In for a Penny, in for a Pound
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Developers Tour comes to Pittsfield
Tammy Daniels story "Developers Tour Highlights Region's Assets" (iBerkshires, 9/22/2010) is worth the read. In a nutshell, a group of eastern MA developers and real estate professionals visited Pittsfield last week for the purpose of evaluating the region's potential. They spent 2 hours on a bus ride from Boston from listening to Pittsfield's Mayor Roberto make his pitch, they toured potential development sites, and they took part in a luncheon/panel discussion at the Colonial Theatre.
On the one hand, I'm thrilled to hear that organizations like the Berkshire Economic Development Council and MassDevelopment are working to bring commercial real estate developers to the region. Looking for ways to redevelop and utilize our legacy mill sites is important to our future. I was also happy to hear that the group felt we had strong regional banks, as banks are an important cog in the revitalization of any area.
On the other hand ...
1) A panel member named Maury Wolfe (a Boston architect) spoke of the region's "booming second home market" ... huh? There are over 100 houses on the market in Williamstown alone. Take a drive up and down Routes 7, 41, 20, etc. The only person making money on second homes (or any homes for that matter) these days is the person who makes realtor "for sale" signs.
2) According to the article, Mr. Wolfe also said, "... you really need permanent people, permanent home owners to develop job growth." Isn't that putting the cart before the horse? Don't we need to first create jobs in order to attract permanent residents?
3) Another panel member, Fred Kramer (president of a Boston Design firm), said, "Flexible permitting and zoning can be a major factor in getting any project off the ground." Well, if he's looking for flexible permitting and zoning, he's come to the wrong place. Over the past 50 years, we've created a county where our local governments make getting projects approved as difficult (or more so) than any place in the country.
4) Panel member Walter Upton (director of construction at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) said that, "public/private partnerships, such as tax incentives, could spur private development." In my mind, this was in conflict with another panel member, Eden Milroy (president of developer/property manager Pilot Group), who said that school improvements were critical to growth. If we create jobs with tax incentives, where do the tax revenues come from to pay for improved schools?
Trust me, I'm much more of a "light a candle" than a "curse the darkness" sort of guy. I applaud the MassDev and BEDC efforts to market our area. We need to bring jobs here to stabilize our local economy.
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Why does "Tea Party" have to equal "Right Wing" or "extremist"?
Incumbent US Senator Mike Castle's defeat in last Tuesday's primary by Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell has sent shock waves through the political world. According to the New York Times, the Democrat Party and the Obama administration are looking at ways to "cast the Republican party as all but taken over by Tea Party extremists" (NY Times, Sunday, September 19, 2010). The Times went so far as to call O'Donnell an "insurgent", a term that seems more suited to a mujaheddin rebel in Iraq or Afghanistan than a US politician.
So, why does "Tea Party" have to equal "right wing" or "extremist"? Why can't it mean "independent thinking" or "sick to death of the crooks in both parties"? After all, it is entirely possible for people to be middle of the road on issues like gay marriage, abortion, and legalization of marijuana while being strong advocates of tighter borders, reduced government spending, and reduced taxation. Seems to me that many people I speak to in Berkshire County - 75% plus of whom are Democrats - fall into this category, yet most would never attend a Tea Party rally or vote for a Tea Party candidate.
Let's face facts. It was only a matter of time before the rampant corruption in both parties and the complete lack of fiscal restraint got us to this place in our history. The US Government has been spending money like a drunken sailor since the 1930's. I recently read some stats - and I'm paraphrasing here - that from 1980 to 2010 our national debt as a percentage of GDP grew from 25% of GDP to 125% of GDP. What an incredible lack of restraint! Both parties are to blame, but we are ultimately to blame for continuing to elect them.
I hope the Tea Party can continue to distance themselves from the kooks in both parties, but especially those on the extreme right wing. Those folks are just as dangerous as the extreme left wingers are. The elections in November do NOT need to be about religious issues. We need fiscal prudence, period.
On Saturday I was driving into the office and Dave Ramsey was on 810AM. A woman called in from Iowa. Early 50's, her and her husband had decent jobs, but they had under $100k in their retirement accounts. She wanted to retire at 62. Dave told her to plan on 72. She said, "But, we really want to retire at 62." And, Dave said, "Be realistic. You can't. Wishing won't make it so." He ran the numbers and by 62 they would have about $150k in the bank and would still owe on their home. At 72, they would have $600k in the bank and their home would be paid off. "The facts are what the facts are," Dave told her.
That's exactly the type of leadership the country needs. A group of people who recognize the facts are what the facts are and start doing something about it. Those are the type of people we need to elect, regardless of their political affiliation or in spite of it. I say that makes me an independent. If you say that makes me a Tea Party guy, so be it. I'm not worried about labels. I'm worried about actions. I'm worried about results. I'm worried about our nation's future.
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All Fired Up
So, I'm a huge funk fan ... from jazz/funk to R&B/soul, from Jamiroquai to Bill Withers, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Steely Dan, whatever ... I just loves me some funk! One of my favorite tunes is All Fired Up by a band called The Brand New Heavies. Fitting, because I'm "all fired up" about one thing in particular these days.
My involvement with the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce along with some of the great clients our firm is fortunate to do business with puts me in touch with some top echelon business people here in Berkshire County, especially the northern end of it. During discussions over the past few weeks, it seems like many people who heretofore had been relatively silent - at least publicly - about the county's economic future are getting fired up themselves. I think 2011 will see the formation of a grassroots organization with top business leadership focused on reversing some unsustainable trends locally, including the 4% drop in population over the past decade. The group will focus on private sector jobs creation using private sector funding.
Simultaneous to that, what needs to happen locally is we need to make our cities and towns more friendly to businesses. This is a generational movement and will occur glacially at best, but we need to start taking steps today or we are going to continue down the slippery slope we are already on. Taxes, regulations, zoning, etc. are a heavy burden on businesses here. We need to see a sea change in memberships of planning boards, conservation commissions, sign commissions, etc. We need more business-friendly selectmen and town managers. I'm not talking about favoring one party over another, and I'm certainly not talking about doing away with all of our green space and going back to an environment where local industries are dumping PCB's in the rivers. I'm talking about electing and appointing people who understand that businesses need the ball-and-chain removed so they can grow. Because when businesses grow, jobs are created. When jobs are created, we aren't going to have >100 homes on the market in Williamstown (for example) for very long.
We can't just sit around and wait for Williams College, MCLA, and the state and federal governments to start hiring. We also need to realize that an economy based solely on tourism, cultural venues, and non-profits is not sustainable. Private sector job creation in primary industries like manufacturing, software development, and banking is a must. Our future depends upon it. Are you with me?
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NY Times No More?
As the owner of a marketing agency (Berkshire Direct in Williamstown), I am constantly looking out for trends in advertising. The decline of newspapers has been underway for years. What's next?
Well, let's be honest. If the true impact of the remote control and the DVR were ever measured and publicly shared, I believe TV ad revenue would be devastated. Who watches commercials any more when you can either flip to another of the 500+ channels available at the push of a button OR simply fast-forward through the recorded show you are watching? How many people listen to their iPods or CD's in their cars instead of radio? What is that ultimately going to mean to radio ad dollars?
The bottom line is this: if you are an advertiser, you need to be measuring the results of your ad campaigns every day. You should not spend a penny on a campaign whose results you can't measure. Add ad-specific extensions to phone numbers so you know which ad people are calling about. Use URL's in ads that are just for that specific ad, so you can tell that the ad generated the website visit and not something else.
Finally, start investing in advertising on sites like iBerkshires. Their page views and visits are skyrocketing each month. When the newspapers are gone, these local micro news organizations might be the only thing left that people depend on daily for their local news. If you are a local business who depends upon traffic from local consumers, it may be your best bet. Plus, clickthroughs from ads on iBerkshires are totally measurable.
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