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 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. .

 

Housing Prices, Location Filming , Homelessness, Rain and the Harbor

HOUSING  PRICES: The December Humboldt Economic Index  published a couple of weeks ago showed a dip in County housing prices that would be pretty scary if it continues, but it probably won’t.  Median home prices in Humboldt fell from $264K to $234K, but not to worry. Dr. Erick Eschker of the HSU  Economics Department advises that the figures should be read as a four-month moving average and provided an additional graph that shows the dramatic shift since 2006 and the slow upswing we are now experiencing. The Index of Home Sales is 24.3% higher than at this time last year, which is nice.

FILM/TV INCENTIVES :  The Economist (Jan 17) reports that Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles has appointed  Tom Sherak, “an old industry hand” to lobby in Sacramento for the city’s interests in luring the industry back to LA.  Film and TV production in California has been decimated by the grander film subsidies and incentives offered by other states. New Mexico and Louisiana have been particularly aggressive,  and  California was particularly late in realizing that they needed to get into the incentive game also. Mr Sherak may find this a difficult year in which to persuade the legislators of the urgency, with so many other unfunded needs. Humboldt County, by the way, is doing well, even in the rain. Cassandra Hesseltine, our Humboldt-DelNorte Film Commissioner, reports that filming locally has become a year-round activity in the last couple of years, not limited to the “good weather”. She says the right now crews are in town filming a print ad and a reality show, about which she didn’t want to say too much but it wounds like a well-known hairy creature from Willow Creek is involved. Let’s wish Mr Sherak well in his new job. Film is definitely one of our strengths.

HOMELESSNESS DOWN, NOT UP:  Considering all the focus on homelessness lately, I am amazed that so little attention has been paid to Daniel Mintz’ excellent piece in the Mad River Union which gives some good solid numbers to think about (Eureka’s homeless count was 1100 in 2011, 650 now). This is a problem which will never be solved without clarity on the extent of the problem. Sadly, 37 homeless students were identified in the  Northern Humboldt Area.

HUMBOLDT BAY HARBOR WORKING GROUP: Maybe it was the rain, but the Group’s meeting on Wednesday was the most downbeat I have attended. Three speakers discussed short-sea shipping and were refreshingly honest. Most of our lumber goes to LA, and we can’t even fill a barge from up here. The labor doesn’t pencil out either. The Harbor Commission study on the East-West rail initiative was definitely putting a damper on the proceedings as without East-West, or even with it, it appears that at present we just don’t have enough cargo to make it short-sea shipping worthwhile, and a Walmart center in Gerber won’t do it either. I  personally feel that the old North-South rail route is a much better idea and could not only move freight but revitalize the tourist and rental car businesses, but what do I know?

Happy Lunar New Year! See you next week.

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. 

 

 

 

 

Redding Trying for More Flights, Storage Wars Humboldt Style, and “The Country of the Year”

REDDING WANTS FLIGHTS-  Redding airport officials and civic leaders, including representatives of the mega- Bethel Church,  have met or are scheduled to meet with representatives of United Airlines, SkyWest Airlines, American, Delta and Alaska Air with an eye to restoring direct service to LA perhaps as soon as this summer. Shasta County has built up a nonbinding travel bank of $1M and Modesto is hurrying to do the same. Now is the time to start pushing for schedule changes because SFO will be losing one of its runways for several months  due to repairs. Note to self: avoid SFO during that time.  Everyone wants the LAX routes.

The Bethel Church in Redding welcomes 12,000 visitors a year,  many of whom come in by air, but many more of whom come by car from Sacramento or SF. The church has basically taken over their Civic Auditorium. and is a major player in the Redding economy. Think of  all the rental cars and hotel rooms! That’s like 3 or 4 Jazz Festivals.  We’ll bring you an update soon on local efforts to to bring us more service through ACV.  Sorry, I can’t remember the six-word name they want us to call it. I figure this, too, shall pass.

 STORAGE WARS, HUMBOLDT STYLE- A couple of weeks ago I showed up at one of those storage locker sales you see listed in the Times-Standard.  I wanted to see it if in anyway resembled what you see on TV.  The sale was at the Myrtle Avenue Storage Center, the one across the street from John’s Liquors and the taco truck whose name I can never recall but which serves darn good food. A group of about 20 folks were waiting for the sale which was advertised as five units but had shrunk to two by the time of the opening bid.  The facility manager, Chris Mikkelson, went over the rules and then led the folks who were interested to a second-level unit. They trooped upstairs and came back down pretty fast. The upstairs unit went for $25.

Then we went to inspect the other unit. It was PACKED, I mean really PACKED, to the gills. Anyone who claims they  can tell what’s in one of these has got to be psychic.  All I could see was the ends of boxes.  The second unit went for $25 dollars. The bidding was not as fast or frantic as they try to make it sound ; I didn’t have any trouble following it. Also the successful bidders were given till the end of the next day to vacate the locker.  Very civilized, as I had envisioned a frantic race to truck everything out immediately.

Mr Mikkelson told me that these units are very seldom vacant and are mostly rented by people in the neighborhood, which cuts down on the number of abandoned units. Anyway, if you have a truck and want to try your luck watch for the ads. This particular facility is a Kurt Kramer property  and immaculately maintained. I don’t think they all are. When I get a chance to follow a winning bidder through the whole process, I’ll report back but I don’t think any fortunes were made the other day.  Good excuse for a taco, though.

“COUNTRY OF THE YEAR” – Well, there’s nothing like losing a contest you didnt’ even know they were having. The Economist has named as it’s “Country of the Year” a place that is dealing with some of the same issues that the Redwood Coast is. This country has legalized gay marriage and drugs -ALL drugs- in the last few months.  It’s 3M citizens don’t make the news very often and on the map it looks like a sort of tumor growing out of the top of its neighbor, Argentina. Yes, I’m talking about- wait for it-URUGUAY.  We might do well to observe the effects of legalization there, if there are any. If anyone is organizing a field trip, let me know. 

Proposed Sequoia Conference Facility, How They Used to Travel to SF and Farewell, Penny E.

Yes, I’m one of those nuts who read the legal notices and once in awhile I actually learn something. Today I learned that the HCOE has filed for a negative declaration for their proposed new 9200 sq ft Sequoia Conference Center to be built in the underused northeast sector of the current HCOE campus at Myrtle and West. The new  Center will have a capacity “of up to 350 occupants to serve as training and meeting space for HCOE employees, teachers, and staff members”. The two modular buildings at the back of the lot will be removed and their functions (nursing and nutritional programs) will be absorbed into the current facility.  The new building will include “public restrooms, a serving and warming kitchen with a food service arrangement , a large meeting space (able to be made into two meeting rooms by means of an operable wall system), an entry/lobby area, an administrative office space/meeting room with a public reception counter, and a truck unloading berth” according to the notice.

Other site improvements will include: ADA compliant access ramps and routes, parking lot re-striping to accommodate 27 new parking spaces, a four-foot vine-covered fence along West Avenue, parking lot islands and planters, new LED lighting, sewer realignment and fire supply lines and a new hydrant and “reconstruction of the Myrtle Avenue driveway to include a dedicated right-turn exit lane.”  School buses currently parked there will be removed to the Glen Paul site.

Those of us who have had the unlovely task of trying to find suitable meeting space in this town are drooling on our keyboards, and we can only hope that the HCOE will continue to make its meeting spaces available when not needed for HCOE business. I remember when the Redwood Tech Consortium used to meet out there. This room will hold more than the Wharfinger or the Aquatic Center and nearly as many as the Adorni, which claims to hold 400 but I think that’s with people sitting on each other’s laps.  There is a comment period, starting yesterday and ending January 7.  Comments go to the HCOE at 901 Myrtle Ave and you can review the whole study at that address or at the Main Library. Let’s hope that this work goes to some LOCAL contractors for a change.

The Overland Auto Stage Company- The Humboldt Historian in the current Winter 2013 issue carries a wonderful article by Robert Palmrose about travel to the Bay Area before the railroad. It was a two- day project during the years 1908-1913 and the article (the whole issue) is must reading but I cannot provide a link as the issue has yet to be added to their archives. A shameless plug: a $30 membership to the Humboldt Historical Society is a wonderful gift for anyone you’re doing business with. Buy one for someone and if you haven’t done so, join up. You’ll be glad you did.

PENNY ELSEBUSCH-I was saddened to hear that Penny Elsebusch has died. I had dinner with her and some other folks in October and she was the same Penny as ever. I used to sit with her and Dave at the old Harbor Group meetings and saw them regularly at Chamber meetings. They were regulars at the Taxpayers’ League (which I am not) also. Dave has been gone for two years now, and both of them were wonderful people who will be missed. Goodbye, Penny.  Whenever I hear the sounds of the races at Redwood Acres, I’ll be thinking of you both.

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

Broadway gains a bistro; more busses

A new bistro: There’s another empty storefront in Henderson Center now that the Stuft Potato has moved to the old Babetta’s site on Broadway. The old venue, in the Steve’s Coney Island next to Norman’s dry cleaners, could charitably have been described as “cozy” but it was definitely too crowded for a business lunch or anything else you didn’t want to include the whole world in on. The new place is spacious and downright elegant and advertises itself as a European Bistro. The menu has been expanded to include vegetarian options such as strudel and continues to offer sandwiches, the “stuft” potatoes with a myriad of toppings including meatloaf, and dinner selections including schnitzels, rouladen and goulash. I’ve always liked their food but the experience should be a lot more pleasant now and I would recommend checking them out. No word on what is happening to the old place.  

(We apparently have a problem with the link to their site. Try going direct to “stuftpotato.com ” till we get it fixed. Sorry!) 

By the way, can anyone remember the location of the ORIGINAL Steve’s? I can. Let’s hear from you!

More busses! In transportation-starved Humboldt County any news is good news. On Hallowe’en, Bolt Bus , a subsidiary of Greyhound, will start thrice-daily service between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Oddly, they won’t serve San Francisco directly but will be doing curbside pickups at the Diridon Station, 75 Cahill Street in San Jose and at the West Oakland Bart station on Seventh Street, with the LA hub at Union Station. Fares are still being evaluated according to demand; check their website. Like other “premium discount” services, they will feature wi-fi, power outlets, greater legroom, and online ticket purchase although walkup tickets can be purchased depending on availability.All tickets are nonrefundable.  I notice they are also serving Eugene, a handy connection to Amtrak, but of course by way of LA.  Someday, will we at least have an express bus to SF? Anything would help.  

Next week: lessons from “Catfish” for Redwood Coast Business. 

 

 

GPU Update, How NOT to Present before the Board of Supes, and More on Megabus.

By now you know that the 13-year saga of the General Plan Update is mired in a review of basic principles which were agreed upon ears ago and now- what a surprise!- seem to need amending. This is not because the County has changed.  It’s more due to the political climate and the emergence of HUMCPR as a force.  I went down to lend my voice to sticking with the original principles, largely because the extreme length of this plan update is ridiculous and I wouldn’t like to see Humboldt County come in for (more) bad publicity  for dragging out this process even further. If we end up on 60 Minutes for this , it will be an exception to the rule that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  This is bad.  We will be known for  two things in this State: marijuana and ineffective government.  A bad combination, don’t you think?

      Also, I can’t think of anything more harmful to effective economic development than unclear or shifting zoning.  I got there early because I though there would be a huge crowd.  There were only five people signed in to speak when I signed in. The vast majority (I believe about 40 people spoke) sort of materialized during the meeting and didn’t sign in at all, so that part is apparently optional.

      I have presented before the Planning Commission and the Supes several times but never as poorly prepared as last night. I ripped my notes out of the printer and went flying out the door, no review, no prep.  I stumbled and fumbled through my remarks which were basically a plea to stick with the original principles, since the revisions seemed to me to be vague and enabling sprawl. Some of the other  presenters- Dan Ehresman, Scott Greacen- were forceful and effective. Others sounded like they needed to be wound up. IF YOU DO THIS BE PREPARED.  Sometimes public testimony really does have an effect. Don’t know about yesterday, but it definitely did in the Forster-Gill situation. 

      When they started going through the new/old language principles my ADD kicked in and I left, probably to rejoin the process at the next meeting on October 7. Many of the attendees last night were realtors, paid representatives of environmental groups or CPR folks and some had been involved in the process for years. I will never be a Supervisor because $80K is not enough to do this kind of mind-numbing analysis. I would go nuts.

Let’s see how the Supes do.  If you haven’t attended these meetings, you should show up on the  7th.  If you’re going to speak, practice a little first. We heard some awfully poor presentations and it was hard to tell what point some of the folks were trying to make. And I used to think the Supervisors were overpaid…..

MORE ON MEGABUS

With no trains, miserable air service and ever-climbing gas prices, many Redwood Coast businesses and their employees are taking a second look at bus transit. We featured Megabus a few posts back but didn’t mention their parent company , Stagecoach Group, which is headquartered in – wait for it- SCOTLAND. At least they didn’t paint the buses plaid. In America their revenues are up 22% in the last three months. That’s callled growing like wildfire, but the best news for us is that Greyhound is having to upgrade its service in order to compete. We can only pray…..