Saturday, April 11, 2015

No Backroom Dealings For Bessemer Aquaponics

Previously I posted Bessemer Aquaponics And The California Drought, an e-mail that was sent to City Council and others concerning efforts to bring an Aquaponics industry to Greensboro in order to provide jobs and economic development for our entire region.
That e-mail was forwarded to Ms
Karen Neill, Interim County Extension Director with the Guilford County Cooperative Extension Service who e-mailed me the following yesterday:

"Dear Mr Jones,

My name is Karen Neill and I am the Interim County Extension Director with the Guilford County Cooperative Extension Service. I have read over the email that was forwarded to me by one of our employees, John Ivey.  I need to clarify a few things. The land that you are speaking about is owned by Guilford County. I can not, nor have I given you the use of this land free of change.  You would have to go through the facilities department to ask permission or in this case a long term lease of the land.  I say long term because a project like this will be quite costly and you need to make sure that the land is not going to be used by the county down the road for another project. 

I think the project has quite a bit of merit but I do have a few questions. First and probably the most important, if the County does give you a lease for this property and an Aquaponics production facility is built, who will be overseeing the daily operations. Will there be a paid staff to run the operation?  Where will the profits from what is ultimately sold go? There are probably many other questions like these that all need to be addressed before a project of this magnitude is acted upon. 

Extension is interested in being at the table to discuss this project as we do  have specialists on the University level that have been working on this. They could be brought in to help advise. Locally, we do not have anyone on staff with this expertise. Extension agents  are educators,  so I want to be clear in the fact that we would not be overseeing this project or doing the daily work required to run this. 

Thank You,

The following is my reply to Ms Neill, the Greensboro City Council and others receiving the e-mail thread. I realize politicians and government employees like to keep everything a secret until it is a done deal, never wanting to stick out their necks or risk loosing the chance to take credit for some else's work but it is in the shadows where so much gets lost and so to prevent those losses I'm shining the light on communications from the beginning. Should the project fail because I decided to make details public then it can only be because some political figure has chosen to make it fail. My reply to Ms Neill in my normal abrasive, yet bluntly honest style:

"Ms Neill,
Thank you for your reply.
If you will check the Guilford County Register of Deeds you will find the property I am speaking of shares the same deed with the Agricultural Extension Center. While I don't object to going through County Facilities as Mr Ivy advised, the fact remains, legally, as Interim County Extension Director you should be made aware that Guilford County Cooperative Extension Service has legal possession of said property. The Guilford County GIS system is available online here:
Don't be too quick to give away what is already yours to use even if you don't want me on it.
On your other questions:

"First and probably the most important, if the County does give you a lease for this property and an Aquaponics production facility is built, who will be overseeing the daily operations."
A non profit board of directors will make that determination. I would assume that some of the seats on that board would be filled by the Guilford County Cooperative Extension Service and other representatives from Guilford County. Please understand: my interest is in seeing that it happens, nothing more. I don't expect wages, a seat on the board or personal profit. I'm a 58 year old, life long resident living less than 1 mile from that location. I've spent my entire childhood and adult life watching the Bessemer Community and Greensboro die as slow and painful death since annexation in 1958. Were you aware that prior to annexation to Greensboro, Bessemer was the most economically viable community in the Piedmont Triad? Before it was destroyed by Greensboro:
"From the turn of the century to the late 1950s, the East Market Street Corridor flourished. It was the shopping and social center for many of Greensboro's African Americans, who owned businesses on the street and provided services to those shut out by segregation practices in other Greensboro neighborhoods.
This lively community began to wind down in the late 1950s and 1960s when, under the guise of "urban renewal," thousands of people and more than 80 businesses (many minority-owned) were displaced. Most of those businesses never reestablished.

Decline and disinvestment took a toll on the neighborhood -- and its residents..."

My only goal is to rebuild my community. It just so happens the entire city and state could profit as well.

You asked: "Will there be a paid staff to run the operation?"
At some point there would have to be. The goal is to bring jobs here. I don't have all the answers, that's why I'm recruiting other people. The property is zoned Institutional so the facility built there will have to primarily be a teaching facility. The goal is to promote Aquaponics in urban, rural and point of sale locations so that it becomes a viable industry in Greensboro at a time when we are the 2nd hungriest Metropolitan Statistical Area in the nation with a poverty rate exceeding 21% and some of the highest unemployment in the state.
You see, your agency has been involved in all sorts of academic talks about these issues along with Mayor Vaughan and others who are receiving this e-mail for years-- this isn't a new problem-- but all any of you do is talk about the problem. Talk, talk, talk, talk... You (all of you, not just Ms Neill) complain you can't get the community involved but when I start getting the community together suddenly you get scared to death. Your job is to promote Agriculture, the #1 industry in North Carolina, get Guilford County resident, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler on the phone and stop worrying about roads. We can always move later with the money the highway department will be forced to pay us. You see, no announcement has been made about that road and by law they can't stop projects in its path until an official announcement is made.

(And by they way, John, when I got home I had messages that several were running late so I went back and met them. They're excited.)
Ms Neill, I'm sorry if I'm coming off hard. I'm not an easy man to get along with and today has been an especially trying day. Were my son still alive he would be 37 today. He died the kind of death only poor people die from at such a young age. Yes, I'm an angry man. Some of the people on this e-mail list are people I truly despise but I would never wish what I'm feeling tonight on any of them.
You asked: "Where will the profits from what is ultimately sold go?"
I would assume back into the non profit. My intention was to start small and build on the profits. At some point we should give a percentage of the money to your employer to expand what you do. I certainly have no designs on the money-- I don't even want to see it. Would you like the money? Just spend it locally so it stays in the local economy, okay?  
Ms Neill wrote:

"There are probably many other questions like these that all need to be addressed before a project of this magnitude is acted upon."

Of course, but if I wait on government before I start organizing... Well here we are just talking again, right? Everybody is scared to flip the switch. Let me tell you a little story, a true story about how it works in business:
When I was about 25 years old I was the plant supervisor for Goria Concrete located just about a mile from your office on Buchannan Church Road just off of Burlington Rd. It's still there today though Mr Goria has sold the business.
Mr Goria and the Plant Manager, Phil Otto (Phil's wife Twilla was founder of the local chapter National Association of Women Business Owners and a good friend) went to the far reaches of western Canada to look at some used equipment and take a 2 week wilderness vacation leaving me in charge 2 concrete block plants. No sooner had they gotten to where there were no telephones when one of the plants broke down and production ended.
Just as always, when something broke I jumped right in and starting fixing it. Hydraulics, pneumatics, micro-switches, drive trains, electronics, transmissions, engines at 25 I could fix damned near anything but computers... That's right, after having spent a day trying everything I knew I was certain the problem was the computer. And the only person in the entire company who could fix the computer was the man who built it-- Phil Otto. And Phil was in the wilds of Canada.
Mr Goria's wife damn near died when I handed her the bill from the expert I called in and told her to pay the man. I worried about it day and night for almost 2 weeks as the bill was far more than I made in a month.
When they returned Phil and Mr Goria spent their first morning going over my paperwork. Then the 2 of them called me into Mr Goria's office. I thought I was about to be fired. Mr Goria and Phil explained that I had done some things wrong but ended with telling me that getting the plant back up and running saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars over letting it sit idle. Then he gave me a raise.
That story wasn't just for you, Ms Neill, it was for every one reading this e-mail: THE WORST YOU CAN DO IS NOTHING! And when you place your jobs, reelection or reputation above getting the job done you display cowardice of the worst kind.
Now who wants to save our city? Who has the guts?

I await her reply just as I await a reply from anyone on City Council.