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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Parity and Greeley's District 6 Negotiations

While drinking my morning tea I overheard an interesting conversation about District 6 Union negotiations for their teachers contract. Since I have not yet seen a simple contract negotiation in the education sector I thought I would do some background work on the statistics behind local educational practices before wading in openly with an opinion.

I thought it interesting, if I am using the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics Data site correctly, that between 2000 to 2009 the education and communications consumer price index inflated by 3.4 percent. Meanwhile the general all goods consumer price index rose 3.8 percent over the same period of time.

Now, just for a quick disclaimer, in all my glorious education my least favorite class was statistics. I wrote sadistics at the top of each paper I handed in. This was my passive protest against the learning curve (I did this course in my forties) for statistical calculations using hand-held computers. Ultimately, I ended up with an A in the class. However the grade does not reflect my surrender to learning a lot. More so my passion for passing the class at all costs and memorizing tons of data on many sleepless nights. At some point I just decided I would memorize the concepts and hire a staffer to do the meticulous work for me for the rest of my working eternity.

With that said, I think there is a relationship to the two data points above that could suggest that the cost of educating America has not risen at the same rate that the general prices, we as consumers pay for our basket of household goods. Note the word COULD. I didn't say it DOES.

Surely the teacher's union has control over these statistics (they got one of those whiz-bang math geeks that slept through stats class--no doubt) and is making them useful in the current negotiations. However I wonder whether, if true, in the big picture scheme of things, what the average teacher makes is about .4 of a percent (in thousands) behind the increase in prices which effect our daily lives? I always assumed the union would be chasing parity all along and only this year would be making a concession.

As a quick aside, in 2009 it takes about 49,676. to have the same purchasing power as 40,000. in 2000. There is this neat little inflation calculator built into the BLS site. You have to scroll down to the bottom to find it. As for proving my assumption above I need to find out when the last teacher's contract was formally negotiated. Someone said they have been negotiating every year--if true, no wonder everyone is burnt out on this process.

While the quick calculation above may be an indicator I am not ready to jump there yet. Hopefully someone, more statistically affirmed, can help out. I think it does mean that somehow, somewhere, the cost of education has been held down comparatively to the consumer price index for all goods. Whether or not the savings have been harvested from labor will take some more research I suspect.

Joy. More statistics.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Greeley Company Makes CNN

I don't think there will be any celebration.

The article below is from CNN. It is announcing the expanded recall for JBS products (my initial posting on the topic is below). Interestingly enough the critique in the article is calling for tracking all cattle. That is an endorsement of the electronic tag proposal being floated. I'll post on that after a bit. *Addendum: I finished up a post I began earlier yesterday on the electronic tagging of cattle. Since I had it in draft form in the blog roll but posted it in final form after this topic--it appears as the article previous to this one. Sorry about that. I'm working on the technical difficulties.

Colorado beef company expands recall due to possible E. coli - CNN.com
(CNN) -- A Colorado company's recall last week of beef products possibly contaminated with E. coli has been expanded, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said this week.
The recall came as a result of "an ongoing investigation into 24 illnesses in multiple states," the USDA said.

The recall came as a result of "an ongoing investigation into 24 illnesses in multiple states," the USDA said.

The initial recall of 41,280 pounds announced last Wednesday was voluntarily expanded Sunday to include an additional 380,000 pounds of products made by the JBS Swift Beef Company, of Greeley, Colorado, the USDA said.

The recall came as a result of "an ongoing investigation into 24 illnesses in multiple states, of which at least 18 appear to be associated," the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a written statement.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Slippery Slope of Cow Pucky

It is a funny thing--getting older. I used to be able to lick and stick a political label on my forehead. I thought I knew everything. Now I only guess at shades of nuances because things keep getting so complex. There was even a time, as a single parent, when I'd vote almost according to a single issue--education. Currently I find myself wandering all over the political divides and picking up nuanced argumentative threads that previously I thought were closer to landing political points on Mars rather than Earth.

As my earlier comments on the JBS E Coli breakout suggest I think the public health aspect should be the absolute number one priority in the food supply chain. Pretty much it appears that at some corporations the number one priority is cheap labor, high executive pay, and ROI.

Don't get me wrong here. I do not care either for that band wagon seat which rolls all corporate practices into a single doggy-poo bag either. Ethics and best business practices make for some darn good long thriving companies. These are the smart executives who are worth their salt and long term visioning. Unfortunately, these companies are becoming harder and harder to spot amongst the thorns.

With that disclosure, reading the plans being pushed by the USDA for tagging cattle (due to public health concerns) in the New York Times article linked to below, rattles my nerves just a bit. This appears to be not a cure to a thorny issue but a very slippery vine to go sliding down. But my own argument takes a slightly different context although I may arrive at the same end-point fear as the libertarian quoted.

When government wants to come onto my private property and put electronic tags on my assets, organic or nonorganic, it is time to start yelling foul. We already have insurance identification of our assets. We already have to give written descriptive identifications to the IRS. But electronic libraries of information on movement, history, etc? Fine, you want to put those tags on those assets the minute they are off my property and headed towards the public--do it. Do it at the auction yard though rather than forcing me to tag my assets for the government to follow on my private property.

I feel like I should beat on my chest after that paragraph! I have shades of my libertarian grandmother bellowing at the tax collector popping up before my eyes.

Yet, neanderthalism aside, this is just a little too invasive to begin with and the legal precedent I believe this might establish hits just a little too close to home. Leering in the background of my mind is Obama's push for nationalized health records. There is a parody here I wish I had time to develop. I see the insurance claims adjustor in the slaughterhouse sharpening his knives while inspecting our personal health records for deficiencies so they can rescind more claims.

Now I am not senseless. I get the arguments for both. But at some point quality of life for individuals has to be addressed. Unfortunately Congress appears to have forgotten to have anything except small little chit-chats on privacy as technology has given corporations and governments the opportunity to steam-roll the individual and cut the costs of oversight. I am not convinced anyone is in charge of the big concept of individual privacy issues any longer.

Thank you very much. I'd like to keep the government outside my house unless I am suspected of wrong-doing. I like the rule of law. The idea of innocent until proven guilty works for me. The idea of "tracking-you-in-case-you-screw-up" isn't something I want to promote or see gain a toehold. Particularly little neck-hair-raising is the fact of entrusting the current Supreme Court to knock-down this toehold if and when any challenge gets under their gavels. Basically this cow tagging affair is a far reaching, precedent establishing, and rather scary efficiency concept that should never be tested in my view. Common sense people!

I cannot help but think that the economy of scale efficiency of mass production has been misapplied in some cases. What is good for the gander isn't always good for the goose so to speak. Diffusion and redistribution of consolidating industries back into the hands of master craftspeople happens with high end products like woodworking, jewelry, soaps and lotions, and even designer clothing. The finished goods then command speciality prices from the higher income groups and are frequently serviced by corporate marketing and distribution services. So why can't a return to specialization work within our own communities for commodities like basic foods, watershed management, and healthcare? Six sigma value on a local scale managed by the community served. Local jobs will be created and a lot of small business ownership could be expanded.

If these industries, like JBS, are growing too large and/or too politically powerful to manage wouldn't local solutions using standardized plans (read as: No corruption for the "good o'boys" on the local level--they have to follow established plans) establish a less politicized and more pragmatic accountability system?

Of course the voters would actually have to do the homework and understand they need to elect local officials with good brains rather than good hair. That could be a problem. But I always have hope.

This isn't a tag system for the cattle. It is a tag system for the cattle ranchers. Put the tags on at the gate to the slaughterhouse auction. If a rancher wants to use a tagging system to track assets on his/her own property then he/she should have that choice. Leave the farming practices to the human beings that specialize in it and the accountability to the local communities they serve and live in. Go tag the State Highway signs that always get stolen and taxpayers have to pay to replace with GPS signals and keep better track of government property. Go track that $900 government hammer. A much better use for technology with less impact on our individual right to privacy from my viewpoint.

Your thoughts?

Rebellion on the Range Over a Cattle ID Plan - NYTimes.com
HORSE SPRINGS, N.M. — Wranglers at the Platt ranch were marking calves the old-fashioned way last week, roping them from horseback and burning a brand onto their haunches.
Skip to next paragraph
The New York Times

The Platt ranch covers 22,000 acres in western New Mexico.

What they were emphatically not doing, said Jay Platt, the third-generation proprietor of the ranch, was abiding by a federally recommended livestock identification plan, intended to speed the tracing of animal diseases, that has caused an uproar among ranchers. They were not attaching the recommended tags with microchips that would allow the computerized recording of livestock movements from birth to the slaughterhouse.


Trees, Trees, Everywhere a Tree

My very favorite part of Greeley, thus far, is the abundance of stunningly beautiful trees that the community has nurtured.

After living in the middle of a forest for the past twenty years I worried a bit that I would miss all that greenery as I exchanged it for yellow and brown prairie. But thus far it hasn't been a problem. I simply go out walking or driving around town when I want for a little more green in my life.

The colors and variations of green are amazing. My tour guide called it Greeley's Urban Forest yesterday. We talked for quite a bit about a couple of stunning Weeping Willows (water hogs and root producers--but still stunning) yesterday. The vegetation is truly rich and abundant this year.

So this morning, before heading out to find one of the health care events going on around town today, I thought I'd look up the term Urban Forest. I was wondering what the impact would be if every town and community planned their own forest and oversaw its sustainable management. I know of one community that owns the land the forest is on and during down economic cycles harvests a portion of it to help with the annual budget. Now of course I realize that is not an option for all communities but I did wonder what long term benefits could be managed in this way and what the effects would be on the health of the environment. Individuals will always plant trees I hope. But what about community plantings?

Well thus far, after a quick Google, I found several conversations on the topic of Urban Forests. Here is a clip from just one at the USDA site (again--I used that site in my last post too). I'll look for more later. I didn't want to leave on such a beautiful day with the topic of e-coli up on the blog.

Right now I am out for a foray into the community sunshine. Maybe I'll add some pictures when I get back. From the USDA site on the topic of Urban Forests--the obvious.

Urban vegetation and its management can significantly influence human health and environmental quality in and around cities. Thus, optimal vegetation designs and management practices are essential to sustain human and environmental well-being for current and future generations.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Just Don't Recall the Chicken and the Fish

Okay I can't believe I am blogging about cows. Seriously. But I'm going to do it anyway.

While I grew up in a rural area and have flung a cow pie or two in my life I thought I had left that part of my life behind. I want to go on record here as never once tipping any cow. Well before I drop all that baggage on the sidewalk of life I did do some research in the late 90's on mad cow disease and drove back and forth to the Midwest passing the melodic stench of the feedlots. Okay, well, there was rBGH too come to think about it. And the time I did the community cows shot for a marketing campaign. The cow tried to eat my hair. How can someone just forget that experience.

Gosh I should probably just get this over with. Tip-toe through the cow-pucky so to speak. Wait, wait, I do have one more memory--I also dehorned a cow my sophomore year at the high school ag farm. Part of a well-rounded educational program.

What triggered this memory lane trip you ask? This morning, on my news rounds, I read about the ground beef recall
at the JBS USA beef-packing plant in Greeley.* I also read that the public relations team for the local plant is saying something to the tune of "It has already been done, did, been et." Basically the public relation person doesn't seem to know why the recall took so long to announce but notes that these issues come up regularly at this time of year.

To be honest I remember other recalls in the past. But all I remember is that they happened in Greeley. The meat brand names don't stick. I am not certain shoppers have a lot of branding loyalty when it comes to meat. Perhaps they should. It might improve things for everyone concerned. Including the branding of the City of Greeley. Then again maybe we can become known as Greeley--Home of the Pathogen that Ate the Public. There's a screen play in there somewhere I'm sure. Maybe a reality show.

I digress. Have I mentioned my morbid sense of humor? New to town I am wondering if I should interpret that company spokesmodel statement to mean we all should just "Get over it." "There's no damages so you can't blame us, fine us, or cause us too much grief." or "Oh well, maybe next time we will announce it as soon as we know something's up--if you're lucky."

I've done public relations. I know the game. Especially considering JBS is worldwide. They know the game as well. But somewhere there has to be some ethics and accountability in the case of public health. We are what we eat. I have no desire to be a walking diseased microbe. Then again I'd like to see my Uncle actually make money selling his beef cattle again.

Ethics are standards in a company that come above the letter of the law. Supposedly. Although sometimes pretty words are made without any serious intent to create the actions behind those words. I don't work at the plant so I can't comment on the actions other than the obvious failure in contrast to this JBS statement from their corporate website

JBS’s Fresh Approach To Beef Safety.

Like everything we do at JBS, we’re taking a fresh and proactive approach to beef safety. We do it by focusing on preventing contamination rather than reacting to it. By optimizing the use of interventions and critical control points with repeated, aggressive attacks on microorganisms throughout the entire production process, JBS’s beef safety is second to none.

JBS’s Multiple Hurdle Intervention Program is a comprehensive six-step carcass pasteurization process developed to fight pathogens including E. coli 0157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter. JBS is at the forefront of the industry in preventing and detecting food-borne pathogens through improved scientific knowledge, technology and testing procedures.


Not that I am cynical here or anything. I am not used to living in a town with a meat bleeding, grinding, packing plant. But I did work in a chemistry lab once. Yes, for pay. I know how to pipette like a mad woman and I know how deadly and daring pathogens can be especially in the face of a local government that thus far I have discovered tends to be very protective about these lower wage grimy corporate labor jobs .

I also discussed with my Uncle switching to raising organic beef ten years ago--both for profit and for the community tribe's health. At ninety-three he was still running three-hundred and fifty cows almost single-handed and complained about mega corporate control over the auction process. I gave him thoughts on breaking that control. He gave me thoughts on my "frumpy hippie-chick with too much education" ideas. I still love him anyway. Hardest working man I've ever met.

But maybe he is right. About the frumpy hippie-chick part. I just don't put a lot of stock into large unwieldy food production systems. I think it should be local and sustainable whenever possible. Call me a radical. I think local government needs to invest more in local sustainability and locally owned small businesses. The big guns can fend for themselves. They get more capital every time I have to go into the local stores and do not have any options but to buy their products.

So the question that came to my mind this morning, all right I am getting there, is what consequences to the JBS company can there be when the source of the contamination isn't a household branded name. Meaning JBS doesn't lick it and stick it on the meat packages. At least, I don't recognize JBS, as a consumer. Neither do my local tour guides.

Does a meat slaughterhouse even worry about consumer branding? I would think the packaging plant is in the supply chain for other meat retailers. Otherwise known as a "middleman". For example DOLE took a big hit on the bad spinach gig a while ago--deservedly or not. The tainted spinach was sourced to its production but DOLE took the brunt of that recall. But in the case of JBS, here we have, or at least I think we have, a nonspecific wholesale label that produces the hamburger good and then packages it and distributes it under several brand names. Swift carried a lot of the primary relationships with wholesalers and was taken over by JBS (which was the largest beef processor in South America before the buy-out) if my zoom through their corporate press release history is correct. The holding company is S & C Holdco 3 Inc.

In other words JBS is a slaughter house with little direct end consumer accountability and is third in an industry that looks like an oligopoly. Tyson Foods is a competitor. (If I have the process incorrect I am sure a good public relations person worth those big bucks will be sending me an email soon). Hence the image hit on the JBS corporate family, with the faulty processing, probably isn't going to be long term. You and I really don't have an option to just stop buying their products when we shop to send them a message where it hurts--the wallet. Instead there is a kind of trickle down effect that their wholesale customers give if people lose faith in the quality of the meat they are buying. The impact of shoddy practices, if that is the case, is lessened and removed from each incident. Read this as "fewer long term losses to the JBS company and less money spent on image repair".

So this is why their PR types
can be a bit more cheeky and a whole lot less apologetic. The public isn't listening real closely until someone dies and it hits CNN.

I decided to hunt up some obligatory facts. Then I stumbled on the following commentary on the USDA's page (not that I am a big fan of the USDA but they do put out a lot of miscellaneous reports that are seemingly unconnected internally but can be puzzled out if someone is desperate enough and a regular insomniac like me. Or simply isn't a stampede fan and has beef on the brain).

ERS/USDA Briefing Room - Food Safety: Labeling and Traceability
How can there be a market for safe food when safety cannot be observed? Food that is contaminated with disease-causing pathogens may look, smell, and taste like food that is free of pathogens.

* If consumers cannot observe differences until it is too late, will food suppliers have any incentive to produce safer foods? Will manufacturers and suppliers be compensated for their time and costs involved in producing safer foods?
_______________
So I guess I am not the only one wondering just what it will take to instill better practices in the mass production markets. And the second question behind the * makes me even more nervous. After all what incentive do the mega-processors have in producing safer foods if they don't face strong enough direct public consequences. We have to rely on the wholesale accounts to pressure for changes? Oh yeah like that is going to happen. I doubt the wholesale accounts have many alternatives like, say for example, importing Argentina beef in the vast quantities needed. There are many reasons that won't happen--not the least Americans in Beef Central probably aren't going to opt for foreign beef regardless of quality or price protections. And, in my view, I am pretty sure foreign beef has less 'trackability' in their controls and restrictions on it. At least in nonindustrialized countries.

Ah yes, we are back to that all American beautiful concept of being too big to fail. How aware, lately, we consumers have become of this concept. But do we understand just how deeply entrenched the problem is in market place other than the obvious financial arena.

Therein lies a second rub. Government regulation or lack thereof.

Following the trend of thought on the USDA site, these government types seem to think that the idea of traceability helps to counter this growing concern to our food supply. They suggest that by ensuring that the meat can be tracked back to the contamination point that increased penalties on the food processors might do the trick. At the same time the USDA questions if Americans will be willing to pay for increased food security.

Well I think we all know how that goes when the big guns have fingers buried deep in political pockets.
JBS reported sales of $6,231,100,000 last year and has 21,200 employees (Dun and Bradstreet 2009). That buys a lot of political power. Consumers don't have that kind of power unless they act collectively. Essentially the slap on the rump turns into a thump on the fingers with a promise that things will get better and just a few dollars in fines to make it look good.

It seems to me that either way this road goes the cost to the consumer is going to go up. Fines and penalties and increased insurance premiums are going to raise operational costs leading to increased prices at the supermarket just the same as better practices will increase operational costs and raise the end price. Wouldn't it be better, even logical, if the USDA just enforced better safety practices?

That sounds like a good plan to me.

Do I have a better idea. Well. At first I was thinking that if the food processor had to put their brand prominently on the consumer end packaging maybe that would help. A company afraid of losing
market share can find more ethics out in the pasture really quick when their name is in front of the consumer's face. But then I realized that consumers have short term memory deficits when it comes to actually reading labels anyhow and the wholesalers aren't going to switch accounts unless they have a viable alternative. This industry has been consolidating for the last couple of decades. Alternatives don't grow on trees. Plus I would think the packing plant has an insurer paying their actual losses. The premiums will rise making the insurance companies much happier and consequentially controlling the actual cash flow/capital loss to the packaging plant.

Arrgh. So much for accountability in the food chain supply. Maybe I should have turned this blog piece into a chant on why each community needs to concentrate on building sustainable food and water systems. Is it too late? Farmer's markets anyone? Farmer's markets with organic beef for sale? Double aargh. Enough cow chat.

So, um. Well. Um. No, not really... to answer my own question. I don't have any reasonable solutions for this topic. Other than eating fish and chicken until the cows come home. And I haven't been impressed with the fish selection locally. I'm in the middle of the country though so I won't go into that rant. However the upside exists for some segments. When the chicken processors get in trouble again and the fish are depleted I guess the soybean farmers will rise in influence.

Anyone else out there have one? A solution, not a beef.

*JBS acquired Swift in 2007.






Monday, June 22, 2009

Greeley's Farmers Market Makes a Headline

Farmers Market in Greeley makes the headlines. I zoned in on this article from the Greeley Tribune right away this morning. It's a good beginning.

I've been here though. The people are great. Friendly, helpful, etc. Although it is not the farmers markets I have been used to attending it is a foundation to expand on. I have been gathering information about the types of local farms in the area. It is easy to get a feel for the traditional crops. If there is a decent pooling of smaller organic or family farmers around I haven't sourced them yet.

Grants are available to help farmer markets organize and grow through promotion. The text below comes straight off the USDA site.

The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) was created through a recent amendment of the Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act of 1976. The grants, authorized by the FMPP, are targeted to help improve and expand domestic farmers markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, agri-tourism activities, and other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities. Approximately $5 million is allocated for FMPP for Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010 and $10 million for Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012. The maximum amount awarded for any one proposal cannot exceed $100,000. Entities eligible to apply include agricultural cooperatives, producer networks, producer associations, local governments, nonprofit corporations, public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmers market authorities and Tribal governments.


However when I searched on Colorado farmers markets and came up with the CFMA (Colorado Farmers' Market Association) I didn't find any reference to available grant funding on the site. I am being told that the governor shot down the federal sponsored grants for Colorado. I will have to check on that background and what provision it rode through the governor's office on. I tried a quick search and got nada. Did find this promotional campaign going on in the southern end of Colorado though. Some one is on it.

Back to the formation of a good market-- there is a lot of requisite information though including insurance which is a big bugaboo. I helped to create a farmers market in a small town a few years back. Once there was a fixed place and agreement with the landowner plus access rights granted from the city along with the always present insurance needs met--it was off and running with a bit of professional promotion. The greater share of organic farmers from the area heavily supplemented their annual incomes (the family farms at that time were clearing around twenty grand a year. The bigger ones could pull out forty).

The interesting part of it all though was the interplay between established retail grocers and the market. At first we had to fight tooth-and-nail against the retail grocers trying to shut us down and throwing out misleading press releases on the topic. Then once a local natural food store gave us their parking lot one day a week (of course there was plenty parking all around for their regular customers) they saw a huge bounce in their internal store sales. Of course produce sales didn't see the bounce during that particular week day but they picked up all the other days. The family farms were very grateful to the retailer and when asked for advice on certain products, etc., they would direct the consumer to the store to pick up items associated for the meal or for middle of the week purchases. The retailer then piggy-backed on the farmers market and used it to gain a stronger brand on community marketing and fresh produce. It was a win-win.

The following year we had grocers in competition for hosting the marketplace! It has, over the years, become a central social gathering place on Saturdays during the harvest months. It makes getting out of the house early on Saturday mornings something much better than a chore. It becomes a labor of fresh food love.

I miss that.

Enjoy season's eatings at farmers markets | Greeley Tribune
Before there were refrigerators and freezers, before ships and airplanes could transport food across the world in a day, before advances in food preservation and storage made keeping food for months a reality, people simply ate what was available to them.

That meant they didn't eat fresh tomatoes or grapes in the dead of winter. They didn't eat butternut squash and potatoes in the spring. They didn't eat salad in the fall.

Now, we've come to expect food availability at any time of the year. And for the most part, we can have our tomatoes in winter and salad all year.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where is the Little Guy in Greeley Politics?

After a morning trip to Safeway to purchase fresh white fish for my brother's father's day dinner, I was amused to find a posting from Greeley's Tribune's Gnarly Trombone on the self-service checkout lanes around town. I like this Gnarly Dude. Gnarly has more media spunk than some.

I had never seen one of these self-checkout lanes until I came to Greeley. Although I have read about them in retail industry papers. There are some other technology revolutions in store for shoppers too. But I don't think we will see these all at once. For one labor union's can't be too pleased about swapping out people for techno-chips and hand held inventory devices. Secondly, as every good marketeer knows, you have to soften up the public for innovative changes that effect their routine habits or be lynched on the town plaza.

I have a good friend from Canada who mentioned that his local store has the self-service lanes as well as specialized lanes that the disabled workers can staff. He also noted that shopping carts can't be had without a coin deposit that releases each one from its mechanical prison. I thought the second concept very progressive and interesting. I thought the third a great idea except for the increasing rise in the homeless who use them for luggage storage. But I won't digress into macro-economics here.

We, my friend (an attorney) and I, had a long debate on the employer's obligation to hire disabled workers and the public patience with these specialized lanes. While I thought I would be more likely to shop at a store with these lanes (thus offsetting the cost to the business for specialized lanes) he said that a lot of consumers are too impatient (sometimes it seems it can take a longer time to move through the modified checkstand line).

I see the modified checkstand as a reasonable accommodation for a worker's special need. Therefore I can be a little more reasonable and modify my own needs to be accommodating to a fellow human- being with less employment options through no fault of their own. Whereas I refuse to try the self-checkout lanes merely because I see them as a method for hastening getting rid of real people jobs rather than merely annoyingly time-consuming to educate myself on how to use them correctly. The way jobs are disappearing from our economy, and considering the trend has been to make policies (and Supreme Court judgments) against labor, I figure it is in my own self-interest to slow this process down. Regardless how insignificant my individual contribution may be. At least until some decent job creation policies exist to transfer people being cut in one industry to new service based jobs in other industries hits the employment scene.

Eventually though, I am well aware, the overall consumer demand for the lowest prices will win out.

The working-class public screams at outsourcing and corporate labor practices yet they still drool over having a Wal-mart in town. In my view it comes down to that dichotomy we all face--do I act as an individual or do I act for the benefit of others. The hypocrisy between lower prices or living wage employment practices though is not just in the corporate offices and inside our own homes. It exists in local governmental practices as well.

I am still trying to figure out why Greeley doesn't have a strong Mom and Pop sector in competition with these big guns. Basically, if I am correct, Safeway and Soopers (Kroger) have been battling out for the main local marketshare in retail grocery. For a while I thought Kroger a subsidiary of Safeway but I checked the corporate website and decided that is not true. There are rumors on the Internet back in 2003 that Wal-mart owns both but that also is not true (nor would it be healthy for anyone but Wal-mart, Safeway, and Kroger investors). Of course Wal-mart is in town along with Sam's club (Wal-mart). That creates a whole different pressure to drive down labor costs locally.

I'd love to see Smart and Final pop up here for the wholesale competition to Sam's club. But they aren't big enough to take on Sam and smart enough not to try. I haven't found any other option for the restaurant wholesale industry locally and this may be why the local restaurants are sadly lacking (my personal opinion) tasty and better fare.

I am told there were some other options until recently and I know Avanza is still here in town (but that has more a niche speciality line of goods and is not directly in Safeway's target market segments--so they get to escape--for now). My own biggest pet-peeve is I can't find a decent local farmer's market without driving out of town. Where are all the small farmer's?

I'll also admit I have a special pet peeve with Safeway's Club member program. Kroger's Soopers has a similar but less devious tracking program. I didn't have to give up any of my personal information to get a Sooper card. Therefore I shop at Soopers the most.

I've been in marketing. I know how these programs work. I've also gone through union organization from the management perspective in this industry (another story for another time--I left this industry a while ago). Many middle-management jobs are eliminated by this program through the increased efficiency in collecting consumer marketing data. I understand and agree in the efficiency part--it is a necessary part of staying competitive. It can lead to a better product mix selection for consumers. On the flip side I don't see these operational savings being passed on to the consumer although the consumers are the ones giving up their information in the name of "savings". But instead I believe the cost savings of this system translated into higher executive pay and ROI for the company. It used to be companies had to pay and work a whole lot harder to get consumer's to give up that kind of data. There was a value exchange taking place and the consumer often received real incentives for giving up their personal shopping data. Now it is no longer clear that happens.

It is clear that if you don't use Safeway's member card system you'll be forced to pay higher prices. It is not clear that the card is tied uniformly to lowered sale prices. They use the term "money-saving promotions" rather than sale prices for a reason. It is clear it is "exclusive" to those giving u their information to get a card. And most consumers don't understand the internal systems or technology well enough to "beef" about any of this. ( Which is why I am special. I always have to analyse any system. Bad genetics I guess. I didn't get the sheep's costume at birth.) It irks me though that many consumers appear to not even understand how valuable all that personal information is to the company and don't give a second thought to giving it up freely. I don't even need to mention that there is little restriction on its use and, likely, a pretty profit made from reselling this data. Ever wonder how some of those junk mailers get your address? If the savings were being passed on to consumers then Safeway would have long ago won the competitive wars locally by having substantially lower prices and better business practices Instead I think Safeway's competitive edge comes from acquisitions and the use of economy of scale to push out competitors.

But least I forget my focus on the blog for the last few postings... my primary interest remains why local government seems to still be pushing for more mega-corporate entities rather than seriously building up the Mom and Pop sector or refurbishing declining sections of town containing Mom and Pops. I'm still looking for more information on what is going on behind the scenes. I'd still like to see some direct representation for local farmers and quality fresh produce for local consumers. Also I don't understand why the public doesn't seem to be too troubled by the decay of the local sector. Interesting town.

I am having fun exploring these ideas.

Gnarly Trombone: Self-service: Swim through Jell-O | Greeley Tribune
This is supposed to be the newest labor-saving wonderful thing, and we should use it, because it saves energy or trees or something good like that.

However.

I hate self-service lanes.

A lot of our stores have them set up now, so you can “conveniently” check yourself out, pay through a slot, and be on your way. Lickety-split.

But it never works that way.

NEVER.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Have You Seen "Ma and Pa" Lately

Finally some answers are coming through. Thank you to every one who has responded.

My astute and wonderful tour guides had no idea that there was a small business development center in Greeley. It is nice and refreshing to see some focus on the small business arena. Although I would take odds with the overall strategy being generalized here. New businesses have a low percentage of success rate. Placing an emphasis on giving the new entrepreneurs help at the expense of saving those going under could be a less efficient use of time and money. Targeting specific industries for help might be a better strategy. The economy is struggling to make a change over between industries. Helping businesses build better marketing campaigns, build public awareness, and extending low interest loans to the "Ma and Pa" businesses whose business sectors are likely to see growth once the economy has emerged from the pit of bleakness.

Certainly an open conversation with the public and the need to support local small businesses is imperative and a service the Chamber could offer with little direct cost other than public relations. However trying to convince people that shopping at those discount chains is not in their long term interest is like asking them to learn advanced math. They won't be pleased. The dollar saved today will suck two dollars out of your wallet in the future as jobs continue to be outsourced and small "Ma and Pa" shops are pushed to become bigger and bigger to survive. Got to cut those costs somewhere. Potentially, as we have seen over the last two decades, less than living wage job creation, and outsourcing entire industries to countries with competitive advantages in labor.

The counter of course is retraining and reeducation of our labor forces to focus on the emerging service jobs in health care, greener energy and production, and anywhere technology is creating new methodologies and efficiency. But of course this takes good strategic government planning to realign these workers and that should have started happening, oh around, let's say the year 2000. I digress.

In the meantime the good citizens of Greeley could do the "Ma and Pa" shops a whole lot of good by spending their dollars in locally owned small business whenever they can. I understand what it is to be the single Mom and have only a few dollars to stretch until the next payday. I understand why people are inclined to go to Walmart and Sam's Club. But I also understand it is not entirely in my self-interest belonging to the underclasses to do so.

It is all about more than just today. There is tomorrow to consider.

Below is the article I've clipped from the Greeley Tribune. I am also thinking about posting a piece I have been working on about the local economic development corporation. Maybe I'll work on it and get it up later this week. Ciao.

Recession slams ma and pa shops | Greeley Tribune
MacQuiddy and others in the Greeley business community also note that while some are closing, others are opening. MacQuiddy said the chamber is going to focus on the new ones coming in to help ensure their survival.

“It's so unfortunate seeing some of these businesses that are closing, but I think they realized if you're undercapitalized going in, it's just very difficult to succeed. You have to have a good business plan, and you have to do some forecasting.”

The Greeley chamber has partnered with the city of Greeley and the Small Business Development Center in Greeley.

“We're getting out and talking with businesses one on one, saying, ‘What do you need? How can we help?' We're being very proactive. It's so important we thank businesses for doing business in Greeley and say, ‘What do you see on the horizon? What can we help you with?' ”


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No Recess in Greeley? You've Gotta Be Kidding!

Today I am on a rant. I love many things about Greeley thus far but the more I investigate the more contradictions I find. Some of them less understandable than others.

For example I have been told that the local school district has almost completely eliminated recess in the public schools around town. My first response was "Your joking." My second response was "Where are the parents?". My third thought, unexpressed, was "Maybe school has become like the nice homes on this street--no children allowed outside." My fourth thought was the show "COPS" should be outlawed (social middle class fear is such a powerful political tool to get bad policies in place). My fifth thought was "I wouldn't want to be a third grade teacher in this town or any other grade for that matter." My sixth thought was "Did they ban sugared cereals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner too?" My last and final thought "Why not just strip the education system of anything left which is meaningful to a well rounded and healthy child and send the kid into a prison block each day." That should improve their learning productivity--no distractions just four bare walls and A, B, and C.

Why is the solution to our education issues chemotherapy--if the toxity of the remedy doesn't kill there may be a small chance at success.

Enough said. Short-sighted policies stink. Human beings are not robots and children were not meant to be raised in a modern Dickens work block mentality. Kinesthetic movement, learning, and socialization go hand-in-hand.

Now on to the next rant.

This is more my personal politics and strategic planning ideas. I cannot find a restaurant small business supply in the area. Oh yeah I can find Sam's Club but I find I cannot write about my ill-feelings towards outsourcing and the lack of living wage jobs and social equality and shop at Walmart (which is, essentially, Sam's Club). I just can't bring myself and my small pocketbook to perpetuate certain things in our economy and then gripe about the consequences my shopping habits produce. And I am much more tied to remedying the consequences of Walmart mentality than I am to low prices.

That said I guess I may have to stop moaning about this problem and just buy retail. Which I wouldn't mind so much if a diversity of quality fresh foods were available in Greeley without doing the Stepfordville Whole Foods scene. Why can't poor people eat well with moderate expense? Why isn't there more small business competition in this town? Why are we endowed with the most egregious corporate pretty-darn-close-to-a-monopoly commercial choices? Why do I need to drive to Fort Collins or Denver when Greeley is large enough to produce this value for its taxpayers? The questions don't seem to have a sensible ending.

Okay, I know. There is an answer to my rant somewhere. There must be some logic to it. Otherwise the People of Greeley wouldn't be so quiet about these things. After all it will be their children and grandchildren's town in the future. Is the only thing that matters how green and well kept the front yard is and that the walkway to the door is swept? Or is there more to the quality of life in Greeley behind those closed doors.

Data compiled after the 2000 Census On Greeley Industry. Columns below represent number and percent respectively. If anyone has a local or State study compiled more recently I'd appreciate a link to the source. That's the problem with a census--it gets old quickly especially when there has been so much change in the era of technological advances. And I will need to find a comparable city in Colorado to advance any logical conclusions.


Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining6981.9
Construction3,1978.8
Manufacturing4,55212.5
Wholesale trade1,1983.3
Retail trade4,46912.3
Transportation and warehousing, and utilities1,2303.4
Information1,0662.9
Finance, insurance, real estate, and rental and leasing2,4776.8
Professional, scientific, management, administrative, and waste management services2,3786.5
Educational, health and social services8,32122.9
Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services3,5309.7
Other services (except public administration)1,5994.4
Public administration1,6354.5

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Greeley Barrio

Today I broadened my horizons a bit.

My local "Tour Guide" took me into what he calls Greeley's Barrio districts. I found the small business developments I mentioned in my earlier posts. To be fair there are also a few around the University as well. I thought the bookstore and the music shop were interesting. But I was saddened by the overall plight for some of these Mom and Pops.

It looks like, again thus far, that Greeley's local government has methodically isolated these Mom and Pops as they shifted the growth emphasis into the southern end of town with the new development and planning. This pulls the Stepford families into the chain malls and markets and isolates the Mom and Pop's into niche populations which ultimately will limit their growth potential and capital that they would need to expand into other areas. Particularly the Stepford zones. This is an indirect method of supporting mega-chains with minimum wage and non-living wage jobs.

Personally I have always liked the idea that each individual can be responsible for their own sustainability by creating their own business rather than being dependent on a single employer for life. But it hinges on the idea of equality before the eyes of government. Well at least the illusion of equality. The idea that corporations will take good long term care of their human assets went out more than just a couple of decades ago. Yet some city planners seem resolute on hanging onto this notion. That doesn't make me anti-corporate. I have served my time in the CEO chair. In modern society, the population growth alone of course requires a diversity of job options, but closing out the home grown businesses is a bad proposition in any city's long term quality of life equation. It limits not only the options of the poor climbing the ladder to the promised land but also the options of the middle class dependent on their middle management positions. Often these middle managers carry the bulk of the important and servicable knowledge in a company. The last thing corporations want is to see this knowledge walk into their own personal dreams of opportunity. It is politically viable, I'll argue, that by closing off these options the corporate back is limiting its competitive risk. Besides who is going to look out for the home front better than those roots are planted in it and whose children are product of its schools and other social interactions.

In my view, if my quick assumption proves to be true, bad planning can be a subtle (or not so subtle) form of racism. Granted there may be concern that the "barrio" areas need lower tax rates so that chain low-wage labor is available for the industry mills in town. Yet good long term planning development management has modern methods of integrating these areas so that all sectors are equally represented fairly by government and taxpayer dollars. When an area is in obvious decline it should be targeted for help. Wouldn't it be nice to see the trees replanted, the sidewalks groomed, plaza and park areas integrated in these declining areas. Maybe a nice plaza where community festivals and events can be held to draw people from across the city to take notice of the variety of small business options in the area. In truth it was sad to see this divide in a town of such friendly people regardless of the driving factors for the conditions. My Tour Guide said his wife doesn't even feel safe driving there by herself.

I will roam around next and see if I can find any economic development initiatives aimed at bringing the small business sectors back so they can have more equity of representation and easier access to all market segments regardless of income, social status, or cultural background. I think I'll take a look at the Greeley City Council representatives too and their background and political track records. I need to see the whole tale before I can come to any reasonable opinion or workable suggestions to improve things.

It is always a double edge sword to coming into a new town. There is this amazing objective outside view of things because you are free of the cultural and political local history which drives the making of systems and often results in dogmatic methods employed in development. And at the same time there is a lack of the subjective understanding of what has occurred in the past and what has been tried in the past. It takes time and a lot of exploration to become knowledgeable on the topics.

I am reading a couple books on Greeley history and going through the news archives to try to learn more. That is between time spent watching for swirling clouds of course. In that regard I imagine I am similar to other Greeleyites.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Where Have All the Mom and Pop's Gone?

One of the best northern Colorado assets I have noticed, to date, is the friendly personable people of this city. They are wonderful in one on one encounters. Open, sharing, full of great ideas, and just pleasing to interact with. Each city I've lived in always has its own flavor and I enjoy the challenge of exploring Greeley. Of course, as my mind tends to do, I like to deconstruct the systems and processes that make the Greeley Rolex tick, so to speak, and that way I can better understand the city which is my new home.

Cities are fascinating organisms to me. They live, they are dynamic, they change with the times and the generations in mostly predictable ways. What really sparks my curiosity though is how organized, or not-so-organized planning, impacts the future of the organic dynamic. If you go too slow the blood supply is cut off and the organism cannot flourish and change. Hence, eventually, it begins to decay and die. Move too quickly and growing pains spring up and conflicts sprout when the population can't emotionally keep pace or comprehend the changes going on. There is a balance in everything--the challenge is finding the point of balance (as my Grandmother used to say).

So just where is Greeley's balancing point? I thought I'd start from the "Geeks" point of view and look at the economic development zones. What I found was an interesting puzzle of pieces. The first piece belongs to northern Colorado at large--the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation. Since I've been interested in sourcing out locally owned businesses and community assets, and worked a long time ago for an economic development agency in another state, I specifically began my quest by looking for this resource and to understand the role their leadership or leverage of wealth plays around town.

Browsing through town again yesterday I noticed a rather large piece of real estate behind Kohl's and across from Safeway just off of 35th street. (I'd love to say I got the street right but I am still working on sorting out the difference between streets, avenues, and courts in this town). A perky but quivering sign gave the last name of Kohl as the Realtor. A coinky-dink? Now, as an aside, readers should know, one of my own personally worst assets is that my brain turns endlessly analyzing systems and strategies. One of my best assets (and sometimes my worst social asset) is that my brain turns endlessly analyzing possibilities. I am truly boring at parties. Enough said. I can hear the snoring already. But back to the point, I thought what a great place this little piece of commercial heaven would be for a development based on locally owned small businesses and start-ups. A real boost for those unemployed by the downturn in the economy. Of course it is a pricey piece of commercial land too. That wouldn't be the only hurdle to overcome. I am not that naive.

In particular I have seen economic development resources devoted to incubating small businesses do a great service, over time, to nurture a thriving local community-based business sector. What a great marketing ploy for Kohl's as well. Diving in and helping to develop small Mom and Pops would certainly make me choose to shop at Kohl's every time over Home Depot (which is the closer store). Food and beverage businesses, small niche fashion shops, a woodworker or two, a tailor, and so on. Maybe a small business marketing center and education development classes for entrepreneurs nestled in between the Mom and Pops.

Now the trick, of course, is to create a mix of businesses that create the traffic within the area needed. Although being located next to the big chains there is already abundant and diverse traffic to be found. Another issue that can arise is the diminishing of other retail areas within the city. Although it already looks like Greeley has chosen to abandon some areas to the advantage of the big box stores as my posting on the Greeley Barrio suggests. So this problem may be moot politically is a majority of concerned citizens have not raised it before.

A third problem is job creation.

There are two sides to the coin that needed to be included in this discussion though. One is that a town needs both high paying jobs with health benefits and it also needs lower wage jobs for the local youth to step into and hold while attending high school and college. This keeps your next generation around long enough and interested enough to sprout roots and then stay in the community, once educated, so that the community can take advantage of new blood entering their economy as the tired blood puts their feet up for rest and recreation. This creates a flow of labor and potential for developing businesses and future tax base (lessening the need, during hard times, to bring in factory corporations which other communities frequently reject on quality of life issues). It also helps diminish the possibility of small shoddy service towns cropping up outside the city limits of Greeley with a regular flow of minimum wage labor living in town with roots and investment in the town's care. When internal property values rise too high for service labor (clerks, gardeners, daycare workers) to afford the working class move out taking, in general, precollege youth with them. The investment is to keep the youth around and interested in the future of the community. Ever drive by Aspen or Vail lately? A perfect example of the previous situation. A two class standard. Spouses also often hold these services jobs secondary to the main household bread winner to add a little income during tight times but still be conscious enough when they come home to be able to take care of other household needs.

A fourth, and divisive, issue to look at is the cry of "foul" by established businesses. Often middle-sized businesses lead this verbal charge but it is usually championed behind the scenes by the large corporate entities. In my view there are two ways to deal with competition. You can spend your energy and money always improving your business so you are the better option. Or you can play social and economic politics and squash it flat before it sprouts. In the long run playing dirty never pays off in my view. So I always recommend concentrating on the first option. It is a better use of capital resources over the long haul. My other comment is that a small business development incubator is a big positive, in the short run and the long run, to the consumers (you and I). We just don't have enough political clout to get our needs met unless it is an election year and our voices are collective.

However, after going through some of the information on the NCEDC site, I see that they have endorsed another strategy--if I am reading the five year plan correctly

"Priority #1:
Retaining Talented Workers and Jobs

Knowledge workers are our most critical competitive asset, and they are mobile.
If we don’t put them to work, we risk losing them to other regions. At the same time, our existing businesses are our best hope for new job creation, and our best ambassadors to the global marketplace. Their continued success must be a top priority.

Target: Business retention that really works.

We will strengthen our business environment so that companies can create more and better jobs for the people who live here. This means:

  • Building better partnerships between government, education and business

  • More sophisticated business tracking software and data gathering

  • Regular visits to the headquarters of Larimer county employers

  • Consistent, responsive development review and permitting processes

  • Prudent incentive policies that help to create high-wage job opportunity

Target: Entrepreneurial Success

CSU and our high-tech employers spin off entrepreneurs with surprising regularity. We will work with our virtual incubator, SBDCs and other entrepreneurial support organizations to enhance entrepreneurial success rates, by:

  • Creating a "growth company alliance" to identify young, growing companies and match them to appropriate resources

  • Assist local efforts to bring Economic Gardening to Northern Colorado

Target: Higher Education Funding Success

CSU and our other higher education assets are a key part of Northern Colorado’s competitive infrastructure. We will advocate aggressively for a solution to the Tabor/Gallagher/Amendment 23 "perfect storm" that is placing higher education funding at risk in Colorado."

They, the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation, are about due for a new plan. It must already be developing. But it appears they have been targeting existing job expansion. There are some facts and pretty numbers posted that represent success so far. Without a context for comparison in the previous years or with a solid understanding of the portion of the population served (if you create 10 jobs in a population base of 100 that is pretty decent. If you create 10 jobs in a population base of 10 million--well that isn't such a plus). So I hold my opinion on the result of this strategy because I am still not familiar enough with the area.

However, if one looks at the Board of Directors who are guiding these policies, going by the information presented, it looks like they all have a strategic interest (except maybe the brewery gent) in seeing the targeting policies focused on existing businesses rather than new business development. Growth without actively attracting the competition. Where are the Mom and Pop representatives on this board?

I am told that Fort Collins has a greater wealth of economic diversity than Greeley. That is good news. I am going to have to hop on over and explore Fort Collins next. I noted also that is where a number of the directors from the economic development corporation have chosen to live.

So what happened to Greeley? It would be nice to have support in moving the middle classes into self-sustaining ownership positions. This is what developing and incubating small business sectors can help to make happen.

I'll look for that answer next.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chicken Little and Greeley Chain Stores

There have been a few times when I feel like a rube. For most of my life I have lived in towns a bit smaller than Greeley. I have also spent a good deal of my life working two or three jobs at the same time. It's the single parent/college story--but I'll save it for later. My sons are adults now and on their own so it has become my story of survival, rather than one of political necessity, to tell. Besides today I want to explore the world of shopping.

I've never been a good consumer. I've been in both marketing and education fields. This background spoiled me on the idea of brands unless that brand denotes high quality in comparison to the competitors. I've also have never been a froo-froo girl. In seventh grade I'd rather go out and play baseball or tetherball than get stuck in the bathroom with a bunch of gaggling-geesey cheerleaders redoing their hair and nail polish. True, that didn't make me very popular, but it has saved me wads of money and social anxiety over the years.

So while some of my friends were happy to hear that Greeley has well-groomed shopping malls, a Macy's, a Target, and a Lowe's, plus my fellow geeks are no doubt thrilled that I finally live in a place abundant with hardware and computer stores to boot, I have been a bit disappointed thus far. I looked to find the locally owned stores (not franchised nor chain joints) as I like to shop locally owned small businesses as often as possible for my daily life needs but did not find a flourishing sector.

Since I am single and only purchasing for me (I'd use French and do the word "me" the Ms. Piggy-way but I don't really want to disclose my penchant for invented grammar and spelling just yet) I have developed my own rule of thumb pocketbook-economics for locally owned goods. I am willing to spend from ten to twelve percent more to purchase from a locally owned store. After twelve percent, depending on the good, and I feel that horrible monster known only as Gouge digging through my purse. If I can't find what I want locally within my rule of thumb then I will source out to the bigger chains or go to the Internet.

My volunteer local tour guides think I am a bit twisted on this topic. It is an economic strategy I have honed over the years and worked out the numbers on doing community-based marketing. I certainly didn't invent it. I just like the idea of local system sustainability and feeding the local economic multipliers. I am not a proponent of Buy Local--exclusively. I've seen the math multiplier effect for this concept and it doesn't work in the long run. But, moderation in everything, there are prudent Buy Local practices that can be quite helpful.

I do confess though to having a bit of trouble sourcing out the Mom & Pop's in the local area. Even the restaurants I have been to so far are chained or franchised. I found some diversity around the college but the further out I go into the wilds of the prairie the fewer I have seen. But before I get scads and wads of email I have to declare I haven't looked everywhere yet. It is a process.

I have gone shopping at a couple of the local marketplaces for food. Beautiful, big, stores with loads of friendly checkers. Moms fresh out of the gym with babies and toddlers in tow looking for fresh veggies abound. My cheeky nickname--"Stepfordville". Always fascinating to watch the social interactions.

After a fruitless search on labels and fresh food to come up with locally sourced food and beverage products I turned to a kind happy produce guy. When told of my plight he looked a bit perplexed and acknowledged I wouldn't be able to find what I was looking for inside that store. Ordering is done from central command. Central command is not local it is state-wide. Central command gives the department heads a list of choices and the department heads are not allowed any write-ins.

Bummer!

Time to find a new store with its own local merchandiser or a Farmer's Market. My taste palette prefers organic veggies and I do grow some of my own having been raised in a rural area. But my checkbook prefers the price on bulk produced nonorganic greens. My preference and my checkbook get into an argument every time I go shopping. A quick mental mediation and I end up purchasing the greens that are known to have more pesticide use on them as organic and the rest of my purchases come from the bulk bins.

Well I have digressed into the mundane details of life and I can hear my readers snore. I'll throw a picture in of the Greeley sky for pleasurable effect and leave off the shopping chat for now but will return to this subject later on when I have collected more informed direction and opinion on the topic.

Until tomorrow... or the next day I find time to write.

Welcome

Please come in. Have a seat. Let me show you around my rectangle. Feel free to put your feet up. Have a cup of coffee. Some tea. Crumpets?

Let's talk about what is, what has been, and what can be. What is a town made of? What is the meaning of quality of life? Where does the future lie? And where have all the flowers gone?

I like to explore things. I like to write. I like to think about possibilities and probabilities. Please join me. We'll have a merry-old time.

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