Onward With Gratitude
So, there I was, hunched over my keyboard on the day following our fall Board meeting. I was making lists of new assignments we had accumulated during the two-day gathering. "Sooo much to do sooo busy yadda yadda." I was spared from the pitiful abyss when someone in the hall casually mentioned their Thanksgiving plans. Thanksgiving?!?!
I can't say that I dropped my moaning then and there, but I was at least aware that I should. After all, why should I fret over an aspirational to-do list? Don't I want one? Worries and pains in the butt? Of course, but in comparison to my old friends and members in Sandy's path, or neighbors whose kids are eating Turkey under a tent in the desert, what am I moaning about?
Only one thing for me to do: Click a favorite YouTube of an old Highwaymen concert. A young(er) Kristofferson growls: "Why Me Lord? What have I ever done, to deserve even one, of the pleasures I've known?"
Hope you notice your pleasures and blessings this Thanksgiving, including the privilege to make a difference in the lives of people and communities. If you can't be with the people who care about you, reach out to them this weekend.
Onward with gratitude.
Lest we forget
When talking to my active and retired military friends in this region, I’ve asked what the troops would ask of us as they go about their deadly serious business. The answer? “Think of us. Remember that we’re out here.”
Lest we forget, U.S. Army Captain Jesse Ozbat was the latest (as of this writing) combat fatality in Afghanistan. He was a native of Prince Georges County, Md., across the Potomac River from ACCE’s office. He died during an attack in the provincial capital of Tarin Kowt. He was 28, married, with a BS in mathematics. This was his second tour.
Once before in my holiday message, I asked you to remember a specific fallen soldier, as both an individual and a symbol. This weekend, in between parades, lawn furniture scrubbing and beer pong, I hope you’ll join me in taking just a minute to mark Captain Ozbat’s passing.
Mostly, I hope that you have a wonderful holiday weekend with the people who are closest to you. You deserve a break, so enjoy every bit of the long weekend! Onward.
Reflections on Brazil
The sights, tastes and sounds of Brazil will take a lifetime to process and digest. The visit to the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain. The small night club in a São Paulo neighborhood. The ever-present caipirinha cocktails overflowing with limes. The massive equipment on the docks serving container ships cued up across the entire horizon off Ipanema Beach in Rio. It was a lot to take in over our six days on the ground.
Two dozen chamber folks and guests accompanied me on the Brazil awareness tour. This was the fourth such trip for members in the last nine months, the others having visited Israel, Croatia, and China (with Citslinc International). Of all the trips ACCE has sponsored for members over the years, this one featured the most business meetings -- seven in all.
During the informative meetings with venture capitalists, local chamber leaders, business owners, consultants and government developers in one of the hottest economic markets in the world, a handful of themes emerged.
First, the country is blessed with enormous resources. They have huge oil and mineral reserves and are the second largest food exporter in the world. Our perception was that the largest opportunities have yet to be tapped or even discovered.
Second, the country isn't in debt. They are in an enviable position as a developing nation to not have a current or accumulated deficit. Think of the opportunities and freedom to expand!
Third, the gap between rich and poor is huge and the rapidly growing middle class is still relatively small. Historic lack of equity is a burden for the country and has contributed to extensive criminal activity -- both gang-related and white collar, including government corruption and banking "irregularities." Some of the favelas (huge organized slum settlements) are under complete control of drug lords. In an attempt to relieve the worst poverty of the group of citizens called the "E" class, the government simply provides a minimum base salary to everybody. No housing allowances or food stamps -- just cash.
Fourth, they view the opportunities to host World Cup 2014 and the 2016 Olympics as game changers for Brazil's reputation and future investment potential, but also as an immediate boom to infrastructure (and related jobs). There's only one small problem -- they aren't anywhere near ready for either global event. Necessary facilities, venues and transportation infrastructure are barely even at the drawings stage. Everyone we met, however, remains supremely confident. Baffling to visitors from a nation that can take four years just to check for endangered species on a development site!
Fifth, business support networks and civic economic development groups (chamber-like entities) are even harder to sort out in Brazil than they are in the U.S. There are chambers, business associations and industry groups of all kinds in every jurisdiction, with overlays of national chamber-like groups and Am-chams.
Sixth, the health care system is a two-tiered mess. About 75 percent of the people are relegated to the public (government supplied) provider platform, which is so overwhelmed that a seriously broken leg may take weeks to be seen or set. Inadequate public hospital hallways are jammed with prone sick and injured patients waiting endlessly for care. Meanwhile, there is a private healthcare system that anyone with a decent job pays out of pocket to access. Our briefing on this reality was a reminder that when reform advocates in the U.S. say that "most major industrialized and developing nations in the world provide government health care," they are both right and wrong.
A final note shared by all travelers on this trip, which has an impact on both doing business and touring in Brazil: The citizens of this nation live life to the fullest. Compared to any developing nation and most Industrial countries, the people of Brazil are happy. It shows on the streets, the beaches, the work sites, the rural bus stops and, surprisingly, even in the favelas. Global contentment index research confirms that they're a happy bunch, but it is evident without the numbers. I am aware that it is always unwise to judge the spirit and well-being of a nation through the eyes of a well-off tourist, or a prosperous host. But when your government is not oppressive, food is plentiful (though becoming expensive), the weather is ideal, the society is open and accepting (racially/culturally), the future holds economic hope and the basics are available (there are more cell phones than people in Brazil), the living of life is possible.
Getting Closer to Members
As some of you may know, ACCE’s lease is set to expire soon. The team has been very happy in Alexandria; it is a beautiful place and has been ACCE’s home for almost a century. But we’re a long way from a lot of our members. We’ve always thought, wouldn’t it be great to be closer to more of you all, geographically speaking.
Therefore, after much deliberation, ACCE has decided to relocate the headquarters office to beautiful Lebanon, Kansas – the geographic dead center of the contiguous 48 states.
Lebanon (pop. 218) is smack dab in between Salina, Kansas and Grand Island, Nebraska and less than 200 miles from Wichita and Omaha. Denver International Airport, one of the top 5 busiest in the country, is a mere 354 miles down Highway 36. Lebanon is, quite literally, the center of it all.
We considered cities with major air hubs like Atlanta, Detroit, and Los Angeles. But in any of those places we’d still be closer to one corner of the country. In Lebanon, ACCE staff will be equally close to Boston and San Francisco. Our international members will have great access too, Winnipeg and Monterrey are virtually equidistant. Everyone wins!
Since announcing the decision earlier this week, excitement around the office has been palpable. As you can imagine, staff are really excited about the move and the new vacation options it will open. Our sun lovers will be able to hit Pacific coast beaches just as quickly as those on the Atlantic. Office anglers can wet a line in either Lake Superior or the Gulf of Mexico, they are comparably close.
We hope you all will find time to stop by our new home base when we move this fall. You’ll pass us any time you go from coast to coast, so there is no excuse for not dropping in. When you arrive we’ll greet with a warm, “April Fools."
Have a great April Fools weekend everyone!
Profiles In Courage
Degrees and Da Grease
A number of questioning media stories have appeared lately focused on higher education. Does a degree still matter? Is college worth it? Some high school kid highlighted in these stories might have an older brother or sister with a freshly minted degree and no job. The kid and the story ask why he should apply to college and his parents may be asking why they should borrow the money to send him.
I can't begin to answer all of these questions, especially those related to the relative value of degrees from specific schools. The data on the main questions, however, remains absolutely clear and compelling: People who get a post secondary degree of some kind (graduate, bachelors, associate or certificate) do better in the short term and over a lifetime than people who don't. Interestingly, it is not "some college" that makes the most difference; it is finishing. To paraphrase labor economist Tony Carnevale of Georgetown, a degree is the entrance requirement, the library card, for all of the on-the-job learning you will eventually obtain in the workplace.
Yes, there are differences in the lifetime value of certain kinds of degrees (science v. social service, etc.). Yes, there are reasonable questions about how high is too high on college costs. And yes, dramatic changes in the job market will impact the prospects for each of us at various times in our lives. But the research is overwhelming and consistent. A college degree of some kind is a major determininant of the wealth we will enjoy and produce in our lifetime.
Recent studies have concentrated on that wealth generation impact of higher education. It's not just that degreed people are prepared to take jobs in a regional economy. It now appears that just having such people around helps to make jobs. More on the economic development impacts of higher education in a future installment.
From my frequent conversations with your friends and peers since Labor Day, it has seemed that most of you have been hard at work for months to ensure 2012 success. Whether through the ‘creative writing’ of modern budgeting, or through thoughtful (ruthless!) chamber program evaluation, I think all of you are well into the New Year already.
We’ve got a lot of work to do in 2012. The economy may or may not continue to recover. The election may or may not produce dramatic policy changes. Greece and the Euro may hinder your work, or not. The weather? New energy discoveries? Rival organizations? Consumer attitudes? Helpful(?) mayors and editors? Seismic disturbances? Supreme Court decisions? Whatever comes at you or your members, you’ll deal with it. Chambers always have and always will.
I am enormously grateful that you will be there for ACCE, your members and the regions of North America in the important year to come. And, I hope you’ll call on us for help when you need ideas, connections and opportunities. Onward in 2012!
What's Your Line?
Reunion with Cornell University championship football team was a blast this past weekend. The stories of our prowess grow more amazing each decade. Fantastic connections to be made with old friends. An energy engineer in Alaska, Ivy League academics, a Madison Ave. ad agency CEO, politicos in DC, business leaders from Chicago, two judges, a machinist, a truck company owner, a truck driver, an oncologist, two surgeons, a dentist, a coach or two, a juvenile crime specialist and the radio announcer of the Colorado Rockies. Oh, and one fairly well-known Hollywood star who sports a Super Bowl ring.
When I attempted to answer the "what's your line?" questions of my old teammates, there were, as usual, tilted heads and quizzical looks. They pretend to understand what the president of an association of chamber people might actually do. All of those smart, wired, experienced people find it easier to understand what a mortgage-backed securities analyst (yes, we have two of those in the group) might do than what an association executive does. Finally, I found an analogy they could relate to. Since so many are lawyers, I just started answering the cocktail party questions -- "ACCE is like the American Bar Association for chamber of commerce people." "Ohhhhh, that sounds . . . interesting. Have you tried the shrimp?"
I'm the mushy sentimental type. Big surprise, right!? I fire up and tear up when the news covers a soldier's homecoming or the long-suffering Lions fans get a win. This week, I received a simple message that touched me deeply and provided the motivation I need in order to do this job. It was a handwritten note from Rob O'Brien, the CEO of the Joplin Missouri Chamber. It accompanied his substantial ACCE dues check and it was a reply to the note I wrote him on his membership invoice. In light of the unfathomable tornado damage that struck his town, I had written, "Rob, do what you can. If you need to send nothing this year, don't sweat it." Or something like that. His note back said: "Thanks for the offer to accept less for dues, but we are good right now . . . enclosed is our full amount. Keep doing great things. Rob."
Rob will have a tough time fully rebuilding the economy of Joplin, but he and his team are already hard at it, with efforts to restore the hospital (focus of every network camera in May), the schools and the business base. Their "YES WE ARE OPEN FOR BUSINESS" roster of establishments that have reopened, along with those that never closed, grows every week. The transition from response to recovery is getting assistance from many corners. And yes, they are open for business.
Recently, in response to what the pundits, pols and pottymouths of both parties have been spewing, Jon Stewart on the Daily Show said, "We need some perspective -- these are hard times, not end times." When I see the kind of determination and faith displayed by Rob and his team in Joplin, even in the face of destruction that resembles the stuff of biblical end times, I am amazed and inspired. When the going gets tough, the tough keep you going.
P.S. If you want to help, go to: www.joplincc.com
Ultimate Chamber Mergers
At a meeting with the World Chambers Federation board of directors this weekend, I learned that all of the dozens of chambers in the Netherlands are being forced to merge into one. The number of chambers in France is being cut by a third. These are countries in which membership in compulsory by law. In Spain, the government recently ruled that the chambers would no longer receive the money companies had been paying for the last couple of hundred years for chamber membership. The State would keep (thank you very much) the "tax", leaving the chambers with about 40% of their revenue, provided they can keep program income flowing in.
I recall a number of folks telling me over the years that running a public-law chamber would be so easy because they wouldn't have to work on membership retention. I'm wondering, however, if perhaps a chamber operating where the government requires membership really only has one member?