Month: February 2016

George Will: Cultural Decay Causes Economic Decline

Source: Washington Post Writers Group

Two phrases that Daniel Patrick Moynihan put into America’s political lexicon two decades ago are increasingly pertinent. They explain the insufficient dismay about recent economic numbers.

Moynihan said that when deviant behaviors — e.g., violent crime, or births to unmarried women — reach a certain level, society soothes itself by “defining deviancy down.” It destigmatizes the behaviors by declaring them normal. And sometimes, Moynihan said, social problems are the result of “iatrogenic government.”

In medicine, an iatrogenic ailment is inadvertently induced by a physician or medicine; in social policy, iatrogenic problems are caused by government.

When the economy grew by just 2.6 percent in 2014’s fourth quarter, The New York Times headline cheerfully said “Economy Pulls Ahead.” The story said the U.S. economy is “an island of relative strength” in a world facing “renewed torpor and turmoil.” This was defining failure down.

The Wall Street Journal said “U.S. Economy Hits Speed Bumps,” as though speedy growth had been normal for a while. The speeding had consisted of one quarter (2014’s third) of 5 percent growth. But the economy had gone 43 consecutive quarters without 5 percent growth, the longest such period since the government began keeping the pertinent records in 1947. And even with this third quarter, growth for 2014 was just 2.4 percent, making this the ninth consecutive year under 3 percent.

During the recovery from the recession of 1981-82, there were five quarters of 7 percent or higher growth, and five years averaged 4.6 percent growth.

There also was unmerited triumphalism about November’s job growth of 353,000. This was just the fifth month of 300,000-plus growth in the 68 months since the sluggish recovery began in June 2009. In the 1960s, there were nine months of 300,000-plus job creation — and at its highest, in 1969, the nation’s population was nearly 118 million smaller than today’s. In the 1980s, there were 23 months of 300,000-plus jobs, and the nation’s population in 1989 was 73 million smaller than today’s 320 million.

By the time — April 2014 — the economy returned to the number of jobs it had before the recession began in December 2007 there were 15 million more Americans. Nicole Gelinas writes in the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal: “A healthy economy should add 200,000 new jobs every month, even when it’s not recovering from a recession. By that standard, America should have 133 million people working in the private sector right now, not 118.4 million.”

Economic weakness — new business formations are at a 35-year low — is both a cause and a consequence of alarming cultural changes. In 1960, 12 percent of 25- to-34-year-olds were never married; today, 49 percent never have been. Although the population was 27 million larger in 2010 than in 2000, there were fewer births in 2010.

The lingering economic anemia is astonishing, given plummeting energy prices. To a considerable extent, the anemia is an iatrogenic social ailment, induced by government behavior. The business burdens and uncertainties created by the Affordable Care Act are just part of the Obama administration’s regulatory mania (3,659 new regulations finalized in 2013 and another 2,594 proposed, according to Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute).

That the employment picture is not worse may owe much to the end of an iatrogenic policy. The Economist reports that during the recession, unemployment benefits were extended from 26 weeks for most workers to an average of 53 weeks, and 73 weeks in three states. Then in December 2013 Republicans blocked reauthorization of Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

Now a study of 1,000 counties shows that employment grew fastest in counties where there were the biggest declines in the duration of unemployment benefits.

Barack Obama’s plan to tax the earnings from parents’ “529” college savings plans lived just long enough to indicate why some progressives perhaps prefer slow rather than rapid economic growth.

Rapid growth reduces the appeal of redistributive policies and the need for the bitter, jostling, divisive politics that advance such policies. The 529s help enable families to achieve self-sufficiency. This excites progressives’ dislike of any private provision that impedes implementation of their dependency agenda.

The progressive project of maximizing the number of people dependent on government is also aided by the acid of insecurity that grows rapidly when the economy does not. Anxious and disappointed people are susceptible to progressives’ blandishments about the political allocation of wealth and opportunity — “free” this and that.

By making slow growth normal, iatrogenic government serves the progressive program of defining economic failure down.

George F. Will is one of today’s most recognized writers, with more than 450 newspapers, a Newsweek column, and his appearances as a political commentator on Fox news.

Cisco’s Five Ways to Get Extraordinary Results from Collaboration

Based on the insights from our study, here are five ways you can take action today to facilitate more effective interaction and derive greater business value through collaboration.

1.    Build relationships and networks that lead to trust. Invest time in building relationships. Get to know your colleagues, customers and partners on a more personal level.  Provide tools and technologies that help people to not only connect, but also to learn more about each other.  Grow your personal network and leverage it for new opportunities, connecting people and finding expertise.  Spend time meeting face-to-face or leverage video and rich media technology to interact.

2.    Turn human interactions into results

Provide an open and participatory atmosphere where people are comfortable contributing and feel more engaged.  Teach people to become better collaborators.  Set expectations upfront, engage the right people, and choose technologies and forums that promote participation.  Bring the human element to the physical and virtual environment by creating a more casual and personal setting.

 3.    Evolve the culture for productive collaboration

Create a culture where collaboration is valued, modeled, and rewarded.  Balance personal and social incentives with tangible rewards to reinforce positive collaborative behaviors.  Encourage cultural sensitivity to work styles, holidays, and time zones among collaborators.  Identify and leverage key individuals in the organization who excel at modeling collaborative behaviors.  Develop collaborative leaders.

 4.    Balance decision-making and consensus building

Balance gathering input with the need to seek approvals because too much of either could translate into too many meetings, too much input, and may paralyze decision-making.  Be clear about accountability and roles upfront, and agree to a decision making approach and criteria early in the process.  Leverage communication and collaboration tools move efforts forward outside of meetings and in-between work sessions.

5.    Leverage patterns of collaboration

Provide tools that move activities through the lifecycle of collaboration and help people think through, plan, and execute collaborative efforts.  Create flexible physical and social environments that support the shifts in the collaboration needs of teams and individuals.

Download the Cisco report.

Entrepreneurship: The Key to a New Era of American Growth and Opportunity

Every four years, Americans engage in a great national debate about the future of our country. Candidates for highest office offer their visions of what the United States can be and roadmaps for how we get there.

Or at least that is the hope and ideal to which we aspire.

Now in the midst of that great season of debate, entrepreneurship merits a central place in the discussion.

Entrepreneurs are known to be the primary source of net new job creation. Their innovations challenge existing firms to improve and contribute to economic dynamism, which results in a faster growing economy that provides greater opportunities for upward mobility.

The entrepreneurial creation of new products, systems, and processes breeds new efficiencies. New businesses are also especially important when it comes to the job prospects of young workers. Young companies employ younger workers more than older firms and these workers enjoy higher incomes.

On top of all of this, experienced entrepreneurs often act as mentors to aspiring business owners, creating areinforcing loop of inspiration and instruction that generates more of the new ideas our economy needs to grow.

Simply put, entrepreneurship is an engine of economic growth that creates opportunities for economic independence.

Yet, this invaluable source of economic betterment is troubled. New business creation has not kept pace with working age population growth. Businesses that do start are hiring fewer employees than in the past.

We can no longer afford for entrepreneurship to be treated as a policy afterthought. Without entrepreneurship, solving America’s most challenging issues will become far more difficult.

This week, the Kauffman Foundation will make an important contribution to the debate about growth, job creation, and economic opportunity when it releases its New Entrepreneurial Growth Agenda. Two years in the making, the New Entrepreneurial Growth Agenda contains fresh ideas and thinking from some of the nation’s top economists and researchers about how to renew broad-based economic growth through entrepreneurship.

As a further contribution to policy discussions and debate occurring in this election year, I’ll write two posts over the next two weeks—one about the sense many Americans have of economic stagnancy, represented in part by slow wage growth; while the other explores ways to reboot government so it can craft better policy.

Though big challenges confront our country, I believe, like the “can-do” entrepreneur, that progress is achievable.

And, just as many businesses are built not by individuals, but by teams, I encourage others to join in this discussion by borrowing from these ideas, building on them, and offering your own suggestions.

America needs to renew entrepreneurial growth. At the Kauffman Foundation, we intend to do our part to make sure that happens.

Chris Jackson, research assistant at the Kauffman Foundation and regular blogger at Growthology, contributed to this post.

The Importance of Energy and ICT Infrastructure in Site Selection as Cloud Computing Broadens

Reliance on a community’s telecom and energy infrastructure has heightened the importance of these factors in the location decision-making process for both the providers and users of cloud computing services and the IoT.
Larry Gigerich, Managing Director , Ginovus (Q1 2016)

According to Bessemer Venture Partners’ “The State of the Cloud 2015” report, the cloud-based computing market is projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.8 percent from 2014 to 2018, and 62 percent of all customer relationship management (CRM) software will be cloud-based by 2018. What’s more, the number of Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices is predicted to surge to 38.5 billion by 2020; a rise of over 285 percent.

This is not new or surprising news, but it’s significant when considering that software as a service (SaaS) will likely affect nearly all industries, and we are only at the dawn of this new age. The trickle down impact on the telecommunications and power industry is significant. The infrastructure capacity required to support cloud computing will undoubtedly become an increasingly critical component for companies and the communities and states in which they are located.

Moving to Cloud-Based Systems
According to The National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (networks, servers, etc.) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Most industries have a keen interest in lowering costs through reducing expenses and streamlining technology operations to drive efficiency. Cloud-based applications can provide single-entry data capabilities and access to real-time data, and enable real-time collaboration and mobility. Reducing dependency on hardware, on-premises server rooms, cooling systems, and maintenance provides companies with tangible cost and time savings.
The infrastructure capacity required to support cloud computing will undoubtedly become an increasingly critical component for companies and the communities and states in which they are located.
One of the key components to the cloud’s success is the pooling or sharing of certain resources — similar to what occurs in the multitenant office building model. The cloud provider serves multiple customers with different physical and virtual resources by sharing storage, processing, memory, network bandwidth, servers, and other technology infrastructure. The real uniqueness, however, is the ability of the cloud provider to serve different customers and industries, all with different usage patterns. Patterns can vary due to physical location (i.e., customers from different countries, time zones, climates, etc.) or business practices. This can give the cloud provider, data centers, and their customers the best leverage for power and telecommunications use. However, it also provides great opportunity for utility service to be one of the most scrutinized factors in the site selection process for those in the cloud computing industry.

In a traditional setting, information technology equipment (servers, storage, and communications gear) is stored on a system of racks. Computer room air conditioners (CRACs) deliver a cooling system to prevent the equipment from overheating. Data centers, however, have dedicated cooling systems and power delivery that typically has a high level of reliability. Uninterrupted power supply is available through a series of battery backups or flywheels. The power is distributed throughout, and backup generators are in place in the event of a power outage. Cloud-based application use allows any company or individual to eliminate the need for server rooms, A/C units, and the hardware investment necessary to run and maintain on-premises networks. Cloud computing gives the company the opportunity to only use what space is needed, as the servers are off-site, and the space to store data and run the applications is leased on an as-needed basis. Utilizing SaaS applications reduces and, in some cases, eliminates the capital-intensive model of the on-premise servers, upgrades, and maintenance.

Locations are removed from consideration regularly in the site selection process due to inadequate utilities. A lack of water, electric, wastewater, or telecommunications infrastructure can toss a site from contention early in the location decision process. Even in a location where utilities are abundant, the cost of those utilities is of key importance when locating a cloud-based software company or data center. Ongoing operating expenses for power and telecom and robust infrastructure requirements for these industries consistently rank on the list of top important factors in making a location decision.

Telecom Infrastructure, Reliability
Access to fiber optics is an expectation for almost every industry. For those utilizing cloud-based services, fiber optics access is essential. For a community, the telecommunications infrastructure is critical in the retention and attraction of companies and the subsequent capital investment associated with them. Competitiveness and redundancy of the broadband services can make a location more attractive as well. Numerous options for providers and services drive down costs and increase broadband speeds.

It is possible that a company that has detailed energy requirements will need to also understand the fiber backbone structure of the locations under consideration. Depending on the cloud use and operational needs of a company, evaluating the number of Internet exchange points and network access points could become a component in the location decision-making process. Having access to multiple national or regional fiber backbone providers, including digital switches, is an important consideration for a company utilizing cloud services and a necessity to those providing cloud-based services. The ability to prioritize Internet traffic to avoid congestion and eliminate failure of cloud-based services is an ideal efficiency. A community that can offer multiple Tier 1 Internet service providers, and has the ability to seamlessly reroute traffic in the event of a failure, has a better opportunity to land projects operating with the use of cloud-based services.
There was a time when it was thought that a community needed to offer specific types of incentives in order to attract or retain businesses in the coveted technology industry. With the dawn of cloud computing, however, every company has, in some way, become a technology company.
Because of overlap between voice carriers and Internet backbone carriers, the largest voice carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, own some of the largest Internet backbone networks. In turn, they sell their services to the Internet service providers. Those providers that are considered Tier 1 have comprehensive telecommunications networks, access points, and redundancies. Communities with multiple Tier 1 Internet service providers can create a more cost-competitive marketplace with more opportunities to reduce downtime risk.

The reliability of the Internet is critical in site selection. Whether a company has made the move to the cloud or not, odds are high that it’s dependent on Internet communications in order to continue to conduct everyday business. Understanding potential downtimes and redundancies will be key, as Internet connections are essential to company operations. And for the cloud provider, reliability is second only to security in the eyes of its customers. The risk of being offline must be minimal.

Energy Costs/Reliability
Power is one of the highest utility costs in operating any facility. For a cloud-based service provider, data center power consumption can easily total over half of the operating costs for the facility.

Electricity rates vary widely across the United States and are affected by many factors that impact site selection decisions. Fuel costs, power plant expenses, transmission and distribution costs, weather conditions, and regulations all affect the cost of energy. In 2014, the average price for commercial customers was 10.75 cents per kilowatt-hour. For industrial customers, the average price was 7.01 cents per kilowatt-hour. Rates can be lower for large energy consumers, such as data centers.

In a recent study by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. data centers consumed an estimated 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, equivalent to the annual output of 34 large (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants. Data center electricity consumption is projected to increase to roughly 140 billion kilowatt-hours annually by 2020, the equivalent annual output of 50 power plants, costing American businesses $13 billion annually in electricity bills. If worldwide data centers were a country, they would be the globe’s 12th-largest consumer of electricity, ranking between Spain and Italy.

There is a 26.38 cent span per kWh between the least expensive and the most expensive electrical rates in the United States. Some of the cost difference is tied to how energy is generated. As an example, states in the Mountain and Northwest regions benefit from hydro and wind power generation. The Midwest States fall closer in line with the national average — Indiana (8.97), Illinois (8.87), Iowa (8.24), Kentucky (8.13), and Ohio (9.97) — but are at risk for seeing their rates increase due to more restrictive federal environmental regulations impacting energy generated from coal.

Clean energy can be a factor for data center site selection. Google is using less than 1 percent of all data center energy used globally.5 Along with Apple and Facebook, Google is one of the most efficient consumers of energy. These companies are investing in renewable energy resources such as wind power to generate the electricity needed to help power their data centers. The same NRDC report states that 80–85 percent of energy consumption is not a product of the big data centers. This leaves a great number of organizations relying, at least in part, upon the cost and availability of non-renewable energy resources, such as coal-powered electricity.

With the expectation that non-data center facilities will become more reliant on cloud-based software and services, it is natural to consider the necessity of the reliability of a community’s power infrastructure. Much like telecommunications infrastructure, the redundancy and reliability of electricity is mission-critical to nearly all industries. Companies using cloud services, along with the cloud service providers, must be able to depend on the community where they are located to provide as minimal downtime risk as possible from the area’s power grid. Companies simply cannot have their operations go down.

The infrastructure of the power grid, its redundancies and even accessibility to multiple grids, continues to be important in daily operations and production. The addition of cloud computing gives all industries something new to consider.

Incentives and More
There was a time when it was thought that a community needed to offer specific types of incentives in order to attract or retain businesses in the coveted technology industry. With the dawn of cloud computing, however, every company has, in some way, become a technology company. Over time, communities have come to realize that technology companies are looking for the same attributes as non-tech companies when site selecting: human capital, favorable tax rates, low energy costs, a good quality of life, available real estate, and incentives.
Companies using cloud services, along with the cloud service providers, must be able to depend on the community where they are located to provide as minimal downtime risk as possible from the area’s power grid. Companies simply cannot have their operations go down.
There is a reliance on telecommunications and energy infrastructure like never before. A community that understands how to implement, maintain, and continually improve its telecommunications infrastructure will become increasingly attractive to a wide variety of industries. Solid utility infrastructure and affordable energy costs will never go out of favor, especially in the world of increasing regulation.

As data center operators, service providers, and multi-tenant customers consider factors involved in selecting a site for new and growing businesses, a thorough evaluation of internal organizational structure and external contract arrangements, as they pertain to energy and telecom usage, will need to be conducted. Developing “green” contracts and investment in energy efficiency should be rewarded. Communities need to evaluate current and future plans for telecommunications and power infrastructure with the knowledge that shared data space and cloud-based computing will be increasing at a rapid pace. Nearly one-third of leased data center space in the United States is due to come up for renewal in the next few years. Nearly all of those leases are based on square footage. The optimum can be accomplished with collaboration between owners, tenants, and communities to ensure the infrastructure and end-user costs work to the advantage of all parties.

 

Collective Impact Feasibility

 

At our upcoming Dashboard Roundtable on February 22nd (8-10 am) at Kent State University, Ashtabula, we are going to be talking about how economic and community development organizations in Ashtabula County can work together to increase their collective impact (CI).

Several cities and counties across America are either using or exploring the collective impact approach to addressing major economic and social issues. The starting question for Ashtabula County stakeholders is this: Are people interested in exploring this approach and is the approach feasible in the county?

Here is a simple introduction to CI. The Collective Impact Feasibility framework tool offers a guide to help a group of stakeholders assess whether or not collective impact is the right approach to address the specific social problem in their community. This framework is most helpful before you invest in a collective impact effort by assessing the landscape of actors, the scale and complexity of the social problem you want to address, and then the readiness of local stakeholders for collaboration. Both practitioners and funders could take advantage of this tool to ensure that subsequent investments are made to the best use – either to implement collective impact OR to invest in alternate approaches that may make better use of limited resources, e.g. capacity building, programmatic approaches, etc.

Here is what the feasibility framework looks like:

CI_Feasibility

Lifehacker: What Lucky People Do Differently than Unlucky People

Luck
lək/
noun: success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions

What makes a person lucky? Often it’s less about actual luck than it is about a person’s general outlook. Here’s why.

Former Wall Street Journal and Fortune writer Erik Calonius points to a fascinating study by a psychologist Richard Wiseman. Wiseman surveyed a bunch of people to find out who considered themselves lucky or unlucky, then performed a very interesting test:

[Wiseman] gave both the “lucky” and the “unlucky” people a newspaper and asked them to look through it and tell him how many photographs were inside. He found that on average the unlucky people took two minutes to count all the photographs, whereas the lucky ones determined the number in a few seconds.

How could the “lucky” people do this? Because they found a message on the second page that read, “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” So why didn’t the unlucky people see it? Because they were so intent on counting all the photographs that they missed the message.

So what does this mean? From the article:

 “Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner, and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through the newspaper determined to find certain job advertisements and, as a result, miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there, rather than just what they are looking for.”

People who we often consider lucky are more relaxed and open to what’s going on around them. They’re not focused on a single task, blocking out everything else so much that they miss something important and unexpected. What this experiment demonstrates is that luck may not so much be luck, but whether or not our mindset leaves us open to opportunities we would otherwise miss because we’re so absolutely sure of what we want.

Source: Lifehacker

Tax breaks, low-pay jobs slowing Columbus’ tax revenue?

Columbus officials said they are doing their best to meet the needs of residents and a growing population in this year’s tight $835.2 million operating budget. The city’s revenue trends suggest, though, that tax abatements for developers and a lack of high-paying jobs are to blame for the lack of money for new and expanded programs this year. Read the complete article in the Columbus Dispatch.

Rural Housing Challenges Include Quality, Quantity, Cost

SOURCE: Useful Community Development Website: http://www.useful-community-development.org/

Rural housing isn’t a new area of concern.  Although certainly related to poverty sometimes, potentially also this issue simply reflects an inadequate supply in the face of new demand, or a sudden loss of homes due to a major storm.

Since this website leans toward community-scale issues and solutions, let’s talk about how your community should determine the extent of its rural housing need.

I grew up in a rural area, and we didn’t think much about housing problems. We just thought that the people who lived in run-down houses either couldn’t earn much money because they were bad farmers or didn’t have enough land, squandered their money on liquor or creature comforts, or just were slobs who didn’t maintain their abodes.

But now I’ve been all over the U.S., and I’ve read the research and observed enough to know numerous factors leading to rural housing quality and quantity issues.

If you’re working at the policy level in a rural county, the quantity and quality of housing you have available could present a challenge.

If you have or reasonably hope to have industries where people from outside the community would move into your area, you need some housing choices. And you need homes with current amenities and in move-in condition.

Current amenities means good water quality and pressure, indoor plumbing, an urban-type sewer system or a relatively new and easy to understand septic system, a kitchen that’s been remodeled since the 1980s, adequate storage space (preferably in the home, not in an outbuilding), a good quality heating and cooling system, a broadband Internet connection, reasonably priced multi-channel television system, and a paved or otherwise very all-weather road.

If the economic development you reasonably hope to attract would bring a mix of income levels, you also need some executive housing. If it is not already constructed, at least you need the bones of such a subdivision, with one or two examples constructed.

People are willing to commute about half an hour, and beyond that it tends to become a drag. So longer drives won’t bring a very stable workforce, although of course there are exceptional individuals who will drive an hour or two each way for years.

If your rural community needs help in planning for its identified housing needs, consult with Council for Affordable and Rural Housing, which contains the builders, bankers, accountants, and other professionals involved in rural housing.

The USDA offers a Housing Preservation Grant. Grants may be used for low-income rural homeowner repairs and rehabs, and rental property owners also may use funds to repair rural housing if they make it available to what the government calls low- and very low-income persons. Check to see if another round of funding is scheduled.


Other Dimensions of the Problem

The quality of migrant farmworker housing is consistently an important concern. In many areas where Native Americans opt for more mainstream building methods, they are learning some of the downside of those building methods.

And then the areas of concentrated rural poverty, such as Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and the colonias in the American Southwest, tend to exhibit severe shortages of livable housing.

Certainly the need for new solutions to the rural housing problem is a dominant issue in the rest of the world too. Worldwide communications raise the expectation of rural folk, and not it’s time for creative solutions.

Often a rural housing problem is only a sub-set of an affordable housingproblem in a region too, so read up on that topic.

If you see affordable rural housing as your main problem, you’ll need to become well-versed on rural economic development opportunities.


Some Possible Rural Housing Solutions

There are good ideas for increasing the rural housing supply in an affordable way.

1. Mobile homes (manufactured housing).

This is my least favorite way to add to the supply. They are built with planned obsolescence, and good maintenance doesn’t extend their life very long. They aren’t very storm-worthy, and when they catch on fire, results are very fast and often tragic.

If left with a metal finish, that begins to dull almost immediately. Those that look like wood can stay looking presentable longer, but my advice is that mobile homes are a temporary solution.

Having said that, if you need a large supply of rural housing quickly because you struck gold on the economic development front, of course feel free to quickly install a large mobile home park.

If you need to add many mobile homes, I’d prefer to see you create one large park rather than string them all over the countryside. You can assemble the land as quickly as you can find a seller, and utility installation becomes so much more economical.

If what was thought to be temporary becomes a permanent solution, at least you are in a position to screen the entire park with a handsome row of trees and to deal with one owner to make sure that substandard units are replaced or booted out of the park.

You can incorporate some green space into a large mobile home park, and perhaps you can have a small gas station and convenience store at the edge to provide for some basic needs.

2. Rehabilitating older houses and outbuildings.

If you grew up on a farm, probably the idea of living in an old chicken house doesn’t sound appealing at all. But remember, you’re simply looking for viable buildings, and I think you should look with fresh eyes at all available buildings.

First, the old houses. If you’re going to update an old farm house, do it right. Making it reasonably energy-efficient may be the first and most important task. Speaking directly from family experience here, you can install new finishes every place in the house, and it still won’t be a desirable residence if the heating and cooling costs are outrageous.

And you will have a hard time renting it on a consistent basis, and a tough time selling it to recover your remodeling costs. So quality energy-efficient windows and insulation as appropriate in your region are critically important.

On the plus side of renovating an old house, you can install all new plumbing and electrical systems, roofing, drywall, siding if necessary, and flooring, and have basically a new house.

Many were built very sturdily, so a careful remodel results in a better product than most new homes in town. And most old farm houses had large “country kitchens,” so that currently coveted amenity is already in place, at least in terms of the size.

If you live in an area where the typical rural house is white with a gray or black roof, you can add the curb appeal we now crave through adding color with shutters, landscaping, or even pavers as sidewalks. Reduce cooling costs by adding white roofs.

If the old houses need room additions, you probably will want to add a bedroom or two with very large closet spaces. If the houses have no attics or basements, storage is going to be a problem.

One solution is to build a large attached (or detached but nearby) garage that would offer some unheated, uncooled storage space.

Labor in rural areas is inexpensive, but highly skilled labor may be scarce. So keep it simple, and infuse elegance into your project through great siting, large expanses of open spaces if you make an addition, and color and good functional landscaping outdoors.

Functional landscaping can certainly include native plantings and vegetable gardens, with turf grass requiring mowing kept to a minimum near the exterior doors.

Secondly, think creatively about the outbuildings and their adaptive reuse. Barns could be turned into a two-story two-family or four-family residence for young families, with a huge towering central hallway or greatroom that would be shared.

You can keep a barn door for a less-frequently used entrance and for character. You have high ceilings, great old wood. What you probably don’t have is energy efficiency, so you would need to judiciously add insulation without covering up all of the old wood and destroying the character.

Thirdly, some of the large metal or wood storage buildings and shops that are found on farms also have potential to be turned into housing. Some were insulated and most were electrified, and adding windows and doors is almost always possible in such a situation. Plumbing would be your biggest nightmare.

Fourth, very small towns often offer an abundance of old commercial buildings and places of worship that could be repurposed as housing.

Old commercial buildings may offer the advantage of a nice bright front window. They will tend to have an open floor plan area that can serve as the main public space, and there will be at least some partitioned off private space. The lack of hallways and a flow may be a problem, particularly in those commercial buildings that are essentially long rectangles with the narrow end at the street.

Old churches sometimes have kitchens and plumbing already installed, and unless they have been abandoned for an extremely long period of time, they already will have an electrical service that can be upgraded. If you find stained glass windows, how lucky is that?

Many older churches also had beautiful hardwood floors. And certainly you have the currently desirable high ceilings and an open floor plan, usually with some little private rooms off the main room. These can be kids’ bedrooms, and you can install mezzanine-type bedrooms as well.

In smaller towns churches had lawns, maybe some off-street parking already, and sometimes some nice trees or landscaping. If you have to start from scratch with a kitchen in an old church, try using the stage, which most of them have. Today a kitchen is partly about showing off anyway.

By the way, I’d suggest that converting old churches and stores in small towns into housing is your high-end rural housing, not the affordable housing. The unique problems of rehabbing these old large spaces will take money, but the results will be worth it if the money is combined with good taste and inventiveness.


Affordable New Residences for Agricultural Areas

These are the principles of building affordable new living quarters in the countryside:

1. Learn about cluster development. Find an investor/developer to buy one farm and then minimize road-building and utility extension costs through clustering the houses relatively close together.

Make it something of a rural cul de sac, where four driveways stem from a single small semi-circular pull-off from the main road. Yes, you would need to have a homeowners association of sorts to manage the remainder of the land, but don’t let that bit of legal work stop you from the most desirable rural housing solution if you need to add to the supply.

2. Build multi-family rural housing structures wherever the market allows. Build in extra sound insulation and make them as large as practical, so that the tenants will be long-term tenants. Or that you can have a rural housing condo.

Rural and small-town people might especially appreciate the four-unit building where each family has a front door facing one direction. Kitchens and baths can be clustered toward the middle of the unit for greater efficiency.

3. Build rural housing for the climate. If winter winds are cold indeed where you’re building, consider the old idea of the windbreak, where a nearly solid row of trees breaks the force of the prevailing cold winds. If your summers are severe, build for cross-ventilation but also use thick walls, great insulation, and plenty of ceiling fans.

4. Minimize the area of walls and roofs you build. This conserves energy, cutting costs and maximizing future flexibility.

As a sidebar, in the sub-tropical and tropical climates, consider using outdoor passageways as halls. If there’s a need for a private master suite, maybe part of the privacy is that you go outdoors to a separate building.

But of course, this has to be weighed carefully, as then you are building more exterior walls.

5. Use local materials and native plantings. If you’re going to have stone for a fireplace, by all means try to find something local. It not only brings local character indoors, but it also minimizes transportation costs. Look around for what is abundant, and try to figure out how to use it as a building material.

Maybe there’s something local that can be recycled into a mantle or a kitchen counter. If you have lots of barrels, pallets, or hay bales, shouldn’t that be a suggestion? If there are many buildings falling down in the area, can’t you salvage some good wood?

6. By all means, look into prefabricated and prebuilt housing of various types. Since skilled labor often is a problem in rural areas, because the really skilled are in such high demand they’re difficult to schedule, maybe some element of the home or all of it can be shipped in. But it’s not as inexpensive as you think.

Shipping containers as housing is a mini-trend right now, so if you live in a rural area where there might be abandoned railroad cars and such, check it out. If you’re near an urban area, they are nearly free there.

7. Earth-sheltered homes are very practical in hilly parts of the country. In this building type, one side of the home is built into the hillside, which provides great natural insulation and sometimes a reasonable building cost. The other side then needs to provide the doors and windows.


Increase Affordability through Sustainability

Try not to solve a rural housing problem by imitating towns and cities and creating the next slum through use of poor quality building materials. Instead, increase overall affordability through providing cost-of-living reductions.

Rural areas offer abundant opportunities for energy conservation, water conservation, and local food production.

Rural areas are ideally suited for windmills, rain barrels, cisterns, vegetable gardens, and growing chickens for food and goats for milk and cheese. And rural housing proponents may find locally plentiful odd materials that might be used as insulation.

In short, the rural environment is great for sustainability.

Get inventive. You can do this.


What to Do with an Excess Supply of Rural Housing

So far we’ve been Pollyanna, and acted as if your main issue is how to add to your housing supply. But many of you have old houses falling down all over the place. And sometimes houses that are perfectly all right, at least with a little paint, but you have little or no market demand for them.

You need to separate those two classes: those probably not worth saving, and those that could easily be brought back to life if there were a demand.

Just as we advise in towns, when something becomes an eyesore and there’s no demand for it reasonably in sight, tear it down. “Deconstruct” it so that the building materials are salvaged.

See if you can find a buyer now, but if you have a deconstruction program for several old houses and their outbuildings, you’ll have a better chance to attract a good bid. If you don’t receive one, see if you as the county or village can afford to store these old building materials. They have worth to someone somewhere.

When a housing unit is easily salvageable, but your demand is so low that it’s just sitting around going downhill, you need to consider a land banking program. If your county or other local government can afford it, think about buying some of these better buildings and systematically maintaining them.

If people in your community simply have better housing choices that they can afford, maybe some of these buildings should be upgraded in order to be rented or sold. Maybe they can be used for a community function, although the utilities cost tends to make that prohibitive.

Perhaps in this electronic age, you can find a non-profit in a nearby city that will manage them for people who need low-cost housing.

All of these programs have their difficulties, we realize, but try to preserve some options by keeping the best of your vacant housing viable. Disassemble the least viable houses and keep the building materials in your community or earn income from them.


Farmworker Housing Solutions

In Florida, California, Texas, Oregon, and other states and parts of the world, large numbers of seasonal workers arrive to work a few months of the year. Since they are low-paid labor to begin with, they aren’t going to afford permanent housing.

So in Florida I saw 20, 30, or 40 guys jammed up into relatively small buildings, way out in the middle of the groves. The owners were hoping to escape the notice of my code enforcement guys, but it didn’t work. We had a helicopter.

Anyway, living conditions were relatively poor. The ability to maintain a hygienic level of cleanliness becomes a problem when that many people were in such close proximity. And the plumbing situation definitely mattered.

The growers who bring in these workers need to solve this rural housing problem, in partnership with their local governments. Potentially the local government can help subsidize the farmworker housing by renting some of the space for homeless folks the rest of the year.

The local government also could facilitate partnerships with universities and businesses who might have a need for lower-cost temporary housing at a different season than the planting or picking season. But I’m not suggesting that the local government subsidize the farmworker housing at all.

The major problems to be dealt with are the inadequacy of the sanitary and electrical systems. Lack of privacy and graceful amenity can be dealt with through easier access to the community as a whole.

Maybe if the growers stop hiding their (illegal?) workers, they could get out and about. The lack of space doesn’t bother me too much, because I don’t think it bothers the workers too much. But the health issues are another matter.

Another solution that has always intrigued me is the possibility of combining farmworker housing with religious retreat facilities. Let’s see, where else in society do we consider bare-bones accommodations a bonus? Oh, in a religious retreat setting.

So maybe if we introduce some folks to each other, we could figure out how to provide decent but very modest, two-persons-to-a-room buildings that would be partially subsidized to the farmers by retreatants under the sponsorship of a religious organization for the rest of the year.


Financing Sources

As a rural housing buyer or provider, you have the usual array of financing opportunities. In fact, the first step should be to stop in and chat with your local banker, who’ll know what’s hot and what’s not in your area.

However, a couple of families of specialized financing sources for rural housing are the USDA’s Rural Housing Service and the Farm Credit System. The Housing Assistance Council is a private non-profit that allows low-income rural families to provide “sweat equity” by working on their homes. They are especially strong in the poorest of America’s rural neighborhoods.

Gallup: Economy Tops Americans’ Concerns List

FEBRUARY 11, 2016

by Rebecca Riffkin

Story Highlights

  • 17% of Americans mention the economy as top problem
  • A net of 39% name an economic issue as most important
  • Democrats, independents more likely than GOP to name jobs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans in February are slightly more likely to name the economy generally as the “most important problem facing the country” than they have been in the last two months. Seventeen percent of Americans name this issue as the top problem, up from 13% last month and 9% in December. In those months, the government and terrorism were more prominent in Americans’ minds, edging out the economy as the No. 1 problem.

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In addition to the economy, at least 10% of U.S. adults mention dysfunctional government, immigration and unemployment/jobs as the top problem facing the nation.

The 7% of U.S. adults who name national security as the most important problem is higher than at any point since 2004. Seven percent of Americans also mentioned terrorism in February, but that is down from 9% in January and 16% in December as Americans responded to the Paris and San Bernardino, California, terrorist attacks. Mentions of guns and gun control as the top problem also fell in February to 2%, after 7% named this issue in January and December.

Altogether, 39% of Americans named some economic issue — including the economy in general, unemployment/jobs, the federal budget, wages and others — as the most important problem in February. That is up from less than 30% in December and January.

Republicans, Democrats Differ on What Is Most Important

While the economy in general ranked as a top issue among Republicans, independents and Democrats, partisans differ in what else they perceive to be most important. Republicans are more likely than Democrats and independents to name the federal budget deficit, immigration and national security. Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to name unemployment or jobs as most important. Democrats are also slightly more likely than independents and Republicans to name race relations, education and healthcare.

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Bottom Line

The economy and unemployment are again prominent in Americans’ minds as important problems, while noneconomic issues such as terrorism have faded. This could be important to Washington lawmakers as they attempt to agree on the next budget. President Barack Obama presented Congress with a budget outline, but Republican congressional leaders immediately rejected it.

As far as average Americans are concerned, the most pressing priority for the nation is keeping the economy vibrant and growing, fixing the way government itself operates, dealing with immigration and keeping the nation safe, especially from terrorism.

Exactly how well any final budget will address Americans’ priorities for the nation remains to be seen. Obama’s proposed budget continues to have a deficit, and 6% of Americans consider the federal budget deficit to be the most important problem facing the U.S. However, the president’s proposed budget also has significant spending to help young Americans get their first job and plans to reform unemployment insurance, both of which could respond to the 10% of Americans who say unemployment is the most important problem.

On the campaign front, several Republican candidates continue to talk about national security and stopping terrorism. These issues speak to fellow Republicans, for whom national security and terrorism are among the most important problems facing the country, but not to independents and Democrats, who are less likely to name these issues.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 3-7, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

February 11, 2016Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/189158/economy-tops-americans-minds-important-problem.aspxGallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A+1 202.715.3030

New Book: What Millennials Want from Work

An in-depth look at Millennials to date—essential for managers, HR professionals, and global business leaders seeking to align long-term organizational goals with the realities of the new workforce.

What Millennials Want from Work provides the practical, tested knowledge that companies need to attract, develop, and retain emerging leaders who can help take organizational performance to a higher level.

Drawing on fieldwork and data from global research including more than 25,000 Millennial respondents, the book reveals how Millennials really operate, what they really want, and what really motivates them. It offers tactic  and strategies for using this information to increase productivity, strengthen organizations, build robust talent pipelines, and gain a competitive advantage.

Learn how to get the most from Millennials by:

  • Improving workplace flexibility
  • Providing adequate support and feedback
  • Coaching, not micromanaging
  • Designing competitive salary structures
  • Providing opportunities to contribute to society
  • Developing a culture that fosters collaboration

Be sure to watch the videos on the page! Link: http://insights.ccl.org/webinars/what-millennials-want-from-work/