Holiday and Spring
As a former altar boy, I was always confused about Easter. Was it a time to feel happy or sad? What the heck was the bunny about and why did he carry eggs? When I reached adulthood (my wife says I've yet to get there) and started to experience a broader world, I became just as confused about Passover. The fact that the angel of death was going to postpone the visit to your house while slaughtering someone elses' kids didn't seem like much to celebrate. There are, of course, centuries-old traditions and miraculous elements to both holidays, but from the point of view of my new friends in Malaysia, Turkey and South Africa, they're kind of hard to explain (still easier than Halloween). Spring, on the other hand is simple to understand. Renewal. Rebirth. Emerging from hibernation. New generation. Campus protest. A young man's fancy. Kites. First 18 of the season. Wishful thinking for Cubs fans. Tourists crawling all over DC. Unexpected tragid floods in too many places. Unexpected glorious afternoons everywhere. Hope. I am glad to be home today on one such glorious afternoon, but also looking forward to my next trip out in the world -- Jackson MS is next itinerary. Have a good Easter and/or Passover (mixed marriages in our family). Please do me a favor. Take a minute or two this spring away from your keyboard to notice the season.
As a former altar boy, I was always confused about Easter. Was it a time to feel happy or sad? What the heck was the bunny about and why did he carry eggs? When I reached adulthood (my wife says I've yet to get there) and started to experience a broader world, I became just as confused about Passover. The fact that the angel of death was going to postpone the visit to your house while slaughtering someone elses' kids didn't seem like much to celebrate. There are, of course, centuries-old traditions and miraculous elements to both holidays, but from the point of view of my new friends in Malaysia, Turkey and South Africa, they're kind of hard to explain (still easier than Halloween).
Spring, on the other hand is simple to understand. Renewal. Rebirth. Emerging from hibernation. New generation. Campus protest. A young man's fancy. Kites. First 18 of the season. Wishful thinking for Cubs fans. Tourists crawling all over DC. Unexpected tragid floods in too many places. Unexpected glorious afternoons everywhere. Hope.
I am glad to be home today on one such glorious afternoon, but also looking forward to my next trip out in the world -- Jackson MS is next itinerary. Have a good Easter and/or Passover (mixed marriages in our family). Please do me a favor. Take a minute or two this spring away from your keyboard to notice the season.
Big things afoot at our organization
Dear ACCE Members,
Big things are happening at our organization.
In March we took more than 100 members on trips to Dubai and China. I was in France for the World Chambers Federation board meeting where I serve as vice chair. Last week more than 80 of our top membership sales professionals met in Nashville, and next week we’ll hold our first entrepreneurship support retreat with the Edward Lowe Foundation.
Our convention planning team just returned from Milwaukee, and Charge! 2010 is shaping up to be one of the best conventions ever. Membership has held strong throughout the past year and so have our retirement accounts. Also, I don’t have to remind you that we are in the midst of launching a new strategic plan that will take this organization to new levels.
Big things are truly happening, and 2010 could be a watershed year for our organization and the entire profession. As we open more international doors for our members and do more to help chambers position themselves as regional leaders, I think it is appropriate that our name reflect who we are and what we do. That’s why I propose that we change our name to the International Chamber and Regional Association Professionals.
International Chamber and Regional Association Professionals, or ICRAP for short, builds on our strong reputation as the home for chamber professionals to network and share best practices. But ICRAP also indicates where we are headed as a profession and as an organization.
ICRAP can carry us forward in new and exciting ways. I've had our team create a webpage mockup so that you can see what ICRAP will look like representing our organization - www.acce.org/icrap
400 Chambers in 90 days?
Maybe not quite that many, but . . .
A trip to the WACE meeting San Francisco. Adinner with chambers in Central GA. The Council of State Chambers wintermeeting. Two three-day sessions of theFord Regional Development Fellows. USChamber Committee of 100 meeting, NW Chamber Leaders Conference in Coeur d'Alene. World ChambersFederation board meeting. Throw in a dozen chambers stopping by our offices in Alexandria for awards judging and I may haveset my personal record for member contact in a quarter.
In most of those meetings, the inevitable question arises: "So how are things - out there?" And the simple answer? Chambers are figuring out how to do more work with 20% fewer resources.And at home? Yourplanned vacations have been shortened or postponed, in part because of your guilt over the workload you're imposing on your staffs.
My good friend Jay Chesshir at the Little Rock Chamber told me the other day: "Hey, it ain't easy, but chamber leaders are NOT Dilbert."
And that's one more reason that I am so glad that we are . . . in this together.
Facilitator of a Chamber Discussion? Not...
Weatherman in San Diego. Referee in a professional wrestling match.
It's fun to try to out-do your friends in coming up with superfluous or ridiculous occupations. I think I may have been the punch line myself a few times last week when I found myself serving as host and facilitator of three dinners for small groups of chamber executives.
Take a dozen or so chamber leaders, add a few courses at a good restaurant and a bottle or two of decent red wine. Stir lightly. From that point on, all you have to do is sit back, laugh, learn and take a few notes. Good food. Good company. A meeting with no agenda. That's a recipe for bubbling chemistry and priceless insights. Public policy, economics, business trends, national politics, international trade, demographics, travel tips and movie trivia . . . all fair game during such a gathering. And all I have to do is get out of the way.
Thanks to all those in St. Pete and Atlanta for letting me pretend to orchestrate!
Sometimes, this job affords me the feeling of traveling...
Sometimes, this job affords me the feeling of traveling to dozens of cities without leaving Alexandria. This week, our Ford Fellowship for Regional Sustainable Development is meeting here and it brings 20 smart, cool, passionate community leaders together to share insights about their cities and regions. Few people get to hear and learn from such pros. Some are tackling problems few should have to face, but their struggles to bring towns like Fort Smith, Peoria, Tampa, San Jose and many more back to prosperity are inspiring. Ya oughta be here. Today, learning about urban education. Tomorrow about entrepreneurial innovations. Great stuff and great people with whom to be IN THIS TOGETHER.
For a road warrior, there really is no place like home for the Holidays. Home is where we can enjoy family and neighbors, but increasingly, it is also the place FROM which we connect. Between email, texting and social media outlets, our laptops and cell phones are almost as busy @ home as they are @acce.org.
Rather than stifling conversation across a coffee table, the messages we receive and send provide our family with MORE to talk about. We comment on e-photos of new babies, messages from folks en route, FaceBook postings from former co-workers and, inevitably, office concerns. Many people lament the modern world's loss of genuine family time, balance and peace. I find more of all three BECAUSE I am linked thru modern COM.
It's going to be a great Christmas. Yes, the 20-somethings will be texting instead of watching ancient home movies, but that's okay because the new dads we know will be posting pictures on FaceBook we want to see. I actually LIKE to get holiday messages and posts from members in late December. Also, the new recipe for stuffing we get from a website won't be as bland as Aunt Edna's and the video call we place on Christmas Eve through Skype to my Buffalo family will put us in their home and them in ours.
It's all good and it all makes us even more . . . "In This Together." Merry Christmas
Me and Bobby McGee
Busted flat in Baton Rouge . . . feelin' almost faded as my jeans . . . all the way to New Orleans."
I can't pretend that I flagged a diesel down, but my recent trip from Houston to New Orleans -- with numerous stops along I-10 -- did allow me to sing out just about every song I knew, including the Kristofferson /Joplin classic.
Observations? Refining is still big business. Casinos are hurting everywhere, not just Vegas. Texas has more regional economies than most of the countries in the world. Houston alone seems to have a dozen distinct economic drivers to go along with its half dozen dominant ethnic cultures. Louisiana in general is doing pretty damn well and the New Orleans' recovery impressive real traction. If someone along our south coast mentions "the corps" everybody knows which organization they're talking about -- and it's not the Marines. Fried pig ears aren't bad.
The chamber boards I visited with in Beaumont and Lake Charles were extremely proud of their chamber and staff leadership. The staffs, in turn, are mighty ambitious along that Gulf corridor.
Final note -- I never expected that New Orleans would be a "new frontier" kind of talent magnet. Young, smart, eager people are flocking there for a chance to be part of rebuilding the region and venturing into the "next" Louisiana economy. Very cool.
The beauty of travel
As you can imagine, and have heard/read from my communications, this job comes with a lot of travel. Being gone 90 nights a year and hanging out in commuter airline concourses may not be appealing, but other aspects of the travel is rewarding and exciting. It can also be beautiful.
Unforeseen vistas and touching small scenes have stuck with me throughout these eight years of wandering. Because it's Thanksgiving, I'm especially grateful for the opportunity you've provided me to see some wonderful and wonderous sights. This is a little long -- hope you'll indulge me.
From over the flat plains of the west, I drove toward the unexpectedly luminous skyline of Tulsa in twilight. I don't know what I was anticipating on this first trip there, but it wasn't the Oz I saw in the distance that night. The city rising up from the flat plain, lit by a nearly-set orange sun. Stunning.
Another surprisingly beautiful road experience occurred in the Rio Grande Valley. Thousands of yellow flowering cacti speckled the roadside for 100 miles, standing out in what would otherwise be a monochromatic desert scene.
Urban art forms -- Mickey's Diner in St Paul has been placed on the national registry for its historic authenticity. I just think it's beautiful.
Golden Gate, Centennial, Olympic, Stanley and Central Parks . . . the Commons in Boston . . . the Grassy Knoll in Dallas . . . Temple of Heaven in Beijing . . . the botanical garden in the Bronx . . . the olive tree canopies on the campus in Tucson . . . the Arch. Iconic city green spaces with pasts and presents and presence. I've been able to enjoy the landscape/topographic artistry and life of all of them.
I've seen a hundred sunsets through plane windows -- over the snow covered Rockies, the impossibly blue Pacific, white-capped Lake Michigan, Red Rocks of Utah, the swollen banks of the Mississippi and endless wheat fields of Saskatchewan. The view from up there gets old.
Getting lost in small towns on the way to chamber offices has presented me with chances to see beautiful neighborhoods in small towns across North America. A tulip filled Victorian street scene in Holland Michigan and a snow lined college avenue in Mankato. I've seen the glorious homes facing the surf in Carmel and the cobblestone lanes overlooking Gloucester's harbor. If I didn't miss my turns, I would have missed the white fenced front lawns in Niagara on the Lake and the canal nieghborhoods of Fort Lauderdale. From Glens Falls to Cedar Falls, you live in some Rockwellian places.
I have also been privileged to see an endless tapestry of people in space -- scenes I'll never forget. Amish kids bouncing on a backyard trampoline (yes, it's allowed). The sea of hats in the grandstand at the Derby. Solitary runners on a Sanibel beach. A million Chinese in the lights of Tiananmen Square for the centennial's final night. 500 proud smiling faces looking back at me in Nashville when I delivered their Chamber of the Year Award. Dejected young ballplayers walking beside the road after being eliminated from the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Fiesta on the street in New Mexico, art show in Waterloo, election demonstration in Istanbul, inauguration in DC. Wow.
The travel sometimes seems hard, but there are so many rewards -- among them the chances to see and feel the beauty of countries, cities, towns, panoramas and neighborhoods. I am very thankful that you're still inviting me to visit. Onward.
Introspection From Expedition
Most of the time, my high speed travel doesn't allow for extended periods of introspection and the places and people I visit on the job focus my thoughts outward. My trip to China with a couple of dozen members earlier this month had the opposite affect. For some reason, the masses of humanity and the sheer magnitude of the entire Chinese experience fostered thoughts about my own place in the world. At one point in the trip, I told fellow traveler Kelvin Hullett of Bismarck that I felt the way I do when I look into the sky on a clear night. The scale of the population, building, skylines, commerce, wealth, poverty, history, ambition, problems and change in China made me feel small, the way that gazing at the endless stars across the universe can do.
On one night of the trip, I was lucky enough to meet up with my nephew who lives in Beijing. As we walked through the city crowds in a city twice the size of New York, young Sam reminded me that his adopted home is only half the size of China's biggest city. For about the hundredth time that day, I said "Wow."
Interestingly, on the less touristy portions of the trip, I also felt very connected to the individual people of China -- all of whom are floating along in space on this same rock. They are worrying about their kids and their economic future just like the rest of us. They are proud of their country, but skeptical about some of the directions their leaders want to lead. They aren't blessed with the opportunity to look at the stars very often through the smog, but when they do, I believe they're filled with wonder and feelings of insignificance just like I am. I looked at my life, my job, my problems and my relationships differently after traveling to China. And, I'm more convinced than ever that we're all in this together.
Very interesting 20-hour trip to Sheboygan, Wisconsin last week. I visited with a few dozen chamber leaders, most of whom were good Cheeseheads who make frequent trips to Lambeau Field. Following my formal after-dinner remarks -- the infamous "Deathbed Confessions" speech -- I followed the group to the nearly ubiquitous hospitality suite. During dinner, I had been assured by my hosts that "Suite 427 will rock!" I can't say that the assembled mid-westerners were rocking, but they were certainly sharing.
During the informal gathering that stretched long into the night, I bounced from one conversation to the next.: a local brewery's need for help with marketing . . . a struggle to restore demand for boat engines . . . an interim CEO whose city council was trying to pull the chamber's already lean bed tax funding. One communications director was shifting from printed to electronic communications and another was reviving a dormant glossy magazine. A story from a chamber leader who was fighting the likelihood of new state fees led to a revelation about another who was working behind the scenes on a governor's race still 18 months away. One of the chamber leaders had her head buried in one hand, with her cell phone in the other, as she tried to deal with a personnel issue at 10 p.m. In the hospitality suite, I heard exclamations about the short-sighted decisions of sponsors and the suffering being endured in various industry sectors, as well as the recession-busting success of others. One guy needed Badger tickets for a VIP and the other needed help saving their hospital -- both scored useful contacts somewhere in the room.
There on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, on a balmy September evening, I listened to the stories that are chamber life. Thanks for sharing.
Next stops? Nashville and Beijing.