Archive for September, 2010
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.
Steve Conroy from Hillcrest ran a great tournament again this year. The Hillcrest tournament has grown to the point where it is being run on two courses simultaneously – Waubeeka and Donnybrook. Mark Mills and the gang at Waubeeka delivered their usual wonderful meals and outstanding service. They really know how to run a tournament.
We are proud to share with our readers special events that involve our clients. This weekend Beth Phelps, owner of Sweetbrook Farm is celebrating National Alpaca Day at their farm on Oblong Road in Williamstown. This is a great opportunity to learn more about alpacas. We were thrilled to help Sweetbrook promote the event using targeted direct mail postcards, ad design for the pre-movie slides at Images and regional media announcements.
Hope you have time to stop by and say hello to Beth and gang at the farm this weekend…
Celebrate National Alpaca Farm Days at Sweetbrook Farm in Williamstown, MA, Saturday and Sunday September 25 and 26 from 10:00am-4:00pm.
The weekend will be filled with alpacas, alpaca products, spinning and weaving demonstrations, and the grand opening of our farm store featuring alpaca products, fiber and apparel. There will be demonstrations conducted throughout the day appropriate for all ages – a great opportunity to meet our alpacas and learn more about alpacas.
Come join in the fun, see, and learn about these amazing animals. Sweetbrook Farm is located at 580 Oblong Rd. Williamstown, MA 01267
Visit their website at www.sweetbrookfarm.com for more details.
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.
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 a few things 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?
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.
I have to go on a little rant here. I’m feeling a little like Keyshawn Johnson talking about Matt Leinart here.
In case you haven’t heard, the newspaper industry is facing some tough times. This past week, we placed some newspaper ads for a client in 5 newspapers in the midwest … cities like Wichita, KC, and St. Louis to name a few. As this is not an area we have done ads for before, we needed to fill out credit apps with all of the papers. Do you know that of the 5 newspaper credit app forms I filled out, 4 of them didn’t provide me with a fax number?
Can you imagine the sheer stupidity? It is almost a joke. Here it is, they are making me fill out this form like I’m buying a house with personal guarantees and all other kinds of crap that makes me stop and think already. Then, to make me have to make a phone call or surf your website to find your fax number because you weren’t considerate enough to put it on the form for me? Why don’t you try to make it a little harder to do business with you? I’m already steering many clients away from you because the data shows you’re not as effective as online marketing or television for many demographics and product types. Your readership is in the toilet, the ad dollars are voting with their feet, and you’re on the outside looking in. And, yet, I have a client who loves newspapers, so there I am placing ads … and you’re making it hard for me. Brilliant!
Where’s the tiniest little investment in IT to make the credit stuff a self-serve deal for your clients? We provide a few pieces of information, and you get all of the rest of the information you need from my credit report and my company’s credit report? Why make me manually fill out a form? If I have to provide any info, why not let me type the info into a form instead of trying to write neatly on the tiny lines of a form that should be 3 pages long but is crammed onto a single page? And, how about a little investment in your office supplies? You’re a multi-million dollar business and you are faxing me a credit app that literally looks like it has been photocopied about 100 times and you’re still faxing it out – more gray than white, a coffee stain at the bottom, the old logo from before the merger, etc.
As they say on ESPN’s football pre-game, “C’mon, man!”
Jeff and I hired employee #5 this week – a full-time web developer. A huge step to say the least. Our first full-time hire since we purchased the business in April. We simply needed the capacity he provides, not to mention the rock-solid PHP skills and all kinds of knowledge about WHM, cPanel, SQL databases, phpMyAdmin, etc. We’re really thrilled to have him here – his skill sets and demeanor are a perfect fit for our small team.
It is a frightening thing, hiring these days, given the economic news locally and nationally. Yet, we can’t grow without the additional capacity … and we want to grow. There’s really no trade-off. To grow you must invest, whether it be in capital equipment, facilities, training, people, marketing, whatever. Downturns like the one we are currently in are opportunities for growth. You can seize market share from your competitors by releasing a new product or service. You can also seize market share by advertising when others have stopped or cut back. Downturns are good times to acquire a weaker competitor, too.
Businesses started during recessions have gone on to some pretty big successes. A blog by Darren Dahl on AOL Small Business (Top Companies Started During a Recession, 5/10/2010) provides some interesting historical perspective. GE (1890), IBM (1896), GM (1908), Disney (1923), Burger King (1953), Microsoft (1975), CNN (1980), and Apple (2001 – the year of Apple’s rebirth with the launch of the iPod) all started during tough economies.
I told #5 when we hired him that there are some phenomenally wealthy people out there who had single-digit employee ID#’s at the right company. How much do you think employee #5 from Google is worth today? Is our little company ever going to be that big? Who knows? That’s the great thing about this country … it could be. With the right combination of ideas, guts, and luck, the sky is truly the limit. It just takes the confidence to make that first step. So, we hired #5 this week …
Great article in the Wall Street Journal today by Rosalind Resnick. Check it out here.
There was an article in the Times-Union yesterday entitled, Economy looking up in the Berkshires (Eric Anderson, Business Editor). Mr. Anderson cites “blockbuster events, warm, dry weather, and a recovering economy” as being the reasons for the boost in tourist activity here this summer which has helped the local economy. He specifically cited the Wilco event at Mass MoCA, Tanglewood’s strong summer season, and a “40% rise in ticket sales” at the Williamstown Theatre Festival as being some of the reasons behind the stronger than expected season.
Yet, for those of us who live here full-time who aren’t involved in the tourist industry or cultural venues, the economy in the Berkshires isn’t all roses.
- I recently spoke to a realtor who told me that over 105 homes were on the market just in Williamstown. That was MLS listings alone and didn’t include FSBO and Assist2Sell homes. A more typical number of homes on the market for Williamstown would be in the 40-60 units range.
- A recent article in the Berkshire Eagle (Vacancies, dearth of visitors plague mall, Tony Dobrowolski, 8/29/2010) spoke to the struggles of the Berkshire Mall in Lanesboro. Mr. Dobrowolski cited 17 dark storefronts out of 74 in the mall, which is a 23% vacancy rate.
- The hospitals in North Adams and Pittsfield are both in deep fiscal distress.
My feeling is that it is incumbent upon those of us who live and work here to take a deep look at how we got to where we are in terms of our local economy. There is all kinds of data available that speaks to the fragility of economies who rely solely on consumptive industries like tourism, retail, and culture. We need our elected leadership and appointed personnel to work with local businesses and institutions on formulating a strategy that will bring real jobs here over the next 10 years.
Sustainability isn’t just about the environment. Continuing down the same path we are on is not the answer.