Economic Development

Lake County Rising

I got to stir the pot last week at Lake County’s Economic Outlook and Forecast event. The gathering came in the wake of recent fires, but most would agree that Lake County was due for economic encouragement well before the tragedies.

My topic was business and agriculture, two things I have no trouble getting excited about.  Since a few have asked for the slides, here they are, along with a written version of what I said at the conference, or at least what I MEANT to say ; )


“Meet the Smith family.  Ignoring the fact that they are fictitious, they play an important role in Lake County’s economic recovery.  Why?  I’m glad you asked!  Because they live within 150 miles of Lake County, along with 7 million of their closest friends.


That means we have an audience larger than the population of Denmark, just waiting to make the 3 hour drive, IF properly motivated.

If we ask the Smiths what they know about Lake County, they will have  several answers.  They may say good things, like beautiful scenery, good wine, and excellent fishing.  And they may say some not-so-g00d things, like algae blooms, cannabis cultivation and terrible roads.

Now let’s consider what they should say:


Giant Lake, Outdoor Adventure, and Local Food & Wine.  Those are the real assets of our area, and those are the things we should encourage them to think about when thinking Lake County.  Because, like any great business, a great area should create a clear, concise story, and plant it in the mind of the world.  That way guests know what to expect when they come through the door.

Fortunately for us, a few relevant journalists have written about the area.  Lettie Teague wrote in the Wall Street Journal on the rise of Lake County grapes, while the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an 18-page weekend section on everything from hiking to fishing to wine tasting.  And Sunset Magazine has covered Lake County in several recent issues, on various topics.


But likely the Smith family  learned more from friends and family about Lake County than they did from reading the newspaper.  They asked on Facebook, at Starbucks, and at work: Where should we go on vacation?   And those friends shared their stories, good and bad, from their own travels.

That’s why Walt Disney was so clever when he created Disney Land on the following premise:Slide09

Disney Land in Anaheim, by the way, employs 65,000 people, approximately the population of Lake County.  It’s remarkable the impact that a well run business can have on a surrounding economy!  But I digress.

Where did the friends learn about Lake County?  From YOU GUYS!  You all, 180 of you here in the audience (and now all the Lake County locals following along on the blog – ed.) , are the movers and shakers that make this place happen.  You created their experience, and wrote the story in their minds.

Because those friends likely drove up some Friday night, and stayed at the Tallman Hotel.Slide11

They got up the next morning for a cup of coffee at Studebaker’s, and a hike on Mt. Konocti.  Slide12

Then they rented a boat from Disney’s Water Sports, and went out on the lake.Slide13

And ended the day with dinner at a great local restaurant.Slide14

Then, because I’m a little biased, I hope they came out to Six Sigma Ranch for a Ranch-to-Table dinner.Slide15

All these things they could have learned about from the media, their friends, or one of our local associations, from those of us (YOU!) who get to craft the story.  Slide16

And what is that story, to be specific?

You see, we have a real advantage here in Lake County.  While some areas struggle to decide on a focus, ours is obvious: Start with the giant lake!   And it’s surrounded by mountains, and a climate perfectly suited for food and wine.  So our story, when we have just a few minutes to share with a friend or a reporter,  is simple:  Giant Lake, Outdoor Adventure, and Local Food & Wine.  Slide17It is our responsibility, like any great business, to share it with the world.

What then, shall we do with the Smiths when they come to Lake County?  Slide23

I suggest we treat them like royalty.  We connect them with a boat, some local olive oil, pears, and a few bottles of wine.  We might even sell them a pair of Bob Maher’s Maharaja water skis.

And then we send them home, so THEY can tell their friends, what a great time they had with the Giant Lake, Outdoor Adventure, and Local Food & Wine. 

THAT, I believe, is the path to Lake County’s Economic Recovery.”



Economic Development

The Fight Against Poverty (and Hippos.)

hippo-yawningThere’s a tragic and amusing story behind the title of Ernesto Sirolli’s book, Ripples from the Zambezi.

As a young man, Sirolli worked with groups sent from Italy to Africa for “economic development.” As was the tradition (and unfortunately still is), one group went in search of problems to fix, in this case along the Zambezi River. They found that the locals had no agriculture, despite fertile soils, and determined to bless them by introducing Italian farming.

A few days before harvest time, the Italians were quite proud of themselves. They had taught (or at least demonstrated) agriculture along the river, and saw an abundant crop in their future. Unfortunately the local hippopotamus population saw the same thing. They came out of the river and ate the crop.

“Why didn’t you tell us about the hippos?” asked the Italians? The answer came calmly: “ You never asked.”

And therein lies the problem with billions of dollars of “economic development” funding supplied by wealthy countries around the world. “They never asked.”

Michael Matheson Miller covers the same topic from a different angle in the Poverty Cure series, where several businesses in struggling countries face competitive pressure from the “relief efforts” that flood their market with free goods.

So, what is the solution? According to Sirolli, it is called “facilitation.” Instead of marching into a deprived area on a mission, his team now hangs out at the local coffee shop. There they learn what entrepreneurial initiatives already exist, and offer to support them. The locals, who are more clever than we give them credit for, then do the work with a little support, wisdom and encouragement.


PS.  For more from Ernesto Sirolli, consider spending 17 minutes on his remarkably amusing Ted Talk:

Economic Development

Beginner’s Guide to Performing Miracles

Digress with me for a moment from our regular conversation, the topic of creating profitable agricultural business. I love that topic (hence our blog), but it’s not Rachel or my ultimate goal in life. I dare suggest that it may not be your ultimate goal either.

Imagine a young couple in your town. They marry and have a child, a young boy who grows to be a charming and healthy two-year-old. Then the boy gets sick. He loses weight, can’t eat and goes to the hospital. There, doctors can’t help him. The boy gets more and more ill as the parents watch. The doctors tell them their son won’t make it.

Then arrives a stranger to the hospital from a foreign country. The stranger offers to heal the child, an act that seems impossible. But, with no better options, the parents tell this person to go ahead, praying for a miracle. The child is healed.

Now let’s revise the story. The young couple lives in Africa, and the stranger is you. The boy is dying from a disease caused by contaminated water, and the local doctors and the child’s parents don’t have a clear understanding of microbiology. By explaining that the local water source is contaminated, and providing a new well (in collaboration with a few other strangers who each pitch in $50 through an organization like @ScottHarrison ’s @CharityWater), you save the life of someone else’s child. To them, your effort seems like a miracle.

I share this story because someone shared it with me. It has been on my mind for months, this concept that we each have seemingly normal gifts and resources that are, in a different context, the makings of a miracle.