The Redevelopment of a Small Industrial-Based city in the midwest

For the past two years I have been undertaking an effort to redevelop a small city in the midwest, Salem, Ohio. The effort was driven by the decline of the city both fiscally and the loss of significant architecture and business, particularly retail, in the downtown district.

Salem is a small city of twelve thousand residents. The city is located about midway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It has significant architectural value with 1900 era buildings and has a rich history which includes the Underground Railroad and Women’s suffrage movements. John F. Kennedy spoke in Salem during his campaign in 1960. In 1850 the second Womens rights convention was held in Salem. Many of the structures are directly associated with these historical events. I like to call Salem the “Forest Gump” of cities, because of its inadvertent touches with history.

The negative issues that this city faces:

With the loss of the industrial base of the Industrial Revolution, there was a significant decline in employment and quality of employment during the period of 1950 to the present. The city declined from financial prominence to a polarity of wealth with a small percentage of the populous controlling a large segment of wealth. Employment within the immediate area of the city offered only $ 44,000 income per annum per family. Exacerbating this polarity was the declining industrial base rewarding those who refused active investment and chose passive investment.

The result of the aforementioned issues is a community of wealth and poverty. Because of the need for the good people of this area to show compassion, there have been many non-profits and well-meaning organizations and individuals who have offered assistance in the form of food, clothing, money, and shelter. The result has been to create a haven for the needy. Reviewing newspaper articles shows the city soliciting low-income housing as early as the 1960’s. The result is, of course, an imbalance of those taking services and those participating in the support of those services.

These mis-actions by the local government have created the current issues that the community must overcome. These issues are the inequity of income, the general low income of the middle class, and the imbalance of the distribution of wealth in the population. Results of this are an increase of drug use and an increase in crime.

Reality of fiscal local politics are that the current income, resulting from a 1% income tax has declined from a gross income of 1.3 million per annum to a a current level of three hundred fifty thousand per annum in the past couple of decades. The response to this spiral of failure has been to curtail spending and the offering of services. This has, of course, created a lessening of the income driving the services, etc.

Further amplifying the negative aspects of this failure, like parasites on a sickened animal, are the corrupt, who flock to any significant source of income. In a challenged environment, such as this, their interference is significant in the evolution of the declining fiscal environment.

Positive attributes of Salem, Ohio:

The people of this area are unique. They are strong, hard-working, good people with a strong work ethic. They are loyal and reliable. They are very special as a people and as a workforce. Many middle-class families enjoy one of both parents employed in two or three jobs to offset the meager incomes provided by the current environment.

The aforementioned issues have resulted in a deficit of opportunities for the people of this city and surrounding areas. Also, it has created a magnificent opportunity for the correct employer. Salem and surrounding areas have a strong, willing, and hard-working workforce. Unemployment and underemployment have produced a dormant workforce that is immediately available. Midwestern values, patriotism, honor, dedication, and loyalty are the hallmark of the people of this area.

The cost of living is necessarily low. A fine home can be purchased for under one hundred thousand dollars. A magnificent home can be purchased for two hundred fifty thousand. DInner costs from seven to twenty dollars in a medium grade restaurant. An executive making one hundred thousand dollars per annum can live like a king in this area.

The city of Salem is architecturally and societally beautiful. Tree-lined streets connect this completely walkable city. The image is accurately that of a Norman Rockwell painting. The beauty of the area, the vegetation, the finely groomed lawns and plantings, and the finish of the city itself is magnificent. The community is one of welcoming openness and accepting.

Personal safety is great and crime is not significant. There are drug issues, but they are small and are being immediately addressed and overcome.

The work required to make the needed repairs:

A Technical Advisory Committee was formed and one hundred forty participants addressed the downtown, (the most significant issue from an income perspective). They made recommendations in a seventy page report, which I authored, suggesting the needed ratios of occupancies, green space, and parking. They suggested altered traffic patterns to increase flow of traffic through the city. They addressed the maintenance of the building inventory and supplied the existing methodologies, through the law to address these issues. Repairs of the issues of the downtown will eventually result in an increase of the downtown tax base of 500%

Salem needs to address the insufficient income of the middle class. This will be accomplished by drawing sophisticated industries to this beautiful city and to employ the capable workforce to its potential. The redevelopment of the downtown is a necessary predecessor of the industrial development effort.

Finally, the issue of corruption must be addressed. I have addressed this by regulatory effort. New procurement regulations are being considered and changes to ordinances are being made to assure open honest procurement. Other efforts are underway to stop unfair practices. This is not a punitive effort, it is one of recognition and repair of the things that have been allowed to exist which are detrimental to the city as a whole.

It has now been almost two years since the results of the TAC have been made public. We have enjoyed significant success and, of course, we have suffered substantial resistance to the recommended change. Statistics prove success of the evolution to date, but we are not beyond the tipping point that we once faced as a city. I believe that over the coming three years we will have positive results with the lagging indicators of family income and individual income. Currently commercial and residential real estate have turned a corner and are appreciating significantly. It is now dependent on efforts of revitalization and industrial development to cement the improvements achieved.

 

Scott Cahill

Success, and the many over-simplifications of its elemental substance.

I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts with those of you who may have an interest. I have developed a love for writing and I enjoy this venue and the open arena for discussion and criticism.

I read, too. I have read many posts describing the “balance” of work and personal life. I believe that to be a valid and interesting discussion. In many of these, the authors discuss the need to balance various elements of life and project this “balance” as a key to success in business.

My background includes many years of management. Some of those were the management of turn-arounds of troubled companies with significant issues and universal failure. Always, the environment was one of excuses. Always the failing company was full of individuals with “balanced” lives.

When someone had to stay to complete a difficult task that required late night work those who chose to respect their obligation to the company did so as others left promptly for grade school soccer or a party or whatever. I was left with the few who chose to remain to pick up the pieces.

The eventuality, of course, was that I chose to surround myself with those who I knew I could rely on – no matter what. The person who I saw working all night so that our client was given what we promised as a company, or even what I promised for our company. These were, inevitably, those who rose to the top of the heap. I heard, so many times how unfair it was that I promoted X when Y had more experience, education, etc.

I did not promote those who were most capable. I promoted those who I could trust most deeply. A brilliant marketing man once told me “Scott, if it wasn’t for my friends, I would be a complete failure” He said this to me in answer to a compliment that I gave him. He always cared deeply for the experience of our clients, those who chose to trust us (and him). He made himself always available to them and he always was, indeed, their friend in every respect of the word.

I reflect on my own success and I readily admit that all success that I have found is the direct result of my trusting friends, men and women who knew that if they called me at midnight, I would be there before morning. People who knew that I would do anything to not let them down. People who I genuinely cared for, and who genuinely cared for me.

We serve as examples to our children. They have playmates. What they perceive as normal is what they see us doing. For myself, I would rather tell my beautiful daughter that I am sorry that I missed her recital and take the time to explain honor and obligation and the personal contract between business people when they put their trust in one another. It is a sacred thing and it is a great measure of the value of a man – if his word, or his contractual responsibility is subordinate to a soccer game, he is not the man who I would choose to handle my project.

Scott Cahill

What Truly Motivates

I attended a meeting last night of the Sustainable Opportunities Development Center, a local non-profit supporting industrial development in north east Ohio. Jim Tressel, the president of Youngstown State University, spoke.

As a man with a great background in coaching, of course, he spoke of motivation and what it takes to meet a goal. The talk and the meeting was entertaining and on point to the task that we face in our area.

I spent the time as the speakers spoke to the slides of a Power-Point presentation  thinking. What motivates men? What single elemental need drives men to achieve in spite of the insurmountable or the impossible?

At last it came to me, Desperation! Yes it is that simple – Desperation.

Reflect on the greatest odds – the insurmountable that were overcome – things that never should have happened that happened. The settling of North America, The civil rights movement, World War II, The immigration and nationalization of our forefathers. The challenge met had one common denominator, Desperation.

So many times companies are built by great men, only to be squandered by their sons or grandsons – what is missing? So often companies grow bigger and bigger, driving markets, only to flounder and to fail. What has left them? Desperation

Martin Luther King stepped onto that balcony so many years ago. He knew that a bullet awaited him. He knew not the time nor the place but he knew that, perhaps, he must die. He did die on that balcony. A bullet took the life of a great man, a man who put others before himself. Like Gandhi, a fool’s hatred ended his life. But his legacy lived on. All too soon, J.F.K. and Bobby would fall, too. Each knowing the threat, each knowing that they could hide, each knowing the cost. Each stood, each endured, each refused to be marginalized, and each became greater even in death, than in life. That, my friends, is desperation.

A family huddles around a fire in a tenement of New York CIty. They are cold and skinny, and tired, a man sees his children and he knows that even if it kills him, he will work his way out of this and he will find, for them, a better world. That is desperation.

A free world looks to the east and sees everything that they stand for at risk, a mad man is swallowing up nations and the freedom that they had gained, and enslaving them to falsities. Young men, like my father, lie about their age to go to war, to spill their blood on distant shores. The only option is to stop them there, or stop them here. There is no plan b. That is desperation.

A young man sits on the bench. The game is almost over. He looks in the stands and sees his girl, his parents, his friends. It is time and he takes the field. He will run like he has never run before with one thing in mind – the goal. In his head there is no failure, there is no threat of pain, there is only the goal and the cheers and the win. That, too, is desperation.

Jim Tressel refers to it as selflessness, I call it desperation. It is the absolute commitment to a task or goal that you believe in so deeply that you put it before comfort or safety, or anything else. When you find that thing that you can believe in so deeply, you will be capable of perusing it no matter the difficulty and you will achieve true greatness. If comfort, or ease, or communal acceptance exceed that thing in your soul, you will fail. Great things are achieved by those who believe absolutely in them, and who subordinate themselves to the achievement.

Scott Cahill

1975 Office Procedures

If you are old, perhaps, you might remember. It was a better time, a time of absolutes, of structure, of respect.

In 1975 a morning might start, as I walked into my office “Jan, you look absolutely beautiful today”,(you were allowed to say such things then) a cup of hot coffee was waiting on my desk and a wonderful smile from a wonderful person started my day. I loved Jan, (and later Melody, and Rene). They were my secretaries. I know, dirty word! It was not a dirty word in 1975, though.

In 1975 letters were written by a quick call ” take a letter to Acme Steel – tell Carl I want that damned rebar on that site or I will cut his %^%$^ off”   In your “in” box would be a well-worded, properly punctuated letter explaining to Carl that the reinforcing bar was needed immediately and that if not received by Tuesday, he would be found in conflict with 10.2.1 of his contract and charges would accrue against his payable.

In 1975 you could have a blood bath fight and then go to the corner bar and have a beer together and laugh. There was no time for subterfuge. Meetings were infrequent and for specific issues, which were addressed and then adjourned. If you disliked someone enough to complain, you fired them.

In 1975 if you thought that a girl in your office was beautiful you might say “You look beautiful today” she might respond “thanks”. That was it. If there was an unwanted advance she might say “Buzz off” That was it. You had no need to qualify every word. We treated each other as grownups.

In 1975 your boss told you what to do. He didn’t ask your opinion and then interject what might be a “better way of getting there”.

In 1975 you knew who was boss, who was second in charge and who was low man on the totem pole. There was not a discussion about wether that was a logistics problem or if it was a marketing issue.

In 1975 the title “secretary” was not demeaning. They were respected important, sought-after professionals that did things that executives were unable to do as well. The insult that “anybody” could type a letter or check the math on a quarterly report was never thought or uttered. The executive with the best secretary was often the executive that succeeded. (Secretaries were both male and female.) Secretarial work was often the path to an executive position within the company.

In 1975 a person answered the phone. That person wanted you to reach the department or person who you were calling and they spoke to you. Often they recognized your voice. There were no machines to query you and then drop the line.

In 1975 companies were groups of people together to provide a service. They worked together and each had a personal goal, but each, also understood a corporate goal. When the company suffered, each employee worried and considered how best to make it better.

So much has changed. Some is better, some is worse. Perhaps it is time to look into the past and to retrieve the things lost and to bring into the present those with value.

Perhaps it is time to look at all of this failed pandering to manufactured sensibilities and create a workplace where open opinion is welcome and everyone can express themselves. The hurt of an occasional poorly considered remark is far overshadowed by the loss of the joy that is a corporate community with truly open communication and respect for our differences and our personal value.

Scott Cahill

“I am surrounded by IDIOTS”

Frustration – it is the thing that happens when a clear course of action is difficult or impossible to take.

I hear it often “I am surrounded by idiots” and at times – I must admit – I see it first hand. How do people who fail to understand the very basics of a situation get into a position of management and, more importantly, how do we manage them from our subordinate positions?

Often it is the boss who never cared to keep up with I.T. or the government official who failed to read the regulation. They stumble blindly on serving out mandates to us, never seeing their ineptitude. We, understanding the impossibility or the impotence of the endeavor, must placate and maneuver them around to some, any, workable solution.

By now, you are wondering -“where is he going with this” – does he have an answer to the world’s greatest question? Yes I do. GET OUT! Move! Go! Leave! RUN!

It is perfectly fine to not understand many of the intricacies of a particular company or process. Great managers can delegate things that they do not understand to those who do. They evaluate results. They study to understand, but they allow the expert to, in fact, be the expert. A great leader will not dictate the details of a process. He will set up a method to reach a goal and will allow the expert(s) to find the best way to solve the problem. He will not demand adherence to a plan, but will allow the plan to evolve, steered by others.

My father was a great leader. He rarely told anyone what to do. In fact, he more often asked. He used to say to me “you can’t ask a man to do something that you will not do yourself”, and he never did. He would ask “how are you going to solve this problem”, he would listen. He often made suggestions, but the person who was responsible for the task, a vice president or a laborer, knew that it was they who were responsible and it was they who made the decision.

Sometimes they failed. I suspect that sometimes he knew that they would. He never said “I told you so”. He said “that didn’t work, what do you want to do this time”. He never reprimanded anyone for an attempt that failed. Failure was accepted as part of the process, and , in fact, it is.

Anyone who worked for him took a piece of him with them. He was universally loved. He never took credit. He passed it right on down the line. When complemented by a client, he would single out the person who found the solution. He was unassuming and he was quiet. Everyone knew he was in charge.

If you have such a boss, care for him, enjoy him, and tell him that you appreciate him (or her). You are, indeed, lucky. If you find yourself in a position where you have no control over the outcome, yet are responsible for it, RUN.

Scott Cahill

“We only work with friends”

Imagine what your day would be like if you only worked with friends. You would race to the meeting across town, smiling. You would stay late and look forward to a beer before you head home. A sales call would become an opportunity to catch up, a company meeting would become a happy occasion.

A while back, I was sick of those impossible, difficult, never satisfied souls who find a business situation as an opportunity to lord it over those of us who provide service or supply. I started letting them go, slowly, I replaced them with people who I really liked. I changed our companies’ motto to read “We only work with Friends” It was a wonderful change. It made business and life happy and easy, and I remembered why I had so enjoyed what I did, again.

It may seem impossible, it is not. You may have to work on it. You may have to become a friend of someone who you have little in common with. It is valuable and good in so many ways when you go to work and realize, while getting out of your car, that you are happy to be here.

Scott Cahill

A lesson in managing people

Recently, the Salem Ohio Community Theatre performed a comedy roast and skits in Courtyard Square.

I often go to see the shows at our beautiful historical theatre in our city. They are professional and of very high quality and, indeed the theatre and it’s company are a grand asset of this wonderful city.

Dan Haueter was the Director, and managed a dozen or so unpaid and over-talented actors who, in two weeks put together a show that sold out and changed the entertainment direction of a city.

I am a manager of people. Most of my time has been spent in turn-arounds. I am known for being candid and absolute. I am not known for compassion nor for kindness. I am, perhaps a bit of a dinosaur, a remnant of the days of “If it ain’t broken – break it”.

Dan is very different. He never raised his voice. He never got upset. His management style was gentle and forgiving. The cast love him and I have grown to be yet another of his advocates. His demeanor and his success have caused me to reflect on myself and my methods.

“There is no greater friend than one who teaches you to be a better person” That quote is from me. I have had a few great men who have stopped to help me along the way. First my father, great bosses, great clients, and great employees, and I took what I felt was the best that they offered and I made it my own.

Now, I am confronted with another friend who has shown me that, perhaps it is time to look at myself and assess my style in light of the changed environment of management and to learn from Mr. Haueter’s gentle management style.

Scott Cahill

Political Correctness Gone Awry

I am semi-retired – what that means is that I now do things and run businesses that I never would have considered before. One of those endeavors is a small coffee shop in a Planned Unit Development that I am constructing in Ohio. The coffee shop is up and running and I am turning it over to another to run day to day. It will be run by a wonderful company who’s charge is to incorporate those of us with special needs into society. It is a wonderful effort and I believe completely in it.

I was recently approached by one of our best young employees. She asked if she could go to work in one of the other businesses. I agreed immediately because she is clearly a star, and clearly, such a person belongs in the folds of my endeavors.

The reason that she gave, though, was interesting to me. She left because the company taking the coffee shop was sending her to sensitivity training. I believe that she was hurt by this act. This person, like most intelligent, worldly, educated people does not think of race or background or mental peculiarity as a bad thing, but a simple part of the diversity of man. She is above any lack of compassion and she is beyond the period of awkwardness that precedes this understanding.

She is, probably, the perfect person to help in their efforts of integration. Instead, she will soon be managing the business side of a fine restaurant. What did the new owners do wrong to lose their best employee?

I would feel exactly as my employee felt. “If you think so little of me that you must teach me how to treat others, I will move on and find a place where I am thought more of.” That is, after all, what she did. She knew that I would not treat her as a liability that needed “trained” to act properly. She was secure in herself and knew that she would find gainful employment, in fact, she will find great success and will climb to the top of the organizational chart wherever she goes. She chose not to be treated as if she was a lesser person.

I understand that it is good to have a coordinated method to address these things, but clearly, we must find a way to introduce ideas and methods that does not belittle our people.

Long ago those of us who had mental differences or difficulty were completely integrated in our society. They swept walks and they opened doors. They had jobs, and friends, and people who they spoke to every day. Somehow we failed them. We locked them in green-walled rooms and let them glue macaroni onto construction paper. We stripped them of their humanity. Shame on us. I hope that these efforts bring all of us together again in the fabric of society. I want the different in the mix. The world is better and more complete with us all. It is true that those of us who are different are subject to the taunts of the unenlightened. That is bad, but even worse is this cloistering of the different, shunning them from the social world that is their inherent right.

Scott Cahill

If

Words matter greatly. They change life. They change the course of history.

My mother is a poet. She is a psychologist and that is what she would answer if asked, but truly, in her soul, she is an artist. She explains life in prose. All of her children are writers, too. My sister wrote a wonderful book. My brother has drafted words to explain the intricacies of the systems of aircraft and electronics. I have hammered out technical discussion on methods and means of construction.

When I was a small boy, above my crib, my brother and my bunk beds, and now over my desk, hangs a poem. It is not one of mothers great poems, it is a very simple poem written by Rudyard Kipling. Wikipedia describes it thus:

“If—” is a poem by British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling, written in 1895 and first published in Rewards and Fairies, 1910. It is a tribute to Leander Starr Jameson…….Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem If  with Leander Starr Jameson in mind as an inspiration for the characteristics he recommended young people to live by (notably Kipling’s son, to whom the poem is addressed in the last lines)

It is stoic in its nature. It compels one to strength of character and  self reliance. It is a worthy piece of literature for a young man to refer to as age takes a grip on him. I have read it many times through life and have looked up at it in times of trouble. The simple words of this piece contain all of the strength that is necessary for a man to excel in political endeavors, in business, and in life.

IF

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

If you are moved by these words, clip this out and hang it on the wall above your desk and, in trying times, read it.

Scott Cahill

This above all: to thy own self be true……

Polonius:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

In act 1, scene 3 of Hamlet, Laertes takes leave of his father, Polonius with these words. They have, since, echoed through time adopting altered meaning with the change of the seasons of our society.

As with so much of the verbiage of Shakespeare, there is great poignancy in this iteration. It is a universal truth that any man must be true first to himself, without the coercion of some intellectual, I read this line at it’s face value. I believe it to stand up to scrutiny as written and as read. A man who fails to know who he is, what he stands for, what he believes, is of no use as a mentor, as a teacher, perhaps as a friend.

If you wish to change the world, look within yourself first. It is there that you will find the vessel of your charge. It is there that you will find the first hurdles to any endeavor. It is the first house to put in order before learning, before great effort, before battle. The decisions made within will surely manifest in the implementation of such effort and a failure to assess or to prepare within oneself will surely result in failure.

Long ago I applied for a position as a project manager. It was a position that I was professionally unprepared for. Perhaps my mouth had overloaded my behind. I was scared. I called my closest ally, my mentor, my father. I explained my position to him and I asked for his advice. This is what he told me:

“Do you know what a project manager dresses like?”

yes, I responded

”Then you dress tomorrow like a project manager.”

“Do you know what a project manager says when he speaks?”

yes

“Then you talk like a project manager.”

“If you get up every morning and you speak like a project manager and you dress like a project manager and you act like a project manager, soon you will look back and see that you are a project manager.”

As was always true, my father was right. The challenge was not in the office nor the field. The challenge was within me. If I prepared and if I believed, then I could be what I needed to be to fulfill my commitment.

Always, the challenge is within us. We are all capable of any endeavor for which we find the absolute commitment. The first step in setting out on our challenge is the introspective evaluation of oneself and the willful intentional adaptation of oneself to face the task at hand.

Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.

Scott Cahill