Archive | August, 2011

Building An Entrepreneurial Buffalo, Part 2

19 Aug

‘Earlier this week, I wrote about making Buffalo and WNY a more entrepreneurial city and region and questioned whether the importation of innovation was the most effective way to improve our economy.

In many ways, the notion of “imported innovation” is the core tenet of our local economic development strategy.  We strive to identify companies who will move here or we struggle to keep existing companies here, but we do little to help generate innovation and entrepreneurship.

I took a stab at identifying the core issues that hold us back from making Buffalo’s entrepreneurial engine roar once again.

The reason Buffalo struggles to innovate is related to the lack of an innovation community, a self-perpetuating problem.  We lack a thriving community of innovative and energetic entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks.  Sure, there are some, but they are a disconnected group and access to capital to fund their ideas is limited, at best.

So, in essence, the problem set is defined as follows:

  • Lack of leadership on economic development from elected officials
  • A crumb hoarding mentality from wide swaths of our existing business community
  • Lack of capital for innovative small companies
  • Lack of an innovative and networked entrepreneurial community

Well, damn. That’s a big sticky problem, eh? No wonder our elected officials focus on the window dressing, this is a tough problem to tackle.

I think I have the skeleton of a solution, but I’ll need your help to flesh it out. This idea has come from lengthy discussions with a dozen or so young emerging entrepreneurs over the last year or so (our own pocket network effect).  We figured if we want to empower entrepreneurship, we should start by asking others to help us create the vision.

We start with a community wide venture capital investment fund.  One in which we all pay what we can to fund the next wave of companies that will employ our friends, neighbors and our children.  Let’s stop looking for someone else to save us when the answer is right in our own wallets. If our Mayor and civic leaders are disinterested in signing up for the Kiva City program, we’ll take the idea of their program and use it to inspire our own.

Kiva City extends microfinance to small businesses across America. With Kiva City, credit unions or other financial institutions partner at a local level to facilitate the loans, while community groups and civic leaders build awareness among small business owners and refer them to the program.

The basic concept is that not every business idea needs a $500,000-$10,000,000 initial investment.  Most need some seed funding for basic salaries, access to technology and office space, time, mentorship and community.  A good example of what this would look like is a community funded version of Y-Combinator.

Y Combinator does seed funding for startups. Seed funding is the earliest stage of venture funding. It pays your expenses while you’re getting started.

Some companies may need no more than seed funding. Others will go through several rounds. There is no right answer; how much funding you need depends on the kind of company you start.

At Y Combinator, our goal is to get you through the first phase. This usually means: get you to the point where you’ve built something impressive enough to raise money on a larger scale.  We make small investments (rarely more than $20,000) in return for small stakes in the companies we fund (usually 2-10%).

Y Combinator has a novel approach to seed funding: we fund startups in batches. There are two each year, one from January through March and one from June through August. During each cycle we fund multiple startups.

So, we combine the best of two programs to make our own, The Buffalo Fund.

We estimate that we’ll need live/work space and an initial funding stream of $2,000,000 to fund 8-10 companies at a maximum of $20,000 in the first year.  Ideally, we want to raise money from the community, in small denominations.  We want everyone invested in the idea of creating innovation and the companies which will employ the people of our region.  Let’s stop thinking of economic development as a top-down planning mechanism and treat it like a grassroots campaign.  When people are invested in the business community, even at a small scale, they become active participants in the local business environment.  Not pawns in a multi-national corporate game of pleasing distant shareholders.  We begin to think locally, we begin to empower entrepreneurs, we begin to see what’s possible.

We aim to build companies that look beyond the horizon of our own region and export their goods and services to the nation and the world. We’ll utilize our intellectual capital to create our own network effect.

Is it possible to raise $2,000,000 in Western New York through small donations from Joe Six-Pack in Lancaster and Tom Twelve-Pack in Hamburg?  Maybe.  However, we’d need to identify some larger investors who are not part of the existing power structure to provide our own seed funding and provide the mentorship for these budding entrepreneurs.

Each investor, no matter how small, get a weighted vote on which businesses get funded.  There will be a fund manager and a CEO hired who will report to a board of directors elected by the wider membership.  The board will manage the program, provide leadership and advise the membership.  Everyone is eligible for a leadership position as half of the board would rotate each year.  This would be a corporation, not a non-profit.

During the startup phase, we group the entreprenuers together and they hack away at their projects with legal oversight and receive guidance from guest speakers, advisers, and business planners.  We set them up for success by letting them focus on their business idea while giving them the tools to grow the idea.

So, I’ll leave it to you to tell me what you think.  Add to the idea, tell me what we’re missing or what we have right.  We’re walking the idea around town to people we’ve identified as potential partners and seed investors and I’ll post updates as the idea either blossoms or stalls.

It’s time we took control of our economic future, help make it happen.

 

American Axle Profits Double, So it Closes its Cheektowaga Plant

19 Aug

As American Axle closes its Cheektowaga plant, ending its dalliance with western New York, consider the UAW’s point: 

Negotiations broke down on July 31st when UAW Local 846 Members voted 98% in favor of rejecting what American Axle said was its “last best and final proposal,” UAW Representatives said.  During contract talks, American Axle demanded more money and benefits from its Workers, UAW Officials added.  Union Workers have already taken concessions, but were willing to negotiate a contract that helps keep jobs in the local community.  Meanwhile, in late July, American Axle released figures showing that its profits soared to $47.9 million from $25.3 million a year ago.

“This is an indication that Hard-Working People are sick of constantly helping companies through concessions and back to profitability and companies refusing to share in that,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who directs the Union’s American Axle Department.  “Here’s a business that started out as an American Company providing good-paying jobs to six-thousand employees.  As a result of the hard work of these employees, it has grown to an international company with thirty-two factories worldwide.  All of this success was achieved off the backs of the original six-thousand Hard-Working Americans.”

The numbers show that, even in a crappy economy, even with the labor costs currently extant in Cheektowaga, the company was making money, improving its standing thanks in part to concessions labor made in its last round of contract negotiations.

Those workers took concessions, and worked hard day in and day out for that company, helping it almost double its profits.  In doing so, they asked for a living wage, and that the company reward them for their earlier concessions and increased productivity. No luck.

The trend now is for management to demand more work for less pay from labor, and then shipping jobs to China or Mexico when labor’s had enough. This has to stop.

Two Stupid Twitter Arguments

18 Aug

Two of the dumbest arguments broke out in Buffalo’s Twittersphere yesterday afternoon, and it all started with this simple question:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nateatsbuffalo/status/103922579991048192″%5D

The suggestions came in fast: San Marco, Siena, Trattoria Aroma, Carmine’s – people came up with helpful ideas almost instantaneously; Twitter is all about instant gratification in 140 characters.

Then came this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103922814737846272″%5D

Twitter is also all about seeing stuff that makes you shake your head in astonishment.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nateatsbuffalo/status/103923543850487808″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103924656817442816″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nateatsbuffalo/status/103926644858826752″%5D

I think you see where this is going. It’s another 2005 vintage suburbs vs. city online argument, in this case begun by a self-described “city snob” who remains deliberately ignorant of the suburbs; someone whose business is to attract entrepreneurs to the region.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103924047670284288″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103926170134913024″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103926404403560448″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103926531218350080″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103926640035368960″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103927278907555840″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103927558369837056″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103927715274559490″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103928095920226305″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/nxtARROWpres/status/103928674981642240″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103928615326064640″%5D

It went on and on from there, and I tried to redirect the conversation with this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103929636001546240″%5D

But @nxtARROWpres kept trying to backtrack and change the subject to how sprawl “kills” and how ignorant and insensitive suburbanites are. He called for MetroRail to be expanded for the sole purpose of bringing suburbanites downtown to see all of the city’s cultural wonders, ignoring the fact that an improved Metro system would also help city dwellers reach jobs located in the ‘burbs.

So, argument #1 was a group of people rebutting some vividly ignorant views on regionalism. Thanks to @nateatsbuffalo, @buffalucci, @edwardmichael, and @speljamr for fighting the good fight. Regional cooperation trumps dumb city/suburb cleaves every day.

Ah, but I promised two dumb arguments.

In the midst of all of this, “@BuffaloRach” tweeted this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103932240349761536″%5D

Now, let me be clear – I had given @nateatsbuffalo the San Marco and Aroma suggestions. I didn’t jack the thread – @nxtARROWpres did, never giving a suggestion thanks to his deliberate ignorance of all things suburbs. Furthermore, I haven’t argued with @nxtARROWpres on Twitter for literally months, about anything. So, I thought @BuffaloRach was out of line and full of crap, so I defended myself. That’s when, for the second time in as many weeks, I got this argument:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103932500170113024″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103932695117176832″%5D

There’s this meme that’s started in town about how I react to the opinions of others. Essentially, it breaks down like this:

a. Someone writes something stupid;

b. I argue with the person, inviting them to defend their stupid statement;

c. I am accused of not respecting the opinions of others.

That’s not how it works. If you write or think something stupid, you don’t just get to do so without challenge.

Hey, Obama is a socialist! Thank you for your opinion!

Hey, the suburbs suck and the city is the greatest! Let’s agree to disagree and not discuss this at all!

No.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103935144959803392″%5D

What does that even mean?

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103935528927379456″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103935725514399744″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103936118654906368″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103936282853523456″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103936696478998528″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103936480673665025″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103936939664748544″%5D

Again, it went on from there. Now, I was using Twitter to argue a deeply existential argument about our very region – the political, economic, and social future of Buffalo and WNY hinges, I think, on government consolidation, regional government, and the city and suburbs working together. That is extremely important to me, and here I am arguing with somebody who thinks I shouldn’t argue on Twitter because it annoys her that I don’t just instantly roll over for stupid opinions.

If the topic is “Twitter threads that annoy me”, I should go ballistic every night of every fall, winter, and spring with idiotic and facile one-word-Sabres Tweets as people watch hockey – stuff that belongs on an IRC chat, not for the public’s benefit. If the topic is “Twitter threads that annoy me”, I should call out the little PR/social media expert Twitter cliques that like to prove what great friends they are and what fantastic social lives they have as they make plans – in public, on Twitter – to meet for drinks and food after work – stuff that belongs in a text message, not for the public’s benefit.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103952753679810560″%5D

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/buffalopundit/status/103941811655028737″%5D

So, to recap:

1. Arguments about how the city sucks and the suburbs are great, and vice-versa, are idiotic and counterproductive. They are damaging to the region as a whole, which needs to work together to move forward;

2. When I am confronted with a stupid argument, such as the one shown in number 1, supra, please don’t tell me what I can and can’t argue about, or that I’m wrong to not just roll over and quietly accept other people’s dumb opinions; and

3. If you have a bad Twitter habit like making plans for drinks on the patio of the Mansion with your Twique every other day, and otherwise using a public platform for your private conversations, don’t hammer me for my bad Twitter habit of engaging in arguments about important political, economic, or social issues.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BuffaloRach/status/103950207305265152″%5D

Thanks!

#BuffCashMob Nominations Now Open

17 Aug

 

Last week, Village Beer Merchant was the beneficiary of our #BuffCashMob to the tune of $600 and visits from dozens of new customers. It wasn’t as big a turnout as we had for the first week and based on feedback I’ve received from many of you, we’ll be making some changes.

You told us, we listened. This next round of #BuffCashMob will feature something other than a purveyor of the devil sauce. The votes from the readers determine where we mob, but we’ll try and get to a coffee shop, restaurant, bookstore or retailer; so make your nominations accordingly.

We’ll also be adding a media partner and a few local business organizations to the effort to expand the circle of influence, an announcement is forthcoming.

Most importantly, while this effort was intended to inject some cash and introduce new customers to locally owned businesses, it’s still a tough economy. Asking our readers, friends and extended network to pony up $10 per week for the effort may be a little too much for local wallets. So, the Buffalo Cash Mob will now happen fortnightly (once every two weeks for the readers in Depew).

Going forward, we’ll accept nominations for a full week, announce the winner the following Monday and profile the business throughout that week as we lead up to the #BuffCashMob event. The intent is to increase attendance, provide some marketing support to the local business and allow you people to save your pennies for the event.

So, lets open up the nominations for next week’s event. As I wrote earlier, let’s try and keep it non-alcoholic.

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Give All The Votes!

17 Aug

Over the past several weeks – particularly in the wake of the article I wrote in defense of the Buffalo food trucks‘ attempts to codify how they can do business – I have been taking a pleasant walk up a bleak Main Street to happily stand in line to enjoy tacos from the Where’s Lloyd taco truck.

What I appreciate about Lloyd’s is that they understand that the point of a food truck isn’t just to serve food out of a truck. The point is to serve something unique or special that you can’t find elsewhere, or that other people don’t do as well.  I don’t mean to denigrate the other local food trucks, which serve coffee, two of which serve BBQ, and one of which serves Buffalo classics. I frankly haven’t tried any of them, but I wish them success.

But Lloyd’s is the one that does tacos better than pretty much anyone else in town, and brings them out to where people are – Main & Mohawk, the Larkin Building, and several office parks throughout the week.

The tacos? Two delightfully soft, mildly sweet corn tortillas, topped with your choice of tomatillo pork, braised beef, chimi chicken, or beans, cabbage, cilantro, and hot/medium/mild sauce. They’re messy, they’re delicious, and the contrast between the succulent, moist meat (I usually get one beef, one pork, both excellent) and the crispy cabbage gives great mouthfeel.  The “Rocket Sauce” is a must – tomatillo-based heat with flavor. At $2.25 per taco and a buck for a can of soda, it’s a bargain, to boot. The burritos add rice and/or beans in an overstuffed flour tortilla, for $5.50.  I find that’s too filling for lunch, and gets you sort of sleepy.

So, the food is good, the concept is solid, it’s a great value, and they have become a part of the local food landscape in just one year.

To that end, Lloyd’s is in a competition for the Food Network show “The Great Food Truck Race.”  Astonishingly, Lloyd’s is in first place nationwide, and you get to vote for them ten times per day. If selected, Lloyd’s wins $10,000 and gets to travel nationwide competing against other food trucks (the competition is based on cash earned per night in different cities, and there’s loads of location strategy involved).

Now, R ‘n R Barbecue, the Whole Hog Food Truck and the Roaming Buffalo Truck are also competing, but splitting the vote 3 or 4 ways will ensure that no one wins.  Since Lloyd’s was first in town, I think it’s fair that Lloyd’s is first in line for this competition – the others should wait their turn, (but that’s just my opinion).

To vote for Lloyd’s, click the link or text FT182 to 66789 – every day, and if you register on the Food Truck Race site, you can instantly give your ten votes to Lloyd’s each day.

Our Quest For Purity

17 Aug

I consider the TED series of lectures a candidate for the “Highest and Best Use of the Internet” award, the greatest realization of the Information Revolution’s potential to inspire and educate. I reference TED semi-regularly (note: Buffalo’s own TEDx experience is coming in October), and please allow me to do so again to set the stage for our discussion.

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There is a lot we could pull out of those 18 minutes, but let me narrow the field to work through what I consider the freshest idea presented: the morality of Purity.

Jonathan Haidt lays out five pillars of morality: Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity, In-group Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. Conservatives value all five fairly equally, Liberals put far greater emphasis on the first two. But conservatives and liberals alike, and the moderates in between, all put some weight on Purity. As Haidt describes, Purity is one of the five moral pillars we are born with, pre-programmed to recognize and value. Haidt notes that while conservatives tend to follow a more traditional religious sense of Purity, the Liberal Purity path exists, is growing and has a new object of its affection: food.

I don’t mean to definitively link Foodie-ism and Liberalism in any sort of causal or predictive relationship, though the demographics of both (white, wealthy, urban-focused) certainly coincide. Nor is this a fact-based argument about the actual merits of tying Foodie-ism to Progressive thought – its hard to extol the virtues of your electric car with a straight face when you dine on foie gras shipped in from half-way around the world (but more on that later). Instead, let’s talk about the moral feelings that drive the wildly different ways a segment of our culture focuses on food – local, organic, sustainable, free-trade, heritage and quality worthy of Foodieville restaurants hardly all have to mean the same thing (why is free-trade coffee more likely to soothe the Foodie’s discerning palate?), though they are often mistakenly intertwined in the mind of the slumbering general public. 

"Techno Buddha" by Nam June Paik

As Haidt alludes, food isn’t really the point. The morality of purity lying behind the food is really about focusing on what one puts into one’s body, the cleanliness of the lifestyle. The sacredness is found in the purity of the food, but that purity can be found other ways. To extrapolate, the point is finding sanctity in a secularized, post-religious culture in order to fulfill the human need for Purity.

Astrophysicist, atheist and NPR contributor Adam Frank recently addressed this topic when he sought to commandeer the word “sacred” to describe any awe-inspiring experience. Noting that it should be all but impossible to be Spiritual and Scientific, he was still at a loss to explain the feeling he gets when walking into a church, or (I assume) looking into space. Purity is still a moral pillar for the atheist scientist, and a little word twisting secularizes an ancient term for an experience that his deliberate conscious brain has rejected but pre-programmed mind still craves. 

Everett Ruess

How else do we secularize the sacred in our modern world to fulfill this basic human need? Finding the most pure lifestyle choice is a trend in modern life. Christopher McCandless read enough Tolstoy and Emerson to seek to purify his spirit in the wild. He walked into it, but never walked out, starving to death in an abandoned bus in Alaska, joining a long list of wilderness-philes who literally disappeared into the sanctity of nature.  The urban/suburban debate often is imbued with a moral overtone that overwhelms any rational fact-based comparison of the sustainability/lifestyle merits of either living arrangement.  Melissa Coleman recently wrote a memoir about growing up on a 1970’s Maine hippie commune where the adults attempted to divide their lives into three: one third of their time farming and doing manual labor, one third on family and child rearing, one third on reading and study. It imploded like many other such experiments at that time, but at its heart it resembles Elbert Hubbard’s “Head | Heart | Hands” mantra with the Roycrofters in East Aurora nearly a century earlier. Gene Rossellini moved to the wilds of western Canada for twenty years to try to teach himself to re-enter the Stone Age (he ultimately gave up and went home). Even exercise routines are overcome by quests for purity: the simple act of escaping from the doldrums of daily life is no longer enough. Now runners want shoes that are leaner, five fingered, or not present at all, and gym buffs lift rocks instead of traditional weights. They are called Caveman routines, and they have Paleo diets to go with them. And they are everywhere.     

These may be more extreme examples, but at their core they are attempts to fulfill that fifth moral pillar in a secular way. Today, in 2011, the sacredness of food has grown into a number of manifestations that pervade our culture and thus more mainstream. No longer the exclusive purview of Whole Foods and Wegmans, even Tops has half a rack (!) of organic produce for sale. The local/organic/fair-trade/heritage trendsetters (again, not all the same thing of course) have moved well on past Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) to barter-based homesteading, urban chicken coops, splitting cows and raised bed farms in emptied city neighborhoods. I myself have an ancient apple tree that provides many bushels each fall, plus cherry and pear trees and a garden full of zucchini, tomatoes, rhubarb, squash, green beans, sweet peas, strawberries, and leaf lettuce. And I’m seriously considering raising rabbits (don’t tell my neighbors). And yet…

My maternal grandmother is an Albrecht. For over half a century (and well into the 1970’s), the E.J. Albrect and Sons Poultry (or, “the chicken stand,” as it was known in my family) was a fixture on the south end of the Broadway Market. Our family was proud of the work, but also sought to evolve past raising and slaughtering chickens in the backyard. It was seen as progress to separate the home and cultivation of food. How far has the industrialization of food gone, how disconnected are we from the glossy, neatly rowed identical white breasts in the convenient jumbo pack that urban chicken coops became a general cause célèbre?

And does it matter if the actual sacredness is often a false veneer? The food itself may be pure, but the process to make it so hardly aligns with Liberal principles. Organic farming reduces crop yields in a hungry world. Studies have found local food can have a higher carbon footprint than economically mass-produced varieties. The search for sacredness and purity among the religious and those on the right (often the same thing in the United States) is hardly rational; at its core it is a fulfillment of prejudicial pre-determined biases and needs. Why should secular and left-leaning attainments of purity be any more consistent or logical?

The Morning Grumpy – August 17th

17 Aug

1. The Buffalo News is about to lose the senior core of their newsroom staff. Jim Heaney, Donn Esmonde, Brian Meyer, and seven others have accepted a buyout offer from the newspaper. Losing the chief enterprise/investigative reporter, lead columnist, and their best beat reporter will certainly have a chilling effect on the quality of the product, but The Buffalo News saved some money, so it’s all good.

Since we started this little experiment of a website, Jim Heaney has been an ardent supporter and believer in new media. He has graciously offered advice and nudged us along as we learned to walk. For that, we are in his debt. The work product that comes from his dogged pursuit of the facts will not soon be replaced and corrupt assholes in WNY sleep a little better tonight knowing that Jim is no longer on the beat.

While we don’t always agree with Donn Esmonde, he’s an important voice in this community and has often rallied community attention to an issue by simply putting his fingers to keyboard. It is rumored that he may stay on with the newspaper in a part time capacity, but his days as the lead columnist for our local paper of record are coming to a close.

Brian Meyer is a feisty son of a bitch who had deep and trusted connections throughout Buffalo City Hall. After nearly thirty years in broadcast and print journalism, Brian hangs up his notebook and leaves massive shoes to fill. The learning curve for his replacement will be steep and whomever replaces him will struggle to maintain Meyer’s prolific publication pace.

Best wishes to all as they explore new opportunities and leave behind a company that still doesn’t understand that journalism is the product, not the paper it’s printed on.

2. Song for Wednesday, Part 1: “C’mon Talk” by Bernhoft

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3. A reader named Ben Duda sent me this link which he thought played well off my last two columns about economic development. Kiva has spent a decade offering microfinance loans ($234,519,225 and counting) in emerging markets and now they are turning their focus to stateside microfinance efforts with their new project, Kiva City.

Kiva City extends microfinance to small businesses across America. With Kiva City, credit unions or other financial institutions partner at a local level to facilitate the loans, while community groups and civic leaders build awareness among small business owners and refer them to the program.

Each Kiva City requires three partners:

  • Civic Leaders: Mayors & elected officials can demonstrate the power of community engagement by committing to bring Kiva to your city
  • Community Organizations: Work with small business networks, nonprofits, churches, and other community associations to post local businesses to Kiva.
  • Financial Institutions: Partner directly with Kiva or get trained on the small business referral process.

Of course, the first city in line to take advantage of this exciting program is Detroit. Is this on the radar for anyone in Buffalo? Calls to the Mayor’s office for comment were not returned. I’d be interested to hear if any other civic organizations might already be working on this project, but early investigation has turned up empty. I’ll keep checking and update as I go.

4. It appears that one of our readers has decided to open a WNYMedia parody channel on YouTube. The first few videos were pretty lame, but the one about my rift with Bob McCarthy is exceptionally horrible in the most awesome way possible. It is poorly produced and repetitive, but its got a beat I can dance to. Also, I’m glad to learn I now have a theme song.

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5. I CAN HAZ IDIOCRACY?!? Results from a seriously disturbing study.

44 percent of Social Security recipients, 41 percent of military veterans, 43 percent of unemployment recipients, 40 percent of Medicare recipients, 43 percent of college Pell Grant recipients and 27 percent of welfare recipients all said they had never used a government social program.

6. Something you need to know about Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry as we enter the interminably long Presidential election season…they are not normal Christians. In fact, they’re way crazier than your standard issue evangelical nutcase.

Of the three most plausible candidates for the Republican nomination, two are deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism. If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, understanding Dominionism isn’t optional.

Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult.

7. Song for Wednesday, Part 2: “Fuck Shit Stack” by Reggie Watts – Might as well stick with the loop pedal theme from Part 1

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8. America’s consumption economy is dying, let it die.

With the stock market plunging, we’ve heard plenty of warnings that a “pullback” in consumer spending could trigger another recession. Let me suggest an alternative. The last thing this economy needs is more debt-fueled consumer spending which mainly creates jobs overseas. Instead, we should be focused on boosting investment in physical, human, and knowledge capital.

Have a day!

WNYMedia.net Demands a Retraction from the Buffalo News

16 Aug

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

The Society of Professional Journalists posts a voluntary code of ethics on its website. Among other things, it admonishes professional journalists to:

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.

In connection with this story, which appeared in the Buffalo News on August 7, 2011: http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/columns/bob-mccarthy/article514711.ece, you did no such thing. What you did was to (a) read something that Joe Illuzzi wrote; (b) double-check Illuzzi’s work-product with the Board of Elections; and (c) connect the dots, directly and unequivocally accusing Chris Smith of being paid by the Poloncarz campaign to blast your facile non-story about Jennifer Hibit’s connection with a health care worker’s union.

Upon seeing your August 7th piece, I immediately emailed you to inquire whether you had contacted Chris Smith before drawing that specific conclusion of payola. You did not deign to respond. I simultaneously contacted Chris and confirmed through him that you never tested the accuracy of Mr. Illuzzi’s conclusion by diligently seeking Chris out to give him the opportunity to respond to Illuzzi’s – and your – allegations of wrongdoing.

You were – quite rightly – blasted by most writers at WNYMedia.net within the following few days for being hypocritical. The Buffalo News has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from campaigns for advertisements over the years, yet none of us ever accused you of payola. How dare you do the same without checking with us first?

Your hurt feelings over Chris’ specific allegations of your lazy hackery (none of which you addressed or rebutted, by the way), were enough to get you to overlook your ethics as a journalist, and instead clumsily lob an accusation of payola directly at Chris, (and indirectly at me and everyone else who writes for WNYMedia.net). Our site is a blog made up of commentary and opinion. Since this is an unpaid hobby for Chris, me, and others, we tend to stick with topics that interest us. Chris and I are both deeply in the red viz. what we’ve paid to keep that site up & running.

I’m gobsmacked that you so cavalierly accused us of payola without checking with any of us first; without even making an effort to contact Chris or me to verify whether we got any of the Poloncarz money. We’re not one guy; we’re a network of people with different roles. What you’ve done, quite frankly, is defame us. You have – with reckless disregard for its truth or accuracy – accused the bloggers at WNYMedia.net of being paid to write positive things about Mark Poloncarz. As you’re no doubt aware, that’s the legal definition of “actual malice”, which is the higher standard accorded to public figures. You have destroyed our credibility on the County Executive’s race with a lie – a lie you could have, but did not, checked with us about first.

Printing a lie in the singular local newspaper with reckless disregard for the truth or accuracy of said lie is a textbook case of libel.

In obvious recognition of that fact, the paper printed a “clarification”, a lazy attempt at damage control. It basically informed the reader that, when Bob McCarthy wrote that Chris Smith was paid off by the Poloncarz to write nice stuff about Poloncarz, this may have given people the impression that Chris Smith was paid off by Poloncarz.

Today, I wanted to write something about the campaign for County Executive. I found that I could not. I found that I am now tarnished with an image of being a paid hack for the Poloncarz campaign. I don’t know yet what I’m going to do about that, but I’m writing to you, with a cc to your boss – without seeking the pre-approval of anyone at WNYMedia.net – to demand the following:

1. As prominently as your accusation of payola was on August 7, you devote an equal amount of column space to publicly retracting and apologizing for accusing Chris Smith (and by extension the other bloggers at WNYMedia.net) of payola, and that you specifically acknowledge that you were incorrect, and had never bothered to ask Chris before accusing him of being on the Poloncarz payroll;

2. That the Buffalo News issue a proper and complete correction and retraction of McCarthy’s August 7th libel;

3. That the Buffalo News add such correction and retraction to the website containing Bob McCarthy’s column of August 7th, so that anyone who may come upon it via Google search will see the retraction and apology accompanying the original libel;

4. That the foregoing take place before September 7, 2011.

I’m going to go out on a limb and expect the courtesy of a reply – from either you, your editor(s), or the News’ legal counsel.

Alan Bedenko

(The foregoing was transmitted today via e-mail).

Building an Entrepreneurial Buffalo

16 Aug

innovation

“If you could get the right ten thousand people to move from Silicon Valley to Buffalo, Buffalo would become Silicon Valley.” – Paul Graham in his essay “How To Be Silicon Valley

In many ways, the notion of “imported innovation” is the core tenet of our local economic development strategy.  We strive to identify companies who will move here or we struggle to keep existing companies here, but we do little to help generate innovation and entrepreneurship.

This is odd as Buffalo has a rich history of innovative entrepreneurs who powered the growth of Buffalo and WNY at the turn of the last century.  At some point, we seem to have lost our way, we lost our network effect.

The reason Buffalo struggles to innovate is related to the lack of an innovation community, a self-perpetuating problem.  We lack a thriving community of innovative and energetic entrepreneurs who are willing to take risks.  Sure, there are some, but they are a disconnected group and access to capital to fund their ideas is limited, at best.

There is no center of the city which fosters shared ideas and creative entrepreneurial energy.  Sure, we have a couple of areas in the city chasing the Richard Florida model of huddling hipsters and creatives into small alcoves to create an economic impact, but there is no effort to create an Artspace-like environment for business.

In cities where innovation thrives, you’ll find strong academic universities surrounded by an urban area populated by entrepreneurs with access to investors who are willing to fund risky ideas. You need a confluence of wealth and energy to create a network effect.

Chairman Emeritus, IBM Academy of Technology, Irving Wladawsky-Berger had this to say about innovation and network effects:

Throughout history, certain cities and the regions around them have been the major centers of innovation in a variety of different fields as a result of their unique accumulation of talent and wealth. Innovation is very susceptible to network effects – that is, the more talented people you have in close proximity, the more their ideas and their work influence each other and stimulate them to innovate. While talent is necessary to becoming an innovation hub, it is not sufficient. You need wealth, in order to support the talented people and bring their work to market. You also need an open culture that values a diversity of ideas and experiences.

So, we lack a thriving urban area which creates shared energy.  We lack access to innovation capital as most of our local wealth is inherited and descended from the casino capitalism tree (those interested in collecting wealth for the sake of collecting it).  Our talent base is drained each year as they migrate to greener pastures.  Most importantly, we lack people willing to invest in what Keynes called the “real economy”, the economy of production capital, long-term investment and job creation.

So, how do we overcome all of these factors?  The answer from the likes of BNE/BNP and most IDA’s is to keep paying a vig to companies like Geico and Yahoo! to set up shop in our fair region and bless us with midlevel jobs.  Those jobs are designed to create wealth for plutocrats in other regions of the country.  While this strategy has merit as a force multiplier for the local economy, it’s shouldn’t be the primary driver of economic development, it should be a tactic in a wider strategy.

I’d posit that we need to build our own network effect.  No longer should we look to the local “business leaders” for handouts and capital.  We should rebuild our culture of innovation from the ashes of closed steel mills and shuttered auto factories.  Looking to ourselves to fund a new wave of innovation, a rising tide of locals who want to build a better future for themselves and their neighbors.  To give this city back the entrepreneurial roar that was heard around the world at the turn of the last century.

So, I’ll leave it to you to tell me what you think.  I have a skeleton of an idea that I’ll discuss tomorrow. But first, I’d like to hear what you think. How do we begin to create our own network effect? How do we begin to bring capital to bear for innovative ideas? How do we build a community of ideas?

It’s time we took control of our economic future, help make it happen.

NOM Targets Grisanti, Voters Think Differently

15 Aug

An extremist religious political sect, which misleadingly calls itself the “National Organization for Marriage“, is sending out lying mailings to voters in the 60th state Senate district. Apart from containing hatred and lies, the mailers ask people to send ready-made postcards to Senator Mark Grisanti, threatening to punish him at the polls for his vote to legalize same-sex marriage.

Some voters in the overwhelmingly Democratic district are choosing instead to send modified versions of NOM’s postcard to Senator Grisanti. This appeared in my Facebook feed on Saturday: