Monday, March 31, 2008

Travis Comment

Tucson, Arizona. The blogger Travis posted the following remarks eight comments deep at the Framework Bifurcation piece posted here Saturday. Well, I'm impressed.

What bugs me… especially when we’re talking in x4mr’s latest post about the dumbing down of America… is how we collectively tolerate the bad leadership happening around us at the local level.

I don’t perceive that there’s any sort of conspiracy within the "ranks that be" (referring to Tucson leadership, including politicians, appointed jobs, the economic development crew, and even those referred to as "power players"). Also, we have to note that the "ranks that be" is fairly fluid. Some players are more powerful in some areas and not others. The cast of characters changes with elections, job changes, and other horizons. And, though they are influential, they are by no means a single force or all on the same song sheet.

From having followed the blog for a while, I’m able to see that many of x4mr’s readers are quite intelligent… and at least two I’ve been able to identify are actually part of or connected directly to the "ranks that be".

The truth is, anyone here could go be a part of the "ranks that be". It takes a bit to make all the connections… but anyone here could go down and offer to help as a volunteer w/ TREO or any number of projects connected with the city or county… First they ask you to be part of a committee… you work your way up to committee chair. Play your cards right and you can eventually get asked to serve on a board. Might be with the symphony or the zoological society or a downtown development group (does Rio Nuevo exist anymore?). Money certainly lubricates (though proverbially silver-spooned, Glassman still had to build friends/ fans/ supporters), but, by nature, it’s political. You make your connections, do your favors, build a circle of friends/fans/supporters, you show effectiveness, and you get there.

But, the other truth is, anyone here could have a "bowflex body", too. You eat right, exercise (it’s not 20 minutes, but an hour a day), and it just happens. But we get lazy and distracted and it doesn’t happen. It’s not our focus. Easier in theory than actual practice… because we’re human and don’t have the motivation to achieve it. Life gets in the way.

Let’s look at someone who always made the pariah… like a Don Diamond or a Don Bourn or (to a lesser extent) Don Pitt. The Dons. They’re able to work the system NOT because of a conspiracy… but because they’ve had lots of practice and have a body of experience in how to do so. It’s to their advantage. It’s smart business. And they dedicate an army of consultants, lobbyists, attorneys, PR flacks, etc. to get this done. And even THEY get screwed in the process sometimes. But, because they’ve figured out how to make it work, it looks like there’s a conspiracy from the outside. This is especially true when we blanket label a group like this… instead of parsing down to what’s really going on. We give up the ability to make a difference… or work the system to our own advantage… in favor of a label and the ability to not have to think beyond that.

This is part of what makes x4mr’s blog interesting… he’s digging down. Economic development is a mess in Tucson for a number of reasons… and a group like TREO really has little effect on those reasons except to talk about them a lot. What do you need to be effective in this arena?

First, you need sharp, tough, and motivated entrepreneurs (who are also lucky). TREO can’t do anything about that. They are patently NOT entrepreneurs. They’re politicians. Entrepreneurs are weird birds… tend to be antisocial (they’re inventing stuff the rest of the world generally thinks is stupid until they suddenly make a pile of money… then it’s genius). In fact, I would hazard that TREO would pretty much drive off a real entrepreneur. Someone like Bob Breault was an entrepreneur… but he’s on the other side of the success curve where you become a dignitary. TREO has lots of those. Many of them also think that because they made one business go, they're genius about all of them.

Bob also knows how to work the system to his advantage (make no mistake, I admire this and Bob works very hard on Tucson’s behalf). Like many involved with economic development, all the trips he goes on market Tucson AND himself. Smart. Click, Finley, the Dons… they also gain business advantage by working participating in these arenas. This doesn’t at all dismiss what they do for Tucson. I mention these folks in particular because they do a phenomenal amount for our city. But that participation is ALSO why they do so well at business.

Lots of educators participate in this blog… did you know Finley was a teacher and school principal before she took over her husband’s distribution business upon his death? She’s an incredible supporter of anything education. (She was also a huge influence on one of x4mr’s favorite congresswomen deciding to run for that office…)

Click puts a tremendous amount of money and resources into all kinds of causes, especially helping train the disabled for jobs (and employing them). (Though I don’t know for sure whether he puts money into the Goodwill effort x4mr mentioned… he basically created his own foundation to do similar work.)

I’ve already mentioned that some of the Dons are putting money-where-mouth-is in helping get downtown to take off. That’s not just ‘cause they could make some money at it. That money might actually do better somewhere else… but they actually cared about seeing downtown take off. Once cheered, now they’re used as convenient political skeet.

(As a note, I don’t have anything to do with commercial real estate in Tucson. In fact, I’m pretty unpopular with at least one of the Dons. Something to do with his wife.)

Second, to attract business, you need a favorable combination of tax advantages and available workforce. This is where Tucson struggles… and, though the TREO staff, board, and advocates would tell you all about this, they’ve been really ineffective at doing anything about it. I think that has a lot to do with the frustration with the situation. It’s all so mired in politics, bad decisions, and churn that it does nothing… which results in "cloth talk" and glossiness… but not much changes. Look at the TREO board… virtually the same crowd for 20 years (GTEC being TREO’s predecessor). You know the adage about insanity being doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results…

Talk to anyone who develops or brokers commercial property in Tucson… they’re the first line in bringing a company in. (Buildings being are first thing they need.) Some of them sit on TREO’s and other related boards… which is supposed to help them see what might be coming. But nine times out of ten, as a regular part of their business, they see it before TREO does. They bust their asses to gather data and tour properties for the scouts for these businesses. And they hear back all the time… we found a better tax situation elsewhere… and you just don’t have the workforce we need.

BTW, these folks will also be the first to groan and roll their eyes at TREO’s taking credit where they really did nothing. Did you know that TREO has kept the terrorists away since 9/11?

Also BTW, Tucson’s transportation issues are another factor named by company scouts on a regular basis. This includes a dearth of direct flights to major markets… and the Tucson Airport Authority really can’t do all that much about it. It’s chicken-egg. Airlines can’t afford to put flights in until there’s enough traffic to support it (and we have a top-10 airport just 90 minutes up the road). You can’t get the traffic until you have the flights…

As for workforce, another chicken-egg. Look at where graduates go for jobs after finishing at the UofA… undergrads and higher. To one stay in Tucson as other than a restaurant manager is surprising. Some try and tire of the crap that’s expected of them for half the pay of a larger market (where there also happens to be more of a social life, another major factor in their decision). There’s just not that much here for them. (And I’ll counter on the call-center thing… a lot of the reason call centers were based in Tucson was that the area is geologically and weather inert… no earthquakes or hurricanes to knock out your customer service line.) To have a qualified workforce you have to have a qualified company to keep them around. How do we jettison the fops and actually do something here?

So, my question is… how do we develop better leadership in Tucson that can take these issues on with some effectiveness? (And how do we do this without driving out the real leaders we DO have… unfortunately, leaders and fops don’t separate quite as easily as oil and water. The fops attach with leech-like jaws.) And that’s the hard part… some of this change takes a lot of time and sacrifice. A lot of the talk masks this. A lot of the talk is excused because it feels like we’re doing something when progress is glacial.

There’s some smart discussion happening on this blog. There are a number of individuals among those ranks (the good leaders) who will read his post and go, "Yeah, tell me about it..!" Who can we identify and encourage as good leaders? (That’s harder than complaining about things.) A lot of real leadership gets drowned out in the bullshit and drama of politics. A lot of real leaders (The Fox’s Herbie being an example) get tired of public positions. They get torn down, burned out at having to battle so hard to really lead. They can make a lot more money applying the same talents private position… and still have time for life.

Who can we pinpoint as a real leader? Who can we pinpoint as a fop… and run out of town (or at least push out to a job where they’re not in our way)? And an even bigger challenge, who from this discussion is willing to step forward to take action and be counted among those leaders? Who’s already doing that?

3/31/2008 12:44 PM

I won't try to add to this magnificent contribution right now, except to underscore two key points. First, Travis could not be more spot on when he points out that a proper understanding must recognize that overly lumping groups / people together obscures the reality. Yes, I am highly critical of TREO, but as I wrote at the end of Something Else, TREO is not a thing. It has components and parts, as do other organizations and agencies. Second, I could not agree more with Travis that it is easy to criticize and blame. Constructive content and suggesting solutions prove far more challenging.

I am working on a piece that tries to at least start (as Travis has here, in my opinion) productive discourse. For example, why is the press sitting on the boards of institutions they are supposed to be covering as objective journalists?

Special thanks to Travis for taking the time to contribute to the conversation. At least one blogger is most appreciative.


Anonymous Scarlett Letter said...

StarNet reporting Miraval laying off staff, and the International Airline Pilot Training at Ryan Field filed for bankruptcy.
Hope someone asks TREO about that on Thursday!

3/31/2008 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They can also have a powerpoint slide on JetBlue, the baseball teams, and TUSD laying off over 200 teachers.

Travis is so right about the real estate part. People at Picor, or Bourn, or Richard Ellis do all this work, and then a TREO suit stands up like he did it all. The ones who produce the results do groan and roll their eyes.

The SAIAT story just enrages me. For peanuts (less than $1/4 M / year) that place helped over 10 thousand employees get training. TREO spent $400,000 on furniture!

Why did they shut SAIAT down?


3/31/2008 8:17 PM  
Blogger Dustin said...

do you think they shut SAIAT down because they wanted extra cash? or do you think it was because they had projected a shortfall and needed to cover their asses? The more I think about it, the more I think it was the latter.

4/01/2008 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Scarlett Letter said...

Hope somebody posts on today's TREO event.

4/03/2008 5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Job
interesting topic , I would like to read more on this topic and Bpo Services .

6/28/2008 12:38 AM  

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