Monthly Archives: June 2008

Ohio: The new Florida?

I’m heading back to Ohio tomorrow. And I’m miss the daily runs in Hilton Head, although it took three days to get used to the heat and humidity at 5 a.m. I probably would done better this morning by not reading e-mails and the online newspapers before my run. Here’s why.

The Wall Street Journal (at least the online version) printed a really negative — but unfortunately, truthful and accurate commentary about Ohio by Chester E. Finn Jr: “The Self-Inflicted Economic Death of Ohio.” (By subscription; if you can’t get it, e-mail me for a copy.)

Ouch. Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to live in Ohio. And, well, that’s one of the points in the article. Finn writes:

Once known as the Mother of Presidents, Ohio is now getting poorer, older and dumber – and making all the wrong moves to reverse the situation.

Didn’t someone once opine that it doesn’t matter what they print about you as long as they spell the name right? Bet it wasn’t the economic development folks throughout Ohio. Publicity like this in one of the leading newspapers in the world you could do without. Team NEO — please make sure no one circulates this to member organizations as an example of a national media placement about Ohio.

More from Finn:

But as a formula for economic revival, it is madness. Ohio already has the fifth-heaviest state and local tax burden in the country (up from 30th in 1990) and finds itself stagnating. Its unemployment rate, 6.3%, is above the national rate of 5.5%, even as the state’s work force shrinks as people emigrate. Ohio’s median household income is also falling – in 2006 it was $44,500, down 0.5% from the previous year – while the national figure ($48,500) was up 1.6%. During the closing decades of the 20th century, incomes rose twice as fast across the country as in Ohio.

The state has been deindustrializing for ages – the sprawling General Motors and NCR plants of my Dayton childhood are long gone. Every metropolitan area has seen manufacturing employment plunge. The state lost more than 200,000 nonfarm jobs over the past seven years alone. Of Ohio’s 10 largest corporations (including Procter & Gamble and other well known companies), just two have posted positive returns so far this year. A surefire way to have one’s portfolio underperform the market these days is to invest in Ohio.

OK. Can it get any worse? Ah, yeah.

But the distance to be covered is vast. Ohio ranks 41st in the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees. Though it has many fine colleges, their young graduates don’t stick around. They head for the coasts or for “happening places” in between, none of which (with the partial exception of Columbus) happens to be in the Buckeye State.

Bright Ohio kids aren’t even enrolling in nearby colleges. The Cincinnati Enquirer recently reported that almost half the top seniors in local high schools were headed for out-of-state campuses. As jobs and young people exit, the remaining population ages. The Census Bureau projects that Ohioans over 65 will rise to 20% by 2030, up from 13% in 2000.

Gee. Just like Florida — but without the sunshine.

Too bad, really. I’ve lived in Ohio now for 40 years. And these aren’t new issues. When I was working at BFGoodrich, we spent a lot of time — and a lot of money — working on our own and with organizations to “sell” living in Northeast Ohio. It was very difficult to recruit talented individuals – although the area had and still has plenty going for it: inexpensive housing (relative to other cities/states), generally short commutes, good public and private schools and major league cultural activities and sports teams (discounting the Browns, of course). Shorthand view: good place to raise a family. But it was always an uphill fight.

And the perception is that it is a fight that the state is not winning despite the best efforts of many talented and committed people, including those at Team NEO (now headed by a former Goodrich associate Tom Waltermire) and similar organizations throughout the state.

I was thinking a lot about that as I was running this morning. Mary and I are going to make a decision soon about whether to stay or go. And I expect that will be true of a lot of people — young and old — in the next few years. For the young, probably will come down to jobs and communities that offer a better quality of life beyond raising a family — which most communities offer if you really think about it. For the old (more mature?), there will be a lot of decision points, but here’s two: (1) can’t afford to leave because housing values in Ohio make it virtually impossible to relocate to certain areas where the housing prices are much higher, and (2) relocate to a place where you can enjoy a higher quality of life now that raising a family is no longer an issue.

And actually I’m rooting for Ohio here. This weekend in Columbus some of my friends are attending PodCamp Ohio, an event that I’m sure is bringing together plenty of young, talented and enthusiastic young people — just the kind we need to keep in the Buckeye State.

Maybe they can put together a podcast for Gov. Strickland and others. Here’s the message: Get your economic act together. Make it a priority to keep young people in the state. Set aside the usual politics that are a roadblock to accomplishing anything. And do it now. If young people continue to flee the state today — Ohio is Florida without sunshine tomorrow.

Hilton Head and “the little man”

Some thoughts while I was motoring around Hilton Head Island this morning. Most relate to the economy. Some involve communications as well.

We’ve been coming to Hilton Head during the same week in June for about the past 10 years. No where near as many people — or cars — here this week than in past years. Maybe the $4 a gallon price for gasoline is keeping people at home. And I expect it will get worse before it gets better — if it ever gets better. An article in USA Today this morning pretty well sums things up with the statement “fewer expected to drive, fly for 4th of July.” If, in fact, one of the reasons we are in Iraq is become of oil — well, the failure of that strategy should be pretty clear by now.

But if we can’t go anywhere, at least we can stay home an ponder the future of our economy: high food prices, increasing gasoline prices, crashing stock market. Oh, boy. Even if you are inclined to view the glass as half full, Steven Pearlstein’s column in The Washington Post this morning, “This Recession, It’s Just Beginning“, is enough to send you to the gin bottle.

Pearlstein writes:

So much for that second-half rebound.

Truth be told, that was always more of a wish than a serious forecast, happy talk from the Fed and Wall Street desperate to get things back to normal.

It ain’t gonna happen. Not this summer. Not this fall. Not even next winter.

This thing’s going down, fast and hard. Corporate bankruptcies, bond defaults, bank failures, hedge fund meltdowns and 6 percent unemployment. We’re caught in one of those vicious, downward spirals that, once it gets going, is very hard to pull out of.

Oh, mama. I hope that McCain and Obama have a truthful discussion with all of us during the upcoming campaign. Our nation faces some big challenges — and I really believe there are some tough choices ahead. And I don’t worry about this on a personal level. I have an ample pension and I’m close enough to getting Social Security that even Bush and his jolly group of advisers can’t screw that up. But I do worry for many of my friends who read this — many of whom are in their 20s like my son and daughter. Demand more from our candidates and elected officials this time around.

And if things aren’t bad enough nationally, consider what is happening here in Hilton Head. The best beer and rib joint on the island — Smokehouse Bar and BBQ — is on the verge of — oh, my — being leveled for a parking lot. I guess if Budweiser can end up as part of multinational brewery, then anything is possible. Although the sign near the door going into the Smokehouse does kind of, ah, jab you in the ribs.

Oh, well. I guess I agree with country singer Alan Jackson on this one. Next thing you know there will be a Wal-Mart overlooking the ocean, replacing the Piggly Wiggly and the Hemp Store. So it goes.

Newspapers, India and outsourcing

Well, maybe the death of newspapers isn’t being over-stated. I was thinking about this while circling Hilton Head on foot this morning. Did you ever call the customer service number of a U.S. company and talk to someone who, well, you figured wasn’t living in Iowa? Or anywhere else where Budweiser is still considered the Great American Lager. I have. And it hasn’t always been that pleasant.

And I recognize that we live in a global economy. But folks — here’s one that makes me gulp (and snicker) a little.

The Orange County Register in California, according to an Associated Press story printed in Business Week online, is going to outsource some of its copy editing and page layout work to a company in India, Mindworks Global Media, on a one-month trial basis.

“This is a small-scale test, which will not touch our local reporting or decision-making. Our own editors will oversee this work,” Fabris [John Fabris, deputy editor, Orange County Register] said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “In a time of rapid change at newspapers, we are exploring many ways to work efficiently while maintaining quality and improving local coverage.”

The Orange County Register isn’t the first newspaper to outsource jobs; it won’t be the last. And something tells me this isn’t a quality-of-work issue — but a cost-reduction plan. If employees at U.S. newspapers have to compete on a cost basis with workers in India and elsewhere — well, mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be copy editors. Here’s from the AP story:

Other newspapers also have outsourced some work to India. Mindworks began copyediting and design of a weekly community news section and other special advertising sections at The Miami Herald in January. A month earlier, the Sacramento Bee, also owned by the McClatchy Co., said it would outsource some of its advertising production work to India.

Guess newspapers are a business after all. When I was a journalism student at Kent State in the late 60s that was something never discussed in class or elsewhere. In fact, many soon-to-be-journalists were proud of the fact that they weren’t going to work in business. I also believe that what I’ll call an anti-business bias carried over into news coverage — and that affected the relationships between many reporters, editors and PR people. But I digress.

Hope that view has changed today — in the classrooms and in the newsrooms.

For those who still think that newspapers — and journalism in general — isn’t a business, this Bud’s for you.

And for those like me believe that a financially strong, independent news media — staffed by journalists with skills and ethics — are essential to our nation — well, I guess I’ll grab a 12-pack of Beck’s and head for the beach.

Easy Rider and adult diapers

In ran at Hilton Head this morning. And it was a fairly pleasant run. Humidity was only about 99 percent; temperature in the low 70s. At 6 a.m. that’s not bad. And yeah, I know. That’s mid morning. But when I’m on vacation I’ll generally sleep in  until 4:30 or so and try to hit the road around  5:30 or 6. No point being a slave to your regular routine.

We’ve been coming to Hilton Head for nearly a decade. Good for vacations but not so sure about living here — or a lot of other places in the South — full time. One problem: way too many old people. On the drive to Hilton Head you pass one of those Dell Webb Sun City resorts. That’s where they give you a golf cart and a package of adult diapers along with the house keys. And it’s one of those places where you’re not allowed to be on the property unless you’re over 55 or 60. Wonder if that is what Dylan Thomas had in mind when he wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Also, I’m not sure I want to live in a part of the country where the only cultural advantage is right-turn-on-red. (Sorry, I shamelessly took that line from a Woody Allen movie. He was talking about California. We all have our quirks.)

But I do like the way they get right to the point in the South. Clear, honest, direct communication.

For instance, we took Snowbird Alley (I-95) from North Carolina to South Carolina. I stopped for gas in Santee and headed in to get a Diet Coke. A sign on the door said: “If your pants are hanging below your waist don’t even think about coming in.” Hmm. Thank God it didn’t say: “If your stomach is hanging over your belt, no Diet Coke for you.”

But back on the road again, as Willie Nelson might say, I was stuck in traffic. A moving van in the right lane. An old pickup truck blocking me in the left. Moment of truth. Could I pass the pickup truck on the right and squeeze by the moving van? I inch toward the pickup truck and notice a bumper sticker: “Gun control means using two hands.”

Whoa, big guy. Let’s ease up on the accelerator of that BMW. No point in inviting a reenactment of the final scene in Easy Rider.

Dennis Hopper after all is now pitching ads for some retirement service on TV. Hope it’s not for adult diapers.

Go figure.

Willie Randolph and e-mail firings

June really can be the best time to run here in Northeast Ohio. This morning at 5 a.m.: cool, light breeze, even some daylight. Can’t beat that. And just to show that I wasn’t wasting my time out there pounding the concrete, I was thinking about Willie Randolph — recently fired manager of the New York Mets.

Ouch. That’s a tough word: fired. I guess that’s why you don’t see it used much in business, government, nonprofits and education. Someone is laid off. Let go. Part of a reduction in force, etc.

And I always chuckled when writing the announcements about the goings of senior managers.

“Gary Gasbag is giving up his multimillion-dollar salary to spend more time with his family.”

Or.

“Gary Gasbag is leaving the company to pursue other interests.”

Not many corporate announcements say: “Gary Gasbag was a douche bag, and the Board had to get rid of him before he totally destroyed the company.” If I find one of those announcements I’ll share it with you.

Truth. Honesty. Disclosure. Not the hallmark of those kind of announcements. Trust me. Unfortunately, I’ve been there.

But poor Willie Randolph. He got fired. But at least his boss, Mets General Manager Omar Minaya, had the class and the balls to tell him in person, face to face. That’s not always the case these days. More and more managers — and organizations — love to hide behind the curtain and send e-mail messages to employees letting them know they are fired, laid off, whatever.

The New York Times talked about this and other matters in an article titled “In Life, as in Baseball, Getting Fired is an Opening for a Comeback.” Here are the first two paragraphs of the article:

Kerry Leishman’s boss did not bother to say, “You’re fired,” face to face. He sent her the news in a text message.

if (acm.rc) acm.rc.write();“He wrote, ‘I wanted to do this in person, but I’m sick,’ ” she said, recalling how she lost her bartending job at a financial district restaurant. “ ‘Don’t come in, but drop off the keys.’ ”

Fortunately I never had to fire someone because of poor job performance. But I did several times have to tell people that they would no longer have a job because of staff cutbacks. And during my time at Goodrich we closed a number of manufacturing and office facilities — affecting the lives of thousands of people. And I use the word people — rather than employees. If there is any communication that demands respect and consideration for the individuals involved and their families this is it.

And it’s never easy — but I sure hope we aren’t heading down the road where organizations become so insensitive that managers believe e-mail will substitute for face-to-face communication. It doesn’t.

At least Willie Randolph heard it directly from the boss.

This Bud’s for — the USA

I went to the Cleveland Indians game Sunday. Perfect day. Great game. The Indians won. But when you’re blogging you’re never really off the clock.

Here’s what I mean. The scoreboard at the Jake (oops, refuse to remember the new stadium name) proudly displays a Budweiser logo that appears to extend from left field to center. So what was I thinking about? A frosty brew on a warm, sunny day. Nah. I was thinking that Budweiser — actually Anheuser-Busch — is in the throes of a hostile takeover attempt by InBev, the world’s largest brewer and maker of Stella Artois, Beck’s and Bass.

It’s a deal currently valued at some $46.4 billion. But even at that it appears that the Busch family, which controls a lot but apparently not a majority of the stock, is finding the transaction hard to swallow. That from a public relations perspective raises some issues. And Jim Horton, on his blog, Online Public Relations Thoughts, gets right to the heart of the matter in a post, Tough Decisions.

“The CEO of brewer, Anheuser-Busch, faces a tough decision. The company has always been dominated by one family, even though it is publicly held. The family has over many decades reinforced the perception that it is a family company. Now comes an all-cash bid to shareholders that will be hard for the family to turn down. It will be interesting if the family goes quietly or if it decides to mount a communications defense. Either way, the CEO is under pressure. Do what is best for shareholders or do what is best for the family?”

Yahoo faced a somewhat similar situation recently — as it considered a bid from Microsoft, not once but several times. In the end, Yahoo struck a deal with Google that allows the company to remain independent — but arguably was not in the best interest of shareholders. Here’s Joe Nocera’s take on this in The New York Times Saturday in his column titled “Oh Jerry, It’s No Longer Your Baby.

To: Jerry Yang

Jerry Yang/Paul J. Richards/A.F.P. — Getty Images

From: Joe Nocera

Re: Shafting Yahoo’s Shareholders

Dear Jerry,

Congratulations — you pulled it off. You got Microsoft to walk away from your beloved Yahoo for good. The final word went out on Thursday. There isn’t going to be any megamerger. No smaller deal to sell your search business, or take a minority stake, either. As Yahoo’s co-founder and chief executive, you’re undoubtedly thrilled. But your shareholders sure aren’t.

Ouch. Well, I guess we’ll see what happens with Budweiser and Anheuser-Busch. And I guess part of me is rooting for the Busch family on this one. Yahoo? Well, does it really matter if it is part of the evil empire (Microsoft) or on its own battling anti-trust issues related to its deal with Google? Nah. But Budweiser. The Great American Lager. That seems like it should be right up there with Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet. You know. Things that defined this country back when the Indians last won the World Series. (Go ahead. Google it. Or Yahoo it.) InBev is based in Belgium. Do they even play baseball in Belgium?

Anyway, I couldn’t find any Budweiser at the Jake Sunday.

So I had a Harp. Actually several. Harp is made by Diageo, a multinational brewer headquartered in London.

So it goes.

Andy Warhol and Father’s Day

Pretty tough to make a connection between Andy Warhol and Father’s Day. But I’ll give it a shot. I went to Pittsburgh yesterday to visit with my Mom and Dad and go to the Andy Warhol Museum. If you have the opportunity to visit the museum by all means go. It’s amazing. And if you’re interested, read my daughter Jessica’s blog.

In fact, entering the museum I had one of those life-transforming moments. The admission was $15 for adults and $9 for seniors. Should I or shouldn’t I. Well, for six bucks I caved.

Now I’m a senior citizen. Oh, my.

But I still have great memories of growing up on Pittsburgh’s North Side, now the home of the Warhol exhibit. One of those memories came in 1960. Ninth inning of the 7th game of the World Series. Pirates versus Yankees. At Forbes Field (now defunct). Bill Mazeroski at the plate.

Well, in the spirit of Internet research, for those of you not old enough to remember that day in 1960, go ahead and Google it. But here’s a hint. As we were driving toward the Warhol museum we passed the new Pirates ballpark. It was jammed with people heading to a Kenny Chesney concert. But to enter the ballpark you drive down Bill Mazeroski Way. Folks, they don’t name streets in Pittsburgh for country singers.

And then once in the museum I was struck by a number of things — including the letters that Warhol wrote and received. Imagine that. Actual written letters — in the full richness of your own handwriting. I don’t think I’ve written an actual letter by hand (no computer/typewriter) since Al Gore invented the Internet. Maybe it’s time that I did that again. And maybe it’s even important to the nation that we pick up pen and pencil and write in complete sentences again. Here’s an interesting article in The Washington Post this morning: “The Fate of the Sentence: Is the Writing on the Wall?

Andy Warhol graduated from Schenley High School in Pittsburgh. I graduated a few years later from Perry High School.

When we left the museum I drove back through my old neighborhood, past Perry High School, past the home I grew up in, past the Norwin Lounge (now defunct) where I spent many a pleasant evening drinking with and talking to friends. When you get to be a senior citizen you start to make little side trips like that.

And then we went and had dinner with my Mom and Dad. Happy belated Mother’s Day. And Happy Father’s Day.

There. I made the connection. Told ya.