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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Scott Millar - The Future Economy Council - Catawba County Economics 101

I don't think that one can help but like Scott Millar, the CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Catawba County. This guy is constantly on the go and you see him everywhere. He's also easily approachable in a job that requires him not to divulge everything he knows. I think he has done an excellent job under trying circumstances.

The following is his presentation from his visit with us at the Chamber of Commerce as part of the monthly Future Economy Council meetings. This is the second such meeting that Scott has held with us over the last couple of years. I call it a lesson in "Catawba County Economics 101," because from nearly the beginning this discussion went into critical thinking mode. I appreciated the way that Scott acted as a mediator and professor in allowing the people of the group to ask candid questions and express concerns with issues and the direction of the area's economy. If you listen to this meeting, then you will understand why we all walked away from this meeting feeling better about the direction we are headed and the steps we (all of us) need to take to move our area forward.

Part 1 - Intro and discussion about long term economic objectives.

Part 2 - Attracting and growing Small Businesses versus recruiting established major corporations. Success and failure of start-ups and complaints about competition from existing businesses.

Part 3 - Why do businesses we recruit go elsewhere? Developing and Marketing Assets... Breaking down Silos...Vision and Credibility

Part 4 - Perception is Reality... Scott talks about the Apple facility... and about Turbocoating

Part 5 - Energy, Information, and manufacturing possibilities... Why companies come to Catawba County... Developing specific opportunities that are fertile for targeted market centers... Utilizing existing vacant infrastructure.

Part 6 - Problems with the existing regional Economic Development Partnership... and the positive developments of the Regional Partnership to the west... We will sell where we can sell... Opportunities and needs to watch developments... Makers and Doers... A Life Well Crafted... The Big Elephant Issue... Attracting 20 to 44 year olds... State Incentives and the problems with the tier system... Danny Hearn talks about strategies and hiring someone from the outside a leader, that can help get a collaborative investment action plan.


Silence DoGood said...

Is he nice guy? Sure, how else did he get to where he is? In that regard, I like him just fine. He’s likewise the consummate salesman and disingenuous pitchman of Catawba County. Now, is that just the nature of business? Perhaps. Probably why I never involved myself with the trappings of business mindset. I did listen to 3 of the audio presentations. Let me say and ask this, intriguing parable trying to throw 30 spears to kill the elephant, but once it’s down, who get to claim the prize? No one carried that part of the analogy forward in application to looking at where we are at this moment in time in Catawba County. That’s part of the problem now in Catawba County. When the economic base of the county was being formed, no one shared the kill. Everybody didn’t get to eat well, no matter if you were on the hunt or hurled your spear. Only a select few got that privilege and it carries through to this day. All I heard was, we are going to add some more spears, but the result, uh that’s going to be the same. Why? Because the same people that control Catawba County and Hickory also control Scott Millar. So in my “perception is reality” viewpoint, he is the mouthpiece to the problem that has proliferated itself over time and continues to do so. Perception is reality? How about, ‘reality what a concept.’ Because everything that was outlined in the first 2 minutes in segment #4 is factual and accurate. I don’t know who the guy is talking during the first 5-10 minutes, but he makes good sense.

Then there is the data farm. Grand idea. That site has been up for how long and has been taken advantage of by, how many so far? And might I add, Apple bought their facility without the benefit of that website. And despite the fomentation of the ‘multi-jurisdictional’ concept, Apple would deal only with Maiden. I heard that discussed as well. How the local governments don’t come together and sit down to perpetuate themselves. It’s because the smaller ones know that the larger ones are going run all over them. Case in point, Charlotte. Charlotte needs Catawba County about as much as I need more holes in my body. Now scale that down to Catawba County. Not too many years ago, there was a county water line proposal to one of those of smaller entities to provide water to economically challenged households (read that, poor people). Gonna be funded with a Federal Grant. Everything was put in place and then, nothing. The word back was, the density wasn’t proportional enough to obtain the grant (not enough poor people per square mile). So nothing happened for about 6 months, and then the next thing you know, Hickory is running water lines into the same area. Now, do you suppose Hickory had all that pipe laying around with nothing to do and just decided to run water into areas outside their territorial jurisdiction and ETJ? So, why should the smaller jurisdictions play nice with the larger ones? They know what is going to happen, regardless of their participation in the game.

I get it can’t and shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. And I also heard the reality of what was being said about cultivating SMB’s and what amounted to their support network. So you would be working the supply side in fostering those efforts. Otherwise you are fostering the 1’s and 2’s of entrepreneurial enterprise. Might be good for business, not too grand for labor. And to grow, you’re going to have to put more money in more people’s pockets that will spend some of it. Jobs, careers, kids, schools. I heard that mentioned as well. And right they are! Living, not just existing. Having a life rather than an existence. Otherwise, we are right back where we started. Actually, we never left, because that perception is the reality.

James Thomas Shell said...

That is Tom Shea in those segments. He used to work for Ross Perot and he is very pragmatic. Scott is a salesman, but I do believe his heart is in it. We can't always be looking at who is to blame. I think the blame speaks for itself.

I do understand yo weariness in relation to who gets credit when the elephant is down, but frankly if it is about ego I could care less. Now, if it is divvying up the elephant and the fat cats jumping to the front of the line, then yeah we might want to keep the spears sharpened... so to speak.

I do believe that perception is the reality and I am sure that you heard me speak to the issue of credibility. We need to define goals and work towards achieving those goals, then that momentum can feed off of itself and we can start moving forward.

I can't disagree with the sectors that Scott is looking at. They are for the most part the ones that I have been speaking to for years. When someone carries you ideas forward, you shouldn't worry about whether or not you are going to get credit. You should make sure that they are shepherded to conclusion and you should appreciate it when you see the community move forward again. That is what I'm in this for, because I believe that as the community turn the corner, then it is my responsibility to move along with that momentum.

Don't count us out DoGood. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. We are making progress.

Silence DoGood said...

I agree, we can’t always look at who is to blame, which is why I said what I did about doom and gloom. By the same token those who share responsibility need to be disengaged from the controls as this moves forward or it never will.

And that is precisely what I was speaking of with regard to the elephant. Those that if you hunt, then you eat, regardless of your level of participation, and if you are unable to hunt, then, you still eat. We learn that from American Indian societies that provided for the entire tribe. But in the parable presented, the process stopped when the elephant went down. In practical application, we both know that the fat cats jump to the front of the line. Since it was their spear, their ingenuity, their skill at throwing that brought the elephant down. Even though there might be 30 spears in the beast, theirs was the one that did the job. That was the point I was making with carrying the process beyond and looking at the aftermath within the confines of that parable.

I don’t disagree with those sectors either Thom as we have discussed. Not the target populations, not the sectors, not the product. But my point is this. While the pitch is being made, no one seems to be willing to take a swing. And those pitches have occurred across time. So as potential clients look to Catawba as a potential base of operations, there is some thing(s) dissuading them from coming. Hence my view of the phrase, “Perception is reality.” I can’t begin (well I can, I won’t) to tell you the angst I have with that phrase. But in conjunction with, I’ve said this before. Image and no substance is nothing. There has to be substance. No matter how pretty it is for people to behold, if it’s rotten in the middle, the wrapping is of little consequence. But I digress. What is it that keeps them from coming? I heard that broached as well during one of the segments. I have to believe that when these entities start looking at the semantics for the area, the wrapping begins to flake off in huge chunks.

Yes, there has to be a starting point. Yes, those sectors identified are serving to address those concerns, but that does little to effect the short-term disparity currently being experienced and it ties to the long-term. And there are still those in power that would prefer to sit and follow the “self correcting” economic policy that would counter and undo everything I heard talked about.

So I watch and wait for the worm to turn once more. I have hope that it will do so soon for the better. What I don’t know is, what face it will be allowed to show and to whom it will bestow benefit. My hope is for the many, but that hasn’t been the way the elephant has been divided in past hunts. I am rooting for you, believe it or not.

James Thomas Shell said...

Perception is reality to the outsider, not to the insider. I agree with substance over symbolism. I have a video on Youtube that shows where indigents were throwing garbage into an overgrown area next to 1859 Cafe and I talk about the underbelly of our city. I am not promoting a skin deep beauty theory. I agree that if we take care of our problems, then the success and remedies will radiate out into the perception.

I believe that the perception that we are exuding is reality. We have tons of abandoned properties, we have an undereducated/underskilled workforce, we have brain drain issues, we have an aging population, we have great income disparity... I can go on.

That is what outsiders see when they look at this community. Our success or failure at remedying those situations moving forward will determine our future.

When people ask us how we are going to change our plight. They aren't asking us to whine and make excuses about our past. They are asking how we are going to change what we are today. What effort are we willing to make towards a positive direction. If they don't see us taking action to make an effort, then why would they come here? If we aren't willing to invest time, energy, and capital ourselves, then why should outsiders do so?

Silence DoGood said...

Okay, I guess I should explain my abhorrence to the phrase. In strict terminology, perception varies person to person, so that even when you have two people looking at the same situation, seeing something completely different. The other is, perceptions can be very subjective. So in that sense, reality can vary. Well, no it can’t. Reality is… well reality. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!!!

I’m completely on board with paragraph 2. Those aren’t really perceptions in that equation, those are facts and despite how one may perceive them or whether they are viewed from the context of internal or external are quite real and remain factual.

Right you are sir, excuses are of little consequence. Having said that however, the dynamics of that paradigm seem to be shifting little, points I eluded to in the previous two posts. The problem with my arguments, and I will fully concede this point, is that there is a level of procedure inherent to what is presently transpiring to which I’m not privy. However, I can look at what was, what is at present, and what I hear and read the forecast is for the future. And while I hear much talk, not a lot is being said, and even less being done.

I realize that the change agent or agents, as the case may be, has their tasks cut out to change those discrepancies. I realize too that drastic measures need to take place in order to put that best foot forward in order to address those discrepancies in a positive aspect. The present approach has the momentum of a slumbering earthworm. It should have the drive of a rabid Pit Bull. Perhaps therein lies the answer. The problems have been identified and aptly so. Solutions have been presented to address them. However it is the impetus with which those two are progressing that is truly at issue. Now, how fast is fast enough? Well, I don’t know. But listening to what is being said and looking at what is happening, there is a serious disconnect. Some way, some how, the afterburner switch needs to get pressed.

James Thomas Shell said...

Perception does vary from person-to-person, but what is the general perception?

Paragraph 2 is a general perception. Not everyone fulfills those roles. There are actually some very intelligent and creative people that reside in this community, the problem is that there aren't enough. And so that is where the general perception comes from and how we are defined by outsiders. If I can hand pick 10 of the best people in Hickory and we have the same capital and resources as 10 handpicked people in Charlotte, I think we could compete very well in whatever endeavor. Where we don't match up is when you match the entire population and the lack of capital and resources.

To your last paragraph, I can assure you that we are working on it, but it isn't like flipping a switch. We have to move some mountains involving the comfort of the PTB and the apathy and disinterest of the general population. Even change agents have to work towards some form of consensus.

I rub these people the wrong way. I don't mean to and when they get to know me they realize that I'm not the bad guy that some make me out to be, but if they want to talk to me I am available. You know that don't you.


Silence DoGood said...

Yes I do know that. Speaks to your patience and open mindedness too, since you haven’t blocked me!

I likewise think that in a side-by-side comparison, there would be no contest given the same resources. Your 10 could equal or best those from any other place. In our new world of extremes and extremist positions though, there doesn’t seem to be room for moderation or compromise. It’s an all or none world. The powers that be function like that currently. I firmly believe that they see their position as tenuous and shaky. Compromise would force them to relinquish power and control. They aren’t willing and back we go to the underlying tenets of what I wrote previously in our discussion, along with the players. That does have everything to do with how this region is viewed from without. Since Hickory and Catawba County already has quite a high opinion of itself, that is however a position that seems unsuitable to others. And of course, no one stands to contest those powers that be, to challenge the powers that be and if someone does, they are de facto crucified. No one but you Thom and a few others and you see how they treat you and them most of the time.

I know that has little to do with perception. I still and always will hold that phrase in utter disdain and think it a fanciful metaphor to soften facts that comprise reality to comport to the person; a neurological viewer to bend reality to individual taste. Sure, the specifics of individual indicia are applied to the overall of the region. But need I remind you of something that Mayor Wright said not too long ago. In part it went like, “sure, we’re close to Charlotte, but we don’t want to be like Charlotte. “ Well, to me that says volumes. That tells me no, we don’t want to perpetuate ourselves, if you want to come to Hickory, you’re going to play like we play, or you can take your ball and bat to Charlotte or somewhere else. That is what I’m speaking of. That attitude is what permeates the atmosphere over Catawba County. The semantics of the region can be changed. They’re just bricks and mortar after all. The people of the workforce are smart and trainable, given the chance. But that attitude, takes more. It takes leadership and it takes change. Positive change impregnates the apathetic and disenfranchised. The linchpin however is those in control. That too speaks back to the underlying views of mine in my previous posts in this thread. I realize I’m preaching to the choir, but time is not on our side. Every day that goes by is a missed opportunity and you can’t work with them since they control every aspect of approval for new opportunity coming in and they know it. So do those looking in from the outside. Which is why they elect to do business elsewhere. “Come to Catawba County because we like it and want your money, but the most important rule is, we’re in charge, as was our families before us, and that’s just the way it is, take it or leave it.” I’m plowing the same field again. But maybe, if I say it enough, it will sink in where it needs to. Sure, you can try to move forward and it is laudable to do so. But change will have to manifest itself from within. And it can start with those in business telling those controlling in no uncertain terms, this is how it needs to be, fix it, or next election, we’ll fix you. The people are apathetic, lets see what we can do with the business community. Who knows, maybe that will trickle down to the people.