At the Front Lines of the Global Transition

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Louisville and Carmel in New York Times Articles That Confirm First Principle of U.S. Economic Development

Louisville's active downtown has been helped immeasurably by taxpayer investments that leveraged private investments. Photo/Keith Schneider

Louisville’s active downtown has been helped immeasurably by taxpayer investments that leveraged private investments. Photo/Keith Schneider

CARMEL, Ind. – James Brainard, the 60-year-old mayor of Carmel, Indiana, is not the kind of public official who deplores change. He’s just the opposite, in fact.

In 1994, this prosperous suburb just north of Indianapolis held a planning workshop, inviting its 31,000 residents to consider ideas to redevelop Carmel’s crossroads downtown, parts of which date to the city’s founding in 1830. The next year Mr. Brainard, a moderate Republican, was elected to the first of his five terms in office, running on a platform that included investing taxpayer dollars to put the development plan for the original downtown, now known as the Arts and Design District, into effect.

Two decades later Carmel is a city of 85,000 residents transformed by a construction strategy unique in Indiana and the Midwest. It stresses 1) high-wage job recruitment in a district of contemporary glass and steel buildings along Meridian Street that houses over 40 corporate headquarters, 2) construction of office, residential, and entertainment venues in two central city districts that invite sidewalk dining and strolling, and 3) replacing over 80 intersections with roundabouts to keep vehicles moving and reduce traffic congestion.

The Arts and Design District set the stage for much of Carmel’s development over the last decade. Since 2005 just over $70 million has been invested by the city and private developers in nearly 300 new residences and dozens of new businesses that encompass almost 900,000 square feet of renovations and new construction, according to city records.

In Louisville, just hours south of Carmel, William Weyland is the design and marketing spirit behind the ten-story baseball bat outside the 200,000-square foot Louisville Slugger factory and museum on West Main Street. Mr. Weyland’s company, CITY Properties Group, finished the project in 1996 and it now attracts over 250,000 visitors annually.

Mr. Weyland’s company is responsible for a string of other offbeat projects to recycle old buildings. They include a $17 million renovation, completed in 2011, of the 145-year-old, 120,000-square foot Whiskey Row warehouses on West Main Street. The project has first floor space for five restaurants, and 36 residential lofts on the upper floors.

Now, for the first time in his career Mr. Weyland, who was raised in this Ohio River city and spent much of his career as an architect and developer, is undertaking major new construction – a $20 million, 121,700-square foot Hilton Garden Inn. The 163-room hotel, which opens in October, is rising at the corner of Third and Chestnut.

It is one of three new hotels under construction in downtown Louisville, the result of a successful public-private partnership that turned several hundred million dollars in taxpayer investments into hundreds of millions of dollars more in private investments. Louisville’s downtown core is now alive with entertainment venues, restaurants, watering holes and new residences.

Earlier this summer, in articles in The New York Times, I reported on redevelopment activities in Carmel and Louisville. See:

Mayor Drives the Remaking of an Indiana City


Waking Up Louisville’s Downtown

Both articles underscored the value of the first principle in American economic development — investing public dollars in public goods to leverage even larger private investments. The United States developed as a result of this basic principle of economic well-being. Transport canals were constructed in the 19th century along with the transcontinental railroad and America’s land grant research universities. The Interstate highway system was built along with dams, power stations, irrigation networks, parks, public buildings, and universities in the 20th century.
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ROMP Bluegrass Festival Honors The Masters and Advances Compelling New Artists

Owenboro's ROMP bluegrass music festival is a venue for top young talent, including (l to r) Sarah Jarosz, Rachel Baiman, Phoebe Hunt, and Lily Henley, with Maggie Gray, Gabrielle Gray, and Donna Acquilano. Photo/Keith Schneider

Owenboro’s ROMP bluegrass music festival is a venue for top young talent, including (l to r) Sarah Jarosz, Rachel Baiman, Phoebe Hunt, and Lily Henley, with Maggie Gray, Gabrielle Gray, and Donna Acquilano. Two of the Boston Boys standing in rear (l to r) are Nicholas Falk and Duncan Wickel. Photo/Keith Schneider

OWENSBORO, KY — Bill Monroe, a virtuoso mandolin player and the father of bluegrass music, was born in 1911 and raised on a ridgetop near Rosine, Kentucky about 40 miles south of the bluff on the Ohio River where Owensboro is located.

With every passing year the connection between Monroe, his birthplace, and this river city gets closer. That’s never more true than during the last weekend in June when Owensboro hosts ROMP, the River of Music Party, now a fixture in global consideration as the one of the best celebrations of bluegrass music in the world. This year’s ROMP festival, held from June 25 to June 28, added to that reputation and for very good reasons.

ROMP’s organizer, the Owensboro-based International Bluegrass Music Museum, treats the festival as a showcase of 1) the traditional hard-driving bluegrass sound that honors Bill Monroe’s legacy, 2) a salute to the musicians and artists that expanded bluegrass music’s embrace of more rhythm and vocals toward the end of the 20th century, and 3) a coronation of the intricate, almost concerto-like complexity that the top young artists are incorporating into bluegrass today. Taken together over four days, ROMP builds a historical narrative of a quintessential American musical form told by superb musicians and vocalists from all over the United States and overseas.

Doyle Lawson and Del McCoury, both members of the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame, are fixtures at ROMP representing the historic roots of the music. McCoury, a guitarist and lead vocalist, performed with Bill Monroe in the early 1960s. Lawson, a mandolin player, composed “Rosine,” one of his great recordings, to honor Monroe’s birthplace.

This year the places reserved for the next generation artists who advanced the bluegrass sound were held down by Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, his six-man band, and the Sam Bush Band. Skaggs and Bush are mandolin players and their big bands have repertoires that incorporate aspects of blues, country, rock and soul played with the traditional bluegrass instruments – standup bass, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. Ricky Skaggs was particularly impressive, especially during a song that featured the band’s bass player, Scott Mulvahill.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder perform at ROMP. Photo/Keith Schneider

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder perform at ROMP. Photo/Keith Schneider

Still, the ROMP feature that I find most intriguing is the festival’s focus on the top young artists in American bluegrass music. Read More

LeBron James’ Letter Is Celebration of Superb Writing

LeBron James, one of the eminent figures of his generation, announced his return to Cleveland in an eloquent piece of writing.

LeBron James, one of the eminent figures of his generation, announced his return to Cleveland in an eloquent piece of writing.

Four years ago, when he violated the self-effacing values of his Midwestern roots, LeBron James announced his departure from Cleveland in a torturous and ego-driven nationally televised broadcast. On Friday James explained his return to Northeast Ohio, his intent to finish his surpassing career as a Cleveland Cavalier, in a beautifully constructed and elegantly crafted letter.

Long live the written word. All writers should honor LeBron’s choice of platforms, the energy of a narrative that covers two decades of his young life, and revere the respect and gravity of his prose. From the first to the last of 11 paragraphs, in every one of the letter’s 952 words, LeBron masters the essential elements of a great piece of communications.

He anchors his story with time elements that carry the piece — “I was a kid from Northeast Ohio.” — and characters that drive his sense of loyalty — “D-Wade and CB. We made sacrifices to keep UD. I loved becoming a big bro to Rio.” LeBron forgives a lingering grudge — “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man.” — and acknowledges his own mistakes — “Who am I to hold a grudge?”
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Narendra Modi, India’s New Prime Minister, Can’t Overlook Faltering Energy Production

Near Rishikesh, in Uttarakhand, India, a passenger train makes its way south toward New Delhi. India's new prime minister raised fares 14 percent n June 2014, one of his first acts in office. Photo/Keith Schneider

Near Rishikesh, in Uttarakhand, India, a passenger train makes its way south toward New Delhi. India’s new prime minister raised fares 14 percent n June 2014, one of his first acts in office. Photo/Keith Schneider

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept into office in May on a message of aspiration, and a reputation for action.

During the nearly 13 years that Modi served as chief minister of Gujarat, before arriving in New Delhi, his successes included drastically curtailing the number of hours that manufacturers in India’s premier industrial state went without electricity. The state’s transmission grid was strengthened and Modi promoted the development of 900 megawatts of solar generating capacity. That’s equivalent to the power generated by a large nuclear plant.

These steps and many others fit Modi’s mantra of “less government and more governance,” as well as the prime minister’s deep understanding of the influence of adequate energy production in reviving a flagging economy.

Perhaps the most useful and telling national economic trend that greets Modi as the new prime minister, the one that clearly attracted interest in his candidacy, is the country’s candid assessment of its deteriorated condition. A decade after India’s economy regularly exceeded eight percent annual growth, and the nation was seen globally as the next economic juggernaut, India is slipping badly.

Endemic corruption, impenetrable bureaucracy, suffocating air pollution, vile freshwater supplies, and off the hook population growth make doing business in India a test of courage. Foreign companies have fled by the hundreds.

Just as significant is how India manages its natural resources as a social welfare program that produces startling outcomes. One of the most damaging examples is gifting to grain farmers free water, free electricity to pump water from overtaxed aquifers, and subsidized diesel fuel to run generators that power the pumps when the electricity cuts off. The result is a dangerous and expensive cycle of risk, built into the country’s political infrastructure, that simultaneously produces huge food surpluses that rot in Punjab grain depots, dire electricity shortages that hurt businesses and homeowners, and rising fossil fuel trade deficits.

Indians in every region of the nation, in every trade and profession, at every level of society understand that the social, economic, and ecological chaos that is modern India could hardly get much worse. Prime Minister Modi has a decent chance to fix some of this because he starts his work at the place where the reality of India’s troubled prospects meets the earnest hopes of its talented and determined people, what Modi during the campaign called “Achche Din Aane Wale Hain,” the good times that are ahead.

But Modi needs to help India define what he means by “the good times.” And he’ll need to target a handful of priorities to work on immediately, priorities sorted from the extravagant number of problems that require solutions. One of those priorities should be fixing India’s faltering energy production.

In plain words, India is not producing enough energy to supply its citizens, businesses, and communities. The biggest challenge is in the electricity supply.
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Peru’s Recession and Insurgency Revives Its Democracy; Example For the U.S.?

More than 5,000 campesinos from the Andes march in a show of unity in Cajamarca, Peru. Photo/Keith Schneider

More than 5,000 campesinos from the Andes march in a show of unity in Cajamarca, Peru. Photo/Keith Schneider

CAJAMARCA, Peru – North of Lima, 350 miles, this regional capital is spread across a high mountain valley near the northern terminus of the Andes Mountains. Spanish conquistadors began their conquest of Latin America here in the early 16th century when they murdered the last Incan emperor. The room where the Incan chief is said to have spent his last days is a half-block from Cajamarca’s central square. Roman Catholic cathedrals flank the southern and northern boundaries of the square, which is alive with strollers and skateboarders and people warming themselves in a bright winter sun.

The scene of order that greets visitors, the clean streets and the shops that stay open well past sunset, is a display of order that while not new isn’t all that old either. In the 1980s this city, which today numbers 250,000 residents, was one-third as large and engulfed by the same national economic depression that produced rampant joblessness, and inflation that essentially rendered the currency worthless. In the 1990s, Cajamarca and the villages in the surrounding Andes became a place where leaders and soldiers of the Shining Path, the leftist insurgency, came to heal during the nearly decade-long civil war that killed 70,000 people, according to government estimates.

Members of the Shining Path were a murderous bunch. With death threats, coercion, and targeted killing they sowed fear and disorder. Those who could leave the country, did. Peru’s president, Alberto Fujimori, responded by forming death squads that attacked the insurgents and also murdered a good number of innocent citizens. Fujimori was prosecuted for crimes against humanity, convicted, and in 2009 sentenced to a 25-year prison term.

Earlier this month a social scientist from Australia, Martin Scurrah, who’s spent much of his adult life in Peru, explored the history of Peru’s dark era with me. As his narrative neared its end I remarked that in its basic details — severe economic pain, political insurgency, social disorder, rampant death — it resembled what the United States is now experiencing. Peru’s recent story also produced a contemporary chapter that could hold lessons for the United States.

The matchless alpine meadows of the Peruvian Andes. Photo/Keith Schneider

The matchless alpine meadows of the Peruvian Andes. Photo/Keith Schneider

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