Category Archives: Greensboro

Gown Towns Thrive

Yesterday I was in a meeting with several people involved with local real estate development and they were asked what the top business priority is for their county (Guilford, NC) going into 2017. Their response, as has been the case for every year in recent memory, was that job growth will continue to be the most critical issue for their businesses. In the course of answering the question quite a few of these people referenced other cities in North Carolina that seem to be thriving – Raleigh, Cary, Charlotte and “even Wilmington” – were the names I remembered. What stuck out, to me, was that no one mentioned Winston-Salem.

Now let me state up front that I’m not prepared to offer any statistics that compare the jobs situation in Winston-Salem to those in Guilford County’s two cities, Greensboro and High Point. But I will say that if you were to poll most people who pay attention to business in the region, they will tell you that Winston-Salem’s economic recovery from the nuclear annihilation that has befallen this region’s traditional economy is further along than its neighbors to the east. For some reason, though, leaders in Greensboro and High Point seem to ignore what’s going on just 30 miles to their west (and in all fairness the reverse is also true), and as a result no one seems to know why there’s a difference between these two very similar neighbors.

A personal theory is that there are a lot of complex and interwoven factors at play here, but one big one is the presence of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. The university, and in particular it’s medical school, has been a partner with the city and local companies as the city moved away from it’s traditional tobacco manufacturing base toward a “knowledge economy” with a niche in the area of medical research. Starting over 20 years ago Winston-Salem’s civic and business leaders recognized the need to re-position the city’s economy and Wake Forest played a significant role in those plans. The results are plain to see in the city’s Innovation Quarter, which is booming and is primed for exponential growth over the next 10-15 years.

30 miles to the east Greensboro actually has more schools, including NC A&T and UNCG, but they don’t seem to have had the same effect on the city’s economy. Yet. We’re starting to see much more activity there, including the Union Square Campus that recently opened and is already bearing economic fruit for the city and there’s PLENTY of potential for even more growth. As long as the city’s leaders continue to keep their eye on the ball there’s a very good chance this will happen, as it has in other college towns.

This article in the Wall Street Journal has a lot of data showing how cities in the US that have strong colleges, especially those with research programs, have recovered from the decline in the manufacturing sector over the last two decades. Here’s an excerpt:

A nationwide study by the Brookings Institution for The Wall Street Journal found 16 geographic areas where overall job growth was strong, even though manufacturing employment fell more sharply in those places from 2000 to 2014 than in the U.S. as a whole…

“Better educated places with colleges tend to be more productive and more able to shift out of declining industries into growing ones,” says Mark Muro, a Brookings urban specialist. “Ultimately, cities survive by continually adapting their economies to new technologies, and colleges are central to that.”…

Universities boost more than just highly educated people, says Enrico Moretti, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. The incomes of high-school dropouts in college towns increase by a bigger percentage than those of college graduates over time because demand rises sharply for restaurant workers, construction crews and other less-skilled jobs, he says.

And here’s the money quote as it relates to local economic development efforts:

Places where academics work closely with local employers and development officials can especially benefit. “Universities produce knowledge, and if they have professors who are into patenting and research, it’s like having a ready base of entrepreneurs in the area,” says Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser.

Let’s hope our local leaders take full advantage of what our colleges have to offer, for all of our benefit.

Addressing Homelessness

At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the apartment industry, thus the companies I work with are on the front lines of our nation’s housing situation. You may not be aware of it, but we do indeed have a housing situation that can be best summed up as this: we have too many people who don’t make enough money to pay for the housing that’s available, and/or we don’t have enough housing units that are affordable for people at the bottom of the income scale. Even worse, we have a LOT of people who, thanks to any number of life events, lose their housing and thus end up living in flop houses, cars, tents or under a bridge.

Because apartment owners and managers provide over a third of the housing in the U.S, and a majority of the rental housing, they are often looked to for a solution to the problem of affordability and homelessness. It would be great if they could snap their fingers and solve the problem, but due to the complexity of the issue (static income, increases in the costs of everything from health care to food, lack of housing inventory in general, etc.) this is not something housing providers can solve on their own. That’s not to say that people in the industry aren’t trying, and a perfect example is a woman named Lori Trainer who has been working for years down in Florida to address homelessness in her community. (Here’s a link to a video about some of her work, and I’ll embed it below as well). She just wrote an article for Multifamily Insiders titled The Story Behind the Sign that helps put homelessness in perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

We’ve all seen the homeless person with the sign on the side of the road and when we do, many people think these thoughts.    What the people offering these judgments don’t realize is that the overwhelming majority of people don’t “choose” to be homeless.  In fact, nearly 50% of the homeless in America are working.  Why are they homeless then?  Well, that is the “564,788 person question” (the number of homeless on the street each night according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness).

The causes of homelessness range from sad to tragic.  Job loss, foreclosures, divorce and natural disasters such as the tragedies we are seeing in the Midwest and in Canada are a few examples.  These storm victims certainly didn’t choose to be homeless or do anything wrong but they are indeed homeless now.  If their insurance isn’t perfect, takes a year to work out the details or worse yet, doesn’t pay, what do those families do?  They have lost everything; their homes, belongings and jobs.  They are now homeless…

Another very prevalent and sad demographic in the homeless arena are families.  Approximately 206,268 were identified in the last count. Divorce, domestic violence, death, single parents and low wage workers are all in this category.  Children are resilient but often suffer irreparable damage when forced to live in vehicles, shelters or motels for weeks or months on end.  60 Minutes did a great job highlighting this epidemic:https://youtu.be/L2hzRPLVSm4   (Be sure to have tissues handy!)

Then Lori goes on to point out that there are many, many more people who are just a misstep away from becoming homeless themselves.

Many people think it could never happen to them.  But the truth is that one out of three people are two paychecks away from being homeless.  There are 12 million renters pay more than 50% of their annual income for housing and 37 million people living in poverty in America.  Simple fact, a minimum wage worker cannot support a household and pay rent.  There is a critical shortage of affordable housing in the US and, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition; approximately 200,000 units are destroyed annually.  That combined with the “aging out” tax credit population and the mile long waiting lists for section 8 vouchers, we have the perfect storm.

One of the initiatives we are working on at the national level in the industry is to identify the programs that industry groups are participating in at the local level around the country. For instance, my employer is working with Partners Ending Homelessness to help match their clients with available apartment units in Guilford County. What we’ve found is that like many things in life, the concept is simple but the implementation is complex. Still, we’ve seen progress and we will continue working because this is an issue that will be with us for the foreseeable future.

That’s just one initiative in one community, but that’s the kind of effort we’re going to need in every community around the country to address homelessness, because quite frankly this is not an issue that can be solved from Washington. What our national leadership CAN do is address the big picture issues that underlie homelessness, including:

  • An economy that is not providing adequate income for average workers
  • A health care “system” that bankrupts some, and financially cripples many
  • A crumbling infrastructure that threatens all of us
  • A byzantine regulatory structure (think HUD & EPA) that makes affordable housing development a challenge

Another chief culprit is an under-performing, and some would say under-valued, education system, but that’s not just a Washington issue so let’s not throw it entirely on them. The point is that homelessness is the most severe symptom of an ailing nation. If we are truly measured by how we treat the least of us, then as a nation and a community we have a lot we need to do to heal ourselves.

Here’s the video about the effort in Florida that Lori’s been a big part of:

ConvergeSouth Labs – Soooo Many Options

ConvergeHeaderLogo

So I’ve written the past couple of days about all the options that are available to ConvergeSouth attendees during the various session time slots. Well, I have to tell you that the “Labs” in the 1:45-3:45 slot are REALLY going to test my decision-making ability because I truly want to see all four. Once you read the descriptions below I think you’ll feel the same way:

Podcast Lab (Mike Dell of Podcast Help Desk) – An active podcaster and consultant for the past 10 years, Mike Dell, from Podcast Help Desk, helps people with the technical side of podcasting. For the last 6 years he has been the lead tech support for RawVoice Inc., parent company of the podcast services company Blubrry.com. He hosts a bi-weekly folk and bluegrass radio show on community radio station WNMC, and is the fill-in news announcer (and sometimes guest) on the morning rock radio show, Omelet and Friends on WKLT FM in Traverse City. In his spare time he enjoys Banjo Picking and Ham Radio.

In the podcasting lab, Mike will give you the best non-geeky explanation of how podcasting works and take you through the hardware you will need for recording. (Both good-enough and the best). We will also cover setting up the dreaded RSS feed, Website (adding podcasting to WordPress) and keeping iTunes and other podcast apps happy with your show. We will cover the best practices for podcasters. When you leave you will have a checklist of items you need to record your first episode and get it listed in iTunes and other directories. If there is time, we will do a Q & A about anything podcasting.

YouTube Lab (Stephanie Carls) – Named a “Twitter Powerhouse” by The Huffington Post, Stephanie Carls shares her passion for social media and technology online and focuses on the ways both are changing the way we live and share information. With her creativity in her videos, she has even landed features in The New York Times and NBC News.

Frequently asked to participate as a spokesperson or digital correspondent, Stephanie has enjoyed working with Cottonelle, Chevrolet (as video host for 2012 SXSW Interactive Festival, Marketwired, Nike Women, Hallmark, GoPro, Nexersys (appearing on CBS “The Doctors“) and more.

In the YouTube lab, Stephanie will give you the extra push and knowledge you need to start your own video presence. Whether that is for yourself, your business, or even both, she will cover how to set up your YouTube channel and begin your journey creating your videos. Equipment needs as well as best practices for publishing and creating your presence will be covered.

Tumblr Sites for Beginners (Ashley Hallenbeck of The Coraddi) – Ashley Hallenbeck is a designer and aspiring jack of all trades. She is the current Director of Promotions for The Coraddi, digital design and animation instructor at The Center for Visual Artists, and is a self-proclaimed sticker genius. She wholly believes that all small businesses can and should have a strong online presence, and that it’s much easier (and cheaper!) to achieve than they might think.

With $15, a little bit of sweat, and minimal tears, you can have a website up and running in a day. No short-codes, no monthly fees, no bologna; Tumblr is the perfect unlikely alternative to WordPress. Its interface is basic enough for beginners, while still being flexible enough for experienced webmasters!

What’s All the Fuss About Squarespace? (Melody Watson) – Few topics elicit more enthusiasm from Melody Watson than coaching Squarespace users to tell their stories online. Discovering this platform literally changed the course of her professional life; she left her community college webmaster position to freelance. Melody collaborates with small business owners, non-profits, and artistic professionals around the country.
Are you looking for a versatile, sophisticated tool that comes with 24/7 support and the canvas on which to create nearly any kind of site you can envision? Do yourself a favor and consider Squarespace. During this lab you will learn about:

  • Selecting the ideal template for specific site needs,
  • Choosing the appropriate kind of page for offering different types of content,
  • Formatting content,
  • Adding photos and graphics,
  • Site-wide design vs. page-based layout and design,
  • Drafting blog posts,
  • Connecting social accounts,
  • Adding a form and collecting the gathered data.

Content that doesn’t fit into the session time-frame will be provided in supplemental resources.

Impressed? I thought you’d be. So if you STILL haven’t registered but would like to you can do so here. Hope to see you there!

ConvergeSouth at 10:45 is Going to Be Happening!

ConvergeHeaderLogo

So yesterday I wrote about a tough choice I have to make – which of four great sessions would I choose to attend during the 9:30 time slot at ConvergeSouth? Well my decision is made for me during the 10:45 slot, but if you attend you’ll have to make a choice. So here’s what you have to choose from:

How to Attract, Engage and Convert With Social Media Marketing (Angela Levine of Connect Marketing) – What if there was a system to help you identify a lot of the right people for your marketing message, find them online, get them to give you their email address and eventually convert a portion of them into customers? Many business owners would be happy with JUST getting an email address – let alone one of a pre-qualified lead. Angela will show you a system for using content creation and harnessing the power of two content delivery channels to attract, engage and ultimately convert your target audience.

Field of Dreams – Great movie, terrible content strategy (Ryan Neely of SFW) – “Content is king!” “Brands are publishers!” With all the buzz about content, how can you go wrong? Before you get busy blogging, join Ryan Neely as he walks through what goes into a successful content strategy, essential questions to ask before you get started and examples of different content strategies that have proven effective.

Design in the age of Dribbble (Nick Jones of Tiny Goat) – As designers, we’re living in a time of unprecedented access to inspiration. Sites like Behance and Dribbble provide us with a constant stream of styles to quote, and frameworks like Material Design give us endless shortcuts from blank screen to finished product. So has all that access watered down design? In this talk, Nick Jones will explore the nature of inspiration and try to answer that question. This talk should be part debate for design partisans, and part survey course for design fans.

Okay, this next one is being led by yours truly so you will be forgiven if you skip it – caveat emptor and all that.

Partnerships + Creativity + Social Tools = 150,000 Meals (Jon Lowder of PTAA) – How does a local trade association with a staff of three manage to raise enough money and collect enough food for a local food bank to provide 156,000 meals to the hungry and generate great PR in the process? With creativity, volunteer engagement, partnerships with local media and other organizations, Google docs, social media and a lot of sweat.

So, that’s just one hour of the day at ConvergeSouth and as you can see there’s a lot of “there” there. This really is a great event so if you haven’t already I do recommend you register and attend. Full registration details can be found here.

Cool Recognition for Some Greensboro Folks

The excerpt below is from a press release from Gov. McCrory’s office announcing the 2016 North Carolina Heritage Award winners. Many folks in Greensboro are familiar with the Montagnard community, but it’s probably a safe bet that folks outside of Greensboro would be surprised to learn about how large the community actually is. I need to make a note to myself to try and see some of the work of the award recipients – it really looks stunning.

H Jue Nie and H Ngach Rahlan

Calling themselves Dega, more Vietnamese Montagnards settled in North Carolina than in any other state, due to their fellowship with Special Forces units during the Vietnam War. Dega weavers H Jue Nie and H Ngach Rahlan of Greensboro mastered the ancient spinning, dying and weaving traditions of their people while growing up in the central highlands of Vietnam. Once a part of every highland woman’s knowledge and practice, women wove to clothe their families, decorate homes and altars, and to keep everyone warm at night. Originally Montagnard weavers grew their own cotton, spun their thread by hand, and used dyes from the indigo plant and other natural sources. Decorative elements such as beads were once made from plant materials that grew in their rice fields. War and displacement has reduced the numbers of skilled weavers remaining in Vietnam. H Jue Nie and H Ngach Rahlan moved to Greensboro 20 years ago, bringing their backstrap looms and an immeasurable knowledge of the designs and techniques that make their weaving traditions unique.

Explore the work:

Montagnard Weaving: The Women
Backstrap Weavers

Montagnard Weaving: Overview
Backstrap Weavers

Montagnard Weaving: BacksStrap Loom
Backstrap Weavers

WalletHub Gives Triad Cities High Marks for Starting New Businesses

WalletHub.com ranked the 150 largest cities in the US (measured by population) to start businesses and the Triad’s cities fared pretty well:
#9 Greensboro
#19 Winston-Salem

Here’s the rest of NC’s cities:
#27 Fayetteville
#62 Charlotte
#90 Durham
#106 Raleigh

It’s nice to see that our area is being recognized for its relatively low costs, strong infrastructure and livability.

Here’s a link to the full results and methodology they used for the rankings.

The Guilty Mumble and Run

The Greensboro News & Record’s Joe Killian had an interesting interaction in downtown Greensboro last week:

As I was handing it to him and he was thanking me, a guy walked past who was dressed basically as I was — dark, pressed suit; button-down collar; well-shined shoes. He looked at me and at this homeless man and stopped in front of us suddenly.

“You really shouldn’t do that,” he said to me.

“I really shouldn’t do what?” I said.

“You really shouldn’t buy them food,” the guy said, speaking to me as if the homeless man wasn’t there.

“If you give them money, they buy drugs,” he told me. “If you buy them food, then they spend the money they’d spend on food on drugs.”

“OK,” I said. “Thanks for the input. Have a nice day.”

I began to tell the homeless man good luck and to take care when the other guy broke in again.

“No, really,” he said, more insistently now. “You don’t know how they are. Giving them food isn’t your smartest option.”

Finally, I just ran out of patience.

“Your smartest option is to mind your own business and get out of my face,” I said to him.

Apparently surprised that one guy in a suit would speak to another like that over — you know, just this homeless guy — he looked spooked and quickly moved on.

The homeless guy thanked me and went on his way.

This is the kind of story that will strike a cord with everyone, but not in the same way. Most, if not all of us have had to make the decision on whether or not to help a person who is asking for help. Personally it used to be a lot easier for me: if I had money, I gave some and if I was buying a meal I would just add an item for the person who said she was hungry. It never occurred to me that the person asking might not need it and that I might be getting taken for a ride.

As I got older that changed. Partly that was the result of bad experiences, like the multiple times I was asked for money, offered to buy the person food and was told in no uncertain terms that I could keep my f***ing food if I didn’t have any money for him. Then there are the incredible number of times I’ve been approached at a gas station by someone with the same sob story we’ve all heard about needing to borrow a dollar or two to help buy “just enough gas to get home to <fill in the blank city about 100 miles away>.” Some of the change was the result of hearing from multiple sources, including experts who deal with the homeless, that giving them money was a bad idea because it just enabled their addictions. The end result is that I became hesitant and that hesitance has often led me to do what I call the Guilty Mumble and Run.

The Guilty Mumble and Run is exactly what it sounds like in that when I’m asked for help I divert my eyes, say something like, “Sorry, got nothing on me” and then speed up my walk to escape the situation. The guilty part is the following time period where I feel guilty about it, but it’s not for not giving them anything, but for not having the guts to just say I don’t want to or don’t feel I should and instead lying to the person and not giving them the common courtesy to look them in the eyes.

Quite frankly this didn’t use to bother me that much because I let myself believe that my actions were justified, that I didn’t owe these people anything, and that they were actually being rude to me by coming up unbidden and asking me for something. But that changed over the last few years when I started doing things that brought me into contact more often with people who had hit hard some hard times, but who had an incredibly difficult time asking for or accepting help. It made me realize that as hard as it was for me to handle being asked for help it had to be infinitely harder for the person asking for help to find themselves in that position.

So that’s what has sealed the deal for me. Sure there are the folks out there running a scam like the folks at the gas station, and there are those who are on the street who will take whatever I give them and turn it into their next fix, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t at least do the right thing for me. That is to help those I can and look the others in the eye and tell them exactly why I can’t. At least then I can live my life without ever having to do the Guilty Mumble and Run again.

Where the Buck Stops

A big part of being a good leader is doing the right thing when things don’t go right. Today I’d say the chief of the UNC-Greensboro campus police department is providing a small example of how to react when things go wrong. Here’s the story from my particular point of view:

Last night there was a shooting at an off-campus student apartment community. My son happens to attend UNCG and lives in an off-campus apartment, but not in the community where the shooting occurred. Knowing that his parents might hear about it and might be concerned for his safety he sent me a text saying that a shooting had happened near his apartment, but that it wasn’t in his particular apartment community and that he was fine. We definitely appreciated it, but it also caused me to start monitoring the news about the shooting. As always I turned to Twitter because that tends to be where I get news the earliest, including from the various local news outlets, and sure enough that’s where all the freshest info was coming from.

That’s why I was able to see these Tweets from UNCG:

UNCGTweet

See that top Tweet that includes a suspect description of “B/M, 6′-6’2″, Red Shirt, Red hat, Goatee and a large bottom lip”? Well that predictably struck many as a racist description and generated the responses you’d expect online. So what did the chief do? Well, among other things he sent a message to the UNCG community which my son received by email and forwarded to me:

To the UNCG Community,

On behalf of the UNCG Police Department, I want to apologize for what many considered a racially insensitive description included in one of the alerts last night. We give our staff a great deal of latitude in crafting emergency messages because safety often depends on timeliness.  Sometimes that means just repeating descriptions provided to us, as we did in this case.  However, we know our community and should be able to filter information in a way that reflects our values but still provides the information you need to stay safe.  One of our core values is Accountability, and, ultimately, I am the head of this agency, and I am accountable for the actions of those who serve you at the Police Department.  For that reason, I apologize to those who were offended. We can do better, and we will.

Jamie Herring
Chief of Police
UNCG Police Department
P.O. Box 26170
Greensboro, NC  27402

I truly can’t tell you anything about the department or the chief outside of this event because I haven’t had cause to pay any attention to them, but I can tell you that this is a very good response to a screw up that happened on his watch. It’s nice to see a leader accept the buck instead of passing it along.

The Friendship 9

For those of us who live or work in Greensboro, NC the story of the Woolworth sit-in, an event that is generally considered the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, is very familiar. Subsequent events in the movement may not be as familiar to those of us who aren’t experts on the movement so it’s always interesting to read or hear about them. That’s why this story about The Friendship 9 caught my attention:

Fifty-four years ago this week, nine young black men sat down at the whites-only counter of McCrory’s five-and-dime store on Main Street in the town of Rock Hill, South Carolina. After ordering burgers and cokes, the men were asked to leave; after they refused to leave, they were arrested for trespassing.

The Civil Rights Movement was, relatively speaking, in its infancy at the time. Less than a year after the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Friendship 9 were arrested on the same day that James Meredith submitted his college application to then-segregated Ole Miss.

On Wednesday, the eight surviving members of the Friendship 9⎯most of the nine men had been students at nearby Friendship College in 1961⎯were back in a Rock Hill courthouse to see their sentences vacated and their convictions overturned. “We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history,” Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III told the courtroom to high applause as he threw out the cases⎯a poignant flourish given that Hayes’ uncle had originally sentenced the men in 1961.

As NBC News noted, the men “were represented in the hearing by Ernest A. Finney Jr., the same man who defended their case 54 years ago,” who later served as South Carolina Supreme Court’s first black chief justice since Reconstruction.

Quite frankly it was refreshing to read this story because, of late, the news in Greensboro has been about the managerial and financial problems faced by the International Civil Rights Museum which is housed in the former Woolworth building where the sit-in occurred. At least one of the museum’s principal players has accused the city, which basically holds the financial future of the museum in its hands and has proposed taking over management of the museum, of wanting to whitewash history:

Earl Jones, one of the founders of the museum, said he was “outraged” by an offer from Mayor Nancy Vaughan on Monday to have the city operate the museum. Jones called the offer “disrespectful.”

“It’s my speculation that there’s a part of the mayor’s group that would like to see the museum taken over so the history and integrity of the civil rights movement can be undermined and whitewashed,” Jones said. “I think that’s what it’s about.”..

Vaughan said she and the City Council just want to be sure the museum stays open. That will require more professional management, she said.

Given the context of what Judge Hayes said – “We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.” – it seems ironic that Greensboro’s history continues to be one in which color divides people. In this case green.