The Idaho Business Review occasionally prints columns I write about public relations. The paper was kind enough to print this on July 20, 2009. Apparently it was only published in the print edition and is not available online.

Do-It-Yourself social media for the small business

These days, it seems like everybody is on Facebook and the more adventurous are on Twitter. But did you know many of the “people” on Facebook aren’t even people, but small local businesses?

I’m a relative newcomer to social media and I don’t hold myself out as an expert. But over the past few months I’ve put food on the table setting up and maintaining Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for clients. With a little dedication, any business owner can benefit from social media.

Even the best Web site is just a brochure with limited abilities to network and engage customers. Social media are word-of-mouth advertising and if your business isn’t at least taking advantage of Facebook, you’re missing out a free way to build and reach your customer base.

When it comes to social media, LinkedIn has been compared to the business meeting, Facebook to the hallway chat, Twitter to the cocktail party and MySpace to the smokers in the alley. It’s a good analogy, because each medium requires you present yourself in certain ways.

Here is how to get your business started in Facebook:

  1. Set up a personal Facebook page. Head over to http://www.facebook.com. More than 200 million people are on Facebook, so it must be easy to use. Anyone with basic computer skills can teach themselves the basics: find and make friends, upload photos and videos, link to Web pages, write on walls, post notes, tag photos, etc. Don’t worry about messing up, as you can delete any mistakes.  Collect as many friends and colleagues as you can, at least a few dozen over a couple of weeks. If you get stuck, ask for help from a friend or a professional consultant.
  2. Set up a business Facebook page. Click on the Groups link at the bottom of your Facebook page (silhouette of a couple of people). Click on “Create a new group” in the upper right. Fill in the information, upload photos, link to favorable reviews and your own Web site, add trivia, hours, etc. This is the fun part, so talk about your business and what makes it special. You can always add and change information.
  3. Prepare to invite people. Once your business page is presentable, invite your friends to become fans. To prevent spamming, Facebook only allows people to invite their confirmed friends to a business page. If you have a customer email list, you can upload that to Facebook and invite these people to become your friends, then invite them to become fans. To do this, type “search” in the search box, then click “Friend Finder” in the top middle of the page.
  4. Use your page. Install the Memorable Web Address application (it is easy to do) to make it easier to send people to your Facebook page.  Put the Facebook logo on your Web site and link it to your Facebook page. Email your customers and tell them. Put Facebook on your sign out front, on your advertising, on your menus, on anything you give customers. Give people a discount for becoming a fan and writing on your wall.
  5. Consider advertising on Facebook. Facebook ads are on the right of the page and unobtrusive. Facebook pays attention to the words people write and uses that to targets ads. Talk about your favorite books and music and ads related to them will start to appear as if by magic. Facebook advertising is very inexpensive and can be tightly targeted.

For a good example of a local business page (and my handiwork), see http://companies.to/carwash.

So what’s next? Update your business page regularly with photos, videos, links and notes. What about your business is interesting, fun or fascinating? Do you have history, machinery or processes that people can geek out on?

Get fans to write nice things on your wall because this will show up in their status updates for all their friends to see. Ask your hardcore fans to invite their friends. Think about alliances: If you’re going to donate money or hold a charitable event, find the beneficiaries and related groups on Facebook and get them to talk about it.

Keep in mind not to bug people or message your fans too often. Engage customers and talk to them – it is a precious thing when someone thinks enough about your business to become a fan and write on your wall. If you get a negative comment, do not delete it, or you will lose authenticity. Rather, display your ability to handle customer complaints appropriately and you will come out ahead.

If you are new to social media, this can seem intimidating. However, a few hours of effort will reap big rewards and in 2009 and beyond, social media are an essential part of doing business.

Martin Johncox is public relations director for Alexander and Associates. His company’s Facebook page is at http://groups.to/publicrelations and he can be Tweeted @mjohncox or emailed at martin@alexanderandassociates.com.

Boise’s second Ignite event was a feast for the mind. Hundreds of people packed the Egyptian Theater to hear 16 presenters discuss everything from brain fuction and entrepreneurism to feminism and how the Eagles destroyed rock music.

Rizen Creative and the many other sponsors of Ignite Boise should be thanked for supporting such an important part of Idaho’s intellectual and creative culture.

I was honored to present. For people who like to geek out on cities and urban planning, here is my presentation.

What Kind Of Place Is This?

What Kind Of Place Is This?

I’m very honored to have been selected as a presenter for Ignite Boise 2 . Thursday,July 16, 7 .m. at the Egyptian Theatre in downtown Boise. The description on their Web site sums it up well:

“Ignite Boise is a 3 hour-ish idea feeding frenzy that brings together artists, geeks, entrepreneurs, academics, government officials and others to share their ideas in fast-paced, bite-sized presentations. It’s a great opportunity to meet smart, interesting people (if we do say so ourselves) and maybe even learn something. The Goal: Bringing together embers of big ideas to spark a blaze of creativity in Boise’s business and creative community –leaving attendees more educated and just as importantly, more inspired.

Presenters each get five minutes and 20 slides (automatically rotating every 15 seconds) to talk on a topic of their choice.

Looking through the synopses of the presentations, you can see they run the range of odd, deep, trippy and brilliant; humor is a big part of many presenttions. Most of the presentations are very much rooted in the history and culture of Idaho and Boise (see their Web site for Ignite Boise 1videos). Similar Ignite presentations are held in cities worldwide.  Here are presentation summaries:

How being intentional alters ones reading experience (or what I learned when I read 200 books in one year)
by Amanda Patchin
I’ll talk about how reading the great books of history and literature changed me. How planning what I read for one year has completely altered my understanding of education, literature and leisure. And I’ll talk about the five books you HAVE to read.

Cosmic, Mechanistic and Organic Cities
by Martin Johncox
People have created three kinds of cities in history and their built form reflects their values. The Cosmic City (city as divine space), ancient and grandiose, sought to display power, maintain social hierarchy and reflect spiritual ideals; yet it obeyed natural topography – see Old Beijing. The Mechanistic City (city as machine) arose with the advent of plentiful steel and electricity and emphasized efficiency and commerce over human needs; it defied topography with a grid system – see San Francsico. The Organic City (city as life form) emphasizes quality of life, citizen control and is utterly dependent on personal mobility and communications technology; its built form is sprawling and dispersed, reflecting the democratic living choices of its inhabitants, yet it seeks to incorporate nature – see Boise.

Pick Boise- not your nose
by Diane Ayres
Like Paint Boise, lets Pick Boise. Several fruit trees go unpicked each year, letting the fruit just drop to the ground and make a mess. first step get the word out to owners of fruit trees that would like community volunteers to pick trees, schedule topick fruit as fruit matures, ask lds to use their cannery, can the fruit and distribute it to those that need, get sugar donated from our sugar plant in nampa-, great press for amalgamated sugar, lds church and wow no slipping on rotten plums, apples, peaches and pears- oh my!!!! oh course we won’t strip the trees naked, we will leave some for the wildlife, heck fire we could even stretch it to pick edible nut trees- yum yum fresh nuts from boise idaho, the english walnuts i harvest last year were wonderful.

The Juice of the Barley
by Wyatt Werner
We all know how to drink beer, but do we know what beer really is? How’s it made? What’s a hop? What does “malted” mean? Why does Heineken taste like a skunk? Why do some bitter beers taste like grapefruit and others like pine cones? What makes some beer yellow/orange/red/black (Guinness is actually red, by the way)? What’s a lager? ale? stout? IPA? lambic? marzen? porter? Why does Guinness suck in the US? Is there a wrong way to select, pour, or drink a beer? And what is hell is beachwood aging?

Be Danger Ready
by Jesse DR Murphy
The danger ready presentation introduces what “danger ready” means and follows up with real life examples that show what it takes to live a danger-ready lifestyle. The slides go through a polarized set of scenarios, ranging from extremely serious to highly entertaining, and give clear examples of why some people are a little more prepared than others. These scenarios are separated out into four genres of danger readiness: Social – the art of dealing with danger in social situations. Includes but is not limited to: Friendships, Families, Fuc- er, special friends. Natural – the art of dealing with danger in the natural world, in forests, rivers, lakes and Target. Global – the art of dealing with the strange, baffling, and seemingly irrational cultures and peoples of the world – like Republicans. Workal – the art of dealing with the people who begrudgingly give you money in exchange for services you begrudgingly render, while both parties operate on the falsely preconceived notion that each is better than the other. (IE, the work place). In addition to examining each of these areas, the presentation will delve into the nuances of post-modern meta-synergistic overlaps.

If You Stick an Entrepreneur’s Head in an MRI…
by Norris Krueger
If You Stick an Entrepreneur’s Head in an MRI…What Would We See? Or, “What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Neuroscience… and Vice-Versa!” (Hint: Neuro-Entrepreneurship = How to REALLY look at entrepreneurial PASSION!!! Also: See how we make decisions *before* we know we’ve made them (& get at what’s going on before we decide)

Barter Boise!
by Kimmie Metez
This presentation seeks to ignite the community of Boise to take the biological phenomenon of mutualism to a social level. Let’s Barter Boise! Just as growing our own food has become a lost art over the past few generations so has the art of barter. As the economy continues to constrict we have become more selective about how we spend our dollars and more creative about how not to spend them. The age-old system of barter has been making a comeback, but in a very limited way. Bartering is a local experience harkening back to simpler times when we relied on each other, in community, instead of on outside sources for our goods and services (aka China and India). This presentation will cover: Recognizing your skills to reduce your bills; How to find the people who’ve got what you want and those who want what you’ve got. (Meow!); How to conduct a positive, mutualistic barter transaction.

The Last Covenant…and The First Car to the Moon
by Michael Boss
A retelling of the Genesis story through Popular Science…and an unveiling of the true meaning of Apple’s logo. My idiosyncratic take on man’s fall from grace is that in eating from the fruit of knowledge we introduced duality to the human condition, and in so doing we gradually formed a covenant with ourselves — one in which the computer ultimately becomes God, and Popular Science becomes the Book of Revelation in which we glimpse our great reward: the First Car to the Moon.

Studio Style – artist’s togs and tasks
by Jeremiah Robert Wierenga
There are books, websites and vh1 specials dedicated to street fashion, the bursts of color and eclecticism that individualize or homogenize the denizens of sidewalk culture. I’m interested in what the artist wears to work, the style choices and concessions made inside their space in order to create or enhance their art. Does a ballet dancer always wear a unitard to class? Do glass blowers bother to put on a belt? When does a painter decide it’s time to sacrifice a shirt to the drips and spatters of their medium? I want to photograph different artists in their studios with their chosen workwear, and share a little about their stories, what “inspired” their look (laundry, poverty, individualism), what project they’re working on and how they came to be involved in their artform. It’s a chance to introduce different working artists to the Boise audience in a fresh, funky way, via the clothing choices they made for that day.

How the Eagles Almost Ruined Rock and Roll and all of Civilization
by Jamie Cooper
All bad things that have happened to the peoples of the world can all be linked to the evilness that was dispersed from these evil musicians as they tried to brainwash civilization…and ALMOST succeeded.

Why we all don’t live on the Beach – How Social norms prohibit us from going on more adventures
by Rich Taylor
In early 2008 my wife told me that we need to go live on a beach somewhere for a while. We had just built a house in Meridian, I was in the middle of Graduate school and the start-up company I worked for had just been acquired by a Fortune 200 company. I am always up for a new adventure and who doesn’t want to live on a beach. So we started planning, found all we needed online and bought airline tickets. On Christmas Day 2008 we left our family, friends, brand new home and Idaho for the beaches of Rincón, Puerto Rico. In planning for this trip I discovered there are some Social norms that keep us from going on more adventures. When we would tell people we are moving to Puerto Rico we got a mixed bag of reactions. Some reactions were positive, many curious and some people seemed to think we were doing something wrong with our life. My wife and I had a most excellent adventure in Puerto Rico and I am now back in the Treasure Valley to reveal some of the Social norms that keep us buckled down in the day-to-day grind instead of going on more adventures.

It’s the Message, Stupid!
by John Foster
Everybody is talking about how the media has changed and will change more. Everybody is talking about the need to utilize new platforms. Everybody is talking about Twitter, Facebook, blogging and all the social media coming down the pipe. But damn few people are talking about how this changing media landscape has fundamentally flipped communications on its head: The medium is no longer more important than the message. In fact, the message is more important than the medium.

The Secret Life of Everybody
by Stephanie Worrell
Description: It’s true. . .everybody has a dark side or a secret life. The trick to succeeding in your personal-professional-everyday life is figuring how to use this rarely discussed fact to your advantage. Whether it be your own dark side or that of your boss, the journey to the mysterious unknown can take you to a different level—both spiritually and intellectually. Go deep. Learn about the secret life of everybody.

The Owls are Not What They Seem
by Brian Bothwell
The Universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we *can* imagine. In my presentation I seek to relay just how weird the universe we live in really is. I’m still noodling on the details, but in a nutshell I plan to discuss some or all of the following: Information doubling throughout history (aka the “Jumping Jesus” phenomenon); Quantum mechanics: Wave/Particle duality, Bell’s Theorem & Non-locality; The relation between alien abductions & psychedelic drugs; Bizarre parasites: Zombie ants, tongue-eating worms, toxoplasmosis. That’s just stuff I came up with in 10 minutes of thinking about it. I’ll refine the idea more before I “go live” of course!

Don’t look now, but I think you might be a feminist…
Adrean Casper
Few words in the English language will strike fear into the hearts of men faster than the word “feminist.” It springs to mind images of angry, bra-burning women whose only hope is their gender solely rule the earth. But what does it really mean to be a feminist?!? In the words of a bumper sticker: “Feminism is the shocking philosophy that the sexes are equal.” I assert that the feminist movement is multi-faceted and multi-purposeful and has adapted with each generation of women. I will illustrate the gender contradictions in society through a multiple of examples from magazine covers to comments on the Howard Stern Show. But don’t think the women are off the hook! There are also numerous examples of men being unfairly judged by their gender. This presentation will not only show women that they probably are feminists and always have been, but will surprise the boys in the house that they are too! Feminists should no longer identify themselves in a whisper, but be loud and proud!!

Why Geoscience Should Be One of Boise’s Targeted Industries
by Tim Merrick
Economic development groups in the Treasure Valley have identified target industries that play to Boise’s existing strengths and future potential. Missing from those lists is geosciences, the study of our earth, its resources, and our stewardship of those resources. Geoscience research and technology transfer are essential to sustaining the quality of life that makes Boise such an attractive place to live and do business. Without clean water, clean air, and stable ecosystems, Boise could become another blighted urban landscape. Our community already has an amazing collection of talent working on environmental issues in our academic, governmental, and commercial institutions. Geoscience is also essential to some of our other targeted industries, such as agribusiness and alternative energy. Boise can become a knowledge hub for geoscience research, technology transfer, and economic development. All we lack is the decision, the will, and the plan.

Trains have strong romantic appeal, but from a functional perspective, they are hopelessly unable of meeting the needs of a modern sprawling city and its residents’ demand for point-to-point flexibility.

That’s starting to sink in, after decades of local planners and wonks hoping for a commuter train system. A story in today’s Idaho Statesman quotes national experts who spoke in Boise, saying a train system faces enormous obstacles here because of track quality, too many crossings, insufficient right-of-way and high cost. However, the experts (at least in the story) didn’t discuss the inherent shortcomings of rail as a transportation technology and how we have done an exceptionally poor job of requiring rail-friendly land use.

The only reason rail technology evolved is because the first machines that could convert matter into motion (steam engines) weighed tens of thousands of pounds. There were no roads to accommodate steam engines, but rails could be built to sustain the massive weight and allow them to move people and goods faster than they had ever moved before. To make up for the lack of point-to-point flexibility, people had to unload the trains and put themselves and goods on smaller, light-rail trains or electric trolleys.

Urban theorists like Kevin Lynch hold the dominant transportation technology determines the built form of a city: ancient cities relied on humans and animals, port cities relied on ships, Industrial Revolution cities relied on the rail and modern cities rely on the automobile. Not surprisingly, entire cities and small towns were designed around the limitations of the train. For a hundred years and more, the system worked.

By the time the automobile began to eclipse the train some 80 years ago, trains had nearly a century of capital and investment behind them, so they remain common to this day. Trains still work well for some things, like moving large volumes of heavy cargo, where train cars can be lifted and moved onto ships and intermodal inconvenience is kept to a minimum.

But trains are hopelessly outmoded in a modern city. True, a rail car would be able to zip quickly past Interstate 84 traffic jams, but could it take people to where they needed to go (downtown, Micron, West Boise office parks, etc.)? People being dropped off near the Boise Towne Square mall, for example, would be left at what is agruably the most pedestrian-hostile environment in Idaho. If only something could take them a little closer to their office park, the system would be much more useful!

For their part, Idaho cities have done virtually nothing to require the kind of urban design necessary for trains: buildings that come to the street, residential and commercial sharing the same property and a nice public realm – you know, the built form of classic Main Street America.

It’s not a question of population. Around a century ago, a commuter rail system operated profitably, albeit briefly, in the Boise Valley, when our population was much smaller. It’s a question of the built form of the city. With the exception of the original downtowns and neighborhoods, Treasure Valley cities are built to automotive scale, with large parking lots, huge streets and a serious lack of sidewalks.

The humble bus, however, bridges these needs nicely. In fact, with a little imagination, we could combine the advantages of trains (route priority) with the advantages of rubber-wheeled vehicles (flexibility). The concept is the Curb Guided Busway, used to good advantage in Adelaide, Australia and Nagoya, Japan:

..the O-Bahn runs on specially-built track, combining elements of both bus and rail systems … Interchanges allow buses to enter and exit the busway and to continue on suburban routes, avoiding the need for passengers to change. Buses travel at a maximum speed of 100 km/h (62 mph), and the busway is capable of carrying 18,000 passengers an hour from the City of Adelaide

The busway is a low concrete trough and the busses are fitted with “guide wheels”

The guide-wheel, which protrudes from the front sides and aligns with the track, is the most important part of the bus when travelling on the O-Bahn. Connected directly to the steering mechanism, it ‘steers’ the bus while on the track and prevents the main tyres from rubbing against the sides of the track.

So, a busway system wouldn’t require an expensive refurbishment of rails or highly specialized vehicles. We could also take advantage of our existing rail rights-of-way, so when a bus crosses over an arterial street, the crossing arms could swing down, allowing the bus to pass, just as they already do with a train. Or, the bus could leave the busway and move about on city streets, something a train could never do. As an added benefit, emergency vehicles could use the busway system.

This still wouldn’t be cheap. We’d have to pave the rail corridors, design new interchanges and educate drivers on a new transportation mode. However, given the obstacles to developing rail and the limited return we’d get for it, a Curb Guided Busway seems like the best bet.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in Elmore County collecting petition signatures and otherwise finding and networking with people who support our proposed nuclear plant. I like the work because I’m pretty extroverted, but there’s a sense of urgency. Wednesday, April 22 will be a make-or-break day for the plant effort, as the Elmore County Commission will hold a hearing about our request to rezone land for the plant.

Today I spent the afternoon and early evening in Hammett, a small farming town of a few hundred people between Mountain Home and Glenns Ferry, and a few miles from the site of our proposed nuclear plant.  There’s a lot of hardship in Hammett and for a Boise PR consultant used to a comfortable life, it was an eye-opening experience.

In Treasure Valley, as hard as we have it, I think we’re largely insulated from the worst of the economic downturn. To really see a town suffering, spend some time in Hammett. Given the events of the day, the comments of some of our opposition seem downright callused toward people who are struggling to get by and find work.

I went door-to-door and to the few businesses that were open. Closer toward the Interstate, one woman and some friends stood around a car in front of her house; the engine wouldn’t start and they were waiting for a friend to come and help.

“Will there be work there for women?” she asked me in Spanish. “I worked at the potato plant for 13 years and they laid me off when it closed. It’s really hard to find any work now.”

I told her we will make it a point to hire from Elmore County and if someone has a clean background, a good work history and completes training, we will have a job for them in construction or operations – if and when the plant is ever open (my mother is from Mexico and speak fluent Spanish). I’m paid to communicate and I do it well, but I really felt helpless. I could offer promises and hope, and my assurance I’m working as hard as I can to get the plant built, but I could do nothing to help her life immediately.

I heard loud banging around a group of mobile homes. I found two men repairing a car body with a hammer. They signed my petition, but told me they didn’t have much faith the plant would get built. Companies have let Hammett down before, they said, by not hiring much locally, or closing their factories.

“We’ve got to get something built around here,” said one of the men.

Another woman told me Hammett is always neglected, not getting the services and infrastructure it should have, and believed that would continue even if the plant were built.

“If the plant opens, it will just be a pissing match between Glenns Ferry and Mountain Home to get the benefits,” she told me. “Hammett won’t get anything.”

I’m typing this blog in the comfort of my home in Hidden Springs. Today, I was an outsider in a town where people are having a hard time coping with job loss and recession. I spent  the day getting some peoples’ hopes up. Now, it’s time to deliver and devote all of my energy to the goal of developing the power plant, so that our team and the Elmore County Commission will come through for the people of Hammett.

I spent today in Glenns Ferry doing community organizing (take that, Barack Obama!). One of my clients is Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., which has proposed a large nuclear reactor near Glenns Ferry in Elmore County, about 65 miles southwest of Boise.

I drove to Glenns Ferry eager to meet with residents, particularly local small business owners who are suffering since the loss of a potato processing plant and other local employers. My head was filled with facts and figures and enthusiasm for working to bring the stable, well-paying jobs that come with a power plant. The owner of a local gourmet foods store said if I really wanted to find lots of supportive people, I should go to the local VFW hall, where volunteers were distributing food baskets.

The desperation of many of the town’s residents really started to sink in at the VFW hall. My first action was to hold the door open so an elderly lady could cart out boxes of donated food. Inside, people formed a line and passed by tables of volunteers to receive food. Yes, I got many people to sign a petition in support of the plant, but I felt empty. These were people of all ages, many abilities, with families and skills and great contributions yet to be made. What kinds of skills would be needed at the plant? several asked. As I ran down the list of typical jobs, I never wanted our plant to be up and running as much as I did then. Each one of these people deserves a good job and I kept them foremost in my mind as a continued meeting with other business owners throughout the day.

I also attended a Glenns Ferry City Council meeting today. Local officials in Glenns Ferry, from what I have been able to tell, strongly support our project and they realize the need for economic development. The meeting began with Liz Woodruff, a Snake River Alliance representative, briefly apologizing for her behavior at a meeting two weeks ago (I did not attend that meeting). At that meeting, AEHI CEO Don Gillispie updated the city council on our proposal and, from what a number Glenns Ferry residents have told me, her behavior included rolling her eyes, giggling, smirking and generally acting rude during Don’s presentation to the council. I’ve seen her act that way at other public meetings, so it’s a pattern.

Woodruff’s behavior two weeks ago made an impression on a number of Glenns Ferry residents, so it is understandable she felt the need to apologize today for being “visibly upset” and acting “unprofessionally” (her words today to the council). She said today her “upset came from misinformation being spread” about our proposed reactor (in other words, her behavior was Don Gillispie’s fault). I am pleased to report the audience accorded Woodruff the respect she should have given Don Gillispie. Glenns Ferry people – even those who disagree with our plans to build a plant – have at all times been polite to me.

As I sat through Woodruff’s presentation, though, I kept thinking what she would have told the people picking up food at the VFW – if she would even care to go there – and what she is doing in her own community organizing work to bring more jobs to Elmore County.

It’s easier to obstruct than construct, to tear down rather than build up, to lash out rather than listen respectfully. But that’s not the kind of community organizing that’s going bring people jobs, opportunity and industry.

One of my passions is clear, simple language. Jargon dominates many public policy discussions and I’m compiling a list of examples here.

The Local Government Association of England has clearly surpassed my meager list. They have compiled 100 banned words and phrases, released to coincide with Plain English Day 2007. The puffery and euphemisms include:

  • coterminosity
  • empowerment
  • multidisciplinary
  • place shaping
  • sustainable communities

“… unless local authorities talk to people in a language that they can understand then the work they do becomes inaccessible and reduces the chances of them getting involved in their local issues,” said Chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton. On a BBC interview, an LGA representative joked that public officials who use these terms should be fined.

Simon Wakeman, a fellow PR consultant in England, carries a good analysis of public policy jargon and the list of 100 “non-words.”

“The challenge for those who work in communications in local government is that most communications don’t come through the professional communicators,” Wakeman writes. “Getting standards to the same level across the organisation needs a different set of skills and the ability to network effectively – to get non-communicators to communicate more effectively and act as a champion of plain English.”

That’s as true in Idaho as it is in England.

I recently distributed the following news release for one of my clients, the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators. Surprisingly, the media coverage thus far doesn’t seem to grasp the economic dimension of the problem. The mainstream press has more or less portrayed it as a fight over water – it’s that and much more.

NEWS RELEASE

For immediate release

Contact: Randy Budge, 232-6101; Lynn Carlquist, 731-5827; Dean Stevenson, 431-0924

Pocatello, Idaho – March 13, 2009

Groundwater pumpers submit plan to avoid economic disaster, compensate aquifer spring users

Shutoff of surface wells would endanger water supply for cities, factories, food processors, farmers and cost thousands of jobs

Pocatello–Hoping to avoid the loss of thousands of jobs, groundwater users on the Snake River Plain aquifer submitted a plan late Thursday to compensate aquifer spring users and thereby allow continued use of the aquifer by cities, factories, food processors, dairies, farmers and other entities that depend on the water for their economic survival.

Magic Valley Ground Water District and North Snake Ground Water District filed a 2009 Replacement Water Plan and Third Mitigation Plan with the Idaho Department of Water Resources late Thursday afternoon. The filing was in response to a March 5 order from the IDWR for up to 430 water users in Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls counties to shut off their water, so that Clear Springs Food Inc. can continue to receive an additional 2 cubic feet per second in water flow.

“We hope the director will accept and implement our mitigation plan and that the curtailment won’t take place,” said Lynn Carlquist, Chairman of North Snake Ground Water District. “As a simple matter of economic survival for these six counties, we need to address the curtailment so it does not occur.”

The plan filed Thursday provides for measures not seen in past proposals, including the “Over-the-Rim” direct delivery of ground water from existing wells to Snake River Farm’s intake. This proposal proposes to convert up to 2,000 acres of irrigated farmland from ground water irrigation to surface water irrigation. Certain members of North Snake Ground Water District farming near the canyon rim above Snake River Farm have agreed to cooperate in the effort. Surface water leased from the Upper Snake reservoir system will be delivered through the North Side Canal Company “S Coulee” to replace the ground water irrigation. It will now be up to Director Tuthill to either approve this plan or curtail 41,000 acres.

Carlquist pointed to March 7 Idaho Statesman story announcing Idaho’s jobless rate is at a 21-year high of nearly 7 percent, with some 53,000 unemployed; the state is expecting a 12 percent drop in tax revenue. Economists say joblessness will continue to rise nationally for the rest of the year and into early 2010, with the unemployment rate reaching 9 to 10 percent before it turns around.

Lynn Tominaga, Executive Director IGWA, said. “To avert this catastrophe, we will spend over $900,000 on this 3rd mitigation plan so that Clear Springs, will receive its water. This is in addition to the millions of dollars we have spent over the last few years to mitigate their material injury claim.”

Dean Stevenson, Magic Valley GWD director said, ”We would like to thank North Side Canal Company board of directors and Manager Ted Diehl for their cooperation and help in getting this plan put together to avoid this water delivery call.”

I attended a presentation last night sponsored by the United States Green Building Council, Idaho Chapter, where Snake River Alliance discussed energy policy. One of my clients is Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., which is seeking to build a nuclear plant in Elmore County, and the SRA vituperatively opposes the project.

It’s clear most decision makers and members of the public check the “all of the above” box when it comes to energy policy; nearly 7 in 10 Americans support nuclear energy, as well as all of Idaho’s congressional delegation and President Obama. The nuclear industry has a long history in Idaho and is a crucial part of the state’s economy.

The SRA is finding itself in an increasingly isolated anti-nuclear stance and to make up for that, it’s pitching itself as a renewable energy advocacy group to the public and officials that it’s lobbying. The SRA is hoping the feel-good aspects of renewables will lead to greater acceptance of their feel-bad stance on nuclear.

The SRA’s lobbyist, Liz Woodruff, left out some important points in her presentation, though. While she praised Idaho’s 2007 energy plan and advocated for its greater implementation, she avoided mentioning that the plan does, in fact, call for nuclear energy to be a part of our energy mix (add the Idaho Legislature to the list of groups that check the “all of the above” box). As someone who believes we need to pursue all low-carbon and carbon-free energy sources, I also support the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan – in its entirety.

Woodruff also avoided mention that the public and fellow environmental groups are frequently obstacles to energy production and transmission in general, and to renewables in particular. When neighbors show up to oppose a proposed wind farm, the opposition is just as tangible as when they turn out to oppose a nuclear developer. Until the SRA can bring itself to show up to these public meetings and stand up to a roomful of angry neighbors on behalf of a renewables developer, its support for renewables will remain at the 30,000-foot level, unless it is has the pleasurable task of speaking to sympathetic groups.

That brings me to my next point: People are happy to check the box that says “all of the above” when it comes to energy. When you ask them to list what they wouldn’t mind living next to, the answer winds up being “none of the above.” Public process is a crucial component of democracy and can be used to obstruct as well as accomplish. The promoters of energy sources of any kind need to keep in mind that sometimes, their strongest opponents will be the people they are trying to serve.

Good work by the Greater Boise Auditorium District and the state for putting in a request for federal stimulus money to finally build a larger downtown Boise convention center.  I did some PR consulting work for GBAD in 2002 and I applaud their persistence in trying to get this important part of our economy in place.

The Idaho Division of Financial  Management has submitted a list of agency and private sector requests for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It’s asking for $30 million for a new convention center in downtown Boise, called the Idaho State Convention Center. The convention center will be on a parcel of land GBAD  owns between 11th and 13th streets on the east and west, and by Front and Myrtle streets on the north and south.

Agencies and companies all over Idaho have submitted $4.75 billion in requests. Smaller projects include $5,200 for doors at Blackfoot schools, while larger proposals include $48.2 million for a new Canyon County Jail, $33 million for wastewater system improvements at the City of Meridian and $210 million by Idaho Wind Energy LLC for a wind farm (hopefully environmentalists won’t oppose it too much).

GBAD has put funding the convention center to voters twice before, where it got a majority of votes but missed the 2/3 supermajority. A deal with a private developer also fell through, although GBAD Chairman Stephenson Youngerman said Oppenheimer Development may unveil blueprints for the new convention center in March. Given all the design that’s been done, this should be a shovel-ready project.

In the interest of public openness – and their own success – I encourage GBAD to announce the request formally, with a news release but not much other fanfare. This would give them a chance to talk about how many people they’d put to work on construction and the obvious economic benefits of having an expanded convention center. The stimulus money is exactly for projects such as this.

I do support the stimulus spending, as long as it’s for capital projects. If future generations are going to pay off a share of the stimulus, we should at least leave them some working infrastructure they will need to sustain their economy. That includes safe schools, good roads and bridges, airports, sewer plants, energy generation and, yes, convention centers