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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mind Blowing - The City's Mismanagement of the Hickory Regional Airport

The following article is written in collaboration with Joe Brannock, a third generation pilot, whose family has utilized Hickory Regional Airport's facilities for years, and who served as a member of the Hickory Regional Airport Task Force in 2006.

River Hawk Aviation is contracted by the City to provide aviation related services at the Hickory Regional Airport. Such a company is known in the aviation community as an FBO (Fixed Base Operator). At a minimum, most FBOs offer fuel and parking. FBOs, such as River Hawk, offer additional services such as hangar storage, maintenance, aircraft charter and rental, flight training, and ground services such as towing and baggage handling.

River Hawk became Hickory Regional Airport's FBO after merging with the prior FBO, Profile Aviation. Due to several questionable actions by Profile Aviation, a mistrustful relationship developed between the City and that FBO. In 2007, Profile "merged" with River Hawk unannounced and unexpectedly. This "merger" was questioned by the City. The City retained aviation attorney Frank Newton to advise on the matter. Against counsel's advice, the City decided to recognize River Hawk as the proper FBO service provider.

Around the Spring of 2008, the City approached River Hawk with the intent of renegotiating the Concession Agreement (the contract between the City and the FBO) under which the previous FBO had operated, and the same contract under which River Hawk had been operating, and planned to continue to operate. This Concession Agreement called for roughly $120,000 per year to be paid by the FBO to the City in concession fees.

Under the City's new contract, the concession fee was increased by roughly $60,000, bringing the fee up to $180,000 per year. On top of this set fee was also placed a "floating" fee. A benchmark was established taking into account the current tax base at the airport. Aircraft owners that base (park) their aircraft at the airport pay a property tax on the value of the aircraft. If River Hawk added to this tax base (i.e. attracted more aircraft to be based in HKY) the "floating" fee would decrease. As the tax based decreased, this fee would again increase; to be capped at $75,000. So, it would be to the FBO's benefit to get more aircraft to make Hickory their base of operations.

The FBO hesitantly went along with this newly devised fee plan in an effort to reconcile their contentious relationship with the City which was inherited from the previous FBO. Bottom line is this, the concession fee was increased by over 100%. Is this something the City should have done to a local business in these economic times?

The City has repeatedly acknowledged its pleasure with the job the FBO is doing at the airport. In fact, over the first 18 months of operations, the FBO was able to attract 17 new aircraft to re-locate to Hickory. This equates to nearly $40 million of new tax base. Nowhere in the city is this level of growth even possible. The FBO spent over $100,000 to achieve this type of growth. The City receives nearly $80,000 in increased tax revenue, due solely to the FBO's efforts.

By increasing the tax base, the FBO's "floating" fee was nearly zeroed out. However, look at it this way. It cost River Hawk $100,000+ in order to save $75,000 - all the while the City benefits $80,000.

Due to the increased fees and the overall economic downturn that hit the aviation industry, over time the FBO defaulted on its commitment to the City. In short, the FBO was unable to make their scheduled concession fee payments to the City in full. After several months of default, the City formally put the FBO on notice and began legal proceedings. The FBO rectified the default by the deadline set by the City.

Recognizing the current economic conditions and likely forecasts, the FBO approached the City regarding plans to grow the company and expand its presence at the airport. This basically meant building more hangars in order to attract new customer base and to accommodate those already placed on a waiting list for hangar space. This would help the FBO increase its revenue streams and the side benefit is that this would also increase the City's tax base. In short, the City denied the FBO's request to expand. As a counter, the FBO proposed the City build the additional hangar(s) that the FBO would market/manage on the City's behalf. Again, this proposal was also rejected.

Here's the catch. In order to build additional hangar(s), Runway 1/19 would need to be closed. In fact, on Nov. 20, 2007, Council voted to close this very runway, but held off on the final step of closure until a "viable economic opportunity" presented itself. Does the fact that there is currently NO available hangar space coupled with the FBO's willingness to invest its own capital in airport development not constitute the "viable economic opportunity" required by the motion passed by City Council?

The FBO is not the first entity to request permission to build hangars at the airport. Within the past two years other pilots and nationally recognized pilot associations have presented Council with development plans. All proposals have been summarily rejected. Why?

Why the need for more land development? The answer is simple. We're out of space. Moreover, there is a waiting list for hangar space right now. What happens if this development does not happen? Again, the simple answer is this; we will begin losing tax base.

A locally based corporation that currently bases its aircraft fleet in Hickory is looking elsewhere to meet its need for more hangar space. This company has purchased an additional aircraft and is planning delivery of a second newly purchased aircraft next spring. Currently, these new purchases, totaling around $30 million of new tax base, are not slated to be based in Hickory. If this need for additional hangar space is not met in Hickory, it will be met by another airport. Not only will these newly acquired aircraft not be based here, but this company's aircraft that is based here will be moved as well. Not only will Hickory miss out on the $30 million of new purchases, but Hickory will lose the $20 million in aircraft assets that this company does base here due to this company's desire and need to hangar its entire fleet at the same airport. That's around $50 million worth of tax base that the City is willing to literally let fly away.

Conversely, by direct investment or allowing third party investment in our airport, we not only retain our current tax base, but we would see immediate returns of an increasing tax base by attracting new flight operations.

The "opportunity cost" to this type of gain is this - we lose a runway. What the City will not tell the public is that Runway 1/19 will be closed within the next 5 years regardless of the City's actions. NCDOT will only fund the upkeep on the primary runway, Runway 6/24. Due to the low traffic volume, the State will not fund secondary runways. Without proper maintenance, the FAA will close Runway 1/19. To prevent this, the City will have to shoulder 100% of the re-paving costs. Simply put, the City cannot afford to do this.

So this is the choice; be pro-active and close the runway now while there is someone willing, ready, and able to invest and develop the newly available land; or sit back and wait for the FAA to mandate the closure of Runway 1/19. By that time there conceivably will not be an FBO or other entity able to develop the land. Moreover, the cost of development now would be less than future costs.

As it happens, the City's Airport Task Force recommended to Council the need for land that has the potential for development. Unfortunately, after studying this issue for nine months, the conclusion was that aside from Runway 1/19, there was no available land for potential, immediate development. Moreover, the City hired a consulting firm that developed a plan and recommended the closure of this runway. This plan was presented at a public meeting held at the airport.

By the way, whatever happened to the Airport Task Force's report? Well, it was "unanamously received" by Council. No other action was taken. In fact, the case can be made that the City not only has ignored the report's recommendations, but has actually proceeded to act contrary to the report. Let's see, the City forms a committee to study an issue only to ignore any recommendations presented. Sadly, that seems par for how the City of Hickory operates.

The truth of Hickory's Regional Airport is this; it is the crown jewel of regional airports in Western NC. Aside from Charlotte and Greensboro, no other airport in Western NC has the amenities that Hickory can offer. Does this sound familiar?

Hickory was at the summit of another economic sector not too long ago - manufacturing. We had fiber optics, textiles, and furniture. We reached the top of the mountain and we sat there simply enjoying the view. Before we knew it though, it all disappeared. We went from sitting on the highest of mountains to finding ourselves in the lowest of valleys. All the while we wondered how did this happen? The very same thing is poised to happen again. This time, however, it will be with an aviation spin.

Hickory has an ILS (instrument landing system), we have the longest runway of any airport of comparable size, we have an FAA certified Part 145 maintenance facility, and we have the only Air Traffic Control Tower from Charlotte to Asheville. So what do we have to fear? This.....

Ten years ago Statesville did not have an ILS. Today they do. Statesville also extended their runway within the past five years in an effort to better compete with Hickory. Statesville also pro-actively closed their secondary runway. What's located there now? Only a dozen flight operations belonging to NASCAR race teams and a little home improvement company called Lowe's! Moreover, inside of five years Statesville will also have a control tower. Lincoln County is currently in a building frenzy at their airport. They too have plans of installing an ILS system in the near future. Why? They are planning for future growth.

Interesting little tidbit...Hickory currently has two runways. We used to have three runways. So what happened? Well, when the City closed the third runway - wait for it - development happened! Hangars were built, and new aircraft were based at Hickory, new jobs were created and the City's tax base grew. At every airport where a secondary runway has been closed, increased economic growth has followed.

Without strategic planning, Hickory will be eclipsed by Statesville and Lincolnton in aviation terms; just as we were made nearly irrelevant in terms of textiles/furniture/fiber optics.

Lastly consider this, if the City is blocking a local company from investing in Hickory (at the airport) and the City is not willing to invest in its own airport, then why should anyone else invest in Hickory? Moreover, why should we as citizens invest in our current city leadership?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There Will Be No Debate in Hickory!!!

Harry Hipps informed me on Sunday afternoon that there was not going to be a debate held involving the candidates for the two ward seats contested in this years Hickory City Election. He stated that there will only be a forum sponsored by the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce at the Catawba Country Club in which candidates from throughout Catawba County will basically meet and have a chat with Chamber of Commerce members.

I didn't believe this was true and I thought it was all a misunderstanding. Well Harry called me back on Monday Morning and informed me that his initial understanding was correct.

Two years ago I went to an actual debate that was held at the Chamber of Commerce when Brad Lail and Danny Seaver were challenged and there was an audience and it was open to the public - Bruce Meisner wasn't there, because he wasn't challenged. All of the candidates made opening and closing statements and people were allowed to ask questions and the candidates answered the questions and it was reported in the Newspaper. It was called a forum, it was advertised to the public, and it could not be construed as anything other than an actual debate. The place was packed with every seat taken and some people having to stand. How would this time be any different? I bet more people would show up this time.

This thing being set up this go around is not conducive to finding out where anyone stands on anything. Every candidate for every race in the county is supposed to be there and it only lasts two hours. So that means there are supposed to be 50+ candidates confined to a 120 minute time period to discuss issues. You know, that is hardly enough time to sneeze much less talk about the real issues this area faces. Why would anyone from Hickory need to know how someone from say Catawba feels about an issue?

This is just a Good Ole Boy dog and pony show, where people who know one another, from the clique, are going to stand around have cocktails, nibble on some snacks, pat each other on the back and tell one another how great they are -- and it is appropriately being held at the Country Club.

That type of event has its place, but it is no substitute for a debate. Debates, and discussing issues, in an open setting before the public at large is what this country was founded on. I'm sure you read about the Lincoln-Douglas debates when they used to actually teach U.S. History. Like Mayor Wright said at the Patrick McHenry town hall meeting, "Let's show them that we can do things right in this community." Amen!!! I agree 100% - A discussion of the issues with proper decorum. Isn't that what America is all about?

This is just a sad situation. Harry Hipps, Hank Guess, and/or Larry Pope deserve to be heard by the people of this community and not by methods that carry prohibitive costs (ie TV, Radio, and Newspaper Advertising). Jill Patton and Z.Anne Hoyle have had years of representation on City Council to let us know where they stand. Do these challengers, for those positions, not deserve a two-hour public forum to compare and contrast what they have to offer versus these incumbents, especially in the serious times that we are living in.

Is this all a set-up? Are the Powers That Be, in this city, trying to keep this election under wraps, just to ensure that extra level of control of outcome? It would take some truly small-minded people to think that such a form of governance, as this, could be effective and not have negative consequences over the long haul. Is this part of the "All of One Mind" strategy?

Harry is seeking alternative methods to discuss the challenges that our city faces and how he would address these issues. He challenges Mrs. Patton to a discussion of the issues anytime, any place, and anywhere. He stated to me that he is going to get his message out one way or another. He would like to be able to do it in a traditional manner, but now he may have to go to truly alternative means. Chut-Oh.

Harry Hipps for Council - 21st Century Leadership for the People of Hickory!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

HDR Editorial - Give young people a chance to thrive

My editorial published in the Hickory Daily Record on 9/27/2009 and Context Below

Changing our Culture is as important as Education

In reading Lamar Mitchell’s contribution from September 22, 2009, I would like to provide a different perspective. Mr. Mitchell is preaching to the choir when he goes down the laundry list of reasons why kids should stay in school. But, I am here to bring you a truly teachable moment.

Our area has suffered economically for years and it cannot all be blamed on uneducated people. These people, who are already suffering, should not be treated like villains. They worked hard and played by the rules that our area lived by for generations. Local leaders did not stress education years ago. Cheap labor was the desire of Old Hickory ’s Culture and now we are paying the price for that Monoculture of Manufacturing Industries.

Who could not agree that having a 17%+ dropout rate in our community is disastrous, but what is even worse is the loss of the younger demographic in this area. Population numbers show that since 2000, the O-44 age bracket grew by a measly .38%, while the 45+ age bracket grew by 14.34%. The older generation grew 23 times faster than the younger generation. Does that seem healthy to you?

"Educational Attainment" statistics count people who have obtained a degree of higher education and are age 25 or older. If a young person goes to college, but does not stay in our area, then it hurts our Attainment statistics. Looking at results from show that area High School students are actually fairing quite well compared to NC averages. The question should be asked, what are we going to do to retain our best and brightest and entice the educated class to move to the Hickory area?

It is obvious to me that there is a lack of opportunity in this area for people with higher education. We have a real problem with job quality. Many people with Bachelor’s degrees (or higher) are vastly overqualified for what they do. Young graduates can wait tables, perform other menial labor, or leave town.

We have seen the Brain Drain in this community that is associated with a lack of understanding and compassion for what the citizens of this community have truly endured. If we are going to turn our plight around, then we are going to have to reconnect with the younger generations who can reinvigorate this community. We need to present college graduates with possibilities for internships, apprenticeships, and other specific opportunities to rebuild Hickory and start a Cultural Renaissance in this area.

Mr. Mitchell’s commentary once again has an area leader focusing on the negative. What does our plight have to do with Obama, Bush, or Perdue? Local leaders need to focus on transforming our area into a Cultural Bastion of Excellence, where young educated people can thrive. If this happens, I truly believe the drop-out rate, which has a lot to do with depression and despair, will soon begin to recede.

My Editorial was in Response to Lamar Mitchell's editorial, which is provided below:

The Hound believes in Knowledge and in what I wrote I am not arguing against people obtaining any form or level of Educational Attainment. What I am saying is that we need to look at what has led to the problem we see today. Furniture and Textile owners didn't care if people had diplomas. They wanted to teach people specific task oriented skills and then have them do it for the rest of their lives. In my opinion, they also didn't want people asking questions and daddburnit that is exactly what educated people do.

Today we live in a highly competitive global world that demands people who can think outside of the box, who are innovative, and can constantly figure out new ways to do things better. Old Hickory's culture did not want this. The ideal was to have an employee not think. Just work like a machine and don't ask questions. Now you have automated machines or cheap foreign labor to do those menial tasks. So the people brought up in that culture are now lost.

That being said we need to change the culture around here. Steve Ivester, who comes from a completely polar-opposite philosophy than myself on most issues, was the person who spoke of the Monoculture of Furniture, Textiles, and Cabling that did not demand education (Ivester audio link). Many of these people, who expected lesser educational attainment from the workforce, passed this philosophy down from generation to generation. How many of the business owners that are now fussing about our community's lack of educational attainment are the same people who had no problem hiring people with less than a high school education in the past. Where does such self-righteous indignation come from?

Let's face it, the people who are older than 50 are not going to go get their GED and is it realistic to expect them to do so at this point? Are those people not a major demographic in this community? Yes, we have to change our local culture and instill in our youngsters that they need their education, but we also need to find out why they would want to quit school, why they think they don't need their diploma, and figure out how we are going to address such a sad situation. I addressed this at the last city Council meeting, when Alder Jill Patton mentioned that she and the Mayor were at the Champions of Education meeting and it was a kickoff for 2012 that made a statement that businesses would not hire anyone without a High School Diploma or GED. Newsletter about the City Council meeting of September 15, 2009 (The whole summary is at the bottom of the article).

The bigger issue is the demographic issue shown in the chart below. I mentioned it in the article. The stats were extrapolated from this chart (Link stats below):

This is the article where I sum up this issue - The Younger Generation is the Key!!!

The Graphic below shows that our High School Educational rankings aren't that bad compared to North Carolina State averages (Link stats below):

This is the article where I sum up this issue - Our High Schools versus the State of North Carolina Averages.

The Hound believes we deserve more than canned answers and philosophies on the issues we face. I have faith that we can turn this area around, if everyone does their part. I have heard a lot of great things about the Champions of Education and what I wrote is not meant in any way to dismiss or slight their mission. I think we need to worry about the real issues we face and not waste an opportunity to address the true issues that our area faces in trying to right our Economic Ship.

I also encourage you to read - Hickory, Time to Put the Puzzle Together

Friday, September 25, 2009

1859 Cafe says Thank You to the People who cleaned the Property next door

1859 Cafe
This is the Follow-Up of the "Under Belly of Your City" video that I shot 18 days ago. I want people to see that I am not just looking to show the problems in this city. I also want people to see the solutions and this issue could not have been resolved without the help of Alex-Lee and I am sure that there were others involved behind the scenes. Jane Thanks You and I want to say thanks to everyone who played a role in cleaning this situation up. Below is a video that shows how the property has been revitalized.

1859 Before the Clean-Up

If we can revitalize this piece of property in just 18 days to this extent, then I know that we can do the same with other blighted properties throughout this town. Please, let's show that we love our home and give it the respect and attention it deserves. Let's put our best foot forward. I truly believe this is a key to turning our Economic Fortunes around.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Working on a story that will blow your minds

That is the reason why I haven't put anything out in the last few days. I am sourcing, getting the I's dotted and T's crossed, but this one will bring out the full range of emotions in this community when it comes out, I assure you. So stay tuned.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my editorial that will be out in the Hickory Daily Record in the next couple of days. I am going to allow them to publish it there before I do here. Again stay tuned so that I can further explain the meaning behind the commentary.

Thank You,

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Election is Under Way -- The Process and Hickory City Ward Map

Hickory City Ward Map Link

Many of the people that come to this site realize that this is an election year. Early primary voting started last Thursday at the Highland Recreation Center.

This is a year when the Mayoral seat and Council seats in Wards 4, 5, and 6 are up for grabs. In reality what we are seeing is two seats up for contention, because no one is challenging Mayor Wright or Alder Sally Fox (who is the representative from Ward 5).

In Ward 4, Hank Guess and Larry Pope are challenging incumbent Z. Ann Hoyle. Since there are more than two candidates running for the position, a primary election is being held to reduce the race to two candidates for the General Election. Early voting will continue until Saturday, October 3rd. The Highland Center Polling Precinct is open from 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday and 8am to 1pm Saturday. So early voting will end on Saturday, October 3rd, 2009 at 1pm. The official primary date is October 6th, 2009 from 6:30am until 7:30pm at polling places in the 4th Ward only.

The Ward 4 primary is only eligible to people who live in the 4th Ward. The 4th Ward Northern Boundary runs along the Railroad tracks from 14th street SW to 10 street SE. It includes all of Highway 70 from 19th street SW east to Robinson Road and includes all of the annexed properties in Mountain View. It also includes the Green Park and Ridgeview sections of Central Hickory. The two candidates who receive the most votes during this primary will move on to the General Election where they will be voted on by all eligible voters throughout the City of Hickory

In Ward 6, there are only two candidates, Incumbent Jill Patton and Challenger Harry Hipps, so they are assured of facing off in the General Election, where they will run throughout the City. Early voting for the General Election will also be held at the Highland Recreation Center and will run from October 15th to October 31st from 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays. So the last date for early voting will be Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 1pm.

The official General Election date is November 3rd, 2009 and polling precincts throughout the city will be open from 6:30am until 7:30pm. Mayor Wright and Alder Fox's names will still be on the ballot and they can be challenged by write-in candidates, but historically the chances of being successfully challenged this way are infinitesimal.

Hope this information helps those who need information about this process.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Impulse Spending not wise with Tough Times Ahead - Harry Hipps

At the Hickory City Council meeting, September 15th, we saw a clear example of the poor decision making process that too often occurs here. On an impulse the Mayor stated that he wanted a new sign with the City’s newly designed logo placed at the intersection of Tate Blvd and LR Blvd. The road will be re-opened in October and Mr. Wright, enthusiastically supported by Mrs. Patton, decided on a whim that the sign would be pretty and make a splash.

The logo was designed as part of the Wayfinding Program that was discussed and voted on earlier in the year. At that time, when the $73,500 for the design was approved, the plan was that the signs would be purchased in phases. The total cost of City wide signage will be several hundred thousand dollars and was to be phased in over a number of years as funds were available and one would assume that there would be some logical progression to it. Now it seems that we won’t worry about the budget or what the priorities for sign placement are, but, whenever the mood strikes the Mayor or Council we’ll put a sign up somewhere. And with an election coming up I guess they are feeling festive.

Our tax base is eroding, few building permits are being issued, housing values are stagnant, which means we are headed for budget problems soon. Should we be impulse spending now? And is this the professional, methodical way we expect our City finances to be handled? Some would say it’s only $6,100 and we can afford it. That’s not the point. The point is money is tight now and we need to be good stewards of what we have. Impulse spending is not wise for family budgets and it is poor public policy. If tax rates have to be raised to pay the City’s bills, Mr. Wright and Mrs. Patton’s impulse spending will only make a tough situation worse. The taxpayers deserve better.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of September 15, 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 9/15/2009 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below.

Invocation by Rev. Deborah McEachran of First Presbyterian Church

Consent Agenda:
Resolutions - Discard Library Materials to the Friends of the Library for Their Annual Book Sale The Friends of the Library collect donated books and other materials throughout the year for their Annual Book Sale to be held October 8 – 11, 2009. The donated books and materials are out of date, in poor condition or are no longer needed to meet the collection development goals of the library. There are 2,869 discarded library materials to be donated. The proceeds ultimately benefit the library, which is an appropriate means of disposing of unneeded materials.

Resolution for Public Hearings - (Authorize Public Hearing for October 20, 2009) Consented to Catawba Valley Medical Center to Close a Portion of Old School Drive. (Authorize Public Hearing for October 6, 2009) - Consideration of an Ordinance Amendment to Revise Chapter 31, Section 13 “Location and Ownership of Water Meters” of the Hickory City Code

Proclamation - Declaring September 19, 2009 as “Centro Latino Day” in Celebration of their 10th Anniversary in the City of Hickory

Business - Award Bid to J. T. Russell & Sons, Inc. to Rehabilitate and Overlay Taxiway “A” at the Hickory Regional Airport in the Amount of $1,070,298.15 - this will increase the load carrying capacity comparable to Runway 6-24. The Federal Aviation Administration awarded the City Grant AIP #23 in the amount of $1,145,824, which is a 95% grant, with a State obligation of 2.5% and a 2.5% obligation by the City in the amount of $26,757.45 for rehabilitation of this taxiway. The contractor will be unable to start this project in 2009, but has agreed to honor their bid prices through Spring 2010. A total of three bids were received for this project and J. T. Russell & Sons, Inc. was the lowest responsible bidder.

Approve First Amendment to Lease Agreement With AGW Leasing Company, Inc. (Sprint) For Their Lease of Antenna Space on City’s Water Tower and Additional Ground - The initial lease will expire on November 1, 2009. The amendment extends the Lease Agreement for one additional five year term beginning on November 2, 2009, expiring on November 1, 2014. The agreement will automatically renew for one additional five year term on November 2, 2014. AGW will pay the City annual rent in the amount of $36,000 in equal monthly installments of $3,000. The lease fee is subject to an increase of 3% each successive year. Any improvements the lessee makes at the site are at the corporation’s expense and an experienced contractor must be used to install any new equipment. Regular inspections are to be performed of its antennae by the lessee.

Accept Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) in the Amount of $48,250 - The City of Hickory and Catawba County received approval of a combined allocation of $64,653 under the 2009 JAG Program. The award is based on the City and County’s Uniform Crime Reports. These funds can be spent on virtually any purpose that benefits law enforcement. The Hickory Police Department will use these funds to enhance current operations within the department, i.e. purchase of workout equipment, speed measuring devices, additional shotguns, tasers and tactical equipment. The City’s portion of the award is $48,250 with no match required.

Approval of Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendation for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs
1. Applicant Alfreda Wingate of 943 4th Street Place, SE Hickory is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan Program in an amount up to $6,500.

2. Applicants Dirk & Carolyn Thompson of 146 3rd Avenue, SE Hickory are being
recommended to subordinate City’s 3rd mortgage to Peoples Bank due to refinancing of 2nd mortgage.

3. Applicant Delores Benge of 1710 2nd Avenue, SW Hickory is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s 2009 Urgent Repair Program in an amount up to $5,000.
FY 2008 – 2009 Consolidated Annual Performance and Evaluation Report (CAPER) - The US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development requires the City, as a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) entitlement funding recipient, to report on CDBG monies spent within the previous fiscal year. This report evaluates the effectiveness of the use of resources in addressing identified goals and objectives cited in the Annual Action Plan, which is prepared before the fiscal year begins.

Budget Ordinances -
Appropriate $3,786 of Local Government Revenue and budget in the Police Department for overtime. This revenue is payment from Catawba County Mental Health for a portion of an Officers time spent when accompanying involuntary commitment patients during August, 2009.

Budget $391 insurance claim check from Progressive Premier Insurance Company in the Police Department Maintenance and Repair of Vehicle line item for damage sustained to a Police vehicle on 08-13-09.

Budget $13,431 of Contingency as the City of Hickory contribution of a GCC Inter Agency Gang grant. This establishes the reimbursement to the General Fund for salary and benefits for the crime analyst and overtime, FICA and retirement for officer overtime reported and related to gang activity prevention in the amount of $67,640.

Accept $3,900 of Bulletproof Vest Program Federal Revenue and budget in the Police Department Uniform line item to pay for officers vests. This program is up to a 50% match from the Department of Justice.
Purchases Twelve Vests at an estimated price of $650 each. The life expectancy of each vest is approximately five years.

Amendment to establish funding form GCC Inter Agency Gang grant as part of the American Recovery Act of 2009 - Budget a total of $135,630 of revenue in the Police Department operational line items. ($122,199 - Restricted Gov. Revenue and $13,431 Transfer from General Fund).

Appropriate $37,500 of Urgent Repair Program - Grant-Restricted State Revenue funds and budget in the Economic and Community Development Program Administration ($5,000) and Energy ($32,500) operational line items.

Informational Items:
A. Report of Alderwoman Hoyle’s Travel to the Fall PSCP Steering Committee Meeting in Thornton, CO From August 20 – 22, 2009; hotel - $205.82; airfare - $973.70; shuttle - $50; per diem - $29.25; airline baggage fees - $35 The NCLM is to reimburse the City $400 pursuant to the League’s adopted budget regarding NLC Committee Meetings

B. Report of Mayor Wright’s Travel to the NC Metropolitan Mayors Coalition Fall Retreat in Concord/Salisbury, NC From August 27 – 28, 2009; hotel - $109.37; registration fee - $125; mileage - $77. The Mayor stated Items B and C were not a retreat, but it was a work session.

C. Report of City Manager Berry’s Attendance of the NC Metropolitan Mayors Coalition Fall Retreat in Concord/Salisbury, NC From August 27 – 28, 2009; registration $125

New Business - Public Hearings:
1. Adopt Amended Ordinance to Revise Chapter 2, Article VIII, Youth Council of the Hickory City Code - Adoption of the amended Ordinance will assist the Youth Council to operate more smoothly by removing the requirement that members be appointed by their school principals, and the requirement that there be one member from each of the four classes at Hickory High School and St. Stephens High School which will allow member recruitment to be completed in the spring as opposed to the fall. Additionally, the requirement that two existing members of the City’s Community Relations Council serving as “at large” members of the Youth Council will be removed. These two members will be appointed directly to the Youth Council. A recruitment committee will be formed to review applications and make appointment recommendations to City Council. Finally, the amended ordinance will also reduce the quorum number from thirteen to ten. Youth Council at its August 20, 2009 meeting reviewed the proposed amendment and recommends adoption. Dave Leonetti made the Presentation. He stated that this will help maintain a quorum. In the past it has been hard to hold meetings until October. Eliminates the requirement that members be nominated by High School Principals. Instead two references will be required instead of one. One will come from a Principal, a school official, or teacher and the other can come from anyone. City staff will also have input. That makes it hard to get things done. Unanimous Consent of Council

2. Approve Claremont Historic District Expansion Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places - Consider the recommendation by the Hickory Historic Preservation Commission to accept the nomination of the Claremont Historic District Expansion to the National Register of Historic Places. In 2008 Clay Griffith of Acme Preservation Services conducted research of the expansion areas in the three historic districts. On August 25, 2009 Ann Swallow the National Register Coordinator from the State Historic Preservation Office and Mr. Griffith attended a Hickory Historic Preservation Commission meeting. Through Mr. Griffith’s research, it clearly indicated that the period of significance has expanded through the 1950’s. A public hearing was held thereafter finding the expansion area met the criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Should Council approve this nomination, Council’s recommendation will be presented to the North Carolina National Register Advisory Committee on October 8, 2009. And once the expansion area is considered a National Register District, unless the City follows with an action to create a Historic Overlay on this property, the property owners will not be required to have renovations approved by the Hickory Historic Preservation Commission. Donna Cullum made the presentation. She stated that the district was approved in 1986. There were 62 properties listed on the National registry at that time. The period of significance was from 1870 to 1935. This expansion will include smaller houses, smaller lots, and structures closer to the street. This expansion includes buildings from after world war 1, as vacant lots were improved. 161 new structures will be added to the registry. Unanimous Consent of Council

Departmental Reports:
1. First Reading (From the Consent Agenda) and Second Reading - Accept Airport Improvement Program Grant From the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Grant AIP #23 in the Amount of $1,145,824 for Rehabilitation and Overlay of Taxiway “A” - Taxiway “A” is the primary taxiway at the Hickory Regional Airport and the only taxiway designated for use by an air carrier and larger charter aircraft. Charter traffic has increased in the last couple of years. This is a continuing maintenance program at the airport and is mandated by the FAA. Last year, this grant was awarded to the Hickory Regional Airport for the repaving of Taxiway “A”. Upon FAA’s approval, bidding was delayed due to high petroleum rates, which has saved approximately one hundred thousand dollars. It has been over 30 years since Taxiway “A” has been repaved. Repaving will enable the primary taxiway to handle larger aircraft and require less maintenance. Funding for this project includes 95% FAA share, 2.5% State and 2.5% local. The Mayor pointed out that Alders Lail and Patton, who were on the Airport Committee made motions to approve, so if they made motions... any discissions? Unanimous Consent of Council

2. First Reading (From the Consent Agenda) and Second Reading - Approve Contract With Ponder & Co., Inc. for Construction of Piedmont Wagon Transit Depot in Hickory in the Amount of $427,000 City owned property located at 285 1st Avenue, SW - will house the new Hickory Transit Station for the Western Piedmont Regional Transit Authority. The City received a total of nine bids on the project with Ponder & Co., Inc. being the lowest bidder at $427,000. The low bid will be subject to review by NCDOT for compliance with minority business enterprise requirements. The depot will be a single story brick veneer building with a timber truss canopy with steel column supports and concrete sidewalk and loading area along with the construction of a roadway between 1st Ave. SW and 2nd Ave. SW. Paving of two associated parking areas is also included. Design of the depot was approved by the Historic Preservation Committee. Construction is a lump sum project including all applicable permits. Estimated construction time is 120 days and will be coordinated and overseen by the City’s Engineering staff. No budgetary action is required since funding has been previously arranged. Funding will consist of 80% Federal grant, 10% State and 10% Local.Award Bid to Ponder & Co., Inc. for Construction of Piedmont Wagon Transit Depot in the Amount of $427,000 Ponder & Co., Inc. is the lowest of nine other bids the City received on this project. If awarded the bid, the Contract will be subject to review by NCDOT for compliance with minority business enterprise requirements. The transit depot is to be constructed on City owned property located at 285 1st Avenue, SW along with the construction of a roadway between 1st Ave. SW and 2nd Ave. SW. Manager Berry pointed out that the Transit Authority is now going by the name Greenway. Unanimous Consent of Council

3. Designation of Voting Delegate and One Alternate Voting Delegate for 2009 Annual North Carolina Annual Business Meeting on October 27, 2009 in Greenville, NC. - Under the NCLM Constitution and the voting procedure established by the League Board of Directors, each member municipality sending delegates to the Annual Conference is required to designate one voting delegate and one alternate voting delegate. The vote of each municipality at the Annual Business Meeting on October 27, 2009 may be cast only by a designated voting delegate or alternate voting delegate. Mayor Wright, Alder Hoyle, and the City Manager Mick Berry will attend. Alder Hoyle was appointed as the voting delegate. Unanimous Consent of Council

4. Progress Report on Brownfield Assessment Grant - Brian Frazier made the presentation. In the Fall of 2007 the US EPA awarded Hickory two $200,000 Brownfield Grants. Brownfield Sites are usually abandoned, vacant, underutilized buildings or lots. Most likely in Hickory it is going to be an old Furniture Factory or Textile Mill. Staff and consultants have identified well over 100 sites in Hickory as well as the ETJ. They have fully prioritized those sites and gone out and hired Hart & Hickman out of Charlotte to be consultants of record. They are 75% of the way through the process and the grant must be completed by September 30, 2010.

Mr. Frazier showed the various buildings that the city is now focusing on. he stated staff has been 1) Meeting with the Owners 2) having discussions with The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NC DENR), the EPA, and the property owners 3)moving forward with Phase 1 and 2 assessments 4) Identifying new prospects.

Currently the city has completed five Phase 1 assessments, which is basically a paper trail. Phase 1 is fully funded and the vast majority, if not all, of phase 2 will be paid for by the grant. Where the site is, who owns the site, have there been any spills? The city has completed one Phase 2, which goes beyond the paper trail and includes air, water, and soil sampling.

Mr. Frazier mentioned the Regal Building in Viewmont (which has gone through Phase 1 and stated Phase 2 will be coming around shortly) , Hollar Hosiery (Ironically the building I filmed on Sunday, has gone through Phase 2), the Piedmont Wagon Building (Phase 2 planning is underway), S&W Chemical (He stated that this is a priority site), and Joan's Fabric (is another Priority site). He also mentioned the Lyerly Mill and Moretz Mill. Lyerly Mill has gone through Phase 1 and Moretz Mill has gone through Phase 1 and is being prepped for phase 2.

He showed some of the outreach and promotional materials and talked about how they are promoting the sites to developers throughout the Southeast. Mr. Frazier stated that it was his understanding that the Hollar Hosiery site is under contract with a local developer and they are trying to work out some agreements with the railroad. He stated the owners of Lyerly Mill have decided, because of the economy, not to proceed ahead with phase 2 assessment at this time. He stated that the owner has a year to change his mind and they hope he will (nothing is imminent or being planned with this site).

Once all of these sites are assessed, the city can apply for remediation Money through the EPA and the Federal grant would be 80%. To qualify for such a grant, the Municipality must fully own the property. Most of the sites the city are looking at are privately owned. He stated that the economy is putting a crimp in the city's plans. The property owners (of Moretz Mill) don't presently have any potential buyers on the hook.

The Hound believes that this is a very important issue. That is the reason why I have been documenting the blighted properties in this area. The biggest problems in our community lie on the south side of the railroad tracks. Here are the two articles so far where I have documented the blight: Houndvision: Let's take a Drive through Southwest Downtown and Houndvision: Let's Head on over toward Highway 70 West.

I have been wondering about that Hollar property and I have asked about it to people in the know, but I never knew that it was as far along as it seems to be. I have been impressed with the course that Brian Frazier and Dave Leonetti have been plotting. Many of the questions I have been interested in on this subject were answered tonight. I honestly believe that the city is headed in the right direction on this front. I hope that City Council will continue to let these guys maneuver in the manner they find necessary.

The one thing I desire is to see the City facilitate a means to move the properties towards a productive state, instead of allowing property owners to let properties deteriorate at the expense of the surrounding community. We must make this a priority. The Real Estate Market and this issue can't be allowed to fester and make a bad situation worse.

In General Comments (Very Important): Jill Patton talked about the Small Business Job Growth Team and stated that they need the support of the Council. She stated that something new must be done to reignite the entrepreneurial spirit in our city. The Mayor stated that the group has moved past the Pet Peeve stage and said he is proud of that. The Mayor said we can expand this group, if people want to participate.

The Mayor made a motion that was Unanimously consented to, to put a $6,100 sign up at the intersection of Tate Boulevard and Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard when it is opened in October. The sign will carry the City's new logo and the Mayor seemed excited about the prospects of having an unveiling ceremony when the road is opened.

Jill Patton mentioned that She and the Mayor were at the Champions of Education
and it was a kickoff for 2012 that businesses not hire anyone without a High School Diploma or GED. There are different levels of signing on. The Gold Level will require a $2,500 support of the program. 20 different businesses in the area have signed on as Gold. She would like to see Hickory to sign on to do this. She stated that we are 606 out of 788 communities in our educational attainment.

Z. Anne Hoyle stated that it sounds real good, but what do we do with our citizens that don't have it? What do we do, push them out of town? Alder Patton stated that this would be for new hires starting in 2012. Alder Hoyle stated that there are people that don't have it, but they are adults... Alder Patton stated there is a GED. She stated that this tells High School Students and Population how important it is to have an education to succeed in the new business model out there. She stated that we are always talking about competing with India and China and no they are so far above us in educational attainment. If we are going to succeed, we have to put education number one.

The Mayor jumped in stating there will be four groups of employers. The gold category will state that you must have a High School Education or GED to be employed here. The second one was confusing. The third one states that you express a preference for a High School Education or a GED. The fourth one doesn't sign on for anything. He said it isn't like you would be closing out anyone for a chance at employment. He stated that Prestige employers will sign on for Gold. It was stated that staff will look at this. Alder Hoyle stated that she wasn't opposed to it, but since we are in a town that traditionally hired people if they didn't have... lots of people now won't hire you without this... but we've been in furniture since the beginning of time and we hired people because they were skilled enough to do the job and we can possibly elite ourselves out. She isn't against education, she insisted (her children) get an education, but at the same time unless you plan to run some people out of town...

The Mayor stated to be fair that he spoke to someone who is a leading employer here, who stated that he would not put himself in a position that I have to hire people who have a high school education or GED. If he finds the right person who is willing to work 40 hours a week, work hard, is versatile, and comes to work on time; he needs that kind of person more than he needs credentials. Alderman Meisner stated that there are a lot of businesses like that, like landscaping and such.

The Mayor stated that this won't banish someone to unemployment forever. It will encourage people to get their High School Diploma or GED. He would also like for staff to advise what a GED of today means. Alder Patton said that it encourages and sends a message to the community that an education is important. To stop at High School level and drop out is no longer acceptable as far as educational attainment. Alder Hoyle said that we do that any way with the Employment Commission. Alder Patton stated that this puts a little emphasis behind it, that we are interested in looking beyond what we have traditionally done in textiles and furniture. Alder Hoyle stated that is what she is looking for to, but she doesn't believe that is the council's job. Alderman Lail stated that it was a great policy discussion, but we ought to have it at another time. Mayor Wright stated that Alder Patton was asking the staff to look at what this would mean for us as a city employer and what are the pitfalls. The Mayor stated that they would grandfather anyone who is currently employed.

Manager Berry stated that this dovetails with what they already do. they already work with and encourage employees to get their GED. They are familiar with this.

The Hound was uncomfortable witnessing the contentiousness displayed over this subject. I understand Mrs. Patton's passion on this issue and I share much of her belief on this issue, but I believe she made a mistake in the way she introduced the topic and that is what drew the ire of Mrs. Hoyle. If the subject had been narrowed to "the City of Hickory" from the get-go and the topic would have originally included the discussion of Grandfathering by the Mayor and encouragement and facilitation by Manager Berry, then I don't think this discussion would have gone as awry as it did.

I would like to see companies move in this direction; but we must facilitate, not legislate, this goal for companies in our community. It is going to have to be phased in and 2012 is not enough time. And you need to talk with area companies, before pushing any agenda, not dictate what they do. We cannot afford to go negative in addressing this issue.

What we have to do is change our culture and that starts by facilitating and encouraging young people, on an individual level, to find a niche (a passion) that they are interested in and show them how education can help them gravitate towards their dreams. We also have to as a society help the children, who have home issues, because of abuse or neglect. At some point our society needs to deal with these sensitive issues. These children are lost through no fault of their own because of violence, chemical dependency, and/or mental instability in their homes.

I did not like primary education when I was growing up, because it was confining and restrictive, which makes it boring. And I think that we have to recreate the wheel when it comes to education. Kids say, "Why do I need to know this?" And the worst part is that adults never give them a decent answer. It is always the generic, brainless,"You need an education to succeed." Why not ask the kid about their dreams and then tangibly point out how education works to facilitate that dream. And if a kid says I don't know (about their dream or passion), then find out why they don't have a goal, what is inhibiting them, or find a way to encourage them to dream. Our area's worst problem is adult's negative attitudes that always look towards what we aren't and what we can't be, instead of losing the shackles of limiting ourselves and talking about what we can be.

The other problem with this discussion is always falling back on the sword of education, education, education. My formal education came from dictionaries and encyclopedias, not from teachers or family. Society (and our community) keep asking for quantitative measures without figuring out the functions and variables of the Equation. So we are in the bottom 25% of communities with Associate degrees and bottom 10% of communities with Bachelor degrees, do you even know what that means or the variables that may play a role in those numbers?

I have asked the question before and I guess they don't find it convenient to their paradigm, so they refuse to answer it. What employment capacity do we have to retain or attain educated people?

We have kids in this area who are smart, but they are leaving and they are leaving behind the people who are stuck here. I would bet that most of those youngsters (left behind) come from poverty, which statistics show to be expanding in our community. Look at and read this article, Our High Schools versus the State of North Carolina Averages, and then get back to me. We need to expand our job market. We've been hearing about education forever. If you get jobs worthy of the educated, creative class, then you will increase our educational attainment number; if you don't then we will still be hearing this same discussion 10 years from now. The only difference is that educated people like myself, who can't find jobs worthy of our educational attainment, will have long given up on this area and moved out of here. Then the numbers will be even worse and you will wondering why all of these initiatives haven't worked.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Harry Hipps Video: Why I am running for Hickory City Council

Please visit my campaign Website - Harry Hipps for Council
- I am running for Hickory City Council in Ward 6 against Incumbent Jill Patton.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Houndvision: Let's Head on over toward Highway 70 West

This Video starts out in front of Lenoir-Rhyne and looks at the building behind the Granary that is fully blighted as you will see in the video. This property could be worth a lot, if it were renovated. I have heard that there are problems, because it sits in the Railroads Right of Way, but one can see that this property is an eyesore ajnd is going to drag property values down that surround it.

I think one of the problems that this city faces is that some property owners want too much for their disrepaired properties. Many of us can understand this because it is comparable to having any Market Asset (Like a Stock share) crash and wanting to hold on to the assets hoping they will bounce back. We all know that the Real Estate market is depressed and it is going to be years before they will bounce back. We are all going to have to be realistic when it comes to this issue.

This video starts out at the intersection of 3rd st SE and 1st ave SE. We take a right on 1st ave SE and from there hit the intersection of Hwy 127 at the All-Glass intersection and Head to the Catawba mall, which is now Catawba Furniture Mall. What we can see is the effects of Economic neglect on this area.

I would like to ask, who is going to stay at any of the hotels in this area? Certainly not any tourists. Then look at the property that formerly occupied by Sky City and Hickory Auto Mall.

In this video we start in the Big Lots Parking Lot. Big Lots is a Clearance Merchandiser. Big Lots has outgrown the smaller facility where it now resides. They are moving to the biggest unit on the property, The property they are now moving to used to house Grants, then Kmart, and the last business there was Hamrick's. The owner of this property seems to have taken care of the appearance of the property.

You will see the panoramic view of this property and the loss of businesses in this area. We cross Hwy 70 to see the property where Restaurants once thrived and now we see rubble. We also see the infamous Fantasia and the Hickory Motel, which used to be a signature Howard Johnson's that thrived during the Furniture market era.

Lastly we travel up 4th st from the SW to the NW quadrant of town. Here we can once again see the paradigm of the North side of the tracks versus the South side.

The Hound is going to try to make it easier for our community to understand
this truly serious issue we are facing. If Jobs are the number 1 issue, and they most certainly are, the issue of the cancerous blight that is taking over this community is the next most important issue.

What the people, in the better sections of town, fail to realize is that if they continue to let the south side of this city fall further into disrepair, then it is most certainly going to affect their own property values. We can't go about the process of revitalization with a thought process that property values will soon bounce back. In my opinion, we are nowhere near the bottom of Real Estate values in the Commercial and Industrial property sectors.

I have liked what I have heard from Brian Frazier and Dave Leonetti on this issue. We need to fast track the assessments of Brownfield properties and look towards creating revitalization corridors in South Hickory. The neglect has certainly gone on long enough. If you want to relieve the expansion on Highway 127 North in Viewmont, then you are going to have to raise the standards and viability of Highway 70 West and the Southern sections of this city.

I honestly don't believe this is rocket science, it's common sense. We aren't even taking advantage of Interstate 40 and Highway 321 traffic. Does that make sense? All we see on that side of town are Discount Stores, Motels of Ill Repute, Pawn Shops, and Rubble. People that take exit 123 off the Interstate and then exit from Highway 321 onto Highway 70 are seeing this folks. It is another blow to Hickory's already sagging reputation. If you were thinking about relocating here and saw this, would you want to follow through on that relocation? It is past time to do something about this!!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Younger Generation is the Key!!!

With the Real Estate Depression that has been happening in the United States, we have seen many issues that have arisen. And Hickory is at the forefront of the issues that we face as a nation. I just hope that I am getting through to people.

I had lunch today at 1859 Cafe. It sits directly on 2nd Avenue SW and perpendicular to 5th street SW. As I have told you, my Aunt owns that restaurant. There were five of us who sat in the Parlor against the wall, in front of the mirror. I enjoyed a nice lunch with a few people who really care about Hickory. Two of the people were Young Professionals, who are up and comers, who read this blog and through e-mail correspondence expressed to me their concerns about the direction this city is headed in. The two others individuals who joined us are already involved in the political dynamics of our city's current political landscape.

Right now I'm not going to name names, because it is irrelevant to the message I am conveying. I wouldn't say that any of us march in lockstep on ideals, but we all agree that our city is on the wrong path. We all agreed on one conclusion that has been discussed in this very blog. Hickory can no longer afford to abandon or take for granted the Younger Demographic. We must do everything we can to stem the mass exodus of the 20 and 30-somethings who have decided that there is no reason to call Hickory their home.

No one can legitimately state that I want younger people in here, because I am young. I am 43 years old and I'm not getting any younger. Why not go along with those who want to encourage more and more retirees to locate here?

Because empirical evidence shows that our area's demographics are way out of kilter and my own anecdotal experiences constantly reinforce that opinion. Below are Population Pyramids of the United States that show the age distributions in 1990 and 2000, as well as the projection for 2025:

What you will notice is the bulge that is filtering its way through the years. The population is projected to become more evenly distributed by 2025. The population of our area will naturally become older no matter what we do, but we can't afford to exacerbate the numbers and make that bulge even larger, because it will have profound negative effects on our real estate prices.

South Florida Real Estate: Boom & Bust - Dowell Myers has taken a look at the aging baby boomers and warns of this trend creating a generational housing bubble. He looks at the point at which people at certain ages shift from becoming net buyers to net sellers of homes, and you can see in this chart (SLIDE 7) that happens right about at age 60 or so. Myers is saying that the future buying and selling actions of this big group of people, the baby boom cohort, has major implications for housing markets.
This is an issue of simple supply and demand. As that bulge ages, those people have similar needs when it comes to housing, healthcare, and lifestyle. At the point, when that bulge reaches 75+ years old, a number of those people are going to want to sell their house or townhome and move to an Assisted Living Center or Senior Community. As this happens, real estate market values will be completely dependent on the buyer's market. The fewer younger people there are to buy these houses; the harder it's going to be to sell a house and subsequently the lower the selling price will be. That also means our tax rates are going to rise.

If we focus on retirees, then we are going to have to focus more of the community's resources and energy to cater to the elder demographic. Can we afford to do that at the expense of the mobile populace, especially when we see the path that the Federal Government wants to take us down on healthcare? Healthcare dollars look like they are going to be placed in check in some manner. That means that there isn't going to be a plethora of money in taking care of the aged. Heck, I have seen first hand that services for the aged are already lacking.

I'm just asking that we try to restore some balance into the equation. Why would 20 and 30-somethings stick around just to be ignored and/or relegated to being subservient to the elderly.The vast majority of the elderly are on fixed incomes, do you really want to base an economy on people living on fixed incomes. Do you want to live in a Big Lots and J&S Cafeteria World?

The younger generation are the workers and thus the money generators. While the older generation is winding it down, the younger generation is cranking it up. Malaise, lethargy, and "Run Down" are adjectives that I have heard when it comes to describing this area over the last eight years. Folks, that is where the pessimism has settled in.

As I sat having lunch today, I was faced with the graffiti that has been plastered all over the abandoned building two blocks over. I was struck by the vacant building where Details used to reside. I witnessed that there was hardly any traffic going down 1st or 2nd Avenue. These were not the memories I had of that area, even just a few short years ago. I remember when that area thrived. My mind could not settle the paradox of those sites versus the backdrop of the tasteful and artistically designed decoration of 1859 Cafe. Something is amiss and it's not 1859. Have we given up? Are we going to let parts of town turn to rubble? Are we supposed to let whole sections of our community die without even a whimper?

We need to do more to attract the energy that comes with the younger demographic. I certainly haven't been inspired by the status quo that has infected this community. I have witnessed first hand the energy that these young people are willing to bring to the table. This younger generation gives me hope that we can turn things around. When these young guys step forward, let's encourage them and work with them. Let's help these guys get some of their projects off the ground, so that we can revitalize our economy and restore optimism into the equation of the future.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Spite of the Government

Crazy Unemployment; Retirement Savings Lost; Home Values Plummeting, if you are even able to sell the house; and no end to this tumult in sight. During these times that we must endure, our lives are changing drastically and it's easy to get lost in the chaos.

Maybe some haven't had to suffer from all that has gone on, so they're wondering what all the fuss is about and think they see a lot of foolishness amongst us. These people seem to not realize that the foundation that they are standing on is slowly, but surely being whittled away under their feet. I wonder whether they are relying on some inexplicable hope or are they so insulated from the working class that they can't see what it happening all around us. Most people who are dealing in direct Economic Commerce are coming to the realization that the government is cooking the books.

One of the more relevant issues that proves this point, is that people are starting to realize that the government's reported unemployment numbers are wrong and slowly but surely they will be brought to an understanding that the government's inflation numbers have no bearing on reality. I have spoken about this before.

As for the unemployment numbers we hear reported on the news, what is reported does not include discouraged workers or those seeking full time work, but only able to find part time employment. How many of us know people who have been unemployed for a long time? How many of us know people whose Unemployment benefits have run out? How many of us know people who received severance agreements and must exhaust those before they can file for unemployment? How many of us know of people who are working 30 hours a week at reduced pay, because they have lost their full-time occupation? Do you understand that none of these people are considered to be officially unemployed?

From - "GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC REPORTS: THINGS YOU'VE SUSPECTED BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK!" - "Series Master Introduction" (Part One in a Series of Five)
* During the Kennedy administration, unemployment was redefined with the concept of discouraged workers" so as to reduce the popularly followed unemployment rate.

* Up until the Clinton administration, a discouraged worker was one who was willing, able and ready to work but had given up looking because there were no jobs to be had. The Clinton administration dismissed to the non-reporting netherworld about five million discouraged workers who had been so categorized for more than a year. As of July 2004, the less-than-a-year discouraged workers total 504,000. Adding in the netherworld takes the unemployment rate up to about 12.5%.

Then there is the issue of inflation and its effect on our incomes. Personally, I have recognized the cost of Goods and Services have increased a lot over the last decade and especially the last 5 years. Instead of having useful statistics to help us assess where we stand economically, we have allowed government to convolute our statistical measures to the point of uselessness and they are spending billions of dollars to arrive at these garbage in/garbage out numbers.
"GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC REPORTS: THINGS YOU'VE SUSPECTED BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK!" -"The Consumer Price Index" (Part Four in a Series of Five) - This article also addresses the issue of how the government had cooked the books when it comes to the reporting of Inflation.

As John Williams states:
Inflation, as reported by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is understated by roughly 7% per year. This is due to recent redefinitions of the series as well as to flawed methodologies, particularly adjustments to price measures for quality changes. The CPI was designed to help businesses, individuals and the government adjust their financial planning and considerations for the impact of inflation.

* In particular, changes made in CPI methodology during the Clinton Administration understated inflation significantly, and, through a cumulative effect with earlier changes that began in the late-Carter and early Reagan Administrations have reduced current social security payments by roughly half from where they would have been otherwise. That means Social Security checks today would be about double had the various changes not been made. In like manner, anyone involved in commerce, who relies on receiving payments adjusted for the CPI, has been similarly damaged. On the other side, if you are making payments based on the CPI (i.e., the federal government), you are making out like a bandit.

... The Boskin/Greenspan argument was that when steak got too expensive, the consumer would substitute hamburger for the steak, and that the inflation measure should reflect the costs tied to buying hamburger versus steak, instead of steak versus steak. Of course, replacing hamburger for steak in the calculations would reduce the inflation rate, but it represented the rate of inflation in terms of maintaining a declining standard of living. Cost of living was being replaced by the cost of survival. The old system told you how much you had to increase your income in order to keep buying steak. The new system promised you hamburger, and then dog food, perhaps, after that.
The Hound believes we are not going to be able to resolve the issues that this country faces, if we don't realistically assess where we stand with reliable numbers. The Media, with the exception of the Business Media, doesn't even question any of this or seem to have a clue. Is this because they are ignorant or in the tank? Why are we spending billions of dollars to have government agencies calculating these numbers, if we are going to allow them to be doctored to arrive at politically acceptable outcomes. Garbage in always leads to Garbage out.

I look at our area as an example. We have been sold down the river by this very process of Convoluted statistical measures. That is the reason why I always look under the surface , when it comes to Economic numbers reported by any agency associated with the government. Business, Industry, and Citizens expect these numbers to be reliable so that they can make better decisions. Our Political and Economic system is being crushed by the weight of Government Bologna.

I know that in this area that our incomes are not growing
, the Milken Institute and Forbes reports show that we are in the bottom 5% when it comes to wage growth in this nation. The lack of quality jobs has permeated from the bottom to the top of our economy. If the workers don't have money, then they can't buy the products of business owners. Our community has adapted down in many ways, because of our ever shrinking economy, and accepted a lower standard of living, but how much further can we allow ourselves to fall before this community completely implodes. As the Cost of Living continues to escalate, we are going to see more and more people put into a greater bind. The tipping point is going to come sooner than most people even realize.

The way I see it, the survival of this community is at stake. This is not a time to be meek. It is a time for boldness and taking chances, because we have nothing to lose. If we stand idly by, take no action, and accept the status quo, then we will surely lose everything.
What else do these cooked books show, but that we have been lied to time and time again and built our entire structure on those lies. We have been betrayed and it is time that this community becomes proactive and does what needs to be done. This community will not grow because of government help, it is going to have to grow in spite of the government. What choice do we have, when our backs are against the wall?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Houndvision: Let's take a Drive through Southwest Downtown

We will start out on the Northwest side of Downtown right at Union Square and drive through the Union Square parking area, which is dead at 5pm. I can understand closing at night on Sundays, but it is my opinion that this is a lost opportunity to make thousands of dollars. Small businesses cannot afford to throw away such opportunities, especially when Valley Hills mall is conveniently open a few miles away.

It is the right of these business owners to be closed, but it hurts the entire area. I saw that Josh's was open and the Tap Room was open. Those restaurants would do more business with those stores open on Sunday and those businesses could feed off of those restaurants being open after Church and early in the evening on Sunday.

Does it make sense that these businesses are open when most people are working and closed when most of the people are off of work?

The second video follows the trek back from 10th st pl SW between First Ave and Main Ave SW where one can see the blight in full. One can see the Piedmont Wagon wasting away in the foreground on the Northwest side of the tracks. What we see currently is a concrete canyon of blighted warehouses wasting away. We end up back on 5th st SW. To the left is a little garage that used to be a gas station, to the immediate right is Scott Matthews Law Office and I believe he has upgraded that property, at the 2 o'clock position you will see what was Hair USA and later Details, and in the foreground you will see 1859 Cafe.

I decided to take a right and go to the former parking lot of Ego's and Page One, where we now see graffiti, rubble, and dilapidation. Here we also see the 2nd Harvest Food Bank. 2nd harvest serves an excellent mission, but does it belong in a building so close to the heart of the city and are any of these buildings Economic Generators? If you ask me, we have seen negative momentum and Economic Degeneration created on this side of town!!!

The third video is, in my opinion, a metaphor of what this city has been all about. Everyone talks about appearances, but people need to look under the surface and see what is going on under that facade of green grass. This type of symbolism over substance has led this city to where it is today. Look under the surface people and you'll find out what is really going on. You need to embrace the level of discomfort that these sights bring. That is what will help us get these vital areas back on track. This property is next to 1859 Cafe. 1859 is my Aunt Jane Moore's business, but this property belongs to Alex Lee. I have mentioned this to city officials several times over the years, but it never gets taken care of. My Aunt has had this area cleaned up several times over the years, but indigents keep coming back and piling up refuse again and again and again. Look at the film and tell me what you think.

The Hound doesn't want to tell Property Owners what to do with their property. In years past, when business was thriving in those areas, no one understood the implications of the chemicals that were being used. Now we do understand and it is time to find out just what kinds of chemical contamination are on these sites and are any of these warehouses still storing toxic chemicals. I understand that Brownfield studies will help do some of this, but it isn't going to come into play until the building is on the market. Don't we need to understand the extent of this issue now?

I also want people to see where the arbitrary judgment of the issues comes into play. We hear all of the hoopla about the Buffalo's sinkhole, but what about what is shown in these little short films as far as the blight in Southwest Hickory? When are we going to see a sense of urgency come into play about these dilapidated buildings in the heart of our city? These short videos don't even scrape the tip of the iceberg.

I understand that these are tough economic times. Credit is hard to come by. But, in my opinion, we are not going to turn this city around until we start addressing the issues of blight in Southwest, Southeast, and the Industrial corridors of Hickory. Sorry I haven't perfected my video skills. I will get better, but anyway, I don't want you to take what I am saying for granted. One day, when you have time, please go check this out for yourself.

I thought it might be a good idea to add a map to show the route that was taken. I started out in front of the Embarq building (1) and drove through the Union Square Parking Lot. From there I crossed the tracks and proceeded west traveling down Main Ave until I got to 4th st SW. I took a left until I hit 1st ave SW. I took the right and drove to 9th st SW took a right and then a left back onto Main ave SW. I went to 10th st pl SW (2), before doubling back down Main St. I took a right on 5th st SW and then headed down 1st Ave to the Ego's - 2nd Harvest parking lot (3). From there I doubled back down main to 5th st and pulled across into the Alex Lee parking lot (4).

The driving distance from Union Square to 10th st Pl SW turns out to be .8 miles. Would you agree that this area should encompass what is referred to as Downtown?