manufacturing from the same report -

"In my view, it is unlikely that we will see a return of jobs lost in certain sectors, such as manufacturing," he said.

As I have stated before. If we extrapolate this 16% actual National Unemployment Rate versus the reported 9.4% reported number and we carry that multiple out with our own reported 15.5% Hickory Metro Unemployment number, then we come up with am Unemployment rate of 26.38%.

The Head of the Federal Reserve (THE Decision Maker for Economic Activity in the Southeast) in Atlanta is telling us that 40% of all job losses came from the manufacturing sector. This should show our local officials and citizens that these jobs are not coming back and we are going to have to find something else to rebuild our economy on. It is time that our local leaders preach this from the pulpit to the masses, because I don't believe the Average Joe around here is wrapping their arms around this concept. We have to change our economy or we will always have these high unemployment numbers.

We have to build an economy, not based on desire, but based in reality. I believe in the long run that we are going to have to produce something in this country, but that will not come until this economy has completely bottomed out, which may be years with the lack of leadership we have seen throughout much of the country. What the Atlanta Head of the Fed is telling us, is that they aren't even worried about fighting for the manufacturing sector. They have thrown in the towel. We need to look towards what has been done in Texas. I truly believe that we will have to fix the economy, not in partnership with the government, but in spite it. Government is presenting obstacles, not solutions!!!

From the Charlotte Observer - Friday Afternoon 8/28/2009 -
Jobless rates fall in most area counties
Catawba: 14.9 percent, down 0.6
This is good news, but how much of this is due to people's benefits running out. Also, a Jobless recovery is not a recovery. We are not in a recovery until businesses start hiring and unemployment gets significantly better, as in less than 10%.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Street Names, Wayfinding, and the Status Quo

Over the last year I have come to a much greater understanding of the nuances of this city. In many ways the more questions I ask; the more questions that it leads to. While in many ways that reflection has made me more anxious, it also makes me realize that the status quo cannot stand. We have to start addressing the issues that face this city sooner rather than later.

I remember going to the Hickory Daily Record website late last year and reading a message from Jay Adams about naming the streets. I have heard this issue stated many times before by people and my thoughts were that I was against it. I grew up here and I haven't ever had a problem getting around this city. But maybe there in lies a problem. I haven't wanted to change our street identification system, because it is something that I have grown accustomed to.

During the first Future Economy Council meeting back in March, I listened to some of the issues that Jay addressed and I was literally shocked. I agreed with much of what Jay was saying and I had always thought that we were polar opposites from reading his quotes in the HDR. In particular, he made one statement I profoundly agreed with when talking about the current economic mindset of this community…
(summarizing) over the last nine years we have become lean and that has in many ways put us in a strong position, but we have also adapted down and become accepting of this extreme level of cost containment at the expense of growth.
At the end of that meeting, Jay came up to me and introduced himself and said he thought it was great that we were going to be on the same team for once. I agreed and we set up a meeting where we got together and vetted where we agree and disagree. That subsequent meeting ended up lasting for 4 hours.

What I told Jay, and tell most everyone else around here involved in these processes of Hickory's evolutionary development, is that we need to realize that we come at these issues from an principle of 80% agreement. We need to realize that and address the issues that we agree on first and figure out where we can compromise on the other issues where we don't agree. The issues where we hold vehement disagreements need to be resolved last. And when the public chooses which path to take on those areas where we are so different, then we need to live with the results and move on without holding grudges. I truly believe that in the past this community has gotten stuck in those areas where we have firm disagreements and thus let real issues rot and decay, because of the contentiousness over these issues.

Getting back to the Street Identification issue. I have reflected more on this issue and it is because of Jay. This is one of Jay's pet issues and I have to admit that after listening to him that he has moved me on the issue. As I have said, the current grid system works for me. But, is it worth getting locked into? Do I have a right to tell people that it works for me, so tough if it doesn't work for you?

We have all anecdotally dealt with trying to give people directions to get around the city. We have all heard horror stories associated with people getting around the city. Let's be realistic, we know that we have a bad reputation associated with our Street identification system. It is all over the internet. That is a problem and it is time that we face it. It is a big negative when trying to market this city for people to be talking about our city in the manner above. It is hard to quantify, but if you carry the above consequences out, then you can't help but come to the conclusion that it is hurting our property values and our economy, because people don't want to deal with it.

This is the number one reason why I have changed my mind on this issue. After further reflection and honestly listening to Jay, I do see where he is coming from. Jay (ACRES) markets and sells Real Estate. It diminishes and devalues the local Real Estate marketplace, whether right or wrong, when people say it is impossible (some say a nightmare) to get around Hickory. As for us, who are used to the grid system, it isn't about us. It is about people visiting the city, it's about potential new residents, it's about new customers, it's about people being able to efficiently get from point A to point B, and it's about not having to have those excruciatingly tough phone calls telling people how to get to your location. The best thing is that there is a compromise.

I heard Mandy Pitts on WHKY this morning addressing the Wayfinding issue. Last year and earlier this year, the Issue was addressed at two Council Meetings and in several Focus Groups. The issue was first addressed at the City Council Meeting of October 7, 2009. In that meeting Assistant City Manager Andrea Surratt addressed the council. She said that this subject was first brought to atention at the February 2008 retreat. She thoroughly discussed the issue as a way of reducing sign clutter, projecting community image, projecting consistency, and safety.

Here is a link to a wayfinding system in New York City. Wayfinding in NYC

As I stated at the time, if this project is developed in such a way to help businesses and organizations in every quadrant of our city, then I think it will be a wonderful thing. It would be a great benefit to the small businesses interspersed throughout our city. It also would collaterally help businesses near those destinations. So I really do think that this will be a great project for 21st century Hickory, if the focus is right.
The City did move forward on this plan, and at the City Council meeting on January 20, 2009 Ms Surratt made another presentation. this time a Contract was approved with Frazier Associates for Professional Services for the Wayfinding and Branding Project not to Exceed $73,850. You can follow the link above, but there was much debate about this issue. Here is a summarization of that debate:
Mr. Lail believes that this idea is excellent, but he had questions about the cost of the contract with Frazier and he also wondered aloud about the possibilities of finding a local firm to do this. Ms. Hoyle had questions about the timing of this expenditure during these uncertain economic times. Mr. Meisner asked if there was any way to pare this plan down. The Mayor, Mrs. Fox, and Mrs. Patton seemed to feel that it was time to move forward on this issue, because of aesthetics, mapping, and long-range planning. The deciding vote was 4-3 with the Mayor, Fox, Patton, and Seaver For and Lail, Hoyle, and Meisner against.
Here was the Hounds take:
I am 50-50 on this issue at the current time. I think that this needs to be done, but wonder about the timing during current circumstances. I can understand where both sides are coming from. It is hard to justify an expenditure, like this, at this point in time; but we really do need to work on the "Brand Identity" of this town. Go ahead and get this study done so that we can have a system and then we need to incrementally put it in place.

The major expense is going to be sign implementation. I also wondered, like Brad, whether it was smart to move ahead when the issue of Hickory by Choice is being readdressed by Studio Cascade during the same time frame. But, as Harry Hipps pointed out to me, "This stage is about art. It is about creating a logo. Studio Cascade's plan will come into play during the implementation phase when the signs are actually being placed. That has nothing to do with what the signs look like."
Harry Hipps participated in the focus group study of this issue and submitted an article on the Hound entitled - WAYFINDING - TRAFFIC AND GOVERNMENT. He had some very valid points in that article. He stated that this process could have been handled differently. He stated, "This is tailor made for citizen involvement."
First, we don't need a lot of interviews to determine what entities need a sign... Secondly, we will need different types of signs... so we know what we need as far as types of signs from this. Finally, the design of the logo itself, the colors, the images, etc...

What an opportunity this presents for citizen input. We could have a contest for someone to come up with the design. Local school art classes may be interested in trying out, graphic arts students at local colleges may want to try to be the winner so it would be a Resume enhancement for them. Local advertising agencies may try so they could get some bragging rights. Many people could then be focused on Hickory's image and what we are about and what we want to present to people. The artwork submissions could be submitted to a committee comprised of residents from our arts, engineering, academic, and other areas to narrow down the choices to be voted on by Council. This would generate more than artwork, it would generate participation in a City enterprise that is directly involved in defining who we are and what we want to be in this world.

When Council meets, few people attend or seem to care. It's a shame that participation and interest is so low. I think it is incumbent on the City government to do what it can to try to spark some interest from citizens and get us all working together for our common good. This would have been an opportunity to think outside the box.

I am glad that Mandy addressed the Wayfinding issue this morning, because I was starting to wonder what was going on. She said that a new logo has been developed that had several residents involved in its design. She also said that we are at the beginning of the process and there are still several steps left in the process. She said that the DOT still has to approve the design of many of the Wayfinding signs. She also reiterated that the project is being funded by the City Parking Fund, which was initially initiated to fund a new parking deck downtown.

The Hound hopes that the Wayfinding issue and Hickory By Choice are being tied in together
. I also think this would be an opportune time to tie the Street Identification system in with this process. I liked Harry's proposal to get citizen's involved in the artistry and implementation of the Wayfinding system. I hope this happens where possible. In coming to the conclusion that it is time to start naming our streets, what better way to do that than to allow the citizens to name the streets and be integrally involved in the process.

If this were allowed to happen, then the Local Neighborhood Associations could begin working on the name Identifications of streets in their neighborhood or ward. We could have Naming Contests or sell Naming Rights to some streets to raise revenues. What I am proposing isn't a revolutionary, overnight adjustment; but rather an evolutionary, gradual compromise. We would still have the grid system, but we could put caps on the top of the old street signs with their new names on them. As the street signs aged and were replace, the old street signs would be replaced by signs with their new street name on them and would have the block number and city quadrant at the edge of the sign.

One thing that everyone has seen, over time, is that as our City has been further developed, the grid system has become more and more convoluted. "Street-Drive-Circle NE" obviously ain't working folks. I have heard that GPS Systems (like Tom-Tom) have a lot of trouble with their database when it comes to Hickory's Street Identification System. Let's move past the status quo and do something that I have come to the realization most of the people in this community want. Why fight it? Is it really worth fighting to hold onto the grid system, when so many people and so much evidence is pointing against it. Why be stubborn? Let's make the change. What do y'all think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Cruising on Hwy 70 Issue - I like this Kid's Moxy

Aaron Scott is a rising junior at Lenoir-Rhyne University. He contacted me a couple of weeks ago to begin a discussion about the Cruising issue, out on Highway 70, that takes place on Friday and Saturday Nights. I have been aware that this has been happening for years, but I do not understand the inner workings of what is taking place.

Aaron told me that what drew him to contact me was the fact that I have shown interest in the plight of the young people in our community. I don't think he will mind me sharing these words:

"Well over the summer I have been talking with citizens out in Hickory about trying to stop the cruise weekends on US-70 primarily ran by teenagers. I want to bring them off of the road and allow the local government to invest in businesses to revive them and offer new costumers. If you would please take the time to look over the two attachments I have sent you, and please give me some advice. I believe what you wrote in that article really gave me a confidence boost about stepping up to the plate to offer new ideas. When you view what the city of Hickory has been doing, I think of a Nicholas Machiavelli quote, "I do not wish to preserve the status quo; I want to overthrow it." If we fail to realize we must look forward, and keep our eyes down field, we will fall victim to old habits and customs. "If you ignore history and its teachings, you will fall victim of it."
I met Aaron last week at the Hickory City Council meeting and had an excellent conversation with him after the meeting. I explained to him that I don't think it is the City of Hickory's role to invest in businesses to provide a marketplace for these kids. I believe that these kids just being alive creates a marketplace of opportunities that aren't being taken advantage of.

I agree with his assertion that it is dangerous to have kids out riding up and down HWY 70 at all hours of the night, and for safety sake, we need to be proactive and put a stop to these planned cruises before something terrible happens. These are mostly High School kids who should be under some sort of supervision. State Laws say that they aren't supposed to be out past a certain time and we have all witnessed this occurring out at Wal-Mart around Midnight. We know eventually something bad will come from all of this. Why wait until a horrific incident takes place? Do something now!!!

But like Aaron, I want to come at this from a positive angle. As I said, this issue presents an opportunity for business owners in Hickory. Why don't these businesses offer incentives and discounts to get these kids to patronize their establishments. This is an excellent article - Winning the Profitable Teen Customer Demographic. The article states, "Some businesses might have an advantage if their services or products appeal to teenagers. Teens have disposable income and they like to spend it. If you can grab this demographic, you may find intensely loyal, enthusiastic customers."

Is that not what local businesses want, especially in these Economic times when they are struggling? Teens are also struggling in the current economic environment, but for the most part teens don't have the same obligations as adults, so they tend to have more money to spend freely than their parents. Although many of the underlying assumptions have changed, this article Teen Market to Surpass $200 Billion by 2011 states, "Teen spending money, accumulated through paying jobs, allowances from parents, 'as needed' money from parents, and monetary gifts, will increase an estimated 3.5% annually, raising the aggregate teen income 14.4%, from $79.7 billion in 2006 to $91.1 billion in 2011." Sounds like a market segment I would be going after.

I told Aaron that if he is truly interested in seeing this issue addressed, then he is going to have to be proactive. He needs to set up meetings with business owners and managers to talk about this issue and see where each party can collaborate on marketing strategies. I think everyone needs to realize that it is in this community's best interest to get these kids off the streets. Cruising is pointless. It wastes gas, it decreases safety, it increases liability, and these kids can't properly socialize while they are riding up and down the highway.

Well Aaron has been proactive. He has formed what he is calling the Ten Action Committee. Here are two messages he has sent me about events he has established to promote this Idea and Agenda:
Every Weekend for a month.
With permission from Hickory Dickory Dock, the Teen Action Committee will start recruiting new Representatives on their premises. We will have a table set up on how to join, and what we stand for. Please drop by our table and let us know that you s...upport us. For more information please join our group to receive emails. "The Teen Action Committee is dedicated to provide teenagers an outlet to learn about one another, and to stand up for what they believe in. The committee is designed to establish individuals to be open minded, and it stands on bi-partisanship.
Host:Teen Action Committee
Time:8:00PM Friday, August 28th
Location:Hickory Dickory Dock

Come support us during an evening at the park. With permission from the Hickory Crawdads, the Teen Action Committee will start recruiting new Representatives on their premises. We will have a table set up on how to join, and what we stand for. Please drop by our table and let us know that you s...upport us. For more information please join our group to receive emails. "The Teen Action Committee is dedicated to provide teenagers an outlet to learn about one another, and to stand up for what they believe in. The committee is designed to establish individuals to be open minded, and it stands on bi-partisanship."
Host:Teen Action Committee
Time:7:00PM Tuesday, September 1st
Location:L.P. Franz Stadium
What the Hound would like to see - I think it is a great first step that the Crawdads are allowing Aaron to try to accomplish this goal. It would be great if Crawdad officials (or whoever it takes) would step up and make discounted tickets available to teens and free tickets available to teens for good behavior in school. We see empty seats available out there. Fill them up with some teens.

I would also like to see the City and the Crawdads support a concert series for teens on the weekends the Crawdads aren't playing and a concert series (or DJ) for the teens in the fall -- all at LP Franz Stadium. Why not use the Convention center occasionally for something like this? Use it to educate these kids and help build community pride, spirit, and participation. Let's start raising people to BE solid citizens, instead of casting them out on the streets and hoping for the best.

I think it is great that Hickory Dickory Dock has stepped forward. I hope some other restaurants will also step forward and support this mission. As I have stated, they stand to reap a good reward (money and a loyal customer base), if they do so. I know that some of these entities worry about controlling these kids, but there is little control out there on HWY 70. In my opinion, this would be a great Community Goodwill gesture for these businesses to step forward and at least attempt to make a go of this.

As a community we need to start thinking outside of the box on some real issues involving our citizens. We need to support our younger generation and be thankful that we have a go-getter like Aaron Scott in our midst. Let's support this kid. He is showing some real leadership in attempting to get this off the ground. Maybe if he leads others will follow and wouldn't this be a good feeling of success, as we attempt to change the fortunes of Hickory.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Just The Facts about Hickory's Loss of the Younger Demographic

The other day I was fortunate to be present and hear a presentation made by Taylor Dellinger of the Western Piedmont Council of Governments. I also received a Newsletter that has his studies in it. This newsletter is very informative and it really lays out the issues that this area faces going forward.

The first issue that the Newsletter points to is the rise in the area's unemployment rate from 8.5% in October 2008 to 14.9% in April 2009. Subsequently, we have seen the unemployment rate rise further to where it is currently 15.4%.

The next issue that the newsletter delves into is the area's Per Capita Personal Income (PCPI) level. This periodical shows that PCPI rose from $26,101 in in 2004 to $29,084 in 2007 -- the number has risen to $29,385 for the year 2008. Pointed out is that the 9.3% rate of increase over the 4 year span, from 2003 to 2006, did not keep up with the nation's inflation rate of 9.8%. Also shown is the variance in PCPI per county where Caldwell County has the lowest PCPI ($27,240) and Catawba County has the highest ($31,051).

PERSONAL INCOME PER CAPITA IN CURRENT DOLLARS for the year 2008 (not from the newsletter), puts these numbers in perspective. The State with the highest PCPI is Connecticut ($56,248) and the State with the lowest is Mississippi ($29,569). North Carolina has a PCPI of $34,439 and is ranked #36 out of the 50 States. The average PCPI in the U.S. was $39,751.

Comparing other MSAs in North Carolina, Durham's PCPI is $39,383, Raleigh-Cary, NC is $39,239, Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord is $38,962, Fayetteville is $37,248, Winston-Salem $36,128, Greensboro-High Point, NC is $34,263, Asheville is $33,238, and Wilmington is $33,036. Obviously this shows that we have the lowest Per Capita Personal Income of any of the Large MSAs in the State of North Carolina and it really isn't even close.

The next category that Taylor looked at is one that has been a Pet Peeve with myself, and several other people that I know, for what is going on several years. The Nation as a whole is getting older, but what the stats in this category show is that Hickory is aging dramatically. It is my opinion that this has happened mostly because of the combination of a lack of opportunity for the younger generation and local leadership's insistence on marketing our area towards retirees.

The Population in our Metro for the ages 18 to 44 grew from 130,033 to 130,078 from the year 2000 to 2008. That means we grew by 45 people, in that age bracket, during that time period. During that same time period, the 45 to 64 age bracket population grew from 83,612 to 97,698, which is a 16.8% increase. The 65+ age bracket population increased from 46,056 to 50,559, which is a 9.8% total increase. When the numbers are carried out further what we see is that our overall population increased by 5.67%, which consisted of the 0 to 44 age bracket increasing by a microscopic .38% and the 45+ age bracket increasing by 14.34%.

Can you now see the pulpit that I have been preaching from on this issue? Young people renew and revitalize a community. Look at the number of children being born. The 0 to 4 year old age bracket has decreased by -7.8% and this is a direct result of the emigration of adults of child bearing age from this community. The 5 to 17 age bracket is below the overall average by over 27%, which shows that this trend has been carrying on longer than four years (plus the data lag). This trend most likely goes back to the aftermath of this decade's first recession.

Continuing on with Taylor's data, we are given a comparative chart to other MSAs in North Carolina. What we see is that the areas with the most positive economic outlooks correlate with the growth in the age 18 to 44 age bracket. Wilmington grew 21.5% in this demographic, Raleigh-Cary 17.3%, Charlotte 11%, Jacksonville 8.2%, Greenville 6.8%, Asheville 6.4%. If you look at the Milken Institute rankings, these were the success stories from our state. Only one city, Fayetteville, with a decrease in this Demo had a positive outlook according to Milken and the loss of this Demo (in Fayetteville) may be due to emigration caused by military issues. Hmmm...It's starting to make sense isn't it.

Taylor states that the number of people over age 65 in the Hickory Metro was the third highest percentage in the state at 14%. Only Asheville (17.0%) and Wilmington (14.7%) had a higher percentage of population from that Demo. Raleigh's percentage from that Demo stands at 8.9% and Charlotte is at 10.0% by comparison.

You can ask anyone who knows me. I have hung out with older generations since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I love old people. I believe any wisdom I have is due to the time that I have been around seniors and peppered them with question after question. I don't want to run off or harm the older generations. I believe most of them will be the first to tell you, we cannot afford to market ourselves towards seniors at the expense of the younger population. It's like trying to squeeze out everything from Harvest without saving and sowing anymore seeds.

Taylor makes a lot of projections from the current statistics and trends that show our community continuing to age even more drastically over the next 15 years or so, until the life of the Baby Boomers has run its course. Much of what we are experiencing is due to a natural progression of that trend, but I honestly believe that this community has exacerbated that trend at the expense of economic growth. I think many of our leaders have mistakenly equated successful Marketing and PR towards the older demographic with sound Dynamic Economic policy.

Think about the life tendencies of retirees versus twenty and thirty-somethings. There is a reason why Manhattan advertising agencies market towards the younger demographic. They are the consumers. Why do we want to attempt to buck that trend. Look at what South Florida is experiencing due to their retirement communities. Do we really want to follow them down that dead end path?

I think that there are many elements to this loss of the younger Demographic that have played a role in our current malaise. We have to restore balance to this community and in my opinion the first step towards doing that is to attempt to retain our own young people and attract young outsiders. It will take a lot of hard work expressly geared towards this challenge to change these trends, but I honestly believe that the evidence of communities doing better than we are points us right to this conclusion.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Just what is Apple doing in Maiden?

The Following articles are mainly from the blog Data Center Knowledge. The online source is listed before the Linked article Titles.

Data Center Knowledge - Apple: Maiden iDataCenter Will be 500,000SF - The new North Carolina facility will be nearly five times the size of the 109,000 square foot Newark, Calif. data center Apple bought in 2006 to support its growing infrastructure. Apple also operates a data center on its Cupertino, Calif. campus, and has used content delivery networks from Akamai (AKAM) and Limelight Networks (LLNW) to distribute content to its users around the globe.

The new Apple facility will be the company’s East Coast operations center. A document filed with the state indicates the data center will “take advantage of 3 hour time change on the East Coast to facilitate communications between European operations/sales and California for data transmission.”
(Comment from Finance Geek Blog) - With Apple having already announced their plans to build its new $1 billion data center in Maiden, North Carolina, folks I have spoken to inside Apple told me that once the new data center is completed, Apple plans to have a more active role in doing their own content delivery.

Data Center Knowledge - The Apple-Google Data Center Corridor -Google and Apple may be having their tensions at the boardroom level, as seen in this week’s news that Google CEO Eric Schmidt will resign as a director of Apple. But the two technology giants are aligned in another area: the merits of western North Carolina as a haven for massive Internet data centers.

Apple’s planned $1 billion data center in Maiden, North Carolina is just 25 miles from a huge Google data center complex in Lenoir. The proximity is not an accident, as the Google project in Caldwell County prompted economic development officials in nearby towns to begin pursuing data center development.

Data Center Knowledge - Apple Moving Quickly on NC Project - Apple is known for keeping its new technology secret prior to launch. So it’s not surprising that the company has had little to say about its $1 billion data center project in North Carolina. The new iData Center may not get the fanfare of a MacWorld keynote when it launches, but one thing is clear: Apple plans to move quickly to the construction phase.

“It’s my understanding that they want to have bulldozers on-site in mid-August,” said Scott Millar, execurtive director of the Catawba County Economic Development Corp. “They’re moving ahead rapidly with permitting and acquiring the land, with the intent of hitting the ground running.”

Data Center Knowledge - The iDataCenter and the Cloud - Some of our recent reporting on Apple’s $1 billion data center in North Carolina is being discussed around the web this week, prompted by an piece by Leander Kahney at The Cult of Mac that examines the likelihood that the new facility will power cloud computing applications. There’s additional discussion at Wired, Fast Company, Mac News Network and Apple Insider.

Cult of Mac - Interview: Apple’s Gigantic New Data Center Hints at Cloud Computing - One of the leading theories about the size of the NC project is that Apple is planning future cloud computing services that will require lots of data center storage. Cloud computing is a hot trend, and I’d be surprised if Apple isn’t thinking hard – and thinking differently – about cloud computing. Many cloud enthusiasts say that cloud computing will eliminate the need for data centers. In reality, the only thing will change is the owner of the building. All the applications and data that are moving into the cloud will live on servers in brick-and-mortar data centers. The companies that are building the biggest data centers tend to also have the biggest cloud ambitions

Cult of Mac - Apple Hires Top Green Hardware Expert For Data-Center Ops - Apple is getting serious about getting green. To make sure that its massive new data-center is energy efficient, Apple has just hired a top eBay executive and leading expert in the “greening” of cloud computing facilities.

Apple has picked up Olivier Sanche, eBay’s Senior Director Data Centers Services and Strategy, according to the Green Data Center Blog. Based in San Francisco, Sanche has helped make eBay’s massive global operations carbon neutral since 2007. Most recently, he helped oversee the construction of eBay’s newest data-center, which will meet the highest green standards when it goes online in 2010.

Wired - Apple’s New Data Center Likely to Focus on Cloud Computing - Cloud computing huh? We noticed Apple’s iWork app was pretty lacking with no real-time online collaboration tools. A data center devoted to cloud computing would certainly fill that hole. But there still has to be something even bigger going on here, and your guesses are as good as ours. Add them in the comments below.

Fast Company - Is Apple Shooting for the Cloud? - Hence you could draw one final conclusion, and take this as yet another hint that Apple's fabled iTablet is on the way. It kind of makes sense--the iTablet's probably not going to have the same raw computing power and local storage as a fully-fledged MacBook, so a cloud-based solution for iPhoto, Numbers and the like (and maybe even your iTunes library?) would make excellent sense. It's just a thought, of course.

Apple Insider - Expert speculates Apple's new data center to be for cloud computing - While Miller's cloud computing possibilities are speculation, as Apple has not announced its intent for the $1 billion server farm, it's also possible Apple is simply looking to bolster its current offerings. When MobileMe first launched in July of 2008, it was riddled with problems. As a result, Apple gave subscribers an extra 30 days of free service. MobileMe now comes with a 60-day free trial, while the cost for the service, with 20GB of online storage, is $99 per year.

Wikipedia - Cloud Computing - is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure in the "cloud" that supports them.
  • It is service-based.
  • It is scalable and elastic. I.e., it is able to add and remove infrastructure as needed.
  • It uses shared infrastructure to build economies of scale.
  • It is metered and users pay according to usage.
  • Most importantly, of course, it uses Internet technologies.
Newsweek - Computing Heads for the Clouds - Supercomputers today are used mainly by the military, government intelligence agencies, universities and research labs, and large companies to tackle enormously complex calculations for such tasks as simulating nuclear explosions, predicting climate change, designing airplanes, and analyzing which proteins in the body are likely to bind with potential new drugs. Cloud computing aims to apply that kind of power—measured in the tens of trillions of computations per second—to problems like analyzing risk in financial portfolios, delivering personalized medical information, even powering immersive computer games, in a way that users can tap through the Web. It does that by networking large groups of servers that often use low-cost consumer PC technology, with specialized connections to spread data-processing chores across them. By contrast, the newest and most powerful desktop PCs process only about 3 billion computations a second.

The Hounds Layman Opinion - All of what these guys are saying is true. Yes, this will help to create flexibility and integration of computing. You will have a form of a Computer System at home. It will be like your Desktop today, but also full integrated with the controls of an Entertainment Center (TV, Stereo, Electronic Gaming), a Knowledge Center (Library, Spreadsheets, Word Processor, the Web), and a Home Management system (Electricity, Temperature Control, Lights, etc.) Then you will have your PDA (Iphone, Blackberry, or whatever comes next) that the Cloud (This network of Supercomputer servers) will allow you to keep in touch with your personal data at all times. In my opinion, the next Generation of PDAs will take the place of any need of a laptop.

The problems going forward in the near term are Disk Storage and Bandwidth. The Cloud helps to deal with those two issues. Remember the article I wrote a few weeks ago about the Exaflood entitled BROAD BAND!!! (There is a great video in that article)? Cloud Computing is the cheap and easy way to deal with these issues in the near term. On Demand High Definition Video is going to take up a lot of Bandwidth and Storage Space. Personal Hard Drive Capacity will continue to increase, but true High Definition Video will eat up a lot of space on those Hard Drives.

It will be easier and increase portability by having Movies and Audio parked on a remote server at a Data center, such as the one in Maiden. These facilities will also be needed to deal with the exponential World Wide wave of demand that is coming as more and more people gain accessibility to computers. As one can see there is a need for this Data Center and I believe the ancillary benefits to this area will be tremendous.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scott Millar & Taylor Dellinger address the Future Economy Council

Excellent Presentation by both men regarding the Economics of the Unifour. Here is a link to the site. Scott Millar is the President of the Economic Development Corporation and Taylor Dellinger works for the Western Piedmont Council of Governments.

Link >Future Economy Council Meeting #6 (8/19/2009)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of August 18, 2009

This newsletter is about the Hickory City Council meeting that I attended this past week. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At the bottom right of this page under main information links is a Hickory's Local Government link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the bottom of the page you will see the future dates for meetings scheduled for this year.

At the top of the page, if you click on the “Documents” link, you will find historic Agenda and Minutes links. Agendas show what is on the docket for the meeting of that date. The Minutes is an actual summary of the proceedings of the meeting of that date.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 8/18/2009 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below.

Invocation by Rev. Susan Smith of Exodus Missionary Outreach

Special Presentations:
Report by Elizabeth Parham, Director of the North Carolina Main Street Program on the Third-Year Assessment of the City of Hickory’s Main Street Program - Ms. Parham met today with the Downtown Development Association Board and conducted a 3rd year assessment of Hickory's Main Street Program. Hickory received the designation in 2006. The Main Street program is an Economic development program within the context of Historical Preservation. The Main Street Program initiates a 4 point approach - It incorporates organizational initiatives; design, promotions, and economic restructuring. She stated that Hickory is doing very well in that. Hickory has developed a balanced plan and balanced approach. She said it important for the community to understand its economic drivers, have a vision, and have a component of downtown as a part of that vision. It's a public-private partnership.

75 communities in North Carolina have adopted the Mainstreet principles. More than 2,000 communities across the country have adopted the principles. There is a tremendous network available to help Hickory. There has been $2 million invested over the last year. For every dollar of public money invested, there was $15 in private money invested. $6.3 million has been invested in Hickory over the last 3 years. 42 jobs have been created over the last year. 56 jobs have been created over the last 3 years. 15 new businesses have been created over the last year. 18 new businesses have been created over the last 3 years. She stated that the State of North Carolina is our Partner and willing to help.

The Hound
thinks we need to see some sunshine when it comes to the Main Street Program. If this is a true Public-Private partnership, then the public has the right to see how these numbers are procured. We deserve to know where the assessments like a 15 to 1 ratio of private to public monies is established, also are the job and business assessments just new proprietors? Or are these net-plus gains that factor in new business versus those that have gone out of business?

If these are net-plus gains then I would like to congratulate the DDA for making progress in trying times; but if this does not take into account businesses that have left downtown, then we aren't getting the entire picture. Would someone be willing to step up and answer this question, because it does have me curious.

Consent Agenda:
A. Hickory City Council’s FY 2008 - 09 Priorities and Action Plan End of Year Report - Each year Council adopts the City Council Priorities and Action Plan that is derived from the Annual Council-Staff Retreat and the City’s master plans and initiatives. These priorities and action plans are used throughout the year as a guide to ensure that City departments advocate the philosophy defined by City Council. Following the close of each fiscal year, staff reports to City Council the results of the Priority and Action Plan.

B. Approve Issuance of a Certificate of Necessity to Accent Limousine for Operation of Passenger Vehicles for Hire Accent Limousine has applied for a certificate for the use of three passenger vehicles for hire for the fiscal year of 2009-2010

C. Amendment To Traffic Ordinance By Reducing The Speed Limit From 35 Mph To 25 Mph Along 37th Ave NE From The Intersection With Falling Creek Rd To 37th Ave Dr. NE, 7th Ave Dr. NE From The Intersection With 37th Ave NE To The End, 36th Ave Cr. NE From The Intersection Of 9th St Dr. NE To End, 36th Ave Ct. From The Intersection With 10th St. Dr. NE To End, 10th St NE From The Intersection With 37th Ave NE To End, 11th St. NE From The Intersection Of 37th Ave Dr. NE To The Intersection With 38th Ave NE, 10th St Dr NE South From The Intersection With 37th Ave NE To End, 10th St Dr NE North From The Intersection With 37th Ave NE To End, 38th Ave NE North East From The Intersection With 11th St NE To End, 38th Ave NE North West From The Intersection Of 11th St NE ToEnd, 9th St Dr NE 980 Feet South From The Intersection Of 37th Ave NE, And 9th St Dr NE North From The Intersection Of 37th Ave NE To End Under the City’s Traffic Calming Program an application was received fro a speed limit reduction along the indicated streets above. Staff determined that a speed limit reduction from 35 mph to 25 mph would be acceptable, if the residents desired. The petition packages were received and were determined by Staff to be valid and met the 75% signature requirement.

Approval of Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendation for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs The following applicants are being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan Program:
Susannah L. Brown 4734 Braxton Gate Lane - Approved for up to $5,000.00
David A. Rockensuess 1022 7th Street, NE - Approved for up to $6,500.00

The following applicants are being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program:
Kevin Ames 1523 10th Street Place, NW - Approved for up to $10,000.00
Charles Sanders & Angeline Geter 761 8th Avenue Court, SE - Approved for up to $ 5,000.00
Stefanie Fortuna & Jovan Hoover 428 3rd Avenue, SW - Increase Initial Loan to $8,000.00
Shirley Gray 744 7th Avenue, SE - Increase Initial Loan to $7,500.00
Lucille Peterson 245 6th Avenue, SW - Increase Initial Loan to $7,500.00
Dirk & Carolyn Thompson of 146 3rd Avenue, SE were recommended to subordinate City’s second mortgage to Community One Bank due to refinance of first mortgage.

Funds are budgeted for these items through the City of Hickory’s former Rental Rehabilitation Program income received in FY 2008 and/or Program income received through the City of Hickory’s Community Development Block Grant Program The Citizens’ Advisory Committee recommends approval.

Approval of Lease Agreement With T-Mobile South, LLC For Antenna Space on City of Hickory’s Water Tower and Ground Space for Communication Equipment Located at 1441 9th Avenue, NE - The Lease Agreement is with T-Mobile South, LLC to locate a cell phone antenna on the City’s water tower located at 1441 9th Avenue, NE along with ground space for additional communication equipment. T-Mobile currently has an antenna and ground equipment at this location. Triton PCS Property Company, LLC initially entered into a lease with the City on October 21, 1998 for a portion of this property, who subsequently assigned its rights to Suncom PCS, whereas T-Mobile acquired Suncom. The initial lease agreement with Triton/Suncom expired on October 20, 2008 and has been leased on a month-to-month basis with T-Mobile under the original lease terms. This is a new lease with TMobile for an initial five years with one additional five year extension. T-Mobile will pay $36,000.00 for the first year of the initial five year term with an annual increase of 3% each successive year. Site improvements are to be made by T-Mobile along with regular inspections of its antenna.

Consideration and Approval of Revenue Sharing Agreement With Catawba County for the Blackburn Plateau Waterline Loop Project - The waterline loop in the southwestern part of Catawba County will serve a portion of Startown Road south of Maiden, Blackburn Bridge Road, Hickory/Lincolnton Highway, Grace Church Road, Plateau Road and Highway 127 South in the western end of Mountain View community. The project is designed to specifically serve a future county fire station on Plateau Road, citizens in southwestern Catawba County, to provide a redundant loop for water service to the Town of Maiden and the future Apple, Inc. site. Catawba County does not maintain a public water system or provide water service directly to citizens, therefore pursuant to Catawba County Code of Ordinances, Chapter 42, Division 2, Catawba County is to partner with municipalities to provide water service to unincorporated areas with the County funding all costs for infrastructure design, permitting and construction. Thereafter, the City of Hickory is to provide the operation, maintenance and management of those lines. Customers will be charged the outside rate for water. The revenues for the City are anticipated to grow to approximately $160,000.00 annually the first five years of operation.

Approve Contract with Clark and Associates, Inc. for Design/Project Administration - Services for Pier Crossing at Moose Club Pump Station for Cripple Creek Outfall Replacement Project in the Amount of $14,400.00 The existing pier crossing was part of the original construction of the Moose Club Pump Station when the wastewater treatment facility at Hilton Park was decommissioned. This crossing is an aerial crossing adjacent to Lake Hickory. The contract will provide engineering services and project administration services to replace the existing steel Ibeam utility pier crossing. The project will require construction of new piers to support the 24” ductile iron outfall line and removal and disposal of the existing piping and piers with replacement being at or near the same location and elevation. The contractor will be required to provide bypass pumping facilities to maintain wastewater service during construction. The project proposes the use of the existing 25’ utility easement. The City’s staff will approve all piers and the contractor will maintain all necessary erosion and sedimentation control devices. Staff recommends approval.

Proclamations - Honoring David Haas in Recognition of Being Inducted Into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame for His Dedicated Service to the Sport of Baseball and Declaring August 21, 2009 as “David Haas Day” in the City of Hickory. Declaring the Week of September 17 – 23, 2009 as “Constitution Week” in the City of Hickory. Proclaiming September 6, 2009 as “Corinth Reformed Church Day” in the City of Hickory in Recognition of its 50th Anniversary

Approval to Allow the Use of Union Square Requested by the Hickory Downtown Development Association for Hickory Hops 2010 on Saturday, April 17. 2010

Budget Ordinance -
Budget $7,500 in General Fund Miscellaneous Revenue - Donations, and $2,500 in General Fund Contingency (City of Hickory’s contribution) for a total of $10,000 towards the 100th Annual North Carolina NAACP Convention to be held at the Hickory Metro Convention Center on October 8th – 10th. Staff requests second reading at the August 18, 2009 Council meeting. The Mayor's statement was that $2,500 would come from Hickory and $2,500 would come from Catawba County. The other money will come from private donors. We felt that was a good commitment to make in light of the economic benefits and the esteen with which we hold the African-American community. He enthusiastically endorses the request to give the $10,000 - Unanimous Consent

The Hound believes this is great to represent the tolerance of diversity in our town. I think most of us are accepting of different cultures and this can truly show that we do support the needs of the African-American community in this city. Besides, we can certainly use the economic benefits associated with this conference.

Informational Items:
Report of Alderwomen Hoyle’s Travel to the 2009 NBC-LEO Annual Summer Conference
in Hartford, CT From July 22 – July 26, 2009 - hotel - $578.92; airfare - $383.70; registration - $280.00; per diem - $ 94.25; mileage - $94.25; taxi and baggage fees - $118.00 = Total $1,548.22

Report of Mayor Wright’s Attendance at the 2nd Metro City/Chamber Dialogue in High Point, NC on August 5, 2009; mileage - $93.50 = Total $93.50

Report of Alderwomen Hoyle’s Travel to the NC Black Elected Municipal Officials 2009 Summer Conference in Winston Salem, NC From 7/7–9/2009; hotel - $191.68; registration - $125.00; per diem - $59.50; mileage - $77.00 = Total $453.18

New Business - Public Hearings:
Resolution and Order for Petition of Adrian and Arabela Balan to Close 1st Street
NW Between 36th and 37th Avenues, NW - Petitioners Adrian and Arabela Balan have officially withdrawn their petition pursuant to document “Withdrawal of Petition to Close Street” dated 8/12/2009. No public hearing will be held.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
Hickory Police Department’s First Year Report of the Code Enforcement Unit - Reed Baer made the presentation. came into existence last July. There are 3 code enforcement officers and 2 are certified by the state as building inspectors and they enforce housing issues in the city, as well as enforcing nuisance violations in the Northeast and Northwest. The third officer only enforces nuisance violations in the Southeast and southwest sections of the city. 95% of calls in the first year consist of overgrown grass and vegetation, trash, junk, junk cars, and minimum housing issues.

70% (899) of violations involved Grass and vegetation, 20% of (253) violations involved Junk Vehicles, and 10% (130) of violations involved Trash and Debris. Sergeant Baer showed examples of each issue. Example Junked and Abandoned Vehicles - Does not display a current license plate, parts dismantled or wrecked, cannot be self propeeld or moved in tghe manner in which it was originally intended, or more than 5 years old and worth less than $100. After the vehicle has been tagged and the owner has been notified, he has 7 days to comply with the code.

As far as minimum housing. Sgt. Baer showed examples of a building that had been brought up to code. If a property costs over 50% of its value to bring up to code, then it is considered dilapidated and the city mat seek demolition. Sgt. Baer shoed an example of a building that had been abandoned, where the bank brought it up to code by properly securing the property. Many of these properties weren't properly secured and had vagrants moving in and out of them.

Sgt. Baer said that the city is having to deal with properties that have had fire damage issues. These properties are unsecure and fragile. Between owners and insurance companies nothing is getting done. Code enforcement notifies owners of issues and tries to find out what is going on.

Any boarding of properties must be maintained by owners. Sgt. Baer said one issue that surprised him was the number of Electric Meter Bases that were left live. He said they immediately contact Duke Power and have the electricity shut off. Other issues were stagnant water and illegal dumping. As far as housing cases there were 128 houses that were cited, 25 were demolished and the Code Enforcement Unit went to City Council about 2 demolitions. Most of the houses were owner abated. That means that 18% of properties in violation were demolished and 82% were dealt with in another manner.

The Hound truly appreciated this presentation. It thoroughly showed what this issue is about and gave excellent examples of why code enforcement is necessary. It quelled many of my fears. I detest nuisance laws, but if they are being administered equally and fairly, then I can see the purpose. I just hope we never see code enforcement start going overboard in determining what will and won't be tolerated and I hope it is never used in an unethical manner.

As I stated, when one of the dilapidated properties was addressed at the June 2, 2009 meeting. We are going to see a lot more of the properties end up like this, because of the Housing Economy. It is all about people being under water on their mortgages. This exact scenario is playing out all over the country. When you lose your job and you're in the hole, then it is a lot easier to walk away from your obligation.

There is no easy solution to this problem. The banks are basically insolvent. Their cash is tied up and they cannot afford to take back these properties. They would drowned under such circumstances, if they took back every property that is in severely in arrears.

Adopt Ordinance Declaring Property Unfit for Human Occupation and Authorization to Remove or Demolish Structure Located at 606 1st Avenue, SE, Hickory - The structure located at 606 1st Avenue, SE, Hickory, was inspected by Code Enforcement Officer Kent Sigmon and determined the structure to be dilapidated; exceeding 50% of the tax value to repair, and also poses an imminent threat to health and human safety. This case opened on April 8, 2009 and the Order to Abate was issued on April 9, 2009. The property owner, Michael Dashawn Hooper indicated he has no intention of bringing the structure up to code and has failed to abate the violations within the allotted time. Officer Sigmon met with the owner on several occasions explaining the violations and abatement process. Also, Officer Sigmon sent numerous letters including June 26, 2009 explaining the City’s intention to abate the violations. A certified letter dated July 20, 2009 was sent to Mr. Moore notifying him that Council would consider the ordinance to demolish the property on August 18, 2009 per General Statute and City Code. This structure is unoccupied and is creating a blight in the neighborhood along with providing shelter for vagrants. The community surrounding the property has petitioned to abate the violations. Staff Attorney Dula has reviewed the case and concurs that proper procedures have been followed. D. H. Griffin Wrecking Company, Inc., who is currently under contract with the City for demolition has prepared an estimate to demolish in the amount of $3,406.00 and therefore will become a lien against the property. - Sgt Baer again made the presentation. Dilapidated roof with holes in the roof and plants growing out of the roof. Vagrants have beenin and out of the house on a regular basis. There was live power at the site. The ceilings are exposed and unsafe. Joist are broken, The flooring is rotted. The interior is exposed to outside elements. Plumbing and flooting is dilapidated. there was human waste in the floor. The home is a brick home that doesn't show deterioration on the outside, but it is rotted on the inside. (Unanimous Consent by Council)

The Council recognized Huntsville, TX for helping the family of Police Officer Carlos DeLosSantos, who was involved in an accident while there. Manager Berry explained the ways that the whole City of Huntsville went out of their way to help this family, whose three year old son Kevin lost his life in this accident.

Alder Jill Patton stated that the Small Business Task Force is energized and they will start meeting every other week because they have a lot going.

Hickory - Time to put the Puzzle together

I began studying Hickory’s economic viability by looking at what I have heard experts state is needed to bring our economy forward in an era of exponential change. We must move forward and embrace this new economic era or we will continue to deteriorate. Other communities throughout the U.S. have successfully made this transition. It is our turn to do the same. If we continue to fail to act, then the consequences for our future will only become graver. One of the keys to solving our dilemma is to embrace a new paradigm of ideals and collaboration. We have to work together in a positive manner and become more tolerant of the cultural and attitudinal differences amongst us.

Many of the investments that our community must make in the near term come with no guarantee, but we know that we must do something. The future is ambiguous and therefore it is incomprehensible to many, but most everything that we have today was thought to be impossible at a point in the past. We cannot turn the clock back and trying to do so leads to a fruitless effort. Furniture and textiles built this community and those industries created a dependable economy that the people of this area trusted and relied on for nearly a century. But those industries are gone and they aren’t coming back.

Looking at other communities who have been successful, or even those that have been where we are now and improved drastically, lays out a road map that we can learn from. There will be risks involved and we can’t copy what these communities have done, but we can certainly learn a lot from what they have done. There are forward thinking, innovative, investment ideas amongst our community that are constantly shot down , because of the way our community has adapted down and become accepting of mediocrity and unwilling to take any risks.

Hickory can no longer afford to give business "the business." We are moving into an age of connections and our government must become more adaptive and friendly to the needs of all business. If we want to grow this city, we must make sure that we have growing commercial enterprises. Lay out the ground rules, be consistent in the implementation, know what you are talking about, know the answers, and help entrepreneurs do their thing. It is not the government’s job to micromanage other people’s property.

If this community is to move forward, then we are going to have to get community leaders to step out of their day-tight compartments, reach outside of their comfort zone, and try to embrace the new paradigm. Dale Carnegie taught people to live day-to-day (in day-tight compartments) and he believed that constantly dwelling on the future, that is susceptible to constant change, is useless. But, in a world of constant change, we can’t afford to not constantly contemplate the future, because the future is now.

Looking at Richard Florida’s philosophy got me to thinking about Hickory’s plight. Hickory must figure out a way to retain its best and brightest citizens, especially the twenty and thirty somethings. These are the generations that help a community constantly renew and revitalize itself. These are the people who have children and spend money on commodities that help a city to grow and prosper. The way to retain these people is to encourage industries that they will be more willing to participate in; High Tech industries such as robotics, energy, health care, engineering, and biomedical technology.

A key to creativity is understanding and accepting the needs and differences of individuals. In my opinion, many creative people don’t want to live in this area, because we make them feel uncomfortable or even unaccepted. We hear a lot about like-mindedness, but what about diversity? We need people coming at local issues from all angles, conforming to one way of thinking reeks of authoritarianism. Creativity never thrives under such conditions.

Hickory has the resources to compete with any area in the country and at one time we did just that, but now we are at the bottom of the barrel. The Milken Institute numbers show that Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton has seen terrible job growth (193 out of 200), abysmal wage growth (195 out of 200), and below average development of High Tech Industry (High Tech GDP is 130 out of 200). We have been ranked #187 or lower in these statistics since 2003. Our current ranking #191 out of 200 MSAs overall is deplorable.

What is even more troubling is the way that our city has languished at the very bottom of this statistical analysis since the beginning of the decade. If you think that Milken's statistical review is off, then look at a second source. Forbes magazine ranks us as #130 out of the largest 150 MSAs, as far as "the Best places to do Business."

Statistics show that most areas the size of the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton MSA have a principal city that is the central focus of that area. Hickory’s location and history make it the proper candidate to take on this role. The City of Hickory must start moving towards growth again by becoming proactive in developing our resources.

Forbes numbers show that our community is ranked #146 out of 150, when it comes to educational attainment. That statistic is representative of the number of people over 25 years old with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. In comparing other areas of the country to our own, we see that some have more educational opportunities than us, but by no means do we appear to be lacking. While having educational capacities available is important, it is only one ingredient needed to develop a sustainable and resilient economy. The key is to focus people towards fruitful educational endeavors that lead to tangible job opportunity. In other words there has to be something at the end of the rainbow.

When it comes to building industry in our area, it’s not about College. It’s about knowledge. Do we have the types of Knowledge Industries available that will interest and retain the educated class? Are the people who grow up here and go away to college coming back after they obtain their degree? Are the young adults that we educate in our local Institutions of Higher Education staying here after they graduate? The key to prosperity is developing employment opportunities for the educated (and trained) at a living and sustainable wage. Our area’s wage growth proves that this is not happening. Without good jobs, we cannot have a prosperous and vibrant community. We cannot have the cultural amenities so many desire, because our tax base and marketplace will not support it.

I do believe that opportunities brought forth by Google and Apple will bring positive momentum towards the Technology sector in our community. Tech is the easy way to get involved in the Creative Economy. We must expand our Broadband and Information Technology capacities to create the favorable conditions necessary to achieve a High-Tech corridor. That will entice techies to move to the area and set up shop.

I truly believe that this is a significant part of our "Field of Dreams." If we build it, they will come. All of the successful cities have made relevant contributions to the New World's Creative Economy. These cities have chosen to get out front and lead the way, and as a result they are reaping huge rewards because of the development of their technological sector. I truly believe that the World is still in the beginning stages of the process of creating a technical society and there is plenty of room to get on board, but Hickory needs to get on board sooner rather than later, or once again we are going to be on the short end of the stick. I truly believe that this will lead to good, productive, high paying jobs.

We cannot continue to blame all of our problems on Raleigh and Washington, when our local government is not doing all that it can to take care of our own business. As far as the areas in North Carolina go, we are surrounded by Economic excellence. Raleigh-Durham, Wilmington, Charlotte, Asheville, and Greenville, NC are all doing really well. We should expect these areas to get more attention than us, when they are contributing more to the treasury and dynamics of growth in our state.

Raleigh and Wilmington are cities within our state that are models of how creativity and growth go hand-in-hand. Hickory has to get on board and invest in its future. The numbers clearly show that in relation to the rest of North Carolina, we haven’t been growing jobs, we haven’t been paying people anything, and we haven’t been moving toward a High-Tech economy.

We do deserve our fair share of the money we have put into the treasury, but playing follow the leader and complaining about not receiving charity will not solve this city’s problems.. We're going to have to take some chances, think outside of the box, and initiate some action to kickstart our economy. If we don't soon start growing our economy then raising taxes, fees, and/or cutting services will be inevitable. This all will lead to a further degradation of the general welfare of this community.

There really isn’t a geographical correlation relative to Hickory and the other economies at the bottom of Milken’s rankings. The only correlation I see between the Midwestern cities and Hickory is that their economies were centered on a form of manufacturing that became obsolete, because it was not rooted in the fundamentals needed to survive the movement towards a global economy.

The automobile crisis is the result of years of corporate-controlled government manipulation. Some people believe that the same mindset occurred in Hickory from the late 1990s until 2008. You cannot turn growth on or off like it is a faucet. Certain people, in this community aspired to the ideal of the yesteryear they remember, when Hickory was a quaint little village. In my opinion, the people who attempted to lead us down that misbegotten path of limited growth are at the root of our community’s problems. By the time our local officials reluctantly admitted we were going down the wrong path, it was too late to stop the train wreck of consequences we are now facing.

It is clear to me that our city's statistics show very little relation to what has happened in the rest of the Southeast. Only two other Southeastern cities are in the bottom 50 of Milken’s rankings, Spartanburg, South Carolina (#183) and Columbus, Georgia (#166). What is perplexing is that a few years ago our city seemed enchanted by the model of Roanoke, Virginia whose rank is currently #168. Roanoke’s economic rankings going back to 2002 have been 2008 - #168. 2007 - #138, 2005 - #179, 2004 - #181, 2003 - #166, and 2002 - #139. It is nonsensical to think we have anything to learn from Roanoke, Virginia other than what not to do.

Every community faces challenges unique to a combination of, but not necessarily limited to, Geography and Environment, Culture and Diversity, and Economics and Governance. In my opinion, we are fortunate that we don’t face as many obstacles as other communities do. I just feel that local officials need to realize that America’s foundation was rooted in the philosophy of openness and embrace that principle. Our representatives need to collaborate with people from every background. Common Sense, fairness, and consistency should be Hickory’s hallmark.

Small business will be where the majority of our area's jobs are going to come from in the future and small business is most vulnerable when it comes to the dictates of government. It is imperative that there be cooperation between these businesses and local government. We cannot afford to have business and government look at one another as adversaries. Prosperity for the entire community is at stake.

I believe that businesses should be personally responsible towards setting a positive image for our community. If our local officials are fair and consistent when setting and administrating policy then businesses should adhere to guidelines. Together everyone has a role to play in the collaborative process.

Successful Metro Areas are spread throughout the United States. Unemployment rates seem to have a strong correlation with Milken’s rankings, which include factors of job growth, wage growth, and overall revenues produced from High-Tech Industry. The Best Performing Cities seem to be keeping up with the demand for employment better than the nation as a whole. The Economic Resiliency they are showing must be learned from.

What I believe we should study is the Commercial characteristics and Cultural Amenities of these cities and how they are addressing needs that are relevant to the 21st century. Every one of these cities is addressing their Public Transportation needs and I think that it is imperative that we also do just that. Our Public Transportation system is extremely inadequate for an area of our size. Population growth has been shown to be a key to a successful economy. If we move towards a structure that encourages growth, then we must develop a public transportation central nervous system to ensure that the growth is systematic and sustainable and doesn’t have a negative impact on our ability to travel to different destinations in the area.

Hickory sits at several important geographical and transportational crossroads and should be a vital central location for Western North Carolina. In my opinion that is what caused this city to develop in the first place. Why we lost the meaning and significance of this part of our city's Mission of Existence is beyond me.

Forbes ranks Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton as #147 area out of 150 when it comes to Culture and Leisure. This Index is based on museums, theaters, golf courses, sports teams, and other activities. I think the SALT Block is an excellent public cultural facility, we have the Crawdads, and we have a ton of golf courses (and a golf tournament) around here. So by process of elimination, I believe that this tells us that we need to improve upon our entertainment business sector. There really isn’t much to do around here other than go to bars.

Developing an entertainment complex would go hand-in hand with our restaurant and retail business sectors and it would appeal to a younger demographic. I have heard the possibilities of a mid-sized concert venue being developed and I think a nice Amphitheater in the area would have a lot to offer. Just think of people around the region converging on Hickory and spending money in our stores. That seems like a lot better scenario than always having our citizens go to concerts in Charlotte, Asheville, Greensboro, or Greenville, SC and spend money there.

Many people believe me to be eternally pessimistic when it comes to my hometown. I honestly don’t believe that I am. Some don’t like the message and others don’t like the way I have delivered it. But, would they have listened if I had softballed it up to them. Empirical evidence points to the fact that they wouldn’t have. I think the issues that we have faced and continue to face are solvable. But, we need to quit wasting time and get on with solving these issues that have plagued this area for years.

Let’s look at the Hound’s track record.
I told you that there were problems two years ago and the status quo continued on - An All-American City deserves first-class leadership. Remember the headline article from the Hickory Daily Record entitled “35,133 jobs lost since the year 2000,” Where was that issue first addressed? 24,493 Jobs Lost in the Unifour since June 2000 was published on December 8, 2008 or The Relevant Issue: 34,294 JOBS lost since July 2000 in the Unifour from July 6, 2009. Oh, if you really want your mind blown check this one out – Conversation with the Mayor on Hal Row about our area’s aging population and the need to retain our best and brightest from February 2009.

People will choose the direction that they want the area to head in, but it is more than obvious that Hickory and the Unifour have been heading in the wrong direction for years. We understand most of the issues we face on the surface, but I truly don’t think people have looked under the surface to see what is really going on. I think that is how we have gotten so far off track.

I have laid it all out here in this series of articles. How we face these issues, and the honesty with which we deal with them, will determine how efficiently and expediently we can bring this community back towards positive economic momentum. Let's just look at the facts and the statistics and leave personal feelings and attachments out of this process. I honestly believe that if we do that, then we will be able to revolutionize Hickory into something bigger, better, and brighter.

I believe that we have formed groups that can address the problems we face, but the key will be in the follow through. We need to facilitate a process that encourages economic centers of Technology, Energy, Modern Manufacturing, Centrally focused Retail Commerce, and Entertainment.

Other cities have been as low on the totem pole as we are, but they found a way to address their inadequacies. Some of these cities turned their fortunes around in only a couple of years. I think that our current Job situation might be just what we needed, because it brought our problems to the national forefront. The embarrassment has refocused our priorities on issues that should have been dealt with long ago. This gives me hope that we can turn our fortunes around.

I see hope in our future, if we work together on doing what is best for this city, and this area as a whole, and quit coming at these issues from an angle of our own self-interest. Hickory was successful in the 1980s and 1990s when it experienced population growth rates of 26% and 23% respectively. So far this decade we have barely grown over 5% and most of that growth has come from people over 45 years old. That seems to perfectly correlate with the lack of economic growth we have seen in the community.

We need to do everything in our power to encourage young people from here to come back after college and we need to encourage twenty and thirty year olds from elsewhere to move here. The younger generation is the key to growth and prosperity. Our energies need to focus on creating a market and atmosphere that will entice this younger demographic to make Hickory their home. I believe the future of this area depends on it. 
Hickory versus MSAs who have made the biggest Economic Comebacks
Hickory Metro's Economy and the 10 Best MSAs in the U.S.
Hickory vs the 10 worst MSAs in the U.S
Hickory Metro's Economy versus similar U.S. MSAs
Hickory Metro's Economy versus North Carolina MSAs 
Hickory -- A Lack of Creativity?