Author Archives: Jon Lowder

What if…

As I write this the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and America is essentially shut down. The vast majority of Americans have been living under “stay at home” orders for several weeks, a majority of businesses have been shuttered, unemployment is growing by millions of people per week and there is a growing debate about when to open the country back up.

A central argument in the debate about reopening, and its timing, is about whether the lives saved by shutting down justify the economic damage and human suffering the shutdown is incurring. Of course there are a few problems we face when we have this debate:

  • We have no way of knowing how many lives we’ve saved with this action, partially because we don’t have widespread testing to know how many people have been infected, also because we have imperfect reporting of causes of death (numbers are constantly revised) and partially because we have imperfect models with which to estimate the true infection and mortality rates of the virus.
  • We don’t, as a society, have an agreed upon threshold for the lives we are willing to sacrifice in order to keep our economy functioning at a “normal” capacity.
  • We don’t, as a society, even agree what a normal economy should look like. At a time when we are experiencing extreme wealth disparity it’s almost a given that people will disagree with whether or not the economy that COVID-19 blew a hole in is the economy the majority of Americans want to return to.

I think we can all agree that we will disagree in fundamental ways about when and how we will get back to normal since we will disagree about what normal even is. But, for the sake of this exercise let’s just accept that we want to get the country working again so we can get back to some semblance of normalcy. So, what do we need to do that and what will “normal” look like when we do?

Let’s do this for a thought exercise: let’s assume that we decide that the benefits of some form of social distancing are great enough that they should be considered normal. Why? Well, let’s look at one of the arguments that people on social media seem to love when arguing for ending the stay at home orders: Since X number of people die every year from the flu and we don’t shut the country down then, why should we shut it down for COVID-19?

Again, we have no idea what the true number of COVID-19 deaths would have been without the shutdown, so let’s not argue about that. Instead let’s argue about whether we should do some form of social distancing every flu season. Here are the data points for the debate – all of the numbers are made up simply for the sake of debate:

  • In an average year we lose 100,000 people to flu-related deaths and 500,000 people hospitalized
  • After this COVID-19 crisis we learn that thanks to social distancing we reduced the probable mortality rate by 50% and hospitalization rate by 25% and if we implemented some forms of social distancing during flu season we would see a similar effect for flu-related deaths/hospitalizations.
  • We also learn during the crisis that because of the economic shutdown we, as a society, “lost” $10 million per person killed or $2.5 million per person hospitalized

What do we do? We know that we could save 50,000 lives but is it worth risking the trillions of dollars it would cost the economy to totally shut down the economy every year? Or do we find a middle ground? Do we decide to leave businesses open but require the wearing of face masks and gloves in any public space during flu season or when the signs of an outbreak are spotted? Do we reduce occupation limits on all businesses that serve the public? To help offset the economic impact on those businesses do we provide them tax breaks? If we discover that implementing socialized medicine reduces the overall impact on the economy – keeps us open while reducing the overall economic cost – do we go for it?

I’ve yet to hear anyone who isn’t a crackpot argue that we should have done nothing in the face of COVID-19. Rather, all the arguments have been about what and how much to do. That’s not surprising, because COVID-19 is new, very scary and in the absence of experience and accurate data our leaders have erred on the side of extreme caution. We literally go in the other direction with the flu because it’s a known quantity; as a society we’ve come to accept the tens of thousands of deaths that happen every year and shrug our shoulders and accept it. If we flip this debate we’re having on its head and ask ourselves, “If we can flatten the curve on COVID-19 can we do the same for the flu?” then maybe we can be honest with ourselves. We can ask the hard questions, that need to be asked, not just about COVID-19 but about our society’s priorities in general.

Five Fact Friday #6

Five random facts for Friday and posted on Saturday this time around:

The most popular baby names in the United States in 1966 were Lisa and Michael. Celeste, my wife’s name, was 356th most popular. Why do I bring this up? Well, it’s a certain someone’s birthday next week and she was born in 1966. – Source: BabyCenter.com (for the baby name ranking, not my wife’s birthday).

The daily US movie box office sales for March 19, 2020 (day 79 of the year and last day the movie theaters were open during COVID-19 crisis) were $143,641. On day 79 in 2019, March 20 (a Wednesday) sales were $8,995,950. – Source: BoxOfficeMojo

In North Carolina twice as many adults identified as Atheist (2%) than did as Mormon (1%), Jewish (1%) or Orthodox Christian (1%) . – Source: Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564. 402 years later Celeste Lowder was born on April 23, 1966. – Source FamousBirthdays.com

On April 18, 2020 the average price of regular gas in the United States was $1.821/gallon, down from $2.836 on the same date in 2019. The highest average price ever recorded in the US was $4.114 on July 17, 2008. – Source: AAA

Five Fact Friday #5

Five random facts for Friday and posted on Saturday this time around:

Alcohol sales were up 55% the week ending March 21. – Source Axios via my mom.

Thanks in part to the cancellation of March Madness there is a glut of chicken wings. The price has tanked from $2/lb during the Super Bowl to $1.09 in April, 2020. – Source Marketplace

The state sport of Maryland is jousting. – Source Futility Closet

In 2017, according to the National Confectioners Association, 16 billion jelly beans were bought and consumed by the American people. – Source HelloGiggles

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2016 there were 5.6 million employer firms and 99.7% employed fewer than 500 people, 98.2% employed fewer than 100 people and 89% employed fewer than 20 people. – Source Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

Five Fact Friday #4

Five random facts for this Friday:

Roughly 281 billion email messages were sent each day in 2018. That number is expected to increase to over 347 billion daily mails in 2022. – Source: statista

On March 23, 2020 Zoom was downloaded 2.13 million times worldwide, up from 2.04 million the day before, according to app tracking firm Apptopia. Two months prior, the app had just under56,000 global downloads in a day. – Source: KYMA.com

Netflix users spend 1 billion hours watching movies weekly. – Source: Muchneeded.com

There are 6,146 hospitals in the United States. – Source: AHA.org

The country with the lowest population (799) in the world is Vatican City. The country with the highest population (1.43 billion) is China. – Source: WorldPopulationReview.com

Five Fact Friday #3

Five random facts for this Friday:

jetBlue has 264 aircraft in its fleet – Source: Planespotters.net

New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants treat 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater per day – Source: New York City Environmental Protection

In 1985 a first class stamp was 22 cents, which is the equivalent of 54 cents today (currently a first class stamp costs 50 cents). – Source: Kiplinger.com

As of 2017 there were approximately 500 zoos and aquariums in America (no mention on whether or not the US Congress was included in that count) – Source: WhyAnimalsDoTheThing.com

There are 195 countries in the world. 193 are member states of the United Nations and two, The Holy See and the State of Palestine, that are non-member observer states – Source: Worldometer

Five Fact Friday #2

Five random facts for this Friday:

There have been 57 women members of the US Senate – Source: Wikipedia

Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms, 78 baths, 1,514 doors, and 40,000-plus lightbulbs. – Source: Architectural Digest

According to a survey by Charmin the averageperson uses 57 sheets of toilet paper per day.- Source: Reference.com

114 people have served as US Supreme Court Justices – Source: Wikipedia

According to a Newsweek magazine poll married couples have 6.9 times more sex per year than unmarried people – Source: Marriage.com

Five Fact Friday

Five random facts for this Friday:

North Carolina ranks 1st in the US for women representation in the tech sector – females make up 35.5% of the workforce – Source: Business North Carolina, March 2020

There are 4,319,768,895 more people on Earth than when I was born in 1966. – Source: Life Stats, which is a fun site to play with.

When you lose weight fat is converted to carbon dioxide and water. You exhale the carbon dioxide and the water mixes into your circulation until it’s lost as urine or sweat. – Source: Universal-Sci

Deaf moths absorb up to 85% of incoming sound energy from bats to help evade them. – Source: PhysOrg via BookofJoe

As of 2015, 62.7% of Americans live in cities, but those cities only comprise 3.5% of the country’s land area. – Source – US Census

10,000 Days

Most married folks celebrate their wedding anniversaries, and in particular they pay attention to the “big” anniversaries: 10 years, 25 years, 50 years…you get my drift. Today, Celeste and I are celebrating a day that isn’t traditionally celebrated, but is kind of a cool number: 10,000 days of marriage! It’s been an incredible journey during these 240,000 hours of marriage and I’m looking forward to walking through the next 14,400,000 minutes with her, although I suspect it will be a slower pace.

BTW, any guesses why I have that symbol at the top of this post?

I’m Being Auctioned Off for a Good Cause

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Sending in the Pinch Hitter

Thanks to everyone who has been participating in Piedmont Triad Apartment Association’s (my employer) 2019 Summer Food Drive, PTAA has raised more than 415,000 meals for Second Harvest Food Bank, and we’re on track to pass the total we raised last year.

PTAA’s goal for 2019 is to raise half a million meals, and they’re looking for that last boost to get us to the goal by July 31 a mere 8 days from the time I’m posting this.

It’s time for me to see what I can do to help get us there! PTAA is offering me up for auction to help them reach their goal. The winner of the auction will have me all to yourself at your corporate office or chosen property for one day! I have (limited) maintenance skills, salesmanship skills, and a wealth of industry knowledge and experience, and we’re happy to share him with you for a day. (I didn’t write that, our Communications Director did, but I’m running with it). Please feel free to donate even if you can’t make the minimum bid – $1 can provide seven meals so every little bit helps!

The Details

You can place your bid by donating to the team “Jon Lowder” on our donation site (click the link below). Just click “Donate Now,” then make your donation.

  • The MINIMUM bid is a donation of $500 (that minimum bid will provide 3,500 meals!)
  • The donation must be made between today and July 31
  • ALL DONATIONS will go to the food bank and are NONREFUNDABLE – regardless of whether or not you win the auction
  • Whichever company has made the highest donation by 11:59pm on July 31 will win the grand prize: Jon Lowder for a day!
  • The company with the second-highest donation will win 2nd prize: Jon Lowder for half a day (half the day, all the awesome)

Once the auction is over, Jon will follow up to arrange a day to spend on your property, and PTAA will be sure it is well covered in our social media and other publicity!

Questions? Contact Jon with any questions you have before you donate.

DONATE TO BID!

Every dollar raised for the food bank can be used to provide at least seven meals to kids in need. How does that work? Through their partnerships with grocery retailers and the USDA, the food bank is able to source nutritious food, including fresh meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. The food bank’s culinary program uses some of the ingredients to prepare hot meals, and they are distributed along with fresh food to local pantries, summer feeding locations and soup kitchens across 18 counties.

Winston-Salem as a Proxy for Every Other Not-Huge City

Earlier this week the New York Times ran a story titled “Why Midsize Cities Struggle to Catch Up to Superstar Cities” and used Winston-Salem, NC as the focus. Of course, that caught the attention of those of us who live in the Camel City and as a result, many of us have read the article. I will say this: I think the reporter largely hit the mark on the challenges faced by Winston-Salem and other midsize cities in America.

The article rightly points out that a primary challenge for most smaller cities in the country is that they were largely built on the backs of manufacturing at a time when their less expensive labor pool made them attractive places for companies to locate their operations. When global trade happened in the latter part of the 20th century that advantage evaporated and, voila, seemingly every “non-elite” city in America was in the position of trying to reinvent itself for the new economy.

In Winston-Salem, that process started back in the ’80s and ’90s and the extended economic redevelopment work has begun to pay dividends. Fifteen years ago when my wife and I moved our family here the downtown was largely a ghost town after 5 p.m., but now it’s thriving. Hell, using the “Brewery Benchmark,” Winston-Salem is exploding. I can’t say there have been a whole lot of economic development home runs – things like Amazon’s second HQ – but there have been a whole bunch of singles and doubles. And honestly, I think that could be a good thing: growing slowly helps us avoid the boom town headaches of skyrocketing housing prices, traffic congestion, and overcrowded schools.

Probably my favorite part of the article, the part that I think really rings true when you look at Winston-Salem as compared to comparable cities, is this:

If any middling city can make a transition to a technology-centered future, however, Winston-Salem should. It is home to five universities, including Wake Forest, an institution that enrolls four out of its five students from out of state. Transplanted to Winston-Salem in the mid-1950s under the Reynolds family’s patronage from its original site near Raleigh, the university has a leading medical school, which it hopes will anchor a biotech ecosystem.

“The top talent is going to go to the coasts, no doubt about that,” said Graydon Pleasants, head of real estate development for the Innovation Quarter. “But there are plenty of smart people who will come here.”

The article points out what I see as Winston-Salem’s most pressing challenge as well: slow wage growth coupled with housing costs that are rising at a much faster rate. If as a community we can figure out how to fix that while continuing to grow then I think we’ll be in a much better place.