Connecticut’s Jurassic Tourism Industry

Just how many mammoth dinosaurs can be found roaming the tiny state of Connecticut this summer?

In New Haven, along the Long Island Sound, the 89 year old Great Hall of Dinosaurs in Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History is swarming with gigantic skeletons and fossils. It’s one of the most visually striking paleontology collections in the world.

About thirty miles north of the Elm City, in Rocky Hill, Dinosaur State Park sports a gigantic slab of jurassic footprints. And ten miles further north, in the heart of the capital city of Hartford, 22 animatronic dinosaur robots are threatening their human hosts at the Connecticut Science Center.

Meanwhile, about forty miles southwest of New Haven, 40 fiberglass dinosaurs are carousing on the sidewalks of Stamford via the Dinosaurs Rule! art exhibit.

I visited the Rocky Hill park and Stamford exhibit last week, and was quite surprised by the breadth of the drawing power of these extinct species. An entire cross-section of humanity, from toddlers to the elderly, and from blue collar workers to university professors, are enjoying the mix of knowledge and entertainment, from the serious to the silly.

Oddly enough, though, I couldn’t find a single promotional reference to the New Haven and Hartford exhibits in Rocky Hill or Stamford. No joint programs, no placards, no coupons … not a single synergistic prompt to encourage visitors to enjoy the other sites. It was a striking oversight, one almost as noticeable as the dinosaurs themselves.

And although a web site called the Connecticut Dino Trail exists online, it makes no mention of Stamford’s Dinosaurs Rule! exhibit. That city, though, represents the very first dinosaur location that is accessible to visitors entering the state from the metro New York region. And Governor Dannel Malloy is himself a resident and a former mayor of Stamford.

Governor Malloy, in fact, has noted that his state’s tourism industry generates $14 billion in annual revenues. Considering Connecticut’s position as one of the four wealthiest states in the nation, and one that can easily draw visitors from the nearby megacities of New York and Boston, these revenues indicate that the tourist sector is clearly doing something right.

Nevertheless, Boston’s Freedom Trail, New York’s Heritage Trails, and Connecticut’s own Wine Trail provide readily available examples of collaborative artistic, commercial, cultural, and historical associations. With these entities so close by, couldn’t Connecticut’s Dino Trail review their successes and learn to cross-promote its own sites a bit more effectively?

Super Bowl’s Biggest Loser

At first glance, the Seattle Seahawks would appear to be the biggest loser of yesterday’s Super Bowl, wouldn’t they? After all, the Seahawks lost the game in the final minute by inexplicably attempting a risky one yard touchdown pass instead of simply running the ball straight over the goal line.

According to the mayor of Glendale, Arizona, though, the biggest loser wasn’t the Seahawks franchise. Instead, it was the city of Glendale itself, for bearing the fiscal burden of hosting the game.

Although the game was billed as the Phoenix Super Bowl, with most of the pre-game festivities split between Phoenix and Scottsdale, the football stadium itself is located in the suburb of Glendale. Last week, Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers said that “I totally believe we will lose money” on the game.

You may be dubious about Weiers’ assertion that Glendale’s public safety costs of hosting the game will exceed its financial and economic benefits. It is noteworthy, though, that the Glendale mayor isn’t the first city executive to voice this complaint.

Just last year, when the New York City Super Bowl was played in the nearby suburb of East Rutherford, New Jersey, local Mayor James Cassella complained that “in East Rutherford I expect to get disrespected, but the state of New Jersey is being left out of the (pre-game events) mix.”

Thus, in each of the past two years, the Super Bowl has been played in a suburb of a major metropolis.  And each year, the mayor of the suburb has expressed dissatisfaction with the prospect of bearing the costs of public safety while watching the nearby metropolis reap the benefits of public exposure.

Is there any chance that such municipalities may eventually lose interest in hosting the big game? At the moment, no one is yet suggesting such an outcome.

Nevertheless, after many years of hearing similar concerns voiced by city executives playing host to the Winter Olympics, the International Olympic Committee is now struggling with a startling lack of interest in hosting future games. And can you guess what situation will confront the National Football League at next year’s Super Bowl?

Believe it or not, it’s facing a possible third straight year of suburban angst. Although the 2016 Super Bowl 50 Host Committee is referring to the game location as the “San Francisco Bay Area,” its stadium isn’t located in the metropolis itself. Instead, it is located in the suburban city of Santa Clara.

So this is a concern that won’t fade away soon. But how significant is it?

On the one hand, you might believe that such complaints by suburban mayors aren’t worthy of the NFL’s time and concern. After all, by having agreed to permit the construction of the fields in their cities, the citizens of these suburbs implicitly committed to finance the public safety costs of hosting events at those locations.

Nevertheless, at a time when the NFL is suffering through one embarrassment after another, the League can’t possibly enjoy listening to the complaints of city executives who are unhappy about being treated unfairly. Perhaps, in the future, the NFL might choose to be more proactive in addressing their concerns.

Agreeing On Corporate Welfare

Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie and Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dan Malloy would find nothing in common to agree on? After all, they occupy diametrically opposite positions on the nation’s “conservative vs. liberal” political spectrum.

Recently, indeed, the men have publicly (and vociferously) argued with each other. Six months ago, Governor Malloy wrote a guest editorial for New Jersey’s largest newspaper about Governor Christie’s veto of a proposed gun control law. He declared that: “Gov. Christie … showed a callous lack of respect to the families (who supported the law). Those families deserve better. The people of New Jersey deserve better as well.”

Four months later, while visiting Connecticut to campaign for Governor Malloy’s Republican opponent in the 2014 gubernatorial election campaign, Governor Christie exclaimed that: “The four years of Dan Malloy have been brutal for the people of this state.”

Wow! Callous? Brutal? That is certainly rough language, isn’t it? And yet Governors Christie and Malloy apparently do agree on one government policy. Namely, they both support the distribution of corporate welfare benefits to firms that threaten to leave (or that promise to enter) their states.

Two weeks ago, for instance, New Jersey agreed to give the automobile maker Subaru $118 million to move its corporate headquarters four miles up the road to Camden. Why? It did so because Subaru considered a potential move to Pennsylvania.

Subaru did commit to hire 100 new employees over a ten year period. But was it worth $118 million in corporate welfare benefits for New Jersey to generate 100 new jobs? Interestingly, that deal was actually less costly for taxpayers than an earlier agreement with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. The basketball team received $82 million to move its front office and practice facilities to Camden, and to hire 50 new employees.

Those corporate welfare costs work out to $1.18 million for the new Subaru jobs and $1.64 million for the new 76ers jobs. Why did New Jersey offer the 76ers an additional $460,000 per new job? Perhaps it did so because Subaru’s headquarters is currently located in New Jersey, whereas the 76ers’ headquarters is currently based in Pennsylvania. Apparently, crossing a state border yields additional welfare benefits for relocating corporations, even when the geographic distances of their moves are miniscule!

Meanwhile, United Technologies obtained a $400 million benefit package earlier this year from the state of Connecticut without promising to hire any new employees at all. The firm simply agreed to make certain investments that would “have an impact” on 75,000 existing jobs. And two years ago, a global investment firm named Bridgewater Associates was promised $115 million to move approximately fifteen miles (and six local commuter train stops) down the Connecticut coast line from Westport to Stamford.

Bridgewater declined the offer earlier this year, but only after the state spent $16 million to demolish a boatyard on Stamford Harbor to clear space for the firm. News organizations and community leaders now refer to the empty construction site as “a pile of dirt” and “a money pit.”

Eventually, it may be possible to justify these government expenditures as investments in economic development activities. Who knows? Perhaps Subaru, United Technologies, and Bridgewater would have left New Jersey or Connecticut without these incentive payments. And perhaps the 76ers would have never moved to New Jersey without them.

Nevertheless, it is indeed noteworthy that such strikingly different politicians as Governors Christie and Malloy appear to agree that corporate welfare is a beneficial development strategy. With New Jersey and Connecticut continuing to place in the lowest quintile as the worst states in America for business, though, it may be time for both Governors to reconsider this strategy.

Tesla In Nevada: New World Of Energy

Certain corporate announcements explode across the headlines and shock us all with the realization that we are entering a new world. The emergence of McDonald’s in the old Soviet Union, for instance, embodied the triumph of capitalism over communism. And Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPad, for example, epitomized the emergence of the mobile internet.

Although it received far less publicity, Tesla’s announcement of the construction of a $5 billion battery “gigafactory” in Nevada (USA) last week may be recognized, eventually, as another such announcement. After all, on several different levels, it exemplifies the emergence of a new world of energy.

How does it do so? Well, Tesla itself is a creature of the age of clean energy. Although electric automobiles were first built in the 1800s, Tesla was formed a decade ago to address environmental concerns like climate change by replacing gasoline powered vehicles with zero carbon emission cars. Elon Musk, its founder and owner, also launched SolarCity with the same goal in mind.

Furthermore, Tesla’s decision to built the gigafactory was necessitated by its plans to introduce its first mass market all-electric automobile, the Model 3. The firm’s senior officers are convinced that environmental concerns will compel middle class buyers to embrace automobiles with zero carbon emissions.

Perhaps most significant, though, is Tesla’s decision to build the factory in Nevada, a state with a very limited manufacturing footprint because of its distance from traditional carbon based energy sources. Nevertheless, the site was chosen because of its ability to generate renewable solar, wind, and geothermal power.

A gigantic factory powered by renewable energy sources, producing massive numbers of batteries for mass market vehicles that emit no carbon pollutants? That is certainly a project that can serve as a harbinger of the emerging new world of energy, one that may be remembered for years to come.

Global Manufacturing: On To Africa!

Some residents of the New England region of the United States can still remember when states like Massachusetts were globally competitive in the clothing and textiles manufacturing sector.

After the Second World War, of course, the northeastern United States lost most of these factories to southeastern states like North Carolina. Later, during the 1960s and 1970s, the production facilities began to move to the maquiladora region of Mexico.

But the cycle of globalization never stops spinning. During the first decade of the 21st century, these clothing and textile factories shifted again to Asian nations like Bangladesh, Cambodia and China. Will they finally remain there … or will they soon decamp to some other region of the globe?

The Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) helped answer that question recently by announcing plans for a massive purchasing initiative from Ethiopian suppliers. Their commitment provided support to the emerging consensus that the African continent might represent the world’s next great success story of economic development and expansion.

To be sure, this trend isn’t solely the result of African progress. It can also be attributed to growing concerns about the manufacturing industry in Asia, including risks involving worker safety and corporate corruption.

Nevertheless, a significant shift of the world’s production economy towards Africa would undoubtedly help lift the fortunes of some of the world’s least developed economies. On the other hand, it would also place more pressure on the health of some of the world’s most endangered natural environments.

Such trends are an inevitable consequence of the continuing influence of globalization. As soon as the world’s clothing and textile manufacturers settle in any region, they immediately start looking for the next more desirable region!

 

Economic Austerity, French Style!

Here we go again! The federal government of the United States, having repeatedly failed to meet its own self-imposed deadlines to balance its budget, is quickly approaching yet another deadline.

The names of the deadlines are becoming more exciting, though, aren’t they? First we experienced the tamely termed debt ceiling. Then we approached the more aggressively named fiscal cliff. And now we are encountered the inscrutable yet terrifying sequestration.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, French citizens are collectively engaged in their own unpleasant experiences with economic austerity. The nature of their experiences, in contrast to America’s, reveals quite a bit about the cultural differences between the two societies.

The So-Called Workers

The most recent controversy involved the blunt comments of an American business executive about a French tire factory. Titan International’s CEO Morry Taylor visited France in contemplation of an acquisition of the plant, but told the French Minister of Industry Arnaud Montebourg:

“The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.” He continued: “Titan is going to buy a Chinese tire company or an Indian one, pay less than one Euro per hour wage and ship all the tires France needs. You can keep the so-called workers.”

Sacre Bleu! What outrageous insults! But the comments weren’t much harsher than the complaints that French citizens launched at their own President Francois Hollande after he attempted to modify the calendar of the public school system.

Hump Day Traditions

In the United States, the middle day of the working week (i.e Wednesday) is colloquially called Hump Day. That’s because we all require a fair amount of physical and mental stamina to make it “over the hump” and slide into the second half of the week.

But American society has never formalized any special traditions for Hump Day. Indeed, Wednesday has remained a standard work day, along with Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. In France, however, Wednesday has been treated as a special day by the public school system.

How special? Well, most state schools are closed on that day. Indeed, each Wednesday is treated as a weekend day, albeit one that falls in the middle of the week.

And how have the citizens of France responded to President Hollande’s recent suggestion that children should attend schools on Wednesday mornings? One critic complained “This is the only country I know where the adults work 35 hours a week, but they expect their kids to work more.”

Sequestration

While the French have been debating issues like three hour work days and four day school weeks, the American people have begun to learn about an entirely different level of economic austerity.

What is it? Why, it’s sequestration! That’s a legal term that was originally coined to describe the seizure of property under dispute for safekeeping to prevent a party from obtaining or damaging it. But ever since the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act was signed into law in 1985, the term has come to mean something entirely different.

In essence, on certain arbitrary dates defined by law, the United States Treasury is required to sequester (i.e. not spend) any funds that would be borrowed under normal operating practices. This nullification of spending activities, in turn, eliminates any reason for the federal government to borrow more money and extend its deficit; it thus serves as a debt limitation tactic.

What happens to government operations that need those unborrowed and unspent funds in order to conduct their business activities? They are forced to implement devastating cutbacks, thereby depriving the American people of many necessary services.

Values and Expectations

So how do they do it? How does the French government manage to remain so far ahead of the American government in terms of its ability to help its people maintain a reasonable standard of living with relatively less work effort?

Well, the French government presides over a society that is willing to acquire less wealth for less work. While estimates of America’s Gross Domestic Product per capita range from $46,000 to $48,000, estimates of France’s GDP only range from $35,000 to $36,000.

And then there are taxes. The French people pay their federal government a Value Added Tax, a Wealth Tax, and an income tax with a top marginal rate of 75%. None of these taxes exist at such levels in the United States.

So the cultural differences between the societies are clearly defined. French citizens expect to generate and accumulate less wealth, and they bear the burden of higher taxes. In return, they value and expect a life style of limited work. American citizens, on the other hand, expect more wealth and lower taxes. In return, they value and expect a life style of significant work.

In other words, cultural values shape expectations, and expectations shape nations. The results, perhaps unsurprisingly, are self evident.

The Brooklyn Renaissance

Buffalo, New York. Cleveland, Ohio. Detroit, Michigan.

What do these cities have in common? Many decades ago, they were all dominant metropolises within the United States. Buffalo, for instance, was America’s eighth largest municipality in 1900; Detroit and Cleveland were its fourth and sixth largest cities in 1940.

All of these cities are now striving, with differing levels of success, to reclaim aspects of their former glories. If they are seeking a role model, they might wish to consider the recent accomplishments of a borough that has not existed as an independent city since 1898.

The Borough of Kings

The City of Brooklyn joined with Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island to form New York City two years before the advent of the twentieth century. Prior to that time, the City of Kings had been the third or fourth largest city in the United States for many decades.

While still a city in its own right, Brooklyn became world renowned for its architecture, its public works, its cultural resources, and its mass entertainment options. The stately Promenade of Brooklyn Heights, the soaring towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, the high brow offerings of the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the public walkways of Prospect Park and the Coney Island beach and boardwalk all became icons of the American experience during the nineteenth century.

And throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the city-turned-borough continued to thrive, producing global celebrities like Woody Allen, Neil Diamond, George and Ira Gershwin, Rudy Giuliani, Rita Hayworth, Lena Horne, Larry King, Arthur Miller, Mickey Rooney, Jerry Seinfeld, Neil Simon, and Barbra Streisand

… and that was only during the first half of the century!

The Decline

It is difficult to pinpoint a precise moment when Brooklyn began its slow but inexorable decline. Some historians cite the year 1955, when the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper folded after more than a century of publication. Others note 1957, when the legendary baseball Dodgers abandoned its ancestral Ebbets Field home and moved across the nation to Los Angeles.

It is also difficult to note the exact moment when the borough hit its nadir. Perhaps that occurred in 1964, when Coney Island based Steeplechase Park was sold to real estate developer Fred Trump, the father of today’s Donald Trump. Or perhaps it occurred in 1991/92, when Brooklyn born heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson went to prison for raping a teenager, and the independent film Straight Out of Brooklyn was honored at the Sundance Film Festival for its bleak portrayal of the Brooklyn housing projects.

Indeed, in the last half of the twentieth century, Brooklyn was easily comparable to Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit as a region in decline. Nevertheless, the first decade of the twenty first century has presented Brooklyn with a very different fate.

An Era of Revival

Although the recent decade has been one of economic and social decline for many regions in the United States, it has actually represented a fairly prosperous period for Brooklyn. Hotels have opened throughout the borough. New parks have opened to the public, and entire new neighborhoods have sprung up along the lengthy shoreline. In addition, CBS has even launched a hit television series about a pair of aspiring women who are seeking success in the neighborhood of Williamsburg.

This recent era of revival may have peaked this past week with the announcement that the New York Islanders, a professional hockey team from Nassau County, will move to Brooklyn and join basketball’s Nets in the new Barclay’s Arena. The Nets have been lionized as a contemporary replacement for the baseball Dodgers; the addition of the Islanders has now been perceived as the proverbial “icing on the cake” of the borough’s renaissance.

But why has Brooklyn been able to regain its historical prominence when so many nineteenth century cities have failed to do so? To what can it attribute its new found prominence?

The Shadows of Manhattan

For centuries, Brooklyn has lingered in the shadows of Manhattan Island. Its proximity to the Great Metropolis has been perceived as an impediment to its development; in fact, some historians believe that the single most damaging event in Brooklyn’s history was its “Great Mistake of 1898” to merge with the other four boroughs.

Nevertheless, that very proximity may have served Brooklyn well during the past decade. Manhattan has continued to defy the national economic malaise, and has grown into what many believe is the world’s preeminent “global city.” Brooklyn has undeniably grown because of waves of new residents who have ventured out from the island of Manhattan in search of less expensive (and yet equally hospitable) neighborhoods.

In other words, a liability in the past era may have now emerged as an asset in the current era. Regrettably, if sheer proximity to Manhattan is the primary driver of Brooklyn’s success, then Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit may need to look elsewhere for a developmental role model.

Risky Ventures With Your Tax Dollars

Have you heard about the investor who just got “smoked” (in baseball parlance) by Boston Red Sox legend Curt Schilling?

The former baseball ace has been attempting to establish his video game company 38 Studios for the past several years. The firm managed to launch its first game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning a few months ago, but last week it bounced a check to its own financial supporter.

Start-up video game companies are exceptionally risky ventures, of course. Even firms that have seen immense success, such as Atari during the 1970s and early 1980s, have later plunged into financial distress. And many analysts believe that the current group of up-and-coming video game and virtual reality host companies, including Second Life and Zynga, face financially uncertain futures.

So which investor rolled the dice and gambled its funds on Curt Shilling? And which parties will be left “holding the bag” if Shilling’s firm fails to climb its way out of its fiscal hole?

The Knowledge District

Believe it or not, the investor is the State of Rhode Island. Thus, undoubtedly, the taxpayers of the Ocean State will be expected to absorb the loss if the tiny start-up firm and its line-up of video games fail to vanquish Microsoft’s Xbox, Nintendo’s Wii, Sony’s PlayStation, and other market competitors.

The state’s investment decision actually originated with Brown University’s decision to build its new medical school complex on an attractive redevelopment site that is conveniently located in close proximity to Interstate 95, the downtown Providence business area, the University campus, and the existing medical center district. Had the state simply provided Brown with redevelopment funds, its investment might have drawn criticism for being a giveaway of land by an economically depressed state to a relatively affluent local organization.

So instead of redeveloping a single parcel with Brown, the state of Rhode Island and the city of Providence decided to position its economic development initiative in much broader (and, undoubtedly, more expensive) terms.  Accordingly, then-Governor Don Carcieri announced that the Ocean State would support the development of an entire Knowledge District on the redevelopment site, a District that would embrace both medical and video game technology firms.

No other major firm has (yet) announced its intention to move to the Knowledge District. Meanwhile, the Mayor of Providence continues to struggle with the city’s fiscal problems by persuading Brown University to increase the taxes and other payments that it contributes to the government.

From Nanotechnology to The Racino

Before we condemn the state of Rhode Island for wasting scarce funds on ill conceived ventures during a time of immense fiscal austerity, it may be appropriate to remind ourselves that the state has plenty of company. After all, many of its neighbors in the region are also supporting equally risky ventures.

Governor Danell Malloy of Connecticut, for instance, has spent $291 million to entice a single organization named Jackson Labs to move from Maine to the Nutmeg State in order to develop a nanotechnology district. Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has proposed to allow Genting of Malaysia to build a $4 billion convention center on the site of a racetrack / casino (known, quite literally, as a “racino”) in southeastern Queens.

And which northeastern political leader has made the biggest bet of all? It might be Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who has agreed to support the completion of the failed Xanadu complex. Originally conceived as the largest indoor amusement park and shopping mall in the United States, the partially completed hulk of a building now looms in a forlorn manner over the northern swamplands of the New Jersey Turnpike.

The original developers had already burned through $1.9 billion when Governor Christie committed additional state funds. New Jersey taxpayers now stand to lose an additional $200 million, beyond the $1 billion they have already sunk into the project.

Successes and Failures

No one can deny that certain massive redevelopment projects have enriched their communities. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor project, for instance, gave new life to the Charm City. And Boston’s Big Dig project has converted an ugly overhead highway into an emerald necklace of parkland.

On the other hand, though, the California city of Stockton continues to threaten to become the largest city in the United States to enter bankruptcy court, a financial condition caused in large part by overspending on a waterfront sports arena and entertainment district. And Camden, New Jersey continues to be one of the nation’s poorest cities, with scarce resources dedicated to accommodating and supporting the privately owned, for profit Adventure Aquarium.

But at least Camden and Stockton, though flirting with insolvency and bankruptcy, can still offer their citizens access to some attractive waterfront attractions! Residents of Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey have yet to reap the benefits of their governors’ respective investment ventures. And as for Rhode Island, although the Kingdoms of Amalur do exist in virtual reality, the Knowledge District very much remains a work in progress