My Christmas Letter

At this time last year, I was three months into what turned out to be ten months of unemployment and recovering from a cardiac stent insertion. As I like to say, it was not a lifestyle that I would recommend very highly. So things are definitely merrier this Christmas. Seeing the turmoil and tough decisions that so many people are still facing makes me realize that I dodged more than a few bullets over the past year.

In July, I moved 100 miles north to Columbus and began work at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) supervising the work of Ohio’s railroad inspectors statewide. I’ve always been an infrastructure geek and railroads have been a particular interest for the past few years. Warren Buffett is buying one of the country’s biggest railroads (BNSF) and he seems to be a pretty smart guy so there must be a future in rail, right? Mostly, I’m glad to have a paycheck, health insurance and meaningful work to do.

Charlie & Claire were both in marching band this fall (drum & tuba, respectively) and are now playing in the school jazz bands and orchestra through the winter. Charlie is in the winter drum line again, continues with his piano studies and is learning to drive (yikes!) Claire is starting to take trombone lessons – I think she plans to boss the boys in the bass brass section when she gets to high school next year. They are smart, happy kids and I love that they both love music.

We’ve all seen tremendous change during the first decade of the 21st Century. I suspect that the pace of change is only going to increase in the coming years. I’m sure we’ll face challenges and opportunities we can barely imagine today.  It’s clear to me that my most important job in the coming decade is to help Charlie & Claire successfully make the leap from bright, happy, talented teens to confident, independent and responsible adults.

Being in a position to do this is the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

Love to you all and happy new year!

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Job Searching Using Social Media Tools

A very good friend recently asked me to help her nephew, Steve.  He is a recent college graduate looking for a job in the business operations  field of Supply Chain Management.  This blog post is a copy of a recent email to Steve about the use of social media tools like blogs, FaceBook and LinkedIn in his job search.  I think it’s pretty self explanatory so I just copied it verbatim.

Perhaps you’ll see something helpful in this too. Maybe you’ll think I’m all wet. Either is fine with me but either way, let me know what you think. I want to learn from you.

Steve,

Regarding FaceBook, there is a very broad range of opinion about how open you should be. I have mine set so that my friends and their networks can see my stuff. Not wide open but if we have any connection at all, you can probably get to me. I have found FaceBook to be a great tool to get to know people that are casually in my orbit. This has accelerated personal relationships with several people that I previously only knew through work or as acquaintences through mutual friends or activities.In the end you have to be comfortable with how much of you is out there for others to see. There are no wrong answers.

My search engine comment was really around things like Monster.com and other job search sites. You can set up profiles and custom searches to have job leads emailed to you on a regular basis. I get daily emails from Monster and CareerBuilder that typically have 5 – 8 specific job postings each. I discard most of them but probably have 2 or 3 a week worth pursuing. Also look for professional associations (and groups on LinkedIn) – many have job postings that anyone can get to. Many are for members only but it’s worth looking – organizations are losing members fast because professional dues are often first-cut expenses. Some progressive organizations recognize this and are offering free or deeply discounted services to earn your loyalty for when your budgets return.

Finally look for supply-chain blogs (and other professional topics that interest you) and on-line publications. Subscribe to their RSS feeds through a tool like Google Reader. Yahoo.com has a good reader also. This way you can have info aggregated in a single spot that you can scan quickly on a regular basis for things of interest without having to bang around dozens of sites to find. I believe in turning on the fire hose of information and then drinking what you can. In my view it’s better to see data and discard it than to not see it at all. Just beware that it takes discipline (which I often lack) to not get sucked down into time-wasting rabbit holes chasing cool but irrelevant ideas.

Hope this helps. I’ll let you know if I have any specific comments about your LinkedIn profile.

Best,
John

Lamentation for Detroit

The March issue of Atlantic Magazine on-line includes a very thoughtful and comprehensive article titled, “How the Crash Will Reshape America,” by urban theorist, Richard Florida. It is an vital analysis for anyone who cares about American cities and essential reading for those of us in planning, real estate, urban policy and economic development who will be dealing with the enormous changes this economy will bring over the next several years.  Wrenching change will not be limited to the Rust Belt but not surprisingly, one section of the article is subtitled “The Last Crises of the Factory Towns” which begins with this:

Sadly and unjustly, the places likely to suffer most from the crash – especially in the long run- are the ones least associated with high finance. While the crises may have begun in New York, it will likely find its fullest bloom in the interior of the country – in older, manufacturing regions whose heydays are long past . . .

Not surprising to even the casual student of American cities and our industrial economy.  Narrowing in to where the damage is greatest and most apparent, a later paragraph reads:

Perhaps no major city in the U.S. today looks more beleaguered than Detroit, where in October the average home price was $18,513, and some 45,000 properties were in some form of foreclosure. A recent listing of tax foreclosures in Wayne County, which encompasses Detroit, ran to 137 pages in the Detoit Free Press . . . and in December the city’s jobless rate was 21 percent.

Bleak.

Today, I happened to be looking at a new copy of The Bible that I brought home from church yesterday. I happened to open it randomly to the Book of Lamentations, an Old Testament book that I am not very familiar with. With Florida’s article (and likely my own unemployment) on my mind, I turned to the beginning of Lamentations and read the three verses below. I was shaken by how relevant the text is to today. With no intention to imply cause or blame, I have changed only one word in the text to create a sad modern prayer for the people and institutions of this once great American city:

A Lamentation for Detroit.

1 [a]How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is none to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,
Detroit has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations;
she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

(TNIV©)

9 Weeks, 2010, Place Your Bets

$3,987.oo ÷ $443.oo/week = 9 weeks

That’s when my last unemployment check will show up. In 9 weeks.

I think I know why the House Republicans voted unanimously against the Stimulus Bill last week. It’s because they believe President Obama is right when he says that the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. They believe the President when he says that it’s going to take a very long time to get things back on track. They know President Obama is right about the economic conditions he inherited from failed Republican leadership and they are betting they can twist his honesty with the American people to their political advantage.

The House Republicans unanimously placed the bet last week that the economy is not going to be better, and potentially will be worse, in 2010 when mid-term elections will be in full swing. They are betting that American voters will have forgotten President Obama’s honest prediction of a long recovery. House Republicans are betting that even if the stimulus package is the right thing for our country in the long term, it’s positive effects won’t be showing by election time in 2010. They are betting that if they vote against it now, they will be able to wag their fingers at the President, saying “I told you so,” and recapture their lost political majority in the House of Representatives.

It’s their political bet that the American people are impatient, fearful and ignorant. It’s a variation of the same bet Republican leaders made when they defended the $1 trillion wasted in Iraq by labeling the opposition “unpatriotic.” It’s the same bet they made in manipulating the tax code to create benefits for the wealthy by promising the benefit would “trickle down” to the rest of us. House Republicans are placing the same old bet because they are willing to put their selfish political ambition ahead of the public good.  They are betting that we’re fools.

My unemployment benefits run out in 9 weeks. If necessary, I’ll put my engineering degree and 25 years of experience to good use cleaning floors or pushing patients through hospital corridors or working in a rail yard as I try to support my family. In 2010, long after my unemployment checks have been spent, I will remember the bet House Republicans placed against me last week.

Big Three Bailout and Foreign Automakers

David Broder, in his Washington Post column last Sunday, implied that the opposition to the bailout of US automakers by southern Senators, led by DeMint (R, SC) and McConnell (R, KY) was influenced by the presence of foreign auto manufacturers in many southern states. The column is about politics and not specifically about economic development but it raises important questions for economic developers:

-Is it reasonable to assume that the bailout of the US auto industry (approved administratively by President Bush after the legislation failed in the Senate) will be bad for foreign automakers?
-Will the bailout create a battle within the auto industry between the southeast and the midwest for future jobs and investment?
-Are Tier I and Tier II suppliers of the Big Three likely to migrate south as Ford, GM and Chrysler contract?
-Are the supply chains of foreign automakers insulated from the troubles of the US auto industry?
-How should the economic development profession react?

What do you think?

This was also posted as a discussion topic at http://economicdevelopment.ning.com/forum/topics/big-three-bailout-and-foreign

Do it Now!

The environment demands that we use less oil and find better energy sources for our mobility. Our transportation infrastructure is crumbling due to insufficient funding provided largely by fuel taxes. Unfriendly nations are enriched and their hostility is funded by our globally unrivaled consumption of oil.  Raise the federal gas tax now!

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/27/opinion/27sat1.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/23/us/23works.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

Humility vs. Humiliation

The NY Times article in the following link is an sober acknowledgement of the addictive thrill of power. As Dr. Friedman points out, the extrodinary financial success that the ‘Masters of the Universe’ enjoyed over the past decade was to many, their sole measure of success. To see yourself go from ‘winner’ to ‘loser’ in the span of a few months must surely be  humiliating.  

I suggest that humility is best experienced in a slow steady drip over a life time rather than in fire hose portions all at once.  Had Dr. Friedman’s patients appreciated that their success was due, at least in part, to good fortune and the hard work of others perhaps their self-confidence wouldn’t be so battered today. Had they taken time to notice others not so fortunate, they might have realized that they should have considered themselves ‘blessed’ instead of ‘best.’

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/health/views/16mind.html