The following FEC meeting was held at The Granary on November 19, 2009, which is Houston Harris's building that houses his businesses Pixel Space and InterOpsis. There are also other businesses located within this structure. The building is on Main Avenue across from Lenoir-Rhyne University.This is a beautifully restructured building. It is a wonderful metaphor for what Hickory was and what it can be transformed into.
Below I give a brief summary of what direction the meeting took. For specific details you will need to download the audio and listen. These are excellent, and in many ways, cutting edge discussions. I think that when we look back at these times, in the future, that we will see that many seeds were sown during these discussions and that these discussions bore the fruit of the future. But in the end, time will tell and it is our task to carry these ideas to fruition.
Part 1 - audio
Introductions were made. Terry Bledsoe had some opening comments. He talked about the Master Capacity Builder program. He stated that he believed the FEC has begun to mature and gave examples how. He talked about being at the Economic Development Corporation's meeting the previous week. At that meeting it was stated that 41.8% of all private investment in North Carolina in 2009 has come to Catawba County this year. He also had some information about business closings in Catawba County, in which he stated 6 businesses have closed in the last two years -- some people were stating that these were not valid statistics. Nathan Huret stated that the numbers show that businesses have reduced (employment), but not left. Steve Ivester stated that people are concerned, but not defeated. Terry stated that the EDC is focused on industry, but they are looking for other opportunities for development. Nathan stated that the EDC is looking for emerging trends and they would like for people to contact them with/about interesting opportunities and/or articles.
Part 2 - audio
Dr. John Brzorad talked about Agriburbia and introduces the topic. Rick Smyre addresses the positives of local food production. Doug Rongo and myself (Thom Shell) talk about the economic and capital infusion of foreign investment into the local area. Harry Hipps talks about new energy investment in our local area. Terry Bledsoe speaks about the Agricultural resource Center and saving local farms. Dr. Brzorad talks about building a relationship with the farmers in the area. Steve Ivester says we will have to change local zoning and tax policy. Houston Harris asks how do we support this? Harry Hipps talks about what is being done in Polk county and Nathan states that Rutherford county is doing the same thing.
Part 3 - audio
Houston Harris started talking about his businesses Pixel Space and InterOpsis. He stated that it is very difficult to say what they are. They touch IT, Marketing, sales, Infrastructure/Workflow deliverable engagements... He spoke about how he deals with part-timers and free-lancers to do the job. He needs networks of people who have certain skills. They touch people and projects everywhere. He explains the global nature of his business.
Pixelspace is about interaction architechture. They create brochures, create IT projects consisting of measurables, create web pages, resource mode. Houston's businesses operate in a 24-hour environment. They use traditional and new media channels to get messages out and create interaction points. Ultimately they have to identify who they are talking to, how are they going to attract them, how are they going to inform them... Once they identify prospects, then they turn to sales.
Part 4 - audio
InterOpsis is about what a company's web operations should be doing. How to increase web presence, increase conversions, generate leads, improve visitor experience, are you setting the right tone, are you communicating with your customer properly. Houston stated that they use many analytical software tools for measurables to find the "sweet spot." You need high level stakeholders to buy into this in order for it to be effective. InterOpsis does not require you to use Pixelspace.
Houston talks about how his building "the Granary" works. He wants to fill the gap for people who need a a professional space, but don't want to break the bank (affordable). He states that it is not an incubator, because they aren't subsidizing businesses. They are a communal (shared space) arrangement. This building allows people to have a personal space to have meetings, without having a huge expense.
Part 5 - audio
The Granary - The goal is 3 phases. Number one is to get the exterior up-fitted and get more parking. Houston's companies are an anomaly, because only about 10% of his clientele are from Hickory. The Granary will be home to multiple diverse businesses, but he currently has space available and will be further developing the building as needed. Houston also talked about his dealings with the city on grants and on license fees. He stated that Entrepreneurs work in the gray area and the city operates in a process of black and white.
Part 6 - audio
Steve Ivester spoke about the semantics of manufacturing and Value Added Goods. Value Added Services are as valuable as anything else. Danny Hearn stated that we want to identify and create more Houston Harris's and Michael McNeely's. How do we go about that? Houston spoke of mentoring and stated how important it is to be around people with experience. He talked about collaboration and connections and developing skills, being open and sharing. He wants to be able go see people face-to-face and sometimes that is hard to do in a global operation, such as his.
He had some excellent ideas about the bandwidth of personal communication and relationships and chemistry. I stated that there is a lot of fear around here, because the new world is not built around structure, so people feel a sense of loss. Houston agreed, but also stated that creative people don't like structure and they need to have someone with structure around them to keep them focused. I stated that I believe that the (regimented) structure is going to have to be broken down. Houston says that he believes that it is going to break down automatically, life does that. It's about learning to adapt and being willing to adapt. Terry stated that what Houston stated about face-to-face interaction and the global world seem to be conflicts, how does he do this? Houston stated he just does it. He does what he has to do. I asked about the effectiveness of teleconferencing. Jay Adams talked about learning to listen and choose your words carefully. You figure it out as you go and it's hard to capture what the techniques are. Houston said a lot of it has to do with the age of who you are communicating with. The younger person trusts the new system and the older guy wants to look you in the eye and see if you are full of it.
Houston talked about "Free Range Chicken thinking." He says he wants to be the oldest rooster in the yard. Their life is different from a coup raised chicken, they want to survive. They are lean, they have to move fast, they've got to find some food, they've got to run from that ax, eventually they will get caught, but the free range chicken has an attitude about survival. They adapt and try new things. Thinking is about finding those things and keeping your brain in this mode of what's new -- I can't be afraid of this.
Rick Smyre close - audio
What Houston has expressed is the Creative Molecular Economy. How does Catawba County develop a brand as cutting edge to the rest of the country? We need to seed the concepts. Rick discusses this and ties in what we have said into the principles of developing connections, collaborative efforts, the creative molecular economy, and Master Capacity Building.