Textile Mill Abandoned

I visited an abandoned textile mill in North Carolina, recently.

The mill, shut decades ago, stands as a symbol of how our economy is in continual flux as it struggles to adapt within the global marketplace.

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Textile production and processing began in the Southeastern United States in the late 19th century. By 1923, more than 84,000 textile workers were employed at more than 350 mills across North Carolina.


By the 1950s, North Carolina had become the preeminent textile producing state, ranking #1 in virtually every industry category.

This one once processed cotton.
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The industry reached its peak in 1992 when textile production represented 16 percent of total manufacturing output, as compared to the U.S. average of just over two percent of total manufacturing in textiles.
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In 1996, there were 2,153 textile and apparel plants in North Carolina employing 233,715 people.
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But, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed in textile manufacturing in the state from 2004 to 2011 fell by nearly 6,000.  Total employment today stands at around 80,000.
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Today, there are mills which have survived the changes through competitive pricing models and technological innovations.We can only hope that our economy continues to adjust and meet the needs of its people as it walks into 2016.
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Sprawl’s costs aren’t just in land, but economic development

“The Cost of Sprawl: More than $1 Trillion Per Year, Report Says” – Wall Street Journal

Growth is good.sprawl

Local growth is an efficient tax base generator.
If you widen a highway, it will ease congestion.

In a vacuum.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that widening a highway doesn’t ease congestion. It makes it worse.  As a state widens a highway, local development increases to take advantage of the higher volume of projected business. More housing developments sprout up around retail areas associated with the new and improved artery – increasing the volume of traffic. (Sierra Club white paper)

But there are two trends at work, here. Today, jobs downtown tend to be skilled, white-collar, and well-paid. Jobs out in the suburbs tend to be more retail, construction, and lower paid. And with the rise in more jobs in city centers, living there will become more expensive and limited to only those who can afford it. This is no more true than in places like New York.

Yet, planners are trying to resolve the issue in many cities. “People increasingly desire to live, work, shop and play in the same place, and to commute shorter distances — particularly the young and educated, who are the most coveted employees. So in many cities, both policy makers and employers have been trying to make living and working there more attractive.” (NY Times)

But the imbalance between population and infrastructure remains. Few other cultures on earth desire convenience as much as Americans do. And so drives the need for planners to provide urban dwellers them the cake and their ability to eat it too. Enter the neo-suburb and sprawl.

So, you now live in a single, interlinked strip mall urbanscape. Forget about the absence of parks or green areas, the scattered tax base from the collection of small businesses that can’t support long-term growth. It begins to decay. Your morning walk now takes you along a split six-lane thoroughfare crammed with Big Box retail shoppers and the on-the-go crew who are picking up their egg & sausage muffins at the drive-thru.

This is not just about the environmental effects. It’s about the question of where our cities will be in the future – and where the land falls into that algorithm. Just look outside our nation’s capitol. (Washington Post)

Meanwhile, local and state governments, like that in Tyson’s Corner, VA., continue to do what they feel necessary to adapt to changes in population behaviors.

(courtesy: Charleston, SC)

(Denver, CO) “State may widen I-70 to ease congestion
(Tyler, TX) “New expansion project set for West Loop 323″
(Asbury Park, NJ)  “Parkway widening to restore shoulders, lengthen overpasses”

In a paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto nail the problem. “People drive more when the stock of roads in their city increases; commercial driving and trucking increase with a city’s stock of roads; people migrate to cities which are relatively well provided with roads.” (NBER

There are additional examinations of the issue citing the three most congested cities in the U.S. are that way, precisely because of ‘road-based” development solutions. And it’s not limted to the U.S.: “Meanwhile, China has increased its expressway network from 16,300 km in the year 2000 to around 70,000 km in 2010. Yet the average commute time in Beijing increased by 25 minutes between 2012 and 2013 to 1 hour and 55 minutes.” (City Metric/UK)

Additional research surveys from both sides of the coin continue to flourish on the numbers and impact of population growth and lagging infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says $3.6 trillion of investment is needed by 2020 to meet the needs of growth. The National Construction Association calls for a more free market approach to the problem. Researchers there have also put together their own in-depth report. But, much like the climate change debate, how well advocacy organizations, the business sector, and policy makers agree on a long-term vision may unfortunately rest on the growing direct and existential evidence of doom.

In an earlier blog, I talked about the nation’s desperate need for a cohesive plan to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure by essentially promoting teamwork between local governments and federal officials. It’s a basic observation to be sure. But to not have a long-term vision of what we’re all about as a society is to jeopardize who we will become as a nation. In Australia, the Aborigines believe they do not own the land but are part of it. Therefore, they have the duty to respect and maintain the land. Maybe we’ll figure that out before it’s too late.

My 9/11 story: CNN/DC

My story.

I had the day off from CNN that day. Since I was free, I dropped Whitney off on Capitol Hill that morning for a job she had to do for UPI. Beautiful morning. I needed a lube job and decided to head out to Jiffy Lube at Landmark Mall out off 395.9.11. pentagon.CNN

As I was driving by the Pentagon, there was heavy backup northbound. Odd since it was already about 9:20am. Then I saw the black SUVs shooting up the shoulder – their dashboard rollers alit. Even for a veteran D.C. person, that was odd. I remember that Sympathy for the Devil was playing on the radio.

Got to the lube place, walked in. People were staring at the TV at some apparent crash at the WTC. They took my car and I went back to the TV. Reality hit. I went out to the parking lot with a few others to try and use the cell phone. Didn’t work, of course. Suddenly, there was a boom and the ground shook under my feet. The guy next to me quietly said, “what the fuck was that.” Then I saw the smoke in the distance and knew it was the Pentagon.

I got in my car and turned on NPR. Started driving. Bob Edwards was reporting that officials might shut down the city. I had to get back, but 395 wouldn’t have worked. So, it was Route 1 to Alexandria and back up onto the beltway. I made it. With flow of traffic, I was doing about 95 mph to try and get up and around to the Connecticut Ave entrance before D.C. became closed.

A long time after I left the lube place, I got back to my apartment. Whitney was there. She recounted her own odyssey coming off Capitol Hill with thousands of others who had feared another plane was coming.

CNN called. I was back at work at the bureau by midday, working the Pentagon and sorting through the worst raw video and stories from D.C. and NYC I’d ever seen and will ever see in my career.

That’s an abbreviated version of my 9/11 story. I certainly won’t forget. Neither should you.

The hospital petri dish: It’s never been just about Ebola

Ebola has gripped the headlines and increased Americans’ stress levels to the point where little else is being discussed. To be clear, at least 4,500 people in West Africa have died from the disease. And, the texas presbyterianCenters for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is being blamed at virtually every stage of this event by those who claim it should have had procedures in place to prevent spread of infection. Add to this that most healthcare professionals say the chance of Ebola spreading around this country is little to none, and you can understand the public confusion.

On Friday, President Obama appointed Ron Klain as the Ebola Czar, but, as always, there’s a growing number of elected officials in search of whom to blame. In a recent cable news interview, two U.S. House Representatives offered their takes on the governmental response to Ebola:

“Either the CDC directives haven’t been clear enough or the hospital wasn’t interpreting them correctly,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO). “Ebola is not like flu. But we need to have clearer guidelines for people who have come into close contact with people infected.”

US-CDC-LogoTennessee Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn appeared at odds with her party’s platform, suggesting the government take more control.

“There is great confusion coming from the CDC and lack of coordination in waste disposal,” she said. “The CDC needs to be more aggressive in this regard and tell hospitals what to do.”

But, this looks impossible. A recent TIME article noted the lack of mandate from the CDC in forcing hospitals to adopt procedures. It may take a constitutional amendment. Apparently, the CDC can only take control from local authorities in two circumstances: those authorities extend an invitation or there’s a total breakdown of law and order as outlined under the Insurrection Act.

So, to blame the CDC is perhaps like blaming the toilet when your 4-year old son misses his target. The Ebola situation is less about this disease and more about systemic issues endemic within the hospital network.

During the tragic death of Eric Duncan at the Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas Hospital, CDC officials acknowledged there was little-to-nothing in place to deal with the patient.

“[The administrator] said the hospital originally had no full-body biohazard suits equipped with respirators but now has about a dozen. Protocols evolved at the hospital while Duncan was being treated,” CDC epidemiologist Pierre Rollin told the Washington Post.

Even the nurses who fight the spread of Ebola at their hospital’s ground zero are caught up in this blame game. At one point, the CDC blamed (and has since apologized to) one nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian texas nursesDallas Hospital. The Texas Nurses’ Association fought back, blaming the hospital for not providing adequate protective gear or training.

About 1 in 25 patients get an infection while being treated at a U.S. hospital, amounting to roughly 700,000 hospital-acquired infections annually, according to the CDC. Although most don’t rise to the level of Ebola, that’s a figure that should not only raise eyebrows, but should also be unacceptable.

But American healthcare isn’t without examples for infection disease control protocols. The School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans partnered with the World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). So, too, is the North Carolina Hospital Association which is working to distribute additional guidelines to its member hospitals.

Meanwhile, Ebola Czar has his work cut out for him. He has a fine pedigree in management and business organization, but he’s not a physician. He has no training in infectious diseases. His appointment may very well be emblematic of the systemic failures of the U.S. healthcare system – or at least the beginning of another failure.

Ultimately, this situation may not just be about Ebola. Research reveals little, if any, information on standardized protocols for in-hospital protection against infectious diseases. While there are plenty of hospitals that do have system-wide directives, there may be an equal or greater number that don’t.

Terrorism brand management: What’s in a name?

UPDATE: In the wake of terror attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere, the world is struggling over not only how to defeat ISIS, but to identify a rallying point around which the world can gather against this existential threat that appears ubiquitous, but invisible. Today there is a reurgence of the term “Daesh,” or Da’ish, from Muslim scholars who say what the group is doing has nothing to do with writings of Islam. In fact, the term is a grave insult when used in a particular way.

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Terror chief al-Baghdadi reportedly sporting a $6,000 watch.

As the world watches ISIS’s attempts to carry out its mission to rid the global community of the Infidel, it just may be helping. Or is it ISIL, or Islamic State, or QSIS? What’s in a name, really? Frankly, a great deal.

ISIS’s identity has appeared to randomly shift. But it is something U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently referred to as “a bigger threat than 9/11.”

But he was partially wrong. He got the name wrong, that is.

Let’s call the misnomer the beginning of our accidental brand management.

we are all isisISIS — “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” — implies two states with a clear mission to convert governmental structures into theocracies. That name came from the group itself.

ISIS is called Da ‘ish or Dar al-Ifta by Arabic media (Note: at the time of this original post, it was not clear if there was an ironic use of this term by media in this region.)

However, the United Nations refers to the group as ISIL, or the “Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.”

Levant? Levant is, by historical definition, the Eastern Mediterranean and encompasses a broader swath of area, including modern-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

“The U.N. and the U.S. State Department have now started using the term ISIL to refer to the jihadists because of the group’s broader mission to extend their reach into a wider area,” said Associated Press editor Tom Kent. “Using ‘Iraq and Syria’ gives the incorrect impression that the group’s aspirations are limited to these two present-day countries.”

As of Aug. 27, a new brand has emerged. QSIS: “al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria.” And that name comes from a group in Egypt. What happened to Levant? Leaders in some Middle Eastern states are urging media to adopt the new name in an attempt to prevent Islam from being broadly associated with extremism.

Ibrahim Negm , advisor to Egypt’s chief religious leader, Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam said the extremists have an incorrect understanding of Jihad.

“The initiative by Dar al-Ifta came to express the institution’s rejection of many stereotypes that attach the name of Islam to bloody and violent acts committed by such groups,” he said to Al Arabiya News

So, what will the final name of this group be? The ultimate problem is less about that and more about the narrative swirling around the reasons why. This is where it becomes a true marketing conundrum particularly from a cultural perspective.

The narrative began online among the influencers, the media, and the mob.


What is a brand? A brand transcends the letters in the word itself, despite itself. Coke, Nike, Apple, or the “The Red Bear” or “Dear Leader.”


It is here in the vagaries of the Internet where, at the outer limits of the web, influencers engage the casual web surfer and greet the mob. And it is also here where brand relationships are made.

courtesy: The Daily Beast
courtesy: The Daily Beast

A marketer’s job is to craft a brand that evokes a personal response — a call to action, general buy-in, or empathy. Most importantly, marketers want you to feel a personal relationship with whatever they’re promoting.

Now, government, religious groups, and media are arguing over not only what the group stands for, but also over the nature of the relationship the group has to their own stakeholders.

It is also an editor’s job to make sure the stories they publish are relevant to their readers or viewers.


Again, this is a conundrum for all. And it has become even more so, considering a new study from Pew Research that shows people are less likely to share their views online if they don’t believe others will agree with their stand on a particular issue. As a result, they surround themselves with like-minded individuals with similar political or social bents. In the case of this group’s branding, perhaps the fact these narratives are continuing in separate vacuums is actually promoting confusion. And perhaps more armed conflict.

President Obama with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri-al-Maliki in 2014
Mr. Obama with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki in 2014

So, this is where we are: we brand an enemy according to how it may impact our way of life. So, we (the media, the government, the mob) begin a narrative on the whys, but ignore how the enemy affects others. And without listening to others, that narrative crescendos into a din and even accelerates up into a financial storm.

Reports are that this terrorist group has amassed more than $2 billion in financial assets. With that kind of funding, coupled with the help of web inhabitants and some cross-cultural (and silo-ed) branding, fever for a bigger and broader military-industrial complex might be a cinch. Unfortunately.

GMOs: It’s about world domination, stupid

To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” – National Academies of Sciences

Whether genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for human consumption is not the issue. Instead, the real concern is who grows our food, who protects it, who gets it, and when.

When I worked as a legislative aide in the Wisconsin State Legislature in the early 1990s, saving the family farm was both a big political message and effort. Large corporations, such as Dow, Monsanto, and BASF were beginning to take a great interest in this domestic resource. Back then, Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) – a genetically-enhanced chemical used to increase milk production in cows – emerged as a big issue. It was expensive and only larger farm operations could afford it. Critics said it was unsafe. Private farmers said it was destroying their livelihoods.

The debate surrounding the merit and value of GMOs should focus less on how these foods can be harmful to human health and more on how a large, publicly-traded company can essentially make decisions over who receives food and for how much it will be sold.

Today, there are companies that own both the front and backend of a supply chain, giving them a level of control that may not benefit the common good. “Farming got much more specialized, focusing on tremendous production of one commodity, rather than growing all kinds of veggies and livestock,” a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service report stated.

I watch with bated breath to see when folks let the science take a backseat for a moment and begin talking about the real why behind it all. Why are companies so interested in making food more available Well, they’re businesses.

Man-of-the-Cosmos, Neil DeGrassi Tyson recently said, “GMO producers ought to be able to make as much money as they can,“ while pointing out that we’ve been modifying food for thousands of years. His diatribe startled many of his followers. Among that group, he is an oracle and man of the people – a man to lead society to greater enlightenment.

But, Tyson is a scientist, not a businessperson. He’ll be the first to admit that, and this isn’t just about public health. Society needs to be aware of the global impact a company can have on food availability when decisions are based on the bottom line.

Take Monsanto, for example. This behemoth is a typical global corporation with its fingers in virtually every level of the supply chain of food production and distribution. It develops the seeds, grows the crop, protects them with patents and pesticides, and distributes the food. Both here and abroad, they’ve brought the supply chain full circle via a framework of farms that cultivate these seeds. It’s all protected under intellectual property law, and farms that use another variety of seed are penalized. That’s a good deal of control. In fact, some governments from around the world have been looking at it this way for years. And it has been coming to a head, recently, in countries, such as India:

courtesy: The Hindu
courtesy: The Hindu

“The ease with which a transgenic technology allows corporations to claim ownership rights over seeds makes it attractive to them to hype why the world needs GMOs and seek control over entire food chains — from production to marketing — jeopardising the livelihood security of farmers,” a farmers’ group wrote to the Indian government.

This now becomes a geopolitical issue over control of the food supply, and subsequent control over how populations view their governments and whether it has their interests at heart.

It’s here where we see the GMO food lobby, emerging markets, and rising political protests. So, the debate here is not whether GMOs are safe. They likely are. The debate is about feeding the world’s neediest, but doing it with tremendous caveats. You can’t put a label on that.

Old trash is treasure? Landfill mining

Did you know just 4 percent of Swedish households put their garbage into landfills? In fact, Sweden’s recycling program is so successful that they actually run out of garbage and have to buy it from other countries just so the government can provide electricity to its 9.5 million residents.

Unloading garbage in Sweden
Unloading garbage in Sweden

That tid-bit might make garbage a bit more interesting for you. But, for others? Old garbage can be down-right fascinating.

That’s the case for a few folks slated to speak at the 2014 Global Landfill Mining Conference this November in London. They can’t wait to dig this stuff up.

So, what exactly is landfill mining?

Simply put, it’s digging up waste from a closed landfill and either recycling or reprocessing items that were once thrown away as, well, garbage. But, if you can get it out of the ground, there are a number of ways to give garbage a second life. Plastics can be reprocessed, metals can be repurposed, and certain organic materials such as wood can be used as fuel for power plants.

Earlier, I told you Sweden doesn’t have enough garbage — but that’s a unique issue. The United Kingdom only manages to put half their garbage into landfills — they’re simply running out of space. It’s a common European problem, and it’s led the English government to launch a landfill mining program. But officials admit it won’t bear fruit for at least 20 years.

It’s not only a question of time — it’s a question of economics and politics. Short-term costs around landfill mining operations are high, and the return-on-investment is woefully low for a while. That lack of instant gratification is fueling political push back from those who say there “must be” other technologies that can save the day much faster.

Time and speed, though, are actually part of the problem. Our garbage heaps didn’t appear overnight. They took generations to grow, and they continue to expand exponentially. It simply isn’t possible for a quick-fix solution to properly address an issue that’s been left unchecked for decades.

Don’t throw your hands up in defeat yet, however. There’s promising news in the United States as politicians make small steps toward overall answers. As expected, business interests are resisting, fearing any changes will adversely affect their bottom lines. But at least the conversation is open.

Yes, this is a quick look at one of many solutions to waste and sustainable practices. But, garbage, for one, is a dire problem that we must address so our children and grandchildren can see the result. Isn’t it about time we give a good, hard look at the long view?

Green Planet Catering …Trickle Down Weather

A short video I did for a great Raleigh, NC-based sustainable small business. What happens when your sustainable farm/garden gets too much rain? Owner and Farm Manager Daniel Whittaker discusses the trickle down effect of 11.5″ of excess rain over the month of June in 2013. Massive challenges were overcome with proper planning and hard work. Although the company lost at least half its crops, the fall season is looking promising and the financial status of Green Planet has never been better.