I Love Farmers

I had the good fortune to spend good chunks of the last few weeks at our area’s county 4H Fairs. It’s hard to not love these events, with their community friendly character and the characters you meet while mingling with the festival crowd.

Giving due to the real stars of the show, you will never meet a prouder group of children than the exhibitors and competitors at a County Fair.  This isn’t some artificial esteem building exercise that we often try to create as part of a child’s educational development.

This is the sense of accomplishment that comes from responsibility, consistency and hard work, all under the mentorship of parents in a “journeyman / apprentice” relationship that seems to be missing from many other childhood activities.

I’d really like to succumb to the many “Norman Rockwell” moments I encountered and give a shout out to the kids that participated in all year long in the events that culminated at their local fairgrounds.  I met good kids.  Well mannered kids.  Talented kids.  Ingenious kids.  There is a lot to like about that.

The other thing that was cemented this week was my own impression of the importance of our agricultural communities to our future.  Farmers on average are probably one of the most forward thinking and well informed groups in our populace.  In fact, if you want a good glimpse of the solutions for the problems that ail us, you might want to look to our rural communities.

Returning to the reason behind this blog, I was also struck at how the values on display exemplified many of the Ten Key Values of the Green Party.  Take the following as examples:

Ecological Wisdom – There is no more environmentally aware crowd than those engaged in agricultural.  It’s our most basic elements – water, salt, soil

and sun – that transform themselves into the sweat that is the lifeblood of the trade.  It might be news to city folk, but Mother Earth matters.

Community Based Economics – The high point of the 4H Fair for me is always the auction, in which the kids sell the livestock they have raised to the highest bidder.  It mimics the locally focused sense of economy that you find within our rural communities.  From roadside markets to co-ops to swap meets and auctions, farmers tend to keep their money close to home, creating a firm foundation that is necessary under any local marketplace.

Future Focus / Sustainability – This is the simplest connection.  Farmers are the most informed section of our population when it comes to sustainability.  They are always thinking of next years crop, even as they are raising this one’s.  Renewable energy solutions like windmills, solar panels, diesel fuel, energy crop and biomass have been part of their business plans and homestead forever.  And speaking of forever, there is nothing more sustainable than doing all this work on a 1938 John Deer Tractor.  Farmers don’t really participate in the concept of disposable society like many of the rest of us.  And John Deere is Green, too.  What a coincidence.

I would like to give credit to the title for this entry to a pretty cool website.  Though they are focused on California, they make good sense.  While you are waiting for the next post in this space, go check out their work:  http://www.ilovefarmers.org/aginfo.html

Here’s My Idea: Education (Part 3)

The issue of Education seems to bring out as much frustration as any issue that we have discussed with the parents and taxpayers of this region.  My feelings on the topic could be summarized in a pretty straightforward fashion:

  1. Local control yields the best outcomes
  2. Synergy by consolidation is a myth
  3. Out funding mechanisms are broken
  4. There are a lot of ways to be smart

Let me elaborate on these points through specific proposals.

Return to Local Control – You would be hard pressed to find a study on educational outcomes that doesn’t come to the conclusion that local commitment and accountability is necessary for a successful school system.  The idea that we send taxes to Washington and Lansing, only for them to return a portion of them (and earmarked on how they should be spent) is a dumbfounding concept.

I would suggest that parents, teachers, local employers, local higher educational institutions and students can figure out what we need to know to make it in today’s economy.  After a brief increase in spending at the Federal level for educational infrastructure, the Federal and State Departments of Education should begin to be scaled back, taking with them failed policies “No Child Left Behind,”  standardized tests like the MEAP and enormous overheads and central staffs.

Smaller schools simply work better.  This isn’t a fact that is specific to school.  Organizational theory indicates that when a population tops 300 members, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep them on mission.  Massive schools or larger school districts will no improve quality.

Synergy is a Myth – When I was in industry, I did a lot of work in the area of Mergers and Acquisitions.  Most of the businesses cases included a good deal of cost savings through “synergy,” or reduction of duplicate costs or economy of scale by simply being bigger.  I have about the same opinion of synergy savings as I do when I hear a late night TV ad say “But wait, there’s more!”  The synergies rarely materialize in execution, either because they were exaggerated or impossible to extract from employees, vendors or stakeholders who experience no benefit by helping to make themselves smaller or obsolete.

I do not believe that consolidation would yield significant savings in education.  In fact, my experience with increased centralization is a decrease in the common sense exhibited by the budget holders.  They become distant from the reality of the frontlines.  Anything can make sense on a spreadsheet.

Cracked Funding Foundations – Michigan is a poster child from broken school funding mechanisms.  We have been sold one plan after another, from the lottery, to sales taxes to changing property taxes and none of them have worked.  In fact, school funding seems to be such a variable for school administrators that it looks like the whole thing was cooked up in the casinos that were supposed to help bridge the funding gap.

The first issue is one of equality.  The separation of capital and operating budget responsibilities means that mechanisms to provide equal funding for faculty and instructional costs are rendered less effective in districts were it is nearly impossible to raise bonds for infrastructure improvements.  Schools should be beacons of hope in our poorest communities, not symbols of our failing system.

Even with no additional money in the system, we must give administrators more lead time on their funding.  Currently, they might not find out their final funding numbers until a school year is well underway.  There is no reason we can’t make these commitments 18 months in advance.

In Michigan, we need to unlink educational funding from the lottery and other games of chance.  We can’t have budget certainty by linking ourselves to such an uncertain enterprise.  Give Education a guaranteed funding slot and give something purely discretionary the connection to vice taxes.

Support for All Educational Needs – As an instructor in a technical training program, I say all the time that there are a lot of ways to be smart.  Some students are gifted in mathematical intelligence; others are really good with a wrench.  Both have value in the new economy.

Over the last 15 years, we have changed our basic approach in education.  With tests like the MEAP as a standard, we have apparently made the decision that we will put all students on a “college prep” track K-12.  Pushed aside are other areas of interest, like vocational training or the arts.  And the result of all of this is that employers say a high school diploma is no longer a sufficient credential for most jobs.

To rekindle our educational systems, and the skilled trades that also support a robust manufacturing sector, we need to return to a system that accommodates the needs of a wider variety of students.  There are no reasons why some students shouldn’t pursue their interests in the trades or the arts as a legitimate path to graduation.  With a couple of years under their belt, perhaps with the help of courses at the local community college or in an apprenticeship, a young graduate might find that they have skills that have value in the marketplace.  All you have to visualize is a 50 year old accountant spending $150 an hour on a 22 year old plumber when his hot water heater blows on Super Bowl Sunday.  Tangible skills have value.  We can do a better job of supporting the students with these natural abilities as a part of their public education.

Let’s Go Green!

Like many of you reading this, I have only a vague recollection of many courses in college.  In my case, buried somewhere under the logic and theory that goes with an engineering education, is a fuzzy recollection of English classes.  I don’t believe it was a course specific to Journalism, but I remember learning somewhere chief tenants of the trade were the questions “Who?  Where? What? Why? and How?.”  While this blog will probably never qualify as news, I’ll at least start by trying to play by the rules.

First of all the “who” question.  Some readers will know I am a native of Northern Michigan, Iosco County specifically.  I left the deeply grooved lifestyle that is “Up North” when I was about 18 and two minutes and went everywhere else.  And before you knew it, 20 some years had passed and I was a long way from home, my young family was restless and I wanted to quit.  So I did.

And I came home.  Sort of.  As a kid I’d spent a lot of time in the Tri-Cities and rents were cheap, so I settled my family in Bay County and began to look around.  I’ll admit, even for a guy who thought he had seen everything; the extent of the economic collapse in this area was an eye opener.  Every solution seemed to look to Lansing.   And Lansing looked to Washington.  And nothing got done.  And “everyone” went broke.  Michigan had for all intents become a welfare state, with very few people working to support an aging, changing, in many ways decaying, population.  It wasn’t an area in need of a fix; it was an area in need of a miracle.  Or in more secular terms, a revolution.

Actually, the Saginaw Bay Region has participated in a few economic revolutions since the Europeans first arrived and took survey of the indigenous resources.  From trading to logging to transportation, if not the center, the area was central to many waves of progress that later spread across the rest of the land.

Of course you have guessed that the “what” I am leading you into the idea of another revolution.  A Green Revolution.  A grassroots revolution where we live in a sustainable fashion, benefiting from the wisdom accumulated in our own communities, achieving rewards through responsible behavior, with compensation distributed more evenly to those that make enhance the cultural richness of our communities.  Not every valuable member of our community is a “professional.”  Some just act and manage and serve that way.  Some are just our own troubadours, local in reach but global in the scale of their talents and abilities.

I think that brings us up to “why”?  Well first of all, take a look at your bank statement.  If it looks anything like mine, you get it.  We need economic help and, once again, it looks like we are poised and ready to take advantage of another revolution: in energy.   From basic materials through highly advanced intermediate products, the Big Three of Dow, Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor have actually been involved in the alternative energy business since its conception, as suppliers or technology, products and ideas to the alternative energy business.

Now that the market has finally started to catch up to the vision, these three companies are leading a wave of change in the area.  New companies are forming in the area: fabricators and companies that employ the products produced in Midland and Hemlock.  It’s similar to the pattern growth that preceded each of the last few booms.  Only this time it is the Tri-Cities at the center, rather than as a spoke.  To many of us in the industry and in the political arena, regardless of affiliation, the Great Lakes Bay Region would be a great place for the center of the Green Revolution.  It gives us a great chance to stamp our community values on these companies and on an industry. These companies and our the whole region could potentially be transformed by the scope of the energy revolution.

So how might you do this?  What do I have to do to be a revolutionary?  For now, why not try one of these:

  • Don’t wait for a job. Take a risk.  In fact, take a bet on yourself.  Start a business.  Better yet, start a non-profit.  But never forget that frugal living is central to the concept of self employment.  Fortunately or unfortunately, we have plenty of local experience at stretching a dollar.  Let’s benefit from it.
  • Get educated or learn a new skill.  Even if you are sitting on a couple of college degrees or feel you have a stable job, go learn something new.  You meet new people, pick up new skills and run into ample new opportunities to expand your mind.  Try a community college.  You wouldn’t believe what all they teach there.
  • Don’t waste opportunities.  Keep yourself ready to be part of an economic recovery.  Really, I want you to think of it like baseball, but with a 200,000 person batting order.  If it is your turn up and you whiff or, even worse, never report to the batters box, we never get that chance back.  That’s not just your chance, it’s all of ours.  Please take advantage of it. Your best effort will be fine, thank you.

In the meantime, there is one other “how” we can employ to make a real difference, beginning today.  Why not just “Do a Nice Thing.”   For anybody.  You don’t even have to let anyone know.  But you might just find that if you make a habit of helping people when they need it or lifting them up when they are down, the opportunities we were talking about a minute ago pop up more often.  Karma can be a teddy bear too, you know.

Hot, Flat and Crowded

Here is a link to a book by Thomas Friedman, who has proven to be the “prophet” of globalization, the rise of radical Islam and the migration of technology.  Hot, Flat and Crowded describes why we need a Green revolution.  He is a great writer and it is a very worthwhile read, no matter what your political persuasion.

Welcome

Like many of you reading this, I have only a vague recollection of my courses in college.  In my case, buried somewhere under the logic and theory that goes with an engineering education, is a fuzzy recollection of English classes.  I don’t believe it was a course specific to Journalism, but I remember learning somewhere chief tenants of the trade were the questions “Who?  Where? What? Why? and How?.”  While this column will probably never qualify as journalism, I’ll at least start by trying to play by the rules.

First of all the “who” question.  Some readers will know I am a native of Northern Michigan, Iosco County specifically.  I left the deeply grooved lifestyle that is “Up North” when I was about 18 and two minutes and went everywhere else.  And before you knew it, 20 some years had passed and I was a long way from home, my young family was restless and I wanted to quit.  So I did.

And I came home.  Sort of.  As a kid I’d spent a lot of time in the Tri-Cities and rents were cheap, so I settled my family in Bay County and began to look around.  I’ll admit, even for a guy who thought he had seen everything; the extent of the economic collapse in this area was an eye opener.  Every solution seemed to look to Lansing.   And Lansing looked to Washington.  And nothing got done.  And “everyone” went broke.  Michigan had for all intents become a welfare state, with very few people working to support an aging, changing, in many ways decaying, population.  It wasn’t an area in need of a fix; it was an area in need of a miracle.  Or in more secular terms, a revolution.

Actually, the Great Lakes Bay Region has participated in a few economic revolutions since the Europeans first arrived and took survey of the indigenous resources.  From trading to logging to transportation, if not the center, the area was central to many waves of progress that later spread across the rest of the land.

Of course you have guessed that the “what” I am leading you into the idea of another revolution.  A Green Revolution.  A grassroots revolution where we live in a sustainable fashion, benefiting from the wisdom accumulated in our own communities, achieving rewards through responsible behavior, with compensation distributed more evenly to those that make enhance the cultural richness of our communities.  Not every valuable member of our community is a “professional.”  Some just act and manage and serve that way.  Some are just our own troubadours, local in reach but global in the scale of their talents and abilities.

I think that brings us up to “why”?  Well first of all, take a look at your bank statement.  If it looks anything like mine, you get it.  We need economic help and, once again, it looks like we are poised and ready to take advantage of another revolution: in energy.   From basic materials through highly advanced intermediate products, the Big Three of Dow, Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor have actually been involved in the alternative energy business since its conception, as suppliers or technology, products and ideas to the alternative energy business.

Now that the market has finally started to catch up to the vision, these three companies are leading a wave of change in the area.  New companies are forming in the area: fabricators and companies that employ the products produced in Midland and Hemlock.  It’s similar to the pattern growth that preceded each of the last few booms.  Only this time it is the Tri-Cities at the center, rather than as a spoke.  To many of us in the industry and in the political arena, regardless of affiliation, the Great Lakes Bay Region would be a great place for the center of the Green Revolution.  It gives us a great chance to stamp our community values on these companies and on an industry. These companies and our the whole region could potentially be transformed by the scope of the energy revolution.

So how might you do this?  What do I have to do to be a revolutionary?  For now, why not try one of these:

  • Don’t wait for a job. Take a risk.  In fact, take a bet on yourself.  Start a business.  Better yet, start a non-profit.  But never forget that frugal living is central to the concept of self employment.  Fortunately or unfortunately, we have plenty of local experience at stretching a dollar.  Let’s benefit from it.
  • Get educated or learn a new skill.  Even if you are sitting on a couple of college degrees or feel you have a stable job, go learn something new.  You meet new people, pick up new skills and run into ample new opportunities to expand your mind.  Try a community college.  You wouldn’t believe what all they teach there.
  • Don’t waste opportunities.  Keep yourself ready to be part of an economic recovery.  Really, I want you to think of it like baseball, but with a 200,000 person batting order.  If it is your turn up and you whiff or, even worse, never report to the batters box, we never get that chance back.  That’s not just your chance, it’s all of ours.  Please take advantage of it. Your best effort will be fine, thank you.

In the meantime, there is one other “how” we can employ to make a real difference, beginning today.  Why not just “Do a Nice Thing.”   For anybody.  You don’t even have to let anyone know.  But you might just find that if you make a habit of helping people when they need it or lifting them up when they are down, the opportunities we were talking about a minute ago pop up more often.  Karma can be a teddy bear too, you know.

All that and Vote Green.

Q&A With The Candidate

Following is a Q & A with Matt de Heus based around the vetting questions asked by the Green Party of Michigan.
Q:  Why the Green Party and not one of the “major” political parties?

 

I joined the Green Party in February of this year.  My concern for the current condition of our region and the diminishing prospects of people within my circle of friends and acquaintances led me to politics.  Disenchantment with the “status quo” parties and investigation of alternative options led me to the Green Party.  I found immediate empathy with the messages contained in the Four Pillars and The Ten Values.

 

Q:  What political activities and organizations (parties) have you been involved with recently?

 

I have served as the Chairman of the Bay County Green Party since March of this year, with most of my activities devoted to party building.  In the past I have been a member of the Democratic Party and an Election Day volunteer.  I also write regular features for The Review, a local political and entertainment newspaper.

 

Q:  Have you run for office before? 

This is my first time seeking an elected office.

 

Q:  Most candidates come up with some sort of “campaign biography”, from a few sentences to a few paragraphs explaining briefly who the candidate is.  What’s your short bio?

 

Over the course of two decades, I have built a solid track record of success in both the private and public sectors.  This broad experience, developed in both domestic and international marketplaces, spans such functional areas as manufacturing operations, marketing, strategic planning, environmental engineering and new technology development.  My efforts have been rewarded in large part by the creation of hundreds jobs.

 

Prior to leaving industry in 2005, I served in a variety of executive level positions within, primarily within the Burmah Castrol Group.  I have also enjoyed success as an independent management consultant, advising small to medium sized businesses on strategy, new product development, industrial marketing and M&A integration.  I have operated several small businesses, including Zovida, a firm which developed and marketed wound care products to the large animal veterinary market.  Since 2006 I have been employed as an instructor with the nationally recognized program in Process Technology at Delta College (University Center, MI).

 

I hold a BS in Chemical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and an MS in Manufacturing Technology from Eastern Michigan University.  I am married with a blended family of five children.  In addition to my work at Delta, I serve on the board of two non-profits and I have spent the last six years as a youth basketball coach in the Essexville-Hampton Community League.

 

What do you believe are the most significant campaign issues in your area.

 

I would like to focus my campaign on four critical areas:

 

Energy – Sustainable, cost effective, clean and safe.  This includes the full range of associated issues – from capacity management and distribution of industrial and residential power supplies to novel applications for portable storage technologies to power consumer electronics and transportation.  We must break our dependence on fossil fuel and begin to move away from the “combustion economy” as a matter of ecological stewardship of the planet.

 

Employment – Michigan needs a renewed focus on job creation.  Early successes of “green manufacturing” firms in the Saginaw Valley has been welcome news.  I have been part of this rebirth as an instructor in the process technology program at Delta College.  While manufacturing is near and dear to my heart, we must also look to agriculture and entrepreneurship as key components in our economic revival.  Bay County in particular has rich agricultural resources and has potential for growth in both traditional food / livestock production and in new markets, such as biofuels and biomass.  We must protect agricultural land and create a modern support infrastructure that makes its possible for small to medium sized farmers to prosper.

 

Education – We must have strong public education options that cover the learning of the members of our region during all phases of their lives.  Public schools should be equitably funded and of the highest quality, community colleges should provide affordable options for those seeking to transition into a new field or to transfer to one of the State’s many publicly funded colleges or universities.  Education is the key to both economic security and to the broader goal of an informed electorate.

 

Environment – Michigan is rich in natural resources, from the Great Lakes to National Forests and some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world.  While we understand how valuable these resources have been to use over time, it is clear they are under threat.  From the twin oil spills in the Gulf and this week on the west side of our own states, to the import of trash for landfill or incineration, to the unnerving secondary effects of natural gas production on rural communities, we have unprecedented evidence that we must change our behaviors … and soon.

What is your stance on the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

I have not supported either of these wars since their inception.  I do not believe in violence as a means to settle cultural or economic disputes.  I would support funding only to the extent  it pays for the safe and quick removal of our soldiers from both combat zones.

And what about the Second Amendment – the Right to Bear Arms?

I am in favor of gun owners rights.  First of all, I grew up in a rural community and I believe hunting and sport shooting to be normal, healthy and generally safe hobbies.

I also call on my experience of living in England, where gun owners face far greater restrictions and handguns are basically forbidden.  At one point during my stay it was reported that around 80% of all property crime was occurring when the homeowner was present.  That simply doesn’t happen in a country in which a large portion of its law abiding citizens are allowed to keep firearms stored is a safe, but accessible fashion in their home.  It is also a fact that the UK has a steady year-on-year increase in handgun crime since enacting legislation that restricted handgun ownership.

There were a couple of more basic elements in play when our forefathers drafted the amendment in question.  First, it was meant as a matter of national security that we could call on an armed citizen militia should the need ever arise. It was also created as a balance against a concentration of “police power” in the government.  While the signers of the Constitution might not have envisioned the kind of inequity in the technologies available to the armed services and the average citizen, it does not diminish the idea that this same citizen has a right to protect the interests of home, property and family – by taking up arms, if necessary.

Where do you stand on abortion?

I believe that abortion must be legal,safe and made available on reasonable terms to women who wish to exercise this reproductive right.

Same sex unions (a.k.a. “Gay Marriage”)?

I believe that the state should allow for the recognition and sanction of same sex unions.  It is my belief that “marriage” is largely a religious rite, should be governed by the practices of that religion and this rite should hold no special preference in a secular state.  Consenting adults, however, should be able to enter into recognized unions that bestow property rights, employment benefits or similar privileges currently reserved for married couples.  The existence of a religious recognition or an active sexual relationship should have no bearing on these rights and privileges.


Why should someone vote for you?

I have the right experience for today’s environment.  Unlike many candidates, many of whom tout similar priorities, I have an actual track record in our areas of greatest need, like technology, energy, manufacturing, international trade and education.  I’ve done nothing but help people promote their own careers and their own well being all of my life.  My experience matches our problems and offers unique preparation for the challenges ahead.  I can make a difference in the lives of many people through a successful campaign.