Friday, June 26, 2009

McCarthy: Cap and Trade bill bad news for consumers, local businesses, bad for jobs

An important week in Washington. Here's the view of Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy, in his own words.

"The week ended with a vote to pass Speaker Pelosi’s cap and trade bill, which unfortunately imposes a national energy tax on our local families, small businesses, and farms. As unemployment in our local communities has reached record highs, I believe Congress should focus on growing American jobs. That is why I spent much of Friday on the floor building support for an alternative solution - the American Energy Act that promotes an all-of-the-above energy plan with strong investments in American renewable energy: more American wind, American solar, American geothermal, and American nuclear power. This all-of-the-above approach can power our economy, create needed jobs, and leave our children with a cleaner and safer environment.

"I began the week by speaking to Capitol Hill interns. I always enjoy speaking to interns, as I began my career in public service as an intern. I was actually turned down the first time I applied, but would not take “no” for an answer. So I volunteered and worked cutting local newspaper clips in the Congressman’s district office. I was able to tell the interns about our hometown of Bakersfield, and some of the legislative ideas we are working on. I also spoke about the need for accountability in Washington, and a heavy dose of vision to move our country forward. I concluded my talk with a few book recommendations that will help them as the next generation of American political and business leaders. To view my recommended reading list, visit my website:

"On the Financial Services front, the Committee held two hearings this week on the Administration’s plan for financial regulatory reform. The first focused on a proposal to create another government program where bureaucrats would approve everything from what kind of credit card and loan you can choose to the advertisement your bank or credit union puts in our local papers. The second hearing was on financial literacy in the new regulatory proposal.

"On Thursday, I received good news about the Los Osos community in the western part of the district that Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-23) and I serve. Los Osos has been made eligible for funding to invest in much needed water infrastructure and ensure that natural resources and the environment are protected.
"Later that day I went on local San Luis Obispo radio with King Harris on KVEC. We discussed Speaker Pelosi’s cap and trade bill, which imposes a national energy tax, and the government health care plan that the Senate is working on. As we think about changes to our nation’s health care system, we need to preserve what works, make improvements on what does not, and protect the ability of our citizens’ freedom to choose a health care plan that best fits their needs. More government involvement will only lead to more bureaucracy, which will decrease the quality of care for every American.

"Late Thursday, we voted to pass the National Defense Authorization which funds our Department of Defense. While I supported the final version of the bill, it could have been improved by fully funding our missile defense program. The Administration reduced missile-defense funding for 2010 by $1.2 billion during times of immediate threats from North Korea and Iran. I supported an amendment that would have restored full funding to the program, but it was defeated. I will continue to work with my colleagues and especially the new ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, our neighbor Congressman Buck McKeon, to make sure that our country is safe from any and all global threats.

"I am looking forward to being back home and traveling to our local communities to hear from you. I will start the work week in Bakersfield at our new National Cemetery to honor the first local veterans who are being laid to rest. The new National Cemetery will serve as a reminder for our future generations of those who served and sacrificed for our freedom. Have a good 4th of July and thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Economic outlook for California is bleak, but Bakersfield poised to be among the first to recover

In these times we take every nugget of good news, embrace it, rub it like a genie's lamp for good luck and hope more good tidings come tomorrow. So I'm celebrating a report in the Sacramento Bee today (thanks to Ray Karpe of Karpe Real Estate for passing it along) that says while the economic outlook for California remains bleak, Bakersfield will be first major California job market to recover within two years. The story quotes projections from IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting firm, and paints a fairly bleak outlook for the country as a whole. (read the full story here) But hey, we're looking for signs of hope, right? So I'm going to celebrate the fact that - for reasons not explained in the story - only Bakersfield will recover within two years. The rest of California is much farther out. Some excerpts from the story:

"The areas poised for a jobs rebound later this year are: Anchorage, Alaska; Champaign-Urbana, Ill.; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Columbia, Mo.; Laredo, Texas; and the Houma-Bayou Cane- Thibodaux areas of Louisiana.
"Only five areas are expected to see a similar jobs recovery in 2010: Las Cruces, N.M., and El Paso, San Antonio and the McAllen-Edinburg-Pharr and Austin-Round Rock areas of Texas.
"Most of the country – 286 of 325 metro areas covered in the IHS analysis – aren't likely to regain their pre-recession employment levels until at least 2012.
"Of these areas, 112 probably won't return to their recent peaks until 2014 or later. These include Rust Belt towns such as Cleveland, Dayton and Akron, Ohio; Detroit, Warren and Flint, Mich.; the hurricane-ravaged Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss., area; and the greater Los Angeles region, where the housing bubble and high unemployment have strangled the local economy.
"Already hard-hit by the economic downturn, the outlook for California is bleak. IHS Global Insight predicts Bakersfield will be the only California job market to recover within two years. Sacramento won't recover until early 2013; Los Angeles not until sometime after 2014.
"Overall, more than 70 percent of California's workers live in metro areas that won't fully recover until at least 2013, the study found.

Meanwhile, I heard from Watson Touchstone Realtor Mary Christenson today, following up on my earlier post about low appraisals torpedoing house sales across Bakersfield. Mary passed along an email from Charles McMillan, president of the National Association of Realtors, detailing his plans to meet with officials at the Federal Housing Finance Agency to clear this logjam. Talk to any Realtor in town on you will hear the same gripe: we have willing buyers and sellers, but the banks and appraisers are all under such pressure that appraisals are consistently coming in low, effectively scuttling deals and pushing us farther away from a rebound. Ugh.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Celebrating a saucy new downtown and targeting the tattoo crowd: why niche publications work

I've written extensively about the very serious challenges facing the mass media, and by that I mean newspapers, local and network TV, radio and magazines. All face the same demons: a fragmenting media market that shrinks market share and this absolutely dismal economy and advertising slump. But one area of real hope and growth is in the niche publications that target highly focused groups with well defined interests. Find 1,000 people with a common love of Portuguese water dogs and you have the makings of a business model. Interests and behavior bind folks together, whereas the mass media tries to have something for everyone, and often ends up doing none of it very well. Readers like it because the content speaks directly to them, to their lifestyle, to their interests. Advertisers like it because it allows them to speak directly to a specific audience that lines up nicely with their products.

One of the more successful niche publications is BakersfieldLife, a glossy city magazine owned by The Californian. It's focused on a more upscale Bakersfield and on people who are involved and are active and care about the community. The typical reader is a college graduate, earns $75,000 a year or more and is involved in the community. It is upbeat, affirmational and - without apology - focuses on what is good about our community. This is a monthly publication that is only available with a home subscription of the newspaper and arrives on your driveway the last Saturday of the month, which means this weekend. I was thrilled to see the July cover story is on Don Martin, the owner of the popular Metro Galleries downtown (see previous post here) and one of the key figures in the revival of the arts downtown. Local freelance writer Lisa Kimble wrote the piece and did a splendid job telling Don's story, which has him job hopping until he found his passion in opening an art gallery. By the way, Don and Olivia Garcia, the mag's publisher, will be on KGFM 101.5 chatting with radio personality Rachel Legan this Friday around 7:45 a.m. or so. If you haven't been by Metro Galleries on 19th Street, stop by for a special treat.

Another successful niche publication is Bakotopia magazine, another Californian product that targets a younger, more hipper crowd. These are the downtown bar denizens who might sport multiple piercings, a tattoo or three and share a common love of music. All music, all the time. Matt Munoz, a member of the popular band Mento Buru, is the energetic editor of this bimonthly mag and he instills it with wit, style and substance. It can be a tad racy and over the top at times, but that's the audience. This is not your father's Oldsmobile. Oh, and did I mention good art? Feast your eyes on the Bakotopia cover story and inside shot above, the work of Holly Carlyle. Great stuff. Bakotopia is free and can be found at multiple coffee shops, bars and restaurants in the downtown area.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The new job guarantee: there isn't one. Why even the strongest brands must evolve or die

Was reminded about the pace of change today in reading Seth Godin's blog on the fate of the Singer Corporation, which once employed more than 12,000 people in a single plant. Business today moves at the speed of light, and the only guarantee for workers today is this: there are no guarantees. When was the last time you took inventory of the brands that have come and gone in your lifetime? Are you old enough to remember Underwood typewriters, or even the IBM Selectric? How about film? Or most recently Gottschalks? Pontiac is going the way of Rambler and Packard.

From Seth's blog:

"When was the last time you even thought about Singer (or a sewing machine for that matter)? The cycles are far shorter now than they were during the century that Singer was a shining light for corporate success. More now than ever, success today is no guarantee of success tomorrow.
"Sometimes we spend more time than we should defending the old thing, instead of working to take advantage of the new thing. I bet you can list a dozen "critical" industries that will be as relevant to life in 2020 as Singer is to our world today."

Big media is also an endangered species. I thought about this earlier this week when I followed the entire first day of the Iranian protests on Twitter: raw, unfiltered and often first hand accounts. By the time I tuned into the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams had nothing to tell me. It was clear to me then that CNN, NBC and the other networks are just as endangered as newspapers: if they don't change.
Change is hard, it's traumatic and it often turns your world upside down. But at the end of the day, we don't really have any other options.

As Seth concludes:

"The key difference is that back then, managers and shareholders could stall and fumble and wait out the transition until after they retired. Now, it's almost an annual event. Hiding isn't working, and neither is whining. The best marketing strategy is to destroy your industry before your competition does."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Our local economy: showing a few signs of hope but still struggling to find its sea legs

Nothing would make me happier than to report that the economic recovery was at hand, but wishing so won't make it happen. Most business people I talk to are of the same refrain: it's not getting any worse, but it sure isn't getting any better. In other words: we're bumping along the bottom here like the German submarine in the movie Das Boot, waiting for something to happen to improve things.

There have been signs of life
in the real estate industry as we work through the foreclosures, and there certainly seems to be a pent up desire among buyers and sellers. But now comes a new hiccup: it appears multiple bids are being made, and accepted, but the appraisals are coming in low. I heard this from two Realtors this weekend, Louie Gregorio and Mary Christenson. Saw Louie at Starbucks and his complaint was that the appraisals are consistently coming in low, thus scuttling many deals. Mary, on her Facebook page, agreed:

"This appraisal issue is causing all kinds of issues in Bakersfield as well! We are now seeing multiple offers again in the $500+ price range home--then the appraisals are shooting us in the foot! It's happened twice this month to two of my escrows!" she wrote.

So what's the problem? It appears it all started with one of the housing "reforms" that went into effect May 1 prohibiting loan officers, mortgage brokers and real estate agents from selecting appraisers. (read one version of the story here) The rule was meant to prevent inflated appraisals like those that proliferated during the housing boom, according to the story. It read, in part:

"The rule falls under the new Home Valuation Code of Conduct, the result of an agreement between Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, the Federal Housing Finance Authority and the New York state attorney general to enhance independence and accuracy of the appraisal process. It applies to lenders that sell single-family mortgage loans to government sponsored enterprises."

Okay, well enough. But let's hope this thing doesn't derail a recovery that already is long overdue. Meanwhile, I've been noticing more dealer tags on new cars around town, a welcome sign that perhaps car sales are perking up. Our local dealers say they are doing better, though they are far from out of the woods. Nonetheless, it's good to see some dealer tags out there.