Friday, February 08, 2008

An End and a Beginning

Tucson, Arizona. Apologies for the long post. Cigar Man and I had a chat recently. I finally know who he is. He clarified a lot. I don't foresee any future posts on SAIAT. Navigator - this is the final post.

The Southern Arizona Institute of Advanced Technology was incorporated in October 2000 with the support of individuals like Bob Hagan, Bob Breault, Steve Peters, Laura DeNinno, and other SATC "high tech" proponents who love to talk cloth and schmooze. Build it and they will come.

No one came, of course. Well, develop technology! Laura DeNinno proclaimed, "Whoever has the people gets the companies and the jobs."

SATC did a survey. Companies needed training. SAIAT put together web development programs. PCC put together a fancy optics program for "impossible to saturate" optics positions. No one enrolled.

With no understanding of education or what worker development services employers were truly willing to pay for, they created the place. We were told the help the "Plastics Cluster." We talked to plastics firms, optics firms, aerospace, software companies. Anybody want anything? Nope.

The Tech Park! I went there. What I am going to offer three PhD’d geniuses working to create a nuclear laser? Another team of five had fancy sound detectors that can bulls-eye the location of a shooter within inches from a thousand yards away. Another group had an unmanned plane the size of toaster with fancy optical equipment that can detect heat signatures a mile away. Move out to the Tech Park, Matt. They’ll be beating on the door with training requests you can refer to the community college.

Think about that for a minute. High technology advocates wanted me to find students to refer to the community college. I speak the truth.

I slashed costs, redesigned the organization, changed our name (from the sacred "technology" to "training"), and restored viability at dramatically reduced funding. I expanded flexibility to create a state of the art modularized employee development resource center. A month later (December 2004) Cigar Man contacted me, "You’re dead. You might have year, maybe two. You do not have four."

In 2006, after two years of successful operations, the Mayor and Supervisor Bronson endorsed the "Business Convergence Center" and praised us. Various development agencies would move into our facility. However, TREO wanted our funding. We infuriated them by requesting they not take it. They took even more, reversed their position, and shut us down.

The clues were there. I will never forget a 2002 conversation regarding the "Train to Gain" program that would take totally unskilled workers and train them in information technology (how to install programs, use Office, print). Phase Two would teach them Java Programming and Application Development.

The above context sheds the facts in a far more illuminating light.

Summer 1999: BHP shuts down the copper mine and smelter in San Manuel, Arizona, laying off 2600 workers.
September 1999: Art Eckstrom hires laid-off Matt to help One Stop Centers assist laid-off BHP employees.
Fall 1999: The City of Tucson and Pima County launch a High Tech High Wage Program (HTHW) to train under-employed Tucsonans in electronics. PCC provides training at premium pricing, making a fortune. Over 90 percent of the students fail at once.
Spring 2000: Matt designs and delivers the Math Skills Enhancement Program to potential HTHW participants. Failure rates plummet, and HTHW becomes viable.
October 2000: SAIAT is incorporated with Glenn Perry as Executive Director.
March 2001: Matt joins SAIAT as Director of Technical Education.
March 2001: Bill Samardak joins SAIAT as Director of Computer Education.
July 2001: SAIAT becomes an Authorized Sun Microsystems Education Center
February 2002: Matt becomes a Sun Certified Java Programmer
Summer 2002: SAIAT delivers programs including Telecommunications, Plastics, Solaris, Java, Soldering, Math Skills Enhancement, MCSE, and others with funding from multiple sources including the City, County, DOL, TANF, WIA, RYA, H1B and others.
September 2002: State Representative Carol Somers loses the GOP primary for District 26.
November 2002: Carol Somers becomes the Chair of the SAIAT Board of Directors.
December 2002: Bill Samardak resigns from SAIAT. Matt is promoted to Director of Education.
June 2003: Glenn Perry resigns. Matt becomes Acting Director.
July 2003: SAIAT FY 2004 funding is cut from $1.1M to $250K. Pima County severs financial ties with SAIAT and stops paying its $20K+ /month facility lease.
FY 2004: SAIAT loses $351K as Matt reorganizes the institute to serve employers, not individual students. He fractures training, certification, and development events (including meetings) to modular components based on OOP principles. It works.
July 2004: Matt addresses the Pima County Economic Development Council.
August 2004: SAIAT FY 2005 funding increased to $300K, infuriating other agencies.
December 2004: An unidentified individual "Cigar Man" declares SAIAT is doomed regardless of performance or results. He advises, "Craft an exit." Matt enters the PhD program in Higher Education.
FY 2005: SAIAT realizes a net gain of $55K.
September 2005: Matt is promoted to Executive Director of SAIAT.
FY 2006: SAIAT funding is slashed $67,500.
FY 2006: Despite the funding cut, SAIAT posts a gain of $22K. Customers praise SAIAT operations. Participant volume in a vast array of customized employee development programs exceeds 10,000 employees per year. Raytheon Acknowledgment.
September 2006: TREO voices support of SAIAT at its annual luncheon and obtains Mayor Walkup’s and Supervisor Bronson’s support for a Business Convergence Center at the SAIAT facility.
Early October 2006: TREO proposes SAIAT provide space, office supplies, office equipment, and assume the job training grant support responsibilities. SAIAT agrees.
Late October 2006: TREO suggests a $92.5K slash in SAIAT’s funding. Matt counters with a $47.5 reduction. TREO agrees.
October 29, 2006: In light of the increased work load, SAIAT Board Members Rich McKinney and David Beveridge refuse to approve the counter. The Board agrees to request funding remain at $242.5K.
November 2006: TREO cuts SAIAT funding by $132.5K, a 55% reduction.
November 7, 2006: TREO CEO Joe Snell writes County Administrator Huckelberry asserting the SAIAT board approved the 55% reduction in funding.
November 2006: SAIAT begins losing over $10K per month.
November 2006: SAIAT Board Members Rich McKinney and David Beveridge, members of Consulting Firm Solutus Partners, suggest SAIAT staff receive kick backs for SAIAT referrals to Solutus Partners. Matt declines.
November 2006: SAIAT Board member and Solutus Partner Rich McKinney contacts SAIAT employees to request contact information for SAIAT instructors and subject matter experts. This is declined.
December 2006: SAIAT Board Member and Solutus Partner Bill Galis resigns from the SAIAT Board.
January 3, 2006: SAIAT hires Carol Somers. She resigns from the SAIAT Board to join staff.
January 2006: Bill Galis signs a contract between Solutus Partners and TREO to provide consulting services. No disclosure is provided to SAIAT.
January 2006: Solutus Partners and TREO meet regularly.
February 15, 2007: SAIAT Board Members and Solutus Partners Rich McKinney and Dave Beveridge call for the immediate termination of the Executive Director with Rich McKinney to step in as his replacement. SAIAT Board Chair Vaughn Croft announces he will resign immediately if this occurs. It doesn't. Minutes
February 28, 2007: TREO instructs SAIAT staff to refer consulting business to Solutus Partners. Agenda Item #5
March 2, 2007: Vaughn Croft learns of the Solutus/TREO contract for the same outreach services designated in the SAIAT/TREO contract. By email Croft requests Solutus write a letter regarding a conflict of interest. Solutus does not respond. Croft sends follow up emails. There is no response.
March 9, 2007: Solutus Partner Rich McKinney emails TREO Vice-President Lee Smith asking for direction.
March 18, 2007: TREO Vice-President Lee Smith declares to Croft that no conflict of interest exists.
March 20, 2007: SAIAT legal council Pat Farrell declares there is a conflict of interest.
March 23, 2007: Dave Beveridge resigns from SAIAT Board.
March 25, 2007: Rich McKinney resigns from SAIAT Board.
May 15, 2007: Matt resigns as SAIAT Director.
Summer 2007: TREO cuts SAIAT FY 2008 funding to zero.
July 7, 2007: "Something Else" is published.
December 2007: SAIAT Operations close. The Solutus web site goes down. Solutus is removed from the TREO web site.
January 2008: Tucson Citizen reporter Teya Vitu is instructed to prepare a story on SAIAT and its closure. The High Tech guys say it didn’t promote the development of high tech companies. The Mayor says companies can just go to PCC. Teya chooses to kill the story.

Arizona’s rank in the United States in support for Education: 50

The journey from beginning to end happens by itself. The journey from end to beginning does not.


Blogger Sirocco said...

Ahhh ... I love this post.

Pacific Northwest > New England.

2/09/2008 7:08 AM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...


Fantastic post.

Now I feel like I understand, and it is an indictment of the leadership of this town that they were either too stupid to get it, or too greedy to fund it even if they got it.

Don't you dare consider yourself as having failed. What morons. I don't know software as well as you or Sirocco or Liza, but even I know enough to break out laughing when you talked about the Train to Gain thing making Application Developers. I get a real kick out of imagining your face as this obviously clueless person tells you about the program.

2/09/2008 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my God.

The Mayor said the high tech companies can just go to the community college?

That's outright EMBARRASSING!!

I knew the economic development people were complete idiots, but I didn't know they were corrupt. It figures.

It's not like you requested more money. You only wanted the same amount and had the machine working. All they had to do was let you keep doing your job.

Disgusting. The rich and rotten serve the rich and rotten.

2/09/2008 10:58 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

Great post.

I've said before that for just over 20 years I worked for a non profit that is owned by a municipal government in California.

I think that much of what looks like corruption is just extreme incompetence.

People who manage to achieve decision making positions in bureaucracies are often not the best and the brightest, to put it kindly. They do what they think is necessary to protect themselves and their good fortune. They tend to makes decisions that benefit only themselves and those who are loyal to them.

I have seen millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars just literally flushed down toilets. The average person who has never worked in a bureacracy has no idea what really is going on.

It's a damn shame.

2/09/2008 1:57 PM  
Anonymous D - A Former Student said...

When I heard about SAIAT closing, I made some phone calls. These are all real people and I will start with myself.

I was mostly through a degree at the U of A, but kept flunking algebra. I just couldn’t get it. I almost dropped out completely. No one could explain it to me until I took your math class. I don’t understand it, but everything changed. All classes, not just math, suddenly got easier. My GPA climbed over half a point and I became confident. I am now a well paid pharmacist. That would have never happened. What can I say? "Thank you" seems almost insultingly inadequate.

I’m the one who came to your math class petrified and scared. The test said I had fourth grade math skills. I flunked at Pima (instructor was TERRIBLE!). You were easy to understand and changed how I thought. Things came easier. After just three months I took the test again. I scored at 12th grade. I took HTHW and became an electronics technician. I make great money and have great benefits. If it weren’t for SAIAT I’d be changing tires.

I was one of the high school students that took your summer program. Remember running into me on campus a few months ago? You thought I was a friend of your daughter. Before taking all the stuff from you, I wasn’t even planning to go to Pima, let alone U of A. I was barely a C at Tucson High. After learning all that math and web design and computer programming and the other stuff you taught, I earned straight A’s my senior year and got into U of A. That was totally the result of spending the summer with you. Now I’m a senior in college with a 3.4 GPA computer science. Computer science!!

I had a halfway decent job at Universal Avionics before going to SAIAT. I took your evening program. In a year I doubled my wage. In two years I tripled it. The people that shut you down are either incredibly stupid, or liars. They say they want high wages, and the one place that actually increased people’s wages they close. Best of luck to you.

You saved my life, Matt. I am not joking. I gave up. I couldn’t understand anything in a classroom, or at least that’s what it felt like. I didn’t do well in anything really and totally fell apart in math except for adding, subtracting, etc.. If they put letters on the board, forget it. I will never forget the first day of your class when you said, "Say we want to work with a number, and we know its value, five. Since literally, we know the value, we express it that way," and you wrote "5" on the board, "This is a literal." I can get that. Then you said, "Suppose we don’t know a number’s value, but still need to talk about it."

You looked right at me and smiled, like you were reading my mind, and put an x on the board You turned back to me, "NO. BIG. DEAL." You stopped and looked at every single one of us. The whole room was quiet. Then you quipped so nonchalantly, "We call these guys variables."

You started me on a path the led to a medical technician. I can get a good job anywhere. Without your class, well, I can’t even go there.

Object oriented programming was killing me and I needed to learn it. I tried reading the books on Java. The syntax wasn’t too bad, but things like polymorphism for some reason I just couldn’t get why they even made interfaces. In your SL-275 on Wednesday, it was amazing. Suddenly I saw everything. Remember how I kept going on "Oh, wow! Man!!" that afternoon? The stuff about interfaces was terrific. The bulbs just went off. You also cleared a lot up about I/O with those plumbing drawings. It made it a lot easier to understand. You’re the best teacher I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve gone to some pretty expensive seminars.

It’s me, D again. You deserve to know that this comment is nothing compared to the total stories that are out there. You planted hundreds and hundreds and maybe thousands of seeds that are sprouting. The people who closed SAIAT will never understand what they did, at least not in this life. Perhaps they’ll have explaining to do later.

I don’t have the words to describe it. Michael Bryan said "amazingly brave." Maybe it comes from the leadership training, or just who you are, but part of what makes you so incredible is a certain courage and authenticity. There is no lying about you. I don’t have the words, but in a certain way you are one of the most courageous people I have ever met. God Bless you and good luck.

I hope this comment provided some value to you.

2/09/2008 2:03 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...


You know a make a person cry. I'm speechless. To the extent I made a difference, the honor was all mine. It was a privilege to interact with all of you and best wishes.

Sirocco, I would love NW, but count the flagship public universities there compared to NE. If it ends up being a think tank, most of those are in NE. We'll see what offers I can get.

If something goes wrong (flunk comps, can't find a job, etc.) I use the 401K to start "Matt's Dry Cleaning" in Flagstaff.

Someone else will have to save us from the buffel grass.

2/09/2008 3:33 PM  
Anonymous The Doctor said...

Geez. I cried.

I'm also angry.

What a bunch of jerks. It is good that they showed their true colors and you got out of there.

Hopefully, you'll move on to decent co-workers with intelligence and integrity. You can check in from time to time to read the headlines about southern AZ economic development. It was electronics valley. Then it was optics valley. Now they're singing bio-med valley. In six or seven years, nano-valley.

You're right. All cloth. Perhaps the Mayor is right. The last big announcement was a new warehouse. Pima probably can teach a warehouse certificate.

Stocking methodology
Introduction to Shelving
Advanced Shelving
Pallets 101
Time clock operation
Box tag reading 205
Warehouse Bird Control Ethics

Waddu buncha goons.

2/09/2008 9:16 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

My reaction is very much like yours.

Economic development in Tucson is just so laughable.

It's sad. I'm sure that X4mr is not the only person in the history of this city who has invested not only his time but literally his heart and soul into trying to make a difference. In X4mr's case, he actually showed them HOW to make a difference.

However, the bureaucracy is what it is - bloated, incompetent, wasteful, merciless, and devoid of compassion. And, more often than you want to know, bureaucracies are managed by fools who care more about their own positions, paychecks, and benefits than anything else including the mission of their agency or the citizens they are supposed to be serving.

Joe Snell and the rest of them involved in the destruction of SAIAT probably sleep well at night. I doubt if they have ever given any thought to what their narcissism, incompetence, and greed has cost the community THAT THEY ARE BEING PAID TO SERVE. People like Snell are not even able to make the association. Unfortunately, people like Snell waste a lot of money and do a lot of damage before the chickens come home to roost.

It is the community that suffers, picks up the tab, and gets nothing in return.

2/09/2008 9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/05/2009 10:47 AM  

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