Humboldt Economic Index for June 2014

The hardworking crew at HSU has published its Index , which shows a sharp drop in housing sales, down 12.4% since last month. Most indicators were down or flat although Retail held steady.  Unemployment rates: National 6.3 (May figures), California 7.6, Humboldt unchanged at 7.1. Many thanks to Dr. Eschker and his researchers.  

Newest Economic Index Shows Leap in Manufacturing

Dr. Eschker and his hardworking crew at HSU have added another dimension to their Humboldt Economic Index; a specific tracking of the manufacturing sector.  That sector, which will likely generate the sought-after high-paying jobs so badly needed to stabilize our Humboldt economy, increased its index by over 30% in the past year. This is huge and shows a very positive development even though not associated with an increase in employment. Enjoy the Index here and many thanks to those who worked  on it and the sponsors.

“The Best of the North Coast” Redux

It’s that time of year again.  I just now noticed that the Times-Standard always posts it’s “Best” list on April Fool’s Day. Good move.

This year’s list didn’t have any major gaffes like last years (darn) which proclaimed the STILL unfinished Holiday Inn on Broadway in Eureka as one of the winners.  There were a few surprises. Porter Street BBQ won over Humboldt Smoke House, which surprised me, and I thought the Banana Hut was an excellent choice for Best Business Lunch- good food and you can walk to it from anywhere downtown. I don’t agree that Ramone’s is the best bakery although they’re certainly among the most expensive. I’m a Cherry Blossom fan, myself.

Hole-in-the-Wall, the Hunan in Henderson Center, Brick & Fire, and Bob’s Footlong’s (Fortuna) all got their props. Happy Donuts, next to the new VA office, won for Best Donuts, but they really should have won for “Best Cheap Lunch”.  They have a platter with three spring rolls with dipping sauce for $4.99 and if you don’t like cilantro you can call the night before and they’ll make you a cilantro-less version and set it aside for you. The donuts are pretty good, too.

I DO find it hard to believe that Shamus T Bone’s steaks beat out the AA’s. That will bear investigating.

But the prize for “Most Ironic” choice is The Works as favorite source for CD’s/Records/Tapes.  The beloved store has lost much of its business since the move to larger quarters on “C” Street and is in a precarious situation. So go down there and BUY something if you want your favorite to survive. Support ALL our local  businesses with your wallets, not just your admiration. Admiration don’t pay the bills.

No foolin’. 

The Winter of Our Discontent-Trains to Vancouver, NVB is Sold and the Chinese are Coming, and Coming and Coming

Well, here we are in late January, freezing to death, looking at a drought and coming off a lousy crab season. There IS good news- getting to someplace even colder is now easier.

TRAIN SERVICE BETWEEN EUGENE AND VANCOUVER, B.C.- it’s begun, and it’s a ten to twelve-hour trip with inconvenient departures although the website states in several places that the schedules are to be adjusted in the near future. The new Cascades line overlaps in places with the Coast Starlight, so don’t get them confused while reading the schedules.The State of Oregon bought the two trains with stimulus money and each carries 286 passengers, bicycle storage, outlets, wi-fi etc. The trains were built by Talgo, the US subsidiary of a Spanish company. The multinationals seem to have more faith in US rail than do the Neanderthals running Amtrak. Look at what Siemens is doing in Sacramento: building something like 30 locomotives of which two will end up on the West Coast (and creating thousands of good jobs). I hope to take this train over the summer but as you all know getting to Eugene from here involves either a four-hour drive and finding a place to stash your car OR a tortuous three-bus ride from Arcata to Redding then hooking up with the Starlight to Eugene. The best train seems to be the one that leaves Eugene at 2pm because it’s ALL TRAIN, no long bus rides.  It’s a 10 hour ride, all the amenities are promised, including a lounge car, and the fare is as low as $73.  Ticket sales are healthy and the State of Oregon did two smart things with this $38M purchase: they bought rolling stock designed to handle the higher speeds if/when high-speed rail becomes an option and they planned ahead of time for increased demand in 2017 when service increases between Seattle and Tacoma. Check out their website- even the food menus look good.  The North Coast Journal (Dec 12, 2013) did an excellent summary of the hassles involved in trying to get to Portland from here. Every little bit helps. And if you go all the way to Vancouver, don’t forget your passport (or birth certificate and photo I.D.) 

NORTH VALLEY BANK PURCHASED BY TRI COUNTIES: Effective in mid-2014, some of us will be sending our mortgage payments to Chico-based Tri Counties Bank, a merger that will result in a combined workforce of 1100 employees, and a network of banks stretching from Crescent City to Bakersfield.  With $3.5B in assets, $3.1B in deposits,  $2.2B in gross loans, and 80 branch offices, the new Tri Counties Bank will be the 26th largest in the State. The banks have issued the usual disclaimers about how this change will be painless to customers.

CHINESE TOURISM TO U.S. TO TRIPLE BY 2020: As I prepared to enter the China Buffet in Eureka, a group of Chinese diners emerged and zeroed right in on me. (They always do- I must look helpful.) None of them including their driver spoke much more English than I do Chinese, but they knew what they wanted. “Redwood Park”, they kept saying. “Redwood Park”.  Their van was labelled “Joy Tours:” but it was getting dark and I couldn’t figure out whether they would get more joy going south to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, or north to the National Park so I pointed them north, figuring they’d get a kick out of Paul Bunyan at Trees of Mystery. The next day I called Tony Smithers at the HCCVB and asked him about Joy Tours. He was aware of them but apparently the bureau has not specific outreach to Asian visitors.

I suspect that will be changing in the future. 1.5M mainland Chinese visited the US in 2012 and their numbers are expected to reach 5.7M by 2020. California is the most popular destination, followed by New York.  Relaxed visa restriction and rising household income are fueling the growth. The LA Times reports that Chines tourism to LA rose 21% in last year and that “Chinese tourists are the second biggest-spending foreign visitors to the U.S. – just behind Indians and ahead of Australians, Brazilians and Japanese- with a average budget of $4400 not including airfare.”  Meanwhile, U.S. hotels are not well-equipped for Chinese visitors, especially in terms of Mandarin-speaking staff and Chinese dietary needs. The Chinese tend to stay longer than other tourists (42 nights average) and 36% are here for conventions or business meetings. Talk about a bonanza being dropped in our laps! Gung Hay Fat Choi, everyone. And a Happy Year of the Horse.

REMINDER: Next Friday, January 31 is the deadline for applying for the Fisherman’s Terminal restaurant opportunity, details in our last week’s issue. 

 

 

 

 

What We Have to Be Grateful For on the Redwood Coast- a sampler

Counting your blessings on Thanksgiving Day, on the Redwood Coast, is an overwhelming job, which is why I am not trying to be inclusive. Here are just a few items which have come to my attention lately, for which we should give thanks.

First, we should give thanks and remembrance to the three loggers who died on the weekend of October 19-20. It doesn’t seem to me that enough attention was paid to these incidents and we can never give enough emphasis to the dangers of logging.

Let’s also, on the verge of the Christmas holiday, remember the 25 or 30 of our friends and neighbors who have lost their jobs due to the closure of Ray’s Food Place in Eureka. I never saw more than two or three customers in the place and I don’t know how they kept it  open as long as they did, but it’s gone now. If you know any of those employees, show a little more kindness than usual.

Let’s be grateful for the farsighted educators of Ferndale High School for purchasing a 3-D  printer for their engineering class. The friendly staff has advised that Mr. Michael Baggot, 786-5900, can be contacted for a possible appointment to observe the machine. ‘Way to go, Ferndale!

Let’s also be grateful for community groups like the Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers (HASA) who devote many hours to the welfare of our precious Bay. Here is a link to their newsletter, which is a great one. It will take a minute or two to load, but is worth the wait. What a pleasure to see our friends Ben Doane and Pat Higgins and thanks to Casey Allen for keeping me on the mailing list.

Not local but still neat: did you know that there is a movement afoot to install chargers for electric and hybrid vehicles all along Route 66? There’s a festival coming up in Kingman, AZ to commemorate the Mother Road going green.

We can be grateful that despite what seems like an all-out effort by Amtrak to stifle our passenger trains, the Surfliner and the San Joaquin have more riders than ever.  

And finally, not local but I bet he’d love the Redwood Coast, movie star Kirk Douglas, who has survived blacklisting, bad movie roles, strokes and God knows what else, has just published his TENTH novel at the age of 94. Long may he wave, and I hope I have his ambition at his age. Have a great holiday and don’t forget to count your blessings. 

 

 

“Catfish” Lessons for Redwood Coast Business, Port of Oakland big plans and HumBay Tourism Center

CATFISH-If any of you have not seen “Catfish”, either the movie or the TV series which just finished its second season on MTV, you’re missing out on a phenomenon.  I waste more time than I care to admit watching junk TV (“Pawn Stars”, anyone?) but “Catfish” is in a class by itself. The whole franchise got started when Nev Shulman, a young, good-looking and seemingly intelligent New Yorker formed an online friendship via Facebook with a young girl in the Midwest who appeared to be a phenomenal graphic artist. (I don’t usually use the word “intelligent” and “Facebook” together, but bear with me here.)  Certain things didn’t add up, so he decided to investigate the situation with the help of his filmmaker brothers and discovered that the girl’s mother had done the artwork and that he had been “catfished”, a term which has entered the language now and which normally refers to a person who has been taken in by someone who hides his/her true identity on Facebook. The motive could be money, spite, whatever but Shulman got so many emails after the film “Catfish” started being shown that it became clear there was ample material for the series, which is heading into its third season.

     It would be easy to dismiss the various victims as just plain stupid, and some of them are. However, some are quite sophisticated and wary of situations that seem too good to be true. There are infinite variations on the plot (using a model’s photo in lieu of your own, creating a fantasy identity etc) but after you watch long enough , some eternal verities emerge, some of which Redwood Coast Businesspeople should keep in mind in your marketing campaigns. Take these to the bank:

1.  People believe what they want to believe.  You know that old gag, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” Most people are totally capable of ignoring reality when convenient.

2. Hope invariably trumps common sense. You didn’t show up for our long-postponed meeting because at the last minute you were carjacked? That one was actually used in one episode.

3. Nobody likes to be lied to. When the truth finally sinks in,  when the gorgeous girl is finally revealed to be a hundred pounds heavier that her photo, or a different sex than what was advertised, the reactions are always the same.  ANGER! Some of the couples work it through but the vast majority, when they finally figure it out, are disgusted with themselves AND the perp and terminate all contact immediately. They’re ashamed, embarrassed etc.

     What are the implications for sales and marketing? Simply put, a little light-hearted kidding (like the Joe Isuzu campaign) can be great, but making indefensible statements or claims will always come back to haunt you. Come to think of it,  this applies to politics too.

PORT OF OAKLAND TO EXPAND- along with the Panama Canal. In this account, from the Capital Weekly, Greg Lucas does an excellent job of laying out complexities facing the eleven California harbors, including our own.  Food for thought for our local rail supporters.

HUMBOLDT BAY TOURISM CENTER- Has been open since May down at 2nd and G in Eureka and I have referred at least 18 people there just to look at the beautiful job they’ve done with the building. If it were a bar, it would be one of our most elegant. The space is in zones for taste, planning activities etc. and I’ll let their own website tell the story. It’s a beautiful facility, staffed by pleasant people, but what I had hoped for was to be able to give an account of the impact it had over the past season. It turns out that’s impossible. According to the management there they have NO DATA on how many visitors they’ve had, how many tours or activities have been booked through, how many lodging bookings- nothing. They are just now- at the nadir of the tourist season- starting to keep some records which they will certainly need when their two-year contract with the HCCVB is reviewed or renewed.

Anyway, check them out for a relaxing break from hectic Holiday shopping. They don’t have any parking, which is a hassle,  but I’ve always been able to find something within a couple of blocks. We’ll revisit them here next summer when they have a whole year under their belts. And wish them well. We need all the help we can get.

GO-Biz Forum Packs Wharfinger

        A crowd of 70 entrepreneurs, hopefuls and civic officials gathered yesterday at the ungodly hour of 8:30am to hear about Governor Jerry Brown’s GO-Biz program which was initiated in 2011 as ”a single point of contact for economic development and job creation efforts”. Their excellent website sets forth some of the success GO-Biz has already had in retaining and/or luring back businesses who were planning to move out of state. GO-Biz administers the state Innovation Hub (iHub) program which includes 12 regional innovation clusters which bring together government, academia and businesses through innovation incubators. The North Coast, it would seem,  is a logical place for such an incubator.

       The  speakers included Louis Stewart, who spends his time on the road promoting the program, and  Professor Steve Karp, who heads HSU’s Sponsored Programs Foundation.  This foundation runs as many as 300 projects, grants and contracts concurrently ranging from studies on bats and bees, hydrogen -fueled cars, and the discovery of 100 new species of fungi in Guyana. They employ around 300 students and 500 staff and faculty in cutting-edge research.  Third was Sergio  Herrera from the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center, which we’ll be examining in detail in a future post.

      Then there were the entrepreneurs themselves, first Milia Lando and Rosa Dixon, the founders of Natural Decadence, a gluten, nut, and dairy-free bakery.  (They didn’t give samples but the pictures of the chocolate pies had people drooling). After only two years in business they have recently inked a deal with Whole Foods which will give them distribution in 130 stores on the West Coast and In Hawaii. They have been using the commercial kitchen at Redwood Acres but are on their way to the national Anaheim Food Show and a national launch. They have a great story too, the business having its roots in their struggle to cope with food allergies, theirs and their children’s. Their future is so bright they should have been wearing shades, but that would have detracted from their excellent and heartfelt presentation.

      Last on the program was Greg Dale, Southwest ops Manager for Coast Seafood, a frequent and enthusiastic advocate for our shellfish industry. They used to say of Maria Tallchief, the ballerina, that she could make you feel that there was nothing as worthwhile as being a dancer.  Greg can make you feel that there’s no higher calling than wrangling oysters. He reports that the permitting process- which involves seven agencies- is still onerous and efforts are being made to fashion a Model Permit Process involving  pre-permitting, in conjunction with Morro Bay and Tomales Bay. Much luck to them.  He reports that the demand for shellfish is so great that there is a $200M shortfall.  How great to have a product that is sold before you take it out of the Bay. We need more of those.

      GO-Biz is an important program and the civic leaders who attended included Eureka Mayor Frank Jager and the entire City Council, and Supervisor Mark Lovelace, who came by before the BOS meeting, as well as many others. You will doubtless be hearing more about an iHub for the North Coast. Pay attention. This could be a great step toward strengthening and diversifying our one-crop economy. 

Standing Up While You Work Is Good, Facebook Is Depressing, Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton Thrive

In the first few hours of our Federal government shutdown, it would be nice if I could come up with some POSITIVE things to say about Our Current Situation but I really can’t think of any. The impact on Humboldt County, with our huge Federal holdings such as Six Rivers National Forest and Redwood National Park, plus all that BLM land, will be huge. Anything that hurts tourism hurts us all.  Let’s hope for a quick resolution. Elsewhere in the news…

STAND AND DELIVER: Have you been getting a lot of online ads for treadmill desks? The ads I get are for models starting at about $1200 and I see one in my future. I had a couple of colleagues when I worked for the State who used standup desks because they had back problems but I’ve seen about five articles lately indicating that working on your feet is a healthy choice for everyone. Churchill, Hemingway and Leonardo da Vinci did it.  The evidence is mounting that, as the Economist puts it, “Prolonged periods of inactivity are bad regardless of how much time you also spend on officially approved high-impact stuff like jogging or pounding treadmills in the gym.”  Even just standing up instead of sitting is a low-level activity that uses a different set of muscles than does sitting.

The evidence is scary. A study from England found that the individuals who are least active at work or otherwise are twice as likely to develop diabetes as the most active, are twice as likely to die of a heart attack and are 250% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. These results seem to be independent of the amount of hardcore gym exercise that the study subjects did. A different study, on rats, indicated that immobilizing them led to a dramatic drop in their HDL levels, which is undesirable as low levels of HDL promote heart disease. The good news for humans is that breaking up long periods of sitting with two minutes of walking every 20 minutes can lower your blood glucose level by 30%.

So what does this mean to an employer?  You might want to speak to your workers’ comp carrier about a break in your rates if you install standup desks and walking paths. Anything you can do to encourage your employees’ low-level activity, like walking, may turn out to be a lifesaver.  Now I’m going to get up and walk around.

FACEBOOK IS DEPRESSING:  I never miss a chance to bash Facebook, so here’s this week’s news. Two recent studies studied Facebook users. The first was a joint venture by the University of Michigan and Leuven University in Belgium, which studied 82 teens and young adults over a two-week period by means of questionnaires.  They found that the more an individual used Facebook during the study period, the worse they reported feeling.  On the other hand, the more real-world interaction they had, the more positive they reported feeling. The  other study, by social scientists at Humboldt University (NOT Humboldt State) and Darmstadt Technical University, both in Germany, surveyed 584 Facebook users in their twenties and found that the most common emotion associated with Facebook use was: ENVY. I don’t doubt it, since looking at all those doctored photos and “status updates”  which consist mainly of bragging could well affect a person. So, employers, Facebook is not only stealing your employees’ time, it’s making  them feel inferior. Try to encourage something more positive. Like Angry Birds. 

JERRY BROWN: A new biography  by Chuck McFadden, Trailblazer, reminds us that when he was elected Governor he was the youngest Governor in the nation. Now he’s the oldest, at 75, and is apparently planning to run for another term. He’s still jogging three miles several times a week and his Prop 30 has apparently calmed the States’ budget crisis. His wife, Anne Gust, former CAO of the GAP, is a strong partner in his administration.  The “crazy” ideas he espoused in his first term that earned him the nickname “Governor Moonbeam” – communications satellites, space exploration, solar energy etc etc- have become mainstream.  The book makes the point that Brown’s three (or four) terms as Governor added to his father’s two terms back in the ‘fifties (he left to become Chief Justice) are a very long run. And he shows no signs of slowing down.

BILL CLINTON: I may have been the last to hear about it, but it has been brought to my attention that Bill Clinton- the Bill Clinton of the fried chicken and pork rinds – THAT Bill Clinton has, for the past three years, been a VEGAN. I’m still trying to process this, but if that’s the reason he looks so good lately, I may become a convert. Cheaper than a standup desk in the short run. Last October, on a road trip, we passed through Little Rock and  I insisted on visiting  his then-favorite lunch spot, Doe’s Eat Place, ( I’m not kidding) .  It was closed but I’m willing to bet they don’t serve vegan. All things change. Both Jerry and Bill are inspirations for those of us who are, shall, we say, getting on in years.  More power to both of them. 

Now if we could just resolve this darn shutdown…

Local Food Month-let’s celebrate Humboldt’s bounty, and by the way, where’s the local yogurt?

 It’s that time again: Local Food Month, cleverly timed to coincide with harvest season. Whenever I travel outside the local area I am reminded that we are so lucky to have access to food that hasn’t been shipped from a thousand miles away. You could spend an hour rummaging through a Publix or a Winn-Dixie in Florida and not find any local food at all.  Here’s a link to the event listings and don’t forget to check out the “Red Carpet  Premiere” Saturday night at the Eureka Theater which will feature food, films and fun. The Humboldt Made site has all the details and a link for ordering tickets in advance.

       At the same time I’m relishing the local cheeses, jams etc I can’t help wondering why there’s no local  source for a food I eat everyday, and a lot of you do too.  I’m talking about YOGURT. It’s easy to make (we used to make it in our dorm room at Davis) and when In later years I had occasion to visit the Continental Culture Company in Altadena,  I found that their operation wasn’t much more complicated. They had one building that was hot and humid, where the culturing took place, and another that was refrigerated for storage purposes. Later they became a huge company and I used to see their products all over Southern California, in health food stores. Now, they’re out of business, mourned by their fans a having been the only lactose-free yogurt available.  I didn’t know there was such a thing.

       I used to buy the 39c Lucerne yogurt, oblivious to its mushy texture and lack of flavor but then, like a lot of you, I discovered Chobani and got hooked on its heft and chalkiness. Chobani retails locally at Winco for about a buck and at Murphy’s for $1.50 or so.  So my 39c investment has become at least a dollar. Chobani was in the news this morning for contamination problems in its Idaho plant. Their growth has been spectacular. The Economist has a very interesting account in its August 31st issue of how Hamdi Ulukaya, a son of Kurdish immigrants in Turkey,  bought an 85-year-old yogurt factory in upstate New York in 2005. This year he will sell more than $1B , a healthy chunk of America’s $6.3B market. The company is changing; Mr Ulukaya is hiring a COO and a new ad agency.

       So what’s the difference between “Greek” yogurt and any other? Greek yogurt is strained to remove the whey, the watery liquid that separates out during the process, leaving more protein than in the supermarket stuff, in fact about twice as much. No, I don’t own stock in the company.  Mr. Ulukaya retains sole ownership.

       So what is stopping some Redwood Coast entrepreneur from entering this market?  We have the dairy infrastructure, the marketing image of green fields and free-roaming herds and a population that would probably support a local yogurt if one were available. It seems like a natural. You could have “Redwood Raspberry” or “Humboldt Honeycomb”. If someone finds a way to make our major ag product palatable to the taste buds, you could get into “Weedwacker” or “Green Giant” although I guess that’s copyrighted . Anyway, the possibilities are endless. And you don’t even have to pay me a consultant’s fee. Just gimme some good yogurt.

UPDATE: The lime Chobani I ate earlier today was apparently from the batch (06-12, exp Oct 7) that  some people, mostly  kids, have become sick from and which Chobani is replacing with coupons in what is called a “voluntary recall”. I feel absolutely fine. Another opening for LOCAL yogurt!