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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Foothills Digest - Fox & Hound Article - Winter 2019

OK, it took a week to get this out. I had work, a 35th Class Reunion, and Church Homecoming slow me down... Forgive me and I'll owe you one. This is the 6th out of 8 available. After I get these out, I intend to write something epic and relevant in the present tense, not that these aren't. The following is the sixth Fox and Hound Article from the Foothills Digest. It is the fifth article in which I collaborated with Gabriel Sherwood. The topic focuses on 'How do we connect with people to get them to move here and do business here.'

Preparation -  Prepare - make (something) ready for use or consideration.

Plan - a scheme or method of acting, doing, proceeding, making, etc., developed in advance: a design or scheme of arrangement: a specific project or definite purpose:


This is the sixth, and the finale, in this series, about economic development in our area. We have discussed vision, aligning to the marketplace, leveraging unique strengths, and inspiring people to innovate, and change. Now we finish up by articulating how we connect with and influence people to move here and do business in our area.

In summary, I think that we can all see that Gabriel and I agree on more than we disagree on when it comes to the issues of Economic Growth. I think we all understand it’s difficult to sustain a successful economy over a long period of time. We are at the mercy of external forces, including, but not limited to, the overall business cycle, culture, and politics. Our fortunes will ebb and flow with the times, but a proactive approach is necessary to ward off stagnation. This is about action versus inaction, which is completely different than the modern political paradigms deemed Conservative-Progressive.

The bottom line is that growth necessitates a clear understanding of where you want to be in the future. If you don't have goals, then what is your endgame? You’re just winging it through life. Winging it isn’t a formula for success. The Roman Philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Good fortune isn't just about being at the right place at the right time, but also about being open to and ready for new opportunities. That is what this series has been about… Preparing for Success!


(The Hickory Hound: Thom Shell Intro)
Over the past year I have discussed, in this forum, how I believe we should economically develop our area by cultivating the most impactful demographics in the current era. We have seen a stagnation in our population growth and it is directly correlated to the lack of economic growth of the area. It is a chicken or egg situation, because it relates to jobs and job quality. Have young people left, because of the lack of good paying jobs –or- are the good paying industries not locating here, because there is a lack of qualified young working aged folks to fill the positions?

Once again, I will point to where South Carolina economic development officials said that they didn’t need pre-trained individuals for Upstate South Carolina’s BMW plant. They trained the initial workers at the plant and then later created specific technical programs to train workers for future jobs in the automotive industry.

There must be a multi-faceted approach in creating an environment to benefit from people who are in the sweet-spot of their productive working lives. People who are 40 years and younger are better able to adapt to economic change than those 40 years and older. By the time you hit 40, you are ready to settle into some form of routine. Many 40 year olds have established family structures. By and large, middle aged folks aren’t looking (and can’t afford) to change jobs on a whim or move here, there, and everywhere.

Let’s look at a good reality, presently Millennials and their younger compatriots iGen are the future of economic development and productivity in our modern world. They are now the largest demographic in the workforce and in the consumer marketplace. Success will be defined pretty simply, because “Quality of Life” correlates to economic growth, therefore our community’s overall “Quality of Life” is dependent upon growth in the largest workplace and consumer demographic. In other words, if the young people aren’t living here or moving here, then we aren’t succeeding.

I have a saying, ‘Smart people make things simple. Stupid people make things complicated.’ Think about talented athletes, chefs, artists, whatever… don’t they make whatever they are doing look easy? Think about procrastinators always doing mental gymnastics, always ‘studying’ something, always doing busy work, but never seeming to get anything accomplished… wasting time… wasting away.

As I have already discussed, local leadership has to have a plan. We have to engage all of the components of this economic equation. We must be effective listeners. We must develop our ability to be nimble about understanding and diagnosing problems and responding with effective solutions.

Develop a system that allows engagement across multiple platforms of government and private industry. Cut the red tape and have open engagement between elected officials, government administration, business leaders, and the citizenry. How do we create, acknowledge, and engage opportunity? Do you recognize opportunity when it is staring you in the face? We cannot afford to dismiss opportunity!

Growth is positive change from Time A to Time B. To direct growth, you have to have an intelligent plan about where you are at, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there. In identifying the there, you have to identify and engage your Vision, which is the first step in creating your plan. The growth we desire requires defined goals and benchmarks of where we want to be at a time certain in the future. That measurable vision defines success or failure and develops accountability.

That accountability helps motivate the drivers of the plan to make necessary adjustments (tweaks or wholesale changes) that can get to the successful goal. The thing about this exercise is that it is never over. You cannot rest on your laurels. Like one of my teachers from the past would tell us, when he caught us looking at the clock, “Time will pass… Will you?”


(The Fox: Gabriel Sherwood Intro)
Maintaining a steady growth pattern is an important part of a healthy economy and society and to us the need for working age newcomers is critical in building on what we have going. We know steps must be taken to actively attract the people we need, but is it just the responsibility of our leaders, government and/or business, to keep us growing? As far as business health, our local leadership has done well. So much so that Hickory was just proclaimed as having the “lowest costs for business” by Forbes.

This is an honor that will perhaps bring us interest from companies looking to invest, and that is something we all celebrate, as it will bring not only dollars but perhaps more youthful talent into our communities. In addition to our drive to expand we must also have pause and measure, as our goals must be mitigated by the need for responsible growth and must be focused on increasing the value of our people as it compares with the interests of businesses we offer a home.

A USA Today article from December, 2017 covered some reasons younger professionals touted as critical to invest in a location. Jobs is always number one, but increasingly the addition of “good paying” is finding its way into the discussions. According to Data USA, Hickory’s median household income declined in recent years by 4.61%. says wages continued to drop another 1.1% in the 2nd quarter of 2018, and average income in Hickory is $5,ooo less than average in NC and $14,000 less than average for the nation. One reason the area is good for business is because overhead is low … and that includes payroll.

Another trend in modern families is the more educated woman being the highest earner while the man may be a tradesman or in the service industry or manufacturing. Those are couples we could use, as our trade markets need young blood to replace aging service techs and our manufacturing resurgence needs workers. But, as the Convention Center prepares for a Professional Women’s event that will bring several hundred guests, the average working woman in Hickory earns $16,000 a year less an average man. I personally can say I know a young professional woman with young children who is looking North for better pay in her field, even as it compares to cost of living.

Our last conversation included my suggestion of focusing on bringing in educators … there are college level instructors at CVCC making less than 40K a year. The teaching profession is by in large still female, and I recently heard from a former coordinator of superintendents that the teaching college at UNC Charlotte had over 900 students when he began his tenure there 9 years ago and last year when he left there were less than 100. These are professional jobs that are a backbone of local economies, and they are not heading here.

Now I don’t want this to be a pouncing session on our local drive to improve, because there is a drive to improve that includes everyone, but as the USA Today article pointed out some of the most effective means of bringing people in is bringing them home and focusing on the demographics. We have a lot of folks who have left for the cities around us and we can work hard to market the area to them along with a push for the young professional woman, and we may attract attention. But, I fear it won’t do a thing if they look for a comparable job in a different area and take a massive pay cut to come here.

We are all responsible for our community’s growth, each and everyone one of us. We entrust our leadership with the guidance of our societies and we expect responsible growth in opportunity in return, but in the end it is the civic engagement of citizens that leads any municipality or region or state. First we must teach people to give their best but also to expect better than to have basic fears that a good salary alleviates. A desperate salesperson is seen a mile away, one that is secure sells more.

That’s one thing that can get folks past the transportation issues we face here and we can create the market for better education access with and movement in the green in income growth instead of the red as we have seen for years here. Like Lenoir-Rhyne offered locals half tuition, let’s offer returning citizens a promise of tax breaks for companies that offer better than living wages. After that, we can boost and boast a great image that is backed up in the numbers that matter, and get some of our state’s best educators and public servants, and that’s a recipe for Responsible Growth to last a generation or two.

2018 Forbes Best Places for Business and Careers – October 24, 2018 -

Millennials to small cities: Ready or not here we come! – USA Today - November 5, 2017 -


Thom's response to Gabriel

Gabriel, in the overall outlook of the Forbes’ article ‘2018 Best Places for Business and Careers’ that you allude to, we see that Raleigh (#2), Charlotte (#5), Durham (#13), and Asheville (#15) did extremely well, but Hickory was listed as #172 out of 200 cities in that list. That fits in with our second article (Winter 2018) where I address what I surmise to be the Tale of Two States here in North Carolina.

I am glad that you are encouraged by the North Carolina’s positioning in the marketplace as a whole and I am also hopeful that we are taking some steps in our region to move forward. I would however like to see an emphasis placed upon the more Rural and Suburban areas of the State that have been hurt by the rapidly changing dynamics of modern industry and the post modern “free-trade” economy.

I agree with what you state about young people wanting good paying jobs. On my blog, though I haven’t really added articles over the past year, in the past I have constantly talked about the underemployment issue and this “Low Cost of doing Business” certainly seems to correlate to that. Hickory, in that 2018 Forbes list that you interjected into this conversation, ranks #1 in the nation as the least expensive place to do business. 21 places in the bottom 50 of that overall list rank as the cheapest places to do business. Maybe it’s less expensive, because there’s a lot less economic activity taking place here than in the more successful cities in that list.

I do agree that people need to take charge and be leaders, but that doesn’t forego those who have asked and are being paid to assume the forefront of leadership positions in our communities. In the end, they are in charge of the decision making process, including setting policies and making plans for the direction of the community. We can only make suggestions and hold them accountable to a certain extent. They are in charge!


Gabriel's response to Thom
As often is the case, we agree on much. A multi-faceted plan is needed and we have some facets of it in place or on the way and it must be strategic and a decade ahead of itself. Over the past year we have agreed that we need to work on access and transportation options to connect us to the economic powerhouse of the Charlotte market. The 16 extension is well underway and the double lane access will decrease travel time between the ever expanding suburbs of Charlotte and our area. The expansion of 150 across the bridge into the Mooresville area as part of the development of the Eastern parts of Catawba County I think would be a great investment in having some of Mecklenburg's commerce and professionals jumping the lake.

More land at a lower price in a growing area is an attraction we can utilize with proper marketing and valuation of our attributes, while at the same time checking several boxes on our goal sheet for responsible growth.

We have spoken on inclusion of all citizens and municipalities and businesses and NGO’s, as the more ideas at the table mean a better chance for good government and working solutions. We have the Hickory Young Professionals, who just celebrated their 10th Anniversary, working to engage the younger population alongside other similar service and networking organizations across the area. The Rotary Club of Hickory is currently hosting Students of Distinction from each high school in the area who have shown leadership skills and merit in study and extracurricular activities. We should collectively be hoping to keep in touch and either keep these students at CVCC or LR or the App State Campus, or work to lead them back to the area after their education elsewhere.

Reaching out and engaging people where they are now while showing them a vision of where they could be with us can be a path to our goals, and with the right coordination and direction we can see great success.

We also have spoken about how we can utilize our attributes, and one we already see being used is … well, the Sun above us. How much could we save our taxpayers, our business owners, our citizens, if we simply put a couple solar panels on every government building, business, or home that can accomodate one, in the area? We have great recycling systems and expanding public parks and services, we are close to nature and the city, we have access to an international airport, and we have local flare and food options, which are all good additions to our regional brochure … but we would make the national news with a commitment like that.

If we can save money by using the free fusion reactor we circle and allocate that to offering incentives for companies that agree to provide above average salaries and wages in exchange for forward thinking leadership and investment, I believe we will see a good return.

Know your enemy and know yourself and you will never know defeat in a hundred battles” - Sun Tzu. You are correct that dawdlers will dawdle and complainers will offer plenty observations with few solutions behind them, but those who research the root of a problem and have the courage and acumen to act decisively will often be successful. Fortune favors the bold “they” also say and if we are bold in our requirement for our people to be valued and seen as an investment, if we expand access while reaching out to engage the people we want to be here with us with what we can offer … those who care about such things will notice.

People who care about such things care about responsible growth.

No comments: