September Humboldt Economic Index

Dr. Eschker and his dedicated group have published their Economic Index for September.    They found that in September Hospitality, Lumber, Employment , and manufacturing orders  were up, while Home Sales, Retail, unemployment claims, building permits and “help wanted” advertising were down.

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.

Ripping Off A Farmers’ Market? Jail Is Too Good For This Guy

Like most of us, I don’t like crooks. Especially crooks who rip off the deserving. Rip off Larry Ellison? I don’t like it but I’m not going to lose sleep over it. But ripping off a farmers’ market? How low can you get? Really.

Well, it took an elected official to demonstrate how low. A Glendale city councilman is headed to jail for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the local farmers’ market over a number of years. Thank God they caught him but this is one of those cases that makes you start wondering if our justice system hasn’t overly restricted itself.  In the words of Gilbert and Sullivan-actually Gilbert-

“My object all sublime I shall achieve in time: to make the punishment fit the crime..”

I don’t know what punishment would fit this crime (a diet of rotten vegetables? ) but your submssions are welcome. We read about scumbags all the time but I know folks who sell at our farmers’ markets and I know how hard they work. Sorry for bending your ear, but this one really got to me.

 

Rosepond Aquatics is For Sale

Our friend Doug Rose has reminded us that he is selling his pond-and-water lilies business in McKinleyville and he’s listing it at only $7K. That’s an awfully cheap price to get into a an enterprise with lots of growth potential.  I’ll let Doug tell the rest of the story:

“Seasonal (March-August) pond plant business available in McKinleyville. Established 12 years with good client base and assumable land lease with room for expansion.  Facilities are fully developed with 10×12′ greenhouse, automated watering system, sheltered potting area with weed cloth covering all growing areas. Inventory includes 160 mother plant varieties of hardy water lilies with complete history, growing characteristics and graphic displays for every plant. Business consists of wholesale, retail and internet. Must sell by July 4th.  $7000 is walkaway price. ” His phone is (707) 839-0588, his cell is (707) 616-0111 and the website is right here. There’s also a video on You Tube

and his email is drose@rosepond.com. (Sorry, I’m having problems with links again but the link to the website is good.)  If you haven’t met Doug, he’s an amazing person.

Good luck in your new business!

The Timber Heritage Association-Sleeping Giant in Samoa

Speeder train at aSamoa

Speeder train at at Samoa

The last time I went to one of the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group’s monthly   community forums I noted how downspirited everyone was after listening to an hour of “no”.  No, the east-west train doesn’t pencil out. No, there isn’t enough identified freight to make it work. No, no, no. Yesterday’s meeting was completely different. The Timber Heritage Association reminded us that there are FEASIBLE projects to bring more jobs and more tourists, and everyone left in a good mood. There ‘s a lot of work ahead, but as someone said, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.

(In view of the NCJ column by Marcy Burstiner regarding Brown Act violations, let me clarify that the meetings I attend on the fourth Wednesday of each month are the HBHWG’s PUBLIC forums and are not an inter-agency advisory committee subject to the Brown Act.  I do not attend the AHHA , don’t intend to , don’t know if anything will come of it.  The monthly forums are strictly informational, usually worth attending and represent a lot of hard work by Susanna Munzell and her committee. Glad we got that straightened out.)

Back to the THA which since 1977 has worked hard for a railroad museum and a round-the -Bay tourist train,  and is shortly starting its summer schedule of speeder rides (if you haven’t been on one, speeders are crew cars that look kind of like a caboose.) They run from the Samoa Cookhouse on a short run, only 20 minutes or so but by God, it’s a train ride. Your kids will love it and so will you. The speeder rides are in Samoa four times a year, in Old Town Eureka twice, in Fortuna for the Apple Harvest Days and and have recently started runs in Loleta (check the schedules on the website.)  The steam train rides at Ft Humboldt are all done by THA volunteers during the summer months. By now it should be clear that the THA is a major refuge for train nuts (like me) and they have rolling stock scattered around the county until a real museum can be organized. If you have never ventured down the road behind the Cookhouse, go check it out. They have several train cars right there, all of which are worthy of preservation.

Pete Johnston, who delivered the excellent presentation, pointed out that the Skunk is the major tourist attraction in Mendocino now and if we had a train museum and an opportunity for a train ride, that would be enough to get tourists to stop HERE, rather than shooting past us to Bend or other places with train-related attractions. Did you know the Samoa roundhouse is one of only four on the entire West Coast? That the THA is sustained by 6000 hours of volunteer labor a year?  That’s dedication and one day it will benefit the entire county.

So go ride the speeders and support the THA. I’ve donated before but never joined up but I have now, just wrote them a check for $25 and if I can do it , you can, and should.  They have a couple of fundraisers coming up and last year the Salmon, Oysters Ales and Rails BBQ in August was completely sold out (500 tickets.) Trains have been a big part of Humboldt County history and if the THA has its way they will be a part of its future, as well. .

 

“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.

Trains, Planes and Buses??!!?

Last week,  a friend who needed to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco decided to try the Megabus.  His verdict? Unequivocal approval.

He took the overnighter which leaves LA’s Union Station at 1145pm and arrived in San Francisco (the CALTRAIN station) at 645am, no stops. The bus was new and immaculate, a double-decker carrying at least 100 passengers. There was free wi-fi and each seat had its own charging station. These buses are green-certified and Megabus is now serving Sacramento and San Jose.

Megabus,  Bolt Bus  (affiliated with Greyhound) and other intercity bus services reflect a national trend.  The Chaddick Institute at Depaul University came up with these figures comparing 2011 to 2012 :

Intercity bus:                    7.5% growth

AMTRAK, available seat miles:  3% growth, revenue passenger miles: 2.6% growth

AIRLINES, domestic, available seat miles: .4% growth

AIRLINES, domestic, revenue passenger miles: 1.4% growth

The entire study is available at their website.  Note that these figures do NOT include the “Chinatown” bus services as they do not have published schedules.

We know that the airlines are strapped, which makes them reluctant to add marginal airports such as Arcata to their service areas. Will we ever have alternates to the current United/ Greyhound monopolies? Not as long as United and Greyhound can get by with the shoddy service they currently provide. I can’t see Megabus being able to fill a double decker bus with our amount of traffic- until and unless United raises its fares to an intolerable level (which they’re pretty close to). A more likely scenario would be for Greyhound to upgrade its service.  Even if Greyhound were to upgrade its buses (by a LOT) there will always be those who, even in our eco-conscious community,  wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bus.  Those attitudes will take a long time to change.

As for me, I’d rather ride a bus or other public transport that I KNOW will arrive at my destination rather than continue to play airport roulette. (“Folks, we’re going to have to land at Redding…no, San Francisco…no, Redding”.)  Even Greyhound doesn’t get fogged out.

A final note: I drove to SF to pick my friend up and was appalled at the state of 101, the potholes, unfinished road with those awful grooves, and especially the situation around Willits.  I had always opposed the Willits bypass because I didn’t think it was necessary- who can object to slowing down through a charming town?  But on Friday at 3pm it took almost an hour to get through Willits.  Then on Sunday it was back to “normal”, just the usual slowing.  I assumed the Friday crunch was due to vacationers headed for the lakes, but that was just my impression. Let’s hope the controversial and expensive bypass will improve traffic speed and safety for the entire community, not just summer vacationers.

 

Short Sea Shipping, Locomotives in Sac and Crowdfunding Goes Mainstream

“Short Sea Shipping”. Now try saying THAT three times in quick succession.

However it comes out, short sea shipping has been talked about as a potential use for Humboldt Bay Harbor for at least the several years that I’ve been following the rail/bay/train situation. At their July 31 meeting, the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group hosted a presentation by Stas Margaronis on “Trucking by Water:  Potential of a Humboldt-Stockton Container Ship Service”.  Mr. Margaronis is an energetic speaker and is the publisher of  his own website, Rebuild the US, and is the founder of Santa Maria Shipping and Trucking, as referred to on the website as a startup. Stockton is home to or near to many Central Valley distribution centers and is 75 miles from Oakland by water.

Harbor Commissioner RIchard Marks provided a good writeup on his blog, Samoa Softball, so I won’t repeat his excellent reporting. I would just add that a number of folks from SoHum showed up, apparently supporting any alternative to trucking on the theory that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  The opponents of the Richardson Grove realignment and the Willits bypass heard Magaronis explain that one ship can replace 120 trucks but a kind of pall fell over the crowd when he mentioned LNG as a possible fuel for these ships (as opposed to diesel). It hasn’t been that long since our last LNG trauma and it’s pretty clear to me that LNG is a non-starter, even when confined to ship fuel lines, in this community.  He also mentioned our lack of a pier (cost: $10-15M). Anyway, whether you call it short-sea shipping or the marine highway, it’s a hard concept to be against assuming the freight is available. The potential for well-paying jobs is clearly there. Kudos to the HBHWG for another thought -provoking program.

LOCOMOTIVES- like any train nut, I look forward to RailPAC’s newsletter, Steel Wheels. The current issue reminds us that, although there are those in Humboldt who seem to think that railroads are a thing of the past, railroads are thriving in other areas. Siemens, the German mega-corporation, is building 70- that’s 70-energy-efficient locomotives for AMTRAK at its solar-powered plant in Sacramento.  This project will involve 69 suppliers in 23 states and 61 cities and will replace aging locomotives with state-of-the-art imodels that are expected to conserve  3Bkwh of energy by using such innovations as regenerative braking, which  can feed up to 100% of the energy generated during braking back to the power grid. Personally I am delighted that this huge investment has come to Sacramento, which has been a train town since they knocked in the Golden Spike. Hopefully there will be follow-on orders, as this first fleet is all-electric and designed for the Northeast corridor.  Hopefully Siemens can produce a passenger diesel and other products to keep foreign investment and good jobs coming in to the West Coast..

CROWDFUNDING- Those of you who supported local artist Peter Santino’s Kickstarter campaign have heard that the funding was successful and we can expect to receive our books in December. It occurred to me the other day that Eureka has a long and honorable history in crowdfunding; the Eureka Inn was originally financed by pledges from 750 citizens who felt the city needed a good hotel.  Seth Geddes’ project Fund Humboldt has taken off flying.  The Economist reported recently that in 2013 THREE BILLION DOLLARS will be crowdfunded of which about a sixth will be donations, without promise of equity or products. Crowdfunding is happening everywhere from Chile to Finland and could eventually provide an avenue by which citizens can decide how they would like their tax moneys to be spent.  Sounds good to us.

Finally,  a happy note for those of us who were English majors; the UK’s new ten pound note will feature  novelist Jane Austen,  a woman who wrote about money and its effect on families like no one else ever has. Sony is about to release Austenland,  a film about Austen  fans. Congratulations, Jane. It’s about time.

The Power of Showing Up, Lost Credibility and Railroad News

The Power of Showing Up-Have you ever been to a school board meeting? I hadn’t until the special meeting on July 11, ostensibly to discuss the “Future of the Eureka High School Automotive Program.” I learned a few things.

One thing I learned is that NO ONE SHOWS UP at the typical school board meetings, at least the Eureka City Schools board meetings. There were about 70 people in attendance; typically they get half a dozen. Another thing I learned was that the ECS officials in attendance (Van Vleck, Olson and Eagles) had no intention of engaging in a real discussion. Van Vleck presented a PowerPoint show to convince the crowd that the current curriculum could not be sustained. He was so desperate to make his point that he actually presented the results of a KINS telephone poll in support of his position. I learned that there is a vast range of competence and conscientiousness among the five members of this particular board.

When it came to community input, we were limited to three minutes each. The speakers included graduates of the program, and representatives of many local dealerships. As it got close to 10pm, it seemed that the tide had turned, the Board members were making plans for a followup meeting on the next Friday and I went home. The only two elected officials in attendance, Marian Brady and Rex Bohn, stayed until the bitter end, bless their hearts. You could have knocked me over with a  blackboard eraser when I read in the next day’s  paper that the Friday meeting was off and a 3-2 vote had been taken to close the program. I don’t know who did what to who to finally end up, a couple of days later, with a compromise that essentially saved the program but I learned a third valuable lesson:  DON’T LEAVE EARLY.  The bureaucrats have all the time in the world and they can wait till the wee hours of the morning if need be, to get their way.  You’d think I would have learned by now.  I should mention that Mr. John Fullerton was consistently clearheaded and effective in moving things along. Let’s hope the message has been received that the taxpayers, stakeholders and students want the program. As Woody Allen says, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  If that crowd hadn’t shown up,  the program would be gone for sure. 

Lost Credibility-  “Reputation is a bubble” as the saying goes, or maybe a balloon that, once popped, cannot be reconstructed.  Just about everyone in the County has weighed in on the Dan Johnson debacle. I expect to hear any day now that the President, both Popes and Jay-Z have issued statements. The point is that NO ONE is defending Mr.  Johnson’s actions. The best that his friends can do is point out that he has made charitable contributions, as any major businessperson in the county does. Well, good for him. However, the idiocy he demonstrated in believing that he,  and only he, could read and recall a letter that was published in Newsweek and probably a dozen other publications is profound and calls into question his basic judgment. It takes a certain type of megalomania to do what he did.

I thought of that during the Healy Brothers Building block party: Mr. Kramer celebrating another excellent project, Mr. Johnson hiding from his constituents and issuing snarky non-apologies.  We need maturity in our civic leaders. Please consider running for the school boards in your area. Our kids need you.

The Train -as you probably know the $20K study by the folks in Washington state concluded that the EastWest route(s) are not viable and would cost over a billion to construct, even if a clear strategy for its use were developed.  This brings us back to where we were in the beginning, with the North-South route costing somewhat less but more importantly, offering transportation for the cargo we know is available- tourists. Tourists to fill our hotels.  Tourists to rent cars and go on tours and excursions and swing around in the treetops. As anyone who has ever ridden the train down to San Rafael will tell you, the train ride through the Eel River Canyon could easily be one of the major tourist attractions on the West Coast. A different aspect of the rairoad issue will be the subject of the Harbor Working Group’s July meeting, which takes place Wednesday noon at the Samoa Cookhouse and will feature a talk on the possibility of shipping between here and Stockton. (Click on “Community Forums”.)  These meetings are always interesting. ‘Nuff said.