Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Floodplains, Farming and Fairs

August 19, 2008, 8:10 a.m.

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Restrict building in floodplain

In the course of lavishing -- deserved -- editorial praise on local hero Steve McGuire the Press-Citizen closed its editorial with, "we also hope that the Flood of 2008 teaches us all that we need to restrict the building of any new structures in the floodplain . . .." Editorial, "Look for a Hero, and You'll Find Steve McGuire," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 19, 2008, p. A8.

It's a theme we explored here yesterday in "Go With the Flow," August 18, 2008.

Iowa Farming: Corn, Beans and Data

In 1979 I was a "presidential adviser" helping to arrange a White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services. It was far enough along in the "Information Age" that one could see through the fog with some precision to where we would likely be 10 and 20 years later. In the 1980s I was writing a nationally syndicated column, "Communications Watch," and hosting a weekly TV program distributed by PBS, "New Tech Times." Alas, both would have been more successful had they not been 15 years ahead of their time.

Equally untimely when I returned to Iowa in 1980 were my efforts to get Governor Terry Branstad to share my enthusiasm and see the potential of of the Information Age for Iowa's economy. The high tech, high pay jobs with CompuServe in Columbus, Ohio, could have been in Coralville. The lower-paid jobs as 800-number operators in Omaha could have been in Council Bluffs; the Visa receipt processors in the Dakotas could have been in Davenport. In spite of what I recall as three exchanges of letters I was never able to get the idea through to him. (He ultimately referred me to the State employee responsible for paying the State's phone bill every month.)

I had an equivalent experience years later with the University upon returning from Seoul, South Korea, with a proposal for a multi-billion-dollar cash flow project providing education to business employees around the Pacific Rim. Ditto with a multi-million dollar offer from Washington, D.C., for the UI to do a rural delivery tele-medicine project (no one was -- then -- interested in the idea); or online delivery of education in the U.S., then said to have no future, and now a centerpiece of universities throughout the country -- all of which were offered by me pro bono without the prospect of a dollar for myself.

So I was pleased to see that last Sunday's Register had a major story on Iowa's actual, and future potential, "data centers." Donnelle Eller, "Iowa poised to collect even more data farms," Des Moines Register, August 17, 2008, p. D1.

That's a far cry from everything we could have been doing over the past 30 years with electronic economics. But better late than never, I guess.

Although, like any other get-rich-quick proposal (see Earthpark), it's necessary to do a little analysis before taking the leap.

A Register reader added a comment to Eller's story suggesting those interested in economic development from data centers consider why Microsoft makes much more sense (and dollars) for economic development than Google. If you're playing an active role in this Iowa effort you'll want to read the article they recommended: "Google vs. Microsoft in Data Center Economics," Data Center Knowledge, April 16, 2008.

What's Fair is Fair

This year's Iowa State Fair (August 7-17) "was the most-attended fair in the event's 154-year history. This year's estimated total of 1,109,150 exceeded the record of 1,053,978 set in 2004 by more than 55,000, according to fair records. . . . Jessica O'Riley, communications manager for the Iowa Division of Tourism, said the record attendance can be attributed to a national travel trend. 'People are taking shorter, more frequent trips,' said O'Riley. 'With gas prices as they are, the fair remains one of those favorite vacation destinations.'" Molly Hottle, "U gotta smile at fair attendance numbers," Des Moines Register, August 19, 2008.

That's good news and bad news. The good news is that the Iowa State Fair remains one of the nation's top attendance state fairs. The bad news is that the analysis of why that is should send up an enormous red flag for those who casually base projected attendance for their proposed attractions on the total population living within 250 miles of their community.

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