Showing posts with label economic development. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economic development. Show all posts

Monday, July 13, 2015

The German Question

It is becoming pretty clear that the most urgent question facing today's Europe is the German question.

Paul Krugman sees Germany as killing the European project:  I agree, and have been commenting on the looming disaster for about three years now. The biggest surprise to me is how patient the long-suffering public has been. I hope Greece uses whatever time they have gained by this weekend's deal to print bales of new drachma and prepare to exit the Euro. Spain and Italy should do so as well.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times  claims we thought we had solved the problem of Germany in 1945. I take issue with that, though I think we did believe we had solved it by embracing Germany within the stifling arms of NATO and the Western European Union. As NATO's first Secretary General explained, the purpose of NATO was to keep the Germans down, the Russians out, and the Americans here. To Europe, NATO was at least as much about Germany as it was about the Soviet Union. From 1945 for more than four decades, NATO publicly blamed the Soviet Union for a divided Germany and privately hoped the division would continue. It was Germany under Willy Brandt whose "Ostpolitik" began chipping away at the barriers between East and West for the purpose of making German reunification possible. In the United States, we studied what might happen after Tito died, but never examined the implications of a reunited Germany. Everyone knew that could never happen. Everyone was wrong.

The late George Kennan had some thoughts on Germany, which we should have considered, but of course no one did:

More recently, the economic historian Brad Delong had some interesting thoughts in response to Simon Wren-Lewis' ruminations on the Euro: "And we are seriously considering, after reading him, whether the Euro project needs to be blown up--indeed, whether the fundamental flaw was in U.S. occupation authorities allowing the formation of the Bundesrepublik, because a European Union that now had five members named "Brandenburg", "Saxony", "Bavaria", "Rhineland", and "Hanover" would be likely to have a much healthier politics and economics than our current one, with one member named "Germany":"

That's a thought worth retrospective consideration. It is a much more creative idea than the quickly-abandoned "Morgenthau plan."

It's very hard to get toothpaste back in the tube.

Did we waste a whole war?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Observations By Tony Tharp

I thought I would post without comment a link to Tony Tharp's most recent comments about Oriental here.

Bear in mind he is writing from the wilds of Lake Okeechobee, not far south of the Okeefenokee Swamp, from the decks of S/V Yoknapatawpha II.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Things Are Hopping In Oriental The Last Few Days - Walmart is coming! Or Maybe Not

A large and growing group has formed to oppose Walmart's plan to open a Walmart Express just outside Oriental's Town Limit.

Walmart Express is a new concept, apparently targeted at small town grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and gas stations. It is being tried in two states (Arkansas and North Carolina) and one large city (Chicago).

Walmart Express won't bring any new economic activity to Pamlico County or to Oriental. It will, at best, replace existing businesses, putting locally-owned stores out of business and taking the profits off to Arkansas or wherever the Walton family vault resides.

There have been some good letters to the editor posted in Town Dock:

It's very difficult, but not impossible, to stand in the way of what Walmart wants.

Stand by for further developments.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pamlico County Commissioners Go For Wind Generators

After several months worth of effort, On Monday night, Pamlico County's Board of Commissioners voted five to two to adopt the Pamlico County Wind Energy Ordinance developed by the County Planning Board. Because the vote was not unanimous, there will be another vote taken at the Board's next regular meeting.

I spoke in favor of adopting the ordinance even though I agree with Neil Jones of Kimley-Horn and Associates that the ordinance is more restrictive than necessary. That can be fixed.

Well done to the Planning Board and the County Commissioners!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Across The Steppes Of Central Asia

As I read this article, in my mind I heard the strains of Borodin's music.

Would you believe a seven thousand mile journey of freight trains carrying high value cargo from China west across Central Asia through Russia and Poland to Holland? It's happening. The economics of it are fascinating, but also what it tells us about developments in the heart of Asia.

It all began in the late nineteenth century with the Trans Siberian Railway. Propelled by long-forgotten wars.

Now the sinews of commerce are tying the region together in unimaginable ways.

And we knew nothing about it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

Panama Canal Expansion

During a senate debate on the Panama Canal Treaty in 1978, United States Senator S. I. Hayakawa of California argued, "We should keep the Panama Canal. After all, we stole it fair and square."

One argument opponents of the treaty used was the claim that Panama would never be able to manage the canal effectively.

That was then. Now, under the auspices of Panama, a massive project to triple the cargo capacity of the original canal is halfway completed. It is scheduled to open in 2015.

The project is truly international. "The 16 lock gates," The Washington Post reports,  "some weighing 4,000 tons, were designed by the Dutch and built by Italians. Beginning next month, they will be lifted onto a barge by Belgians and shipped by South Koreans to Panama in a project managed by the French."

The United States is almost nowhere to be seen. Which doesn't mean we will be unaffected. Ports on the US East Coast, including New York City, Baltimore, Norfolk and possibly Savannah and Miami are being modernized to handle the larger ship sizes allowed by the expansion.

The modernization may even improve mobility of the U.S. Navy. Since completion of the USS Essex class of aircraft carriers at the end of WWII, aircraft carriers have been too wide to transit the canal. This will no longer be a problem after adding new channels 180 feet wide.

The expanded canal is expected to open in April 2015, The original canal opened in 1914, a bit more than a century earlier. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Roads And Conveyances

I've been thinking about the ferry toll issue. Why is it so hard for some people to think of a ferry as an integral element of a transportation system, properly funded out of the system budget?

One reason, I believe, is that people have been accustomed to thinking of the road as one thing and a conveyance as another.

But not always. What would have happened to major cities if elevators were viewed as a conveyance rather than a component of the building? And concluded we have to charge for using the conveyance? We would still be walking up stairs and skyscrapers would never have happened.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ferry Tax

Once again, republicans in the state legislature have thrown Eastern North Carolina under the bus.

I find it interesting that real estate interests, who banded together to rule against sea level rise, have remained silent about the serious economic damage to the region from the senate's proposed tolls. Who, for example, will want to live in Ocracoke when he learns that it will cost at least $54 to take a ferry round trip every time he needs to go to the court house?

The tolls will reduce the real estate value of every property in Eastern North Carolina.

This wouldn't be happening if Marc Basnight were still in the legislature to defend our interests. Does it appear that the present leadership in the state legislature cares nothing for Eastern North Carolina and those who live and work here? Seems clear to me.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Government: Historical Engine Of Economic Development

Today's Washington Post prints a piece by columnist E. J. Dionne shedding light on the positive role the federal government has always played in fostering economic development in this country. In fact, he says, the federal government "is the solution," not the problem in our present economic situation.

"The case for government’s role in our country’s growth and financial success goes back to the very beginning," Dionne explains. "One of the reasons I wrote my book “Our Divided Political Heart” was to show that, from Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay forward, farsighted American leaders understood that action by the federal government was essential to ensuring the country’s prosperity, developing our economy, promoting the arts and sciences and building large projects: the roads and canals, and later, under Abraham Lincoln, the institutions of higher learning, that bound a growing nation together."

I have previously pointed out that, during the great depression, forward thinking leaders pressed on with grand undertakings.  We just observed the 75th anniversary of one of those undertakings, the Golden Gate Bridge. The 1930's, our most challenging economic period ever, became the period of our most lasting structural achievements.

Today, we keep hearing, "oh, we're broke;" "we can't afford to (fill in the blank)." And who keeps chanting the mantra of American inability? Republicans!

Republicans offer us leadership by fraidy-cats and wimps. Republican dominance of federal and state budgets has taken our median wealth back to what it was before Bill Clinton's policies led to the greatest sustained period of growth since the 1960's. Not a single republican voted for the Clinton budget.

Their predictions were wrong. When they got control over the budget, they drove the economy into the ditch and for the past two years have intentionally sabotaged every effort to call in a tow truck.

If you want to bring about a future of American economic decline, by all means vote for Republicans. Otherwise, let your elected representatives know you want to see positive economic efforts.

Don't just stand there, do something! If that doesn't work, do something else! Inaction is not an option - the problem is jobs, not debt. Make white water!

Friday, June 8, 2012

South Avenue Petition

There is a petition circulating around town opposing the contract negotiated between the Town Board and Mr. Chris Fulcher concerning the disposition of South Avenue.

I have neither opposed nor supported the process of negotiations. Whenever someone makes a proposal such as this, I think it should be considered carefully, in full appreciation of the facts and in a businesslike manner.

I have been reluctant to intrude on the process, but I have raised concerns from time to time. Nothing in the contract now on the table has alleviated those concerns.

I will, over the next few days, reiterate my concerns and illustrate them with historical documents, surveys and legal references.

My main problems are:

1.  The proposed exchange of two dedicated and accepted rights of way for title in fee simple to a parcel of real estate violates the legal prohibition against sale or barter of a public right of way;

2.  The public obligation of the Town Board in this case should be clear: to protect and preserve the public interest in access to public trust waters at the Raccoon Creek harbor which has hitherto been provided by the dedication to the public and acceptance by the town of the South Avenue right of way - any replacement must provide equivalent public access;

3.  Ownership by the town as proprietor of a parcel of real estate provides a lower level of protection of the citizenry against future imprudent actions by the governing body than that provided by a dedicated and accepted right of way (there may be other ways of depriving future governing bodies of the temptation to sell a property - the example of Lou Mac Park comes to mind);

4.  The proposed parcel isn't wide enough to provide the public with equivalent access to public waters as provided currently by South Avenue;

5.  It isn't clear from the information available that the Town has a complete and accurate idea of what can be built on the proposed parcel in light of the Neuse River Buffer and the CAMA area of environmental concern, nor is it clear that possible public uses of the existing South Avenue right of way to facilitate access to the water have been completely explored.

I think almost all of our citizens recognize the great economic potential for the benefit of all businesses in Oriental of expanded and improved harbor facilities.

But we need to make the effort and take the time to do it right, or at least as well as possible.

I'll have more later.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Commencement Address

Robert Reich, President Clinton's secretary of labor and currently a professor at Berkeley, has posted a commencement address. He titled it "the commencement address that won't be given." After you read it, you'll know why. [The following is censored. Be sure to read the original.]

He uses blunt language to describe the hurdles facing this years' college graduates:
1. Jobs - "you’re going to have a hell of a hard time finding a job. The job market you’re heading into is still bad. Fewer than half of the graduates from last year’s class have as yet found full-time jobs. Most are still looking"
2. Salary - "But even when you get a job, it’s likely to pay peanuts.
Last year’s young college graduates lucky enough to land jobs had an average hourly wage of only $16.81, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute. That’s about $35,000 a year – lower than the yearly earnings of young college graduates in 2007"
3. Career prospects - "But this parchment isn’t as valuable as it once was. So much of what was once considered “knowledge work” – the kind that college graduates specialize in – can now be done more cheaply by software. Or by workers with college degrees in India or East Asia, linked up by Internet."
4. Debt - "In a few moments, when you march out of here, those of you who have taken out college loans will owe more than $25,000 on average. Last year, ten percent of college grads with loans owed more than $54,000."
5. Future - "If unemployment stays high for many years, if the wages of young college grads continue to fall, if the costs of college continue to rise and state and local spending per college student continues to drop, and if the college debt burden therefore continues to explode – well, you do the math."

He offers some thoughts we should all consider: "You see, a college education isn’t just a private investment. It’s also a public good. This nation can’t be competitive globally, nor can we have a vibrant and responsible democracy, without a large number of well-educated people."

Reich is absolutely right, and that is the main reason it isn't good for my blood pressure when I hear the clever fools running legislatures in many states (including our own) talk as though it is only the students who are "customers" of education.


To quote a former presidential candidate: "If you think education is expensive,try the cost of ignorance!"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rents Are Too D**n High

We keep hearing charges that "Oriental needs to be more friendly to business."

The truth is that the biggest obstacles to businesses in Oriental are:
1. Real estate is too expensive, resulting in business rentals that are too high;
2. We don't have enough customers - a permanent population of 900 just doesn't support many businesses.

Still, one of our present commissioners has emotionally charged a previous board with failure to adopt "the one thing" that would allow us to recruit more businesses, namely conditional zoning.


Actually, when I first read the provisions in North Carolina General Statutes about conditional zoning, I thought it was worth investigating. We arranged to have a professional urban planner from the Easter Carolina Council brief us on the purposes and procedure. All of his examples came from larger towns and cities.

It pretty quickly became apparent to me that conditional zoning may be a good thing in towns with a number of specialized business districts with restrictive zoning categories. That isn't characteristic of Oriental.

We have only five zones, three of which are residential and two multi-use zones, with both business and residential uses. Scrutiny of the allowed uses within MU and MU-1 reveals that neither is very restrictive. For that matter, neither are our three residential zones. We allow business use in residents, so long as the use does not exceed 400 square feet.

So why the push for conditional zoning? The only possible use of such zoning would be to convert some portion of our residential zones to commercial use. Do we have such a critical shortage of commercial space that we need to expand into our residential zones?

I just rode my bicycle up Broad Street to the town limits. back down Midyette Street to the water and across Hodges. That route takes one along most of the area set aside for MU and MU-1 uses.

What did I find? At least four dozen properties for sale or lease and vacant lots. We seem to have no shortage of places to do business.

What we need are more customers. And lower rents.

Long Range Planning For Town Of Oriental

About five years ago, the Town of Oriental's Board of Commissioners established a Long Range Planning Committee. I suggest that it is time to abolish the LRPC. Or, perhaps rename it the Long Running Planning Committee. Or perhaps the Interminable Planning Committee.

It may be time for the Town Board to declare the LRPC victorious and return all of its functions to the Town's Planning Board, to which they properly belong, anyhow.

It has been two and a half years since the original Long Range Planning Committee (of which I was a member) created its Long Range Vision Statement. The Town Board approved it October 9, 2009. A summary of the vision statement is posted on the wall at Town Board meetings. It is fine, as far as it goes. In fact, it is a good basis for planning, though I think it leaves out a thing or two.

What was supposed to happen next is that the town would work from the Vision statement and prepare a Comprehensive Plan.

North Carolina General Statutes stipulate that the town must have a comprehensive plan, but does not spell out exactly what that is. For at least one statutory purpose, the town's Growth Management Map meets the requirement for a Comprehensive Plan.

The effort for a more elaborate Comprehensive Plan has evolved into a kind of search for the Holy Grail of planning.

More than two years ago, Planning Board member Jim Barton made an excellent start to the preparation of a Comprehensive Plan. That effort fell apart for reasons that have never been entirely clear.

What is clear is that recent efforts of the LRPC II have detracted from planning efforts that need to be undertaken. For example, the Town needs to replace its decades-old Thoroughfare Plan (which is certainly a component of the elusive Comprehensive Plan) with a Comprehensive Transportation Plan. The reason is, that a CTP is necessary should the town seek Department of Transportation funding for bicycle paths, pedestrian pathways, etc. It would be best to task the Planning Board with development of a CTP (in conjunction with the DOT transportation planning department) and get on with it.

I think a long range plan without any specific mention of annexation does not meet the planning needs of the town.

What the town doesn't need the LRPC to do is to keep bringing up certain solutions in search of a problem as, for example, "Conditional Zoning" and "Smart Growth." Neither makes any sense without a plan for growth through annexation.

I'll have more to say about Conditional Zoning in the future.

Monday, March 19, 2012

DOT Ferry Hearing March 19, 2012

Do you know what a "Senior Public Involvement Officer" is? I tried to find out this evening on the NC DOT web site, to no avail.

Why do I want to know? Mr. Jamille A. Robbins, who chaired tonight's DOT public hearing on "NCDOT Proposed Temporary Rules Changes for Ferry Tolling" is one.

I was unsuccessful in finding a job description or explanation of Mr. Robbins' title.

But he must be powerfully influential. When the last questioner of the evening asked Mr. Robbins what DOT had done to carry out the governor's direction to seek economies within the DOT budget to equal the legislature's directed $5 million in revenue and then directed the question to the four DOT "suits" in the front row, Mr. Robbins explained they (the "suits") were present only as "observers" and couldn't speak. The four remained silent as Mr. Robbins attempted to explain the difficulties in figuring such things out while disgruntled attendees headed for the exits.

It reminded me of a mobile that a colonel of my acquaintance hung over his desk. The mobile consisted of a collection of fingers pointing in various directions, shifting with the wind. It looked something like this:

What was the hearing for? "To solicit comments regarding the request to amend, adopt or repeal portions of the NC Administrative Code per the temporary rules process."

What next? "Following the hearing and comment period, the NCDOT must adopt the proposed temporary rule change." In other words, nothing said tonight will have any effect whatsoever on the rule.

After the temporary rules are adopted, then the Rules Review Commission (RRC) will review the proposed changes. The RRC can either approve or object (not reject). If the RRC objects, NCDOT can either rewrite or not rewrite. If they do not rewrite and resubmit the rule, it will not become effective.

More importantly, if the RRC approves the rule, people opposing the rule may file an action for declaratory judgment in Wake County Superior Court.

I hope someone has started drafting such an action. Several of tonight's public comments included observations pertinent to a request for declaratory judgment, including an interesting account by Jim Barton of the legislative history of NC 306.

Representatives of other affected counties, including Beaufort, Craven and Hyde counties, provided very powerful inputs to the hearing.

A number of speakers pointed out that this ferry tax was enacted by Republican state legislators. The consensus seemed strong that Republican legislators had thrown Eastern North Carolina under the bus. The entire region east of I-95 knows what has happened and from what was said, they intend to remember that in November.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Follow The Money

That was the advice of "Deep Throat" in the movie, "All The President's Men" about Watergate. It's actually good advice most any time. It helps answer the questions "who benefits" and "who pays."

Take energy policy. Discussions in that arena tend to generate more heat than light, but the heat is against exploring alternative "green" or other sources of energy and in favor of relying more on increasingly expensive (and difficult to recover) petroleum.

Most recently, the US Senate rejected a one-year extension of a tax benefit for alternative energy, including wind energy. The ostensible reason: oh, that's a subsidy. And we have to pay for it.

Well, we already subsidize oil to the tune of $4 billion per year. World wide, oil companies are subsidized about $409 billion annually.

One way to cover most of the cost of alternative energy would be to do away with the existing US subsidy of the petroleum industry, which clearly doesn't need it. But every time progressive legislators try to take away that subsidy, we see an outcry from Republicans and the few remaining oil state Democrats.

Could that have anything to do with the fact that the Koch brothers (who got their wealth the old-fashioned way - by inheritance) are the principal funders of conservative Republican candidates, think tanks and movements?

A frequent objection to subsidies for solar, wind and other non-fossil energy sources is that they are more expensive than oil and natural gas. Beside, global warming was made up by Al Gore. Pay no attention to the melting ice caps and resulting sea level rise.

But costs of wind and solar are coming down. Quickly. Partly because China is investing heavily in alternate energy.

Here is an analysis in Scientific American of recent developments in the field of solar energy. In short, we may be within three years of equality between the cost of coal-fired and solar power generation.

But the sun only shines about half the time. Wind, on the other hand, can blow any time of the day or night.

And North Carolina has the best location on the entire East Coast of the United States for offshore wind generation. A serious effort to develop our wind power resources in Pamlico Sound as well as offshore could provide a major economic engine for Eastern North Carolina.

It might also contribute to slowing global warming and sea level rise.

This would be a win, win, win for Eastern North Carolina.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Throwing Eastern North Carolina Under The Bus?

Today's article in the News and Observer about possible tolls on I-95 should be a wake-up call. Tolls for Pamlico County commuters may be just the beginning.

Is there anyone out there who thinks tolls on I-95 won't shift traffic across North Carolina further inland? Say, through Raleigh and Charlotte?

Will that be good for business in Eastern North Carolina? Not likely.

I know that I-95 is projected to become congested along its entire link by 2030. But toll booths are likely to increase, rather than alleviate, congestion.

Contributing to the problem is that both the US Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of transportation are really just the same old highway departments of old. They love pouring concrete and building bridges. They don't yet (and may never) address transportation as a system. The function of the system is to move goods and people from where they are to where they need to be.

Roads and highways aren't the only way to move people and goods around. Rail, for example, is much more energy efficient than trucking. Most energy efficient of all is water transport. We have lots of water here in Eastern North Carolina. Here's a plan to use it to alleviate congestion on I-95.

Let's have no tolls on any North Carolina highways.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What You Don't Know Won't Hurt Us

Judging from the current primary campaigns as well as what has happened in many states when Republicans take over, the new operative slogan might be, "what YOU don't know won't hurt US" (with apologies to Paul Krugman for my blatant plagiarism).

Alternatively, "billions for defense but not one cent for public education (let the kids fend for themselves)."

Another possibility: "we don't need no stinkin'" (pick one or more)
1.  Early Childhood Education;
2.  Higher education;
3.  Research;
4.  Free highways;
5.  Facts (facts have a known liberal bias);
6.  Foreigners;
7.  Diversity;
8.  Stimulus;
9.  Economic Development ("REAL Enterpreneurs spend their OWN money");
10.Networks (except for Fox). 

Thursday, March 8, 2012


I attended last Friday's STEP II forum at the Pamlico Community College's Ned Delamar Center. It was a bit discouraging.

The point of the STEP effort is to develop an economic development plan. As I have said before, the difference between economic development and business development is that business development seeks a bigger piece of the pie for a business owner. Economic development seeks to bake a bigger pie.

The criteria for a successful economic development program is increased economic activity, particularly jobs.

STEP II has decided the most promising areas to focus on are:

1. Tourism;
2. Agriculture;
3. Marine Trades.

Personally, I would reverse the order. I think our most valuable asset is the water, and the most promising area for economic activity that brings jobs. Working waterfront, including seafood industry, is already a more substantial economic engine in Eastern North Carolina than tourism.

Still, last Friday's discussion was interesting. The conclusion I drew about tourism is, we don't have enough attractions for tourists and, if we did, we don't have enough accommodations.

I think a more promising approach is to seek "Lone Eagles," but this requires better high speed internet access.