Archive for May 2010

Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us.

Posted: Monday, May 31, 2010 at 1:28 am
By: Ken Blanchard
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memorialdayIt used to be said that the United States had a civil religion.  If this is still so, it is a religion lightly practiced.  I doubt that more than a fraction of the people enjoying this Monday off will give thought to those who died in their country’s service.

It is ironic, perhaps, that those who died defending our Republic were so successful in their intention that Americans today feel safe enough to forget about them.  However that may be, forgetfulness is perilous.

Liberty is not something abstract.  It is as real as money, as tangible as a left tackle.  It consists of courts, a bicameral Congress, and a President and his administration, and fifty state governments.  Its muscle is the armed might of the Republic.  Without military power, American liberty would not exist.

The military power of our Republic has always depended on the willingness of citizens to take arms in its defense.  That we have done so freely and frequently is a major source of our power.  It is proper that we should remember those who sacrificed their lives.

I had the great and undeserved fortune of being born in the gentler half of the twentieth century.  I owe that good fortune to my Uncle Bill, who was killed on Okinawa by a sniper’s bullet, and countless others like him.  On this beautiful day, let us enjoy our barbeque.  Let us also praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.

Madison Finds Jobs: Unemployment Drops Full Point

Posted: Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 7:12 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Thank goodness for planting season: the latest data from the South Dakota Department of Labor shows unemployment in Lake County dropped a full percentage point in April, from 5.7% to 4.7%. That outpaces the statewide drop of 0.8 percentage points. 50 more people jumped in the labor pool, but we added 110 jobs. Do that eight more months in a row, and the LAIC will meet its Forward Madison job creation goals.

Shameless rumormongering: Could more jobs be coming to downtown Madison? Before our water quality meeting last night, Mayor Hexom told some folks that our alley renovation project would be coupled with some significant Main Street development to be announced next week. Did I mis-hear? Is there something more afoot than ICAP finalizing its purchase of the Rosebud property?Are we finally restoring the Masonic Temple? Are we joining the national Main Street Program? Did the alley crew strike oil and invite Hyperion to start a new Gorilla project? Someone in the know, chime in!

The job picture brightened in Brookings, too, where countywide unemployment dropped from March’s 4.3% to April’s 3.5. 190 more people started looking for work, and 335 new jobs appeared.

The rest of our neighbors saw good jobs news, too:

  • Kingsbury: unemployment down 1.3 percentage points to 5.2%
  • McCook: down 1.6 to 4.6%
  • Miner: down 1.4 to 4.4%
  • Minnehaha: down 0.9 to 4.6%
  • Moody: down 1.7 to 5.4%

Every major South Dakota city saw improvement, with Watertown posting the biggest unemployment drop of 1.2 percentage points, down to 5.0% in April.

Now remember, April had spectacular weather, so we were able to get a lot of construction and farm work done. Let’s hope May is keeping workers busy as well.

But watch out: if people keep getting jobs and the economy starts humming along again, what will happen to all that anti-incumbent sentiment Rod mentioned earlier today?

Sesspool

Posted: Friday, May 28, 2010 at 11:14 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
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nixonthebrainFor months now Pennsylvania Representative and now Democratic nominee for Senate, Joe Sestak, has claimed that the White House offered him a job to quit the primary race and let Arlen Specter get nominated.  The White House steadfastly refused to admit that it did just that, until now.  From the WaPo:

In classic Washington fashion last summer, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel dispatched former president Bill Clinton to put the arm on an old friend, Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania. Sestak was planning to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary; Emanuel wanted him out of the way.

In a phone call, Clinton told Sestak that he had doubts about Sestak’s chances of beating Specter. Then he dangled an offer: Would Sestak be willing to drop out of the race if Obama offered him an unpaid spot on a prestigious presidential advisory board? Sestak flatly turned him down.

Let’s stop here for a moment.  There was nothing wrong with the White House wanting Sestak out of the race, except perhaps for bad political judgment.  I think Specter would have been a disaster.  Sestak has a real chance.  There is nothing ethically wrong with trying to offer Sestak some attractive compensation for withdrawing.

It is clear, however, that the White House thought it was doing something seedy.  Why else call in former President and notorious bagman Bill Clinton to act as an intermediary?  Why take three months to come out and admit that that is what Rahm Emanuel did?  Legal and ethical questions aside, the Administration was surely acting with a guilty conscience.

A clue to this comes from the statement released by White House Counsel Robert Bauer.

We found that, as the Congressman has publicly and accurately state, options for Executive Branch service were raised with him.  Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary, allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with an opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity for which he was highly qualified. The advisory positions discussed with Congressman Sestak, while important to the work of the Administration, would have been uncompensated.

That’s pure Nixonian language: efforts were made and positions discussed.  When you go to the trouble to convert verbs and objects into the subjects of your sentences, you think you are in trouble indeed.

It is also patently dishonest.  Did the White House really believe that Sestak could be persuaded to drop his Senate bid in exchange for a seat on an advisory board?  Rahm Emanuel ain’t that stupid.

And now there is a time line problem.

Sestak emerged from the Capitol after a long day of voting to find a swarm of reporters, who demanded to know why he had not divulged earlier the conversation with Clinton. He said that the call had lasted “30 to 60 seconds,” but that he had not felt it proper to talk about it.

Well, that really quick call may have come in June or July of last year, but not both.  If in June, then what efforts were made and what other positions were discussed in July?  Nothing in Bauer’s statement rules out other offers.

The line about compensation is telling.  I gather it is against the law to offer someone a paid position in government as part of a quid pro quo.  I am sure it happens all the time, and I don’t see anything particularly wrong with it.

What is clear is that the Administration is acting as if it has done something very bad, and it is trying desperately to contain the damage.  The efforts it is making to that purpose seem tailor made to turn a small story into a big one.  I am guessing that all this is a self-inflicted moral wound, but now I and every aspiring blogger and reporter wants to know what really happened.

Oh, beautiful for spacious skies…

Posted: Friday, May 28, 2010 at 7:37 pm
By: RadioActive Chief
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Notes from the American Road

Blogging has been on the sparse side lately due to an extended road trip in the pursuit of additional genealogical and family history information. Last summer the Chief and wife went to Boston for the same cause…we both have ancestors in that area both from the Mayflower, as well as other early colonists. (My first Walker ancestor was in Massachusetts by 1630). I was able to get a lot of information, mostly from the New England Historic Genealogical Society library in Boston.

This year we have been pursuing some information on behalf of my wife…which has taken us to areas rich in American history and…dare one say culture?

We included some diversionary stops also…just to see some sights like Niagara Falls, and some other historical locations like Ticonderoga, etc.

The biggest (?) unexpected encounter so far was in the town of LeRoy, NY the place where Jell-o was intented and manufactured until 1962. Of course there is the genuine and only National Jell-o Museum. If that ain’t mainlining genuine hi-test Americana, I don’t know what is!

Got to see some of the Erie Canal (which still apparently operates as the “NY State Bargeway” of all things)…another bit of high history that made possible the growth of a regional seaport called New York City into the global center it is today by opening a cheap shipping route into and out of the continent from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes, and beyond.

After reaching the Berkshires in western Massachusetts Taxachusetts all I can say is they don’t get what they pay for…potholes and rough roads are much more common than they are in low-tax South Dakota…but hey, the scenery is admittedly great in a non-western sort of way!

The more opportunity I have to travel this country, the more I appreciate it…I only hope and pray that we remain worthy of deserving the very real blessing that we have to be here.

DADT: Johnson Right, SHS Tolerable, Thune Wrong

Posted: Friday, May 28, 2010 at 5:56 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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David Montgomery works late to give a good breakdown of where our Congressional delegation stands on allowing gays to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Senator Tim Johnson, who didn’t actually get to vote on the defense appropriations amendment that would repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, made the clearest statement of why we should support that repeal:

As things stand now, any repeal would go into effect only after the study is completed and military leaders and the President give the go ahead. Once that happens, I support ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell because any individual who is willing and able to defend our country should be able to do so, regardless of their sexual orientation. My view is shared not only by the administration, but top military leaders as well [Senator Tim Johnson, quoted in David Montgomery, "South Dakota's delegation weighs in on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Behind Government Lines, 2010.05.27].

Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin joined 233 House colleagues in voting for the repeal. She fails to address the issue of justice and opportunity for all, talking instead about the importance of leaving it to military leaders to “determine what’s best for the military.” I would prefer SHS add, “…and what’s best for the military is to take every willing and able soldier it can get, regardless of whom they love. Forcing gays to stay in the closet and kicking them out when they don’t (or when the Rapid City police rat them out) is wrong.” Even if SHS manages not to let the gay-word cross her lips, her GOP opponent will still hoot and holler that her vote shows she’s beholden to Speaker Pelosi and the “gay agenda.” Why play word games, Steph? Call a discriminatory spade a spade and say “Gays have rights like everyone else.”

Senator Thune plays a similar game of dodging the real issue. As Montgomery points out, Thune mischaracterizes the repeal amendment as a “White House ultimatum” rather than a compromise. (And don’t tell me Thune doesn’t have in mind some ultimata he’d issue if he got to be President.) Thune calls repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell a “last-ditch effort by the White House to deliver on a campaign promise”… as if delivering on campaign promises is a bad thing.

On Don’t Ask Don’t Tell itself, Senator Thune drops this turd in the rhetorical crapper:

“It just seems to me that moving forward [with repeal] would be a mistake…. There are very serious misgivings about changing a policy that has worked pretty effectively” [Thune, quoted in Montgomery, 2010].

..which translates as “Our soldiers are such wimps they couldn’t shoot straight if we forced them to serve alongside queers. So kicking out over 13,000 skilled but annoyingly gay soldiers is a great idea. Besides, homosexuals aren’t real Americans, anyway. Our Founding Fathers didn’t mention them in the Constitution, so screw ‘em.”

Thank you, Senator Johnson, for the straight talk on this issue. Thank you, Rep. Herseth Sandlin, for at least voting the right way. And thank you, Senator Thune, for exposing the continued bigotry and ignorance of your party.

Oil’s Well that Ends Poorly

Posted: Friday, May 28, 2010 at 12:07 am
By: Ken Blanchard
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obama_eastroomOil that is.  Louisiana Tea.  It is curious that the Obama Administration might be undone not by Tea Party activists or by swelling deficits but by something happening almost a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.  From Yahoo News:

In the five weeks since an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, Obama had largely escaped political fallout. But as BP attempts yet again to seal the leak, a new USA Today/Gallup Poll finds a majority of Americans unhappy with Obama’s handling of the spill. According to the poll, 53 percent rate Obama’s handling “poor” or “very poor”; 43 percent believe Obama is doing a good job.

The article goes on to point out that the public blames others (i.e., British Petroleum) more than it blames the President.  That will matter when BP has to stand for reelection.

Geography conspires against the President.  From USAToday:

The hurricane that drowned New Orleans and cast George W. Bush as out of touch swept across the Gulf Coast nearly five years ago. Now, as oil laps ashore in the very same region, local officials are asking: Is there another government-Gulf Coast disconnect? Is BP’s oil spill becoming this president’s Katrina?

It might even get better, for the President’s opposition.  We are entering hurricane season, and the odds are in favor of a bad one.  A hurricane in the Gulf right now might push the oil far enough north to lubricate a few Republican candidates.

I am being flippant here because there is an element of silliness in all this.  George W. Bush wasn’t responsible for the weather nor did his Administration do a bad job of dealing with it.  More aid got to more people faster in the Katrina disaster than in any previous hurricane.  But Bush was already in political trouble and people were looking for an excuse to throw him overboard.  Some unforced political errors, like going on vacation just before the storm landed, gave them plenty of reason to do so.

President Obama isn’t to blame for the oil rig explosion, nor is there much he can do about it now.  No one in his administration has the expertise to deal with an oil spill 5,000 feet below sea level.  The Administration may have been slow to act, but there is no reason to believe that swift action on its part would have made a difference.  However, half or almost half the public already had doubts about President Obama’s leadership.  This might be a tipping point.  The New York Times puts it this way:

There were uncomfortable echoes of Katrina. Just as Mr. Bush cast aside Michael Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Obama addressed reporters just hours after S. Elizabeth Birnbaum, his director of the Minerals Management Service, resigned under pressure.

Just as Mr. Bush was criticized for being on vacation in Texas when Katrina bore down on New Orleans, Mr. Obama has been criticized for golfing, fund-raising and, on Thursday night, heading to Chicago for a holiday weekend while oil laps up in the marshes and beaches of Louisiana.

In politics, how it looks is how it is, even if this is bitterly unfair.

Other comparisons between Barack and George W. ought to make his supports nervous.  The latter was frequently criticized for his reticence to appear before the press.  President Obama just gave his first full Press Conference in ten months!  Why is this man, supposedly such a great orator and intelligent statesman, so afraid to face the press in an unscripted setting?

The purpose of the press conference was clear: the President was taking responsibility.  The buck stops here.  Read the New York Times piece linked above to see how the Times tries to make this assumption of responsibility seem heroic and unique, when it is neither.  Then note this from Fox News:

Shortly before Obama entered the East Room, the head of the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, resigned. Obama pointed the finger at MMS during his press conference for lax oversight, but claimed that he only found out about director Elizabeth Birnbaum’s departure Thursday.  “I don’t know the circumstances in which this occurred,” he said.

Let me get this straight: the head of the agency which oversees offshore drilling resigns as oil is spilling into the Gulf, and the President has no flippin’ idea why she resigned or what the circumstances of her resignation were?  Who the Hell is in charge here?  Either the President is not being honest, or he is as clueless as he pretends to be.

Tea Party Loves Subsidies — Howie on Farm Welfare

Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 5:31 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Oh, the humiliation. South Dakota gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie has discredited the Tea Party movement better than this blog ever could. Yesterday he admits he has failed to pay $58K in property taxes after getting in too deep on land speculation. Now I learn from the Dakota War College comment section that Howie has accepted $278K in federal farm subsidies over the last 15 years. $22K of that is disaster payments.

Now that’s only a ninth of the welfare haul claimed by another Tea Party fave, U.S. House candidate Kristi Noem. Where, oh, where are the true conservatives? Where are the politicians so principled in their opposition to the soul-sapping power of federal handouts that they have refused to take advantage of the status quo?

The only other gubernatorial candidate who appears to have cashed in on farm subsidies is rancher Ken Knuppe from Buffalo Gap. His take since 1995: $43,046, all disaster payments disbursed in four years. Of course, his dad Ray and some other Knuppes around New Underwood have hauled in more of those federal dollars.

I might try to be charitable and say that the prevalence of farm welfare payments even among notable conservatives simply demonstrates how much the current agribusiness system relies on government support, from which you may argue that we need either to radically restructure the Farm Bill or to acknowledge that Tea Party talk of getting rid of government is empty, impractical windbaggery.

But Howie deserves no charity. Consider: in the last two years alone, Howie has taken over $113K in farm subsidies. That’s almost twice the amount that he has declined to pay on his property taxes over the same period. Wow. This behavior shows he is no principled politician. He is a shyster, an opportunist, a land-grabbing, tax-dodging, welfare-slurping salesman willing to do anything to make a buck, including cheating the taxpayers.

But hey, welcome to the real face of the Tea Party. It’s not about the common man. It’s not about the Constitution or God or fighting communism. It’s about big business putting on a puppet show to distract you from their casino capitalism.

———————-

Gordon Howie is a personable guy who also happens to be so far off between Saturn and Pluto that we, as South Dakota voters, would be irresponsible to allow him to hold office again. And, Republicans would be foolish to advance his candidacy. Gordon’s primary issue is bringing God to government. His God [Michael Sanborn, "Governor? Part Deux," Decorum Forum, 2010.05.26].

Google: $33M in SD Ad Biz, $54B Nat’l

Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 6:59 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Google provides what they call a conservative estimate of the economic activity they generate in each state of the Union. Google says $54 billion a year moves around thanks to its search and advertising tools. Now that’s not including the economic activity that occurs when I Google “rain barrel downspout diverter,” find one that fits the tank I liberated last fall, and order it from Home Depot. That $54 billion is just the money that changes hands when we click on the sponsored links on searches or the Google ads on various webpages.

South Dakota hears the jingle of “just” $33 million—0.06%—of that Google economic activity. We have 0.26% of the national population, so we seem to be lagging in bidding for search terms and buying Google ads to make a buck. Compare the two states that claim the biggest chunk of the Google pie, California and New York. California has 12% of the nation’s population but rakes in 26% of the Google bucks. New York has 6.4% of the nation’s population but claims 11.7% of that economic activity.

There are twelve states total whose percentage of Google’s economic activity exceeds their percentage of the U.S. population. In other words, 11 states and D.C. ring up more Google cash per capita than the national average:

State
Google econ. activity per capita
Dist. Columbia $423.58
Washington $420.16
California $381.48
Massachusetts $333.66
New York $322.39
Illinois $247.86
Utah $231.63
Connecticut $211.18
Nebraska $192.58
Nevada $192.58
Arizona $181.93
Delaware $180.77

South Dakota’s annual per capita Google cash is just $40.62, which ranks us 41st nationally. Being a rural state doesn’t mean you can’t make money with Google ads—consider that Utah and Nebraska have landed spots in the top ten for per capita activity. It may be that South Dakota businesses are more dependent on local markets and don’t see as much advantage in casting the wide ‘Net for online business as they do in advertising in traditional local media to reach their mostly nearby customers.

Google says some 2200 South Dakota advertisers and website publishers engage Google’s advertising services. Google spotlights Aberdeen’s KitchenTuneup.com as an example. With franchises across the country and in Canada, Kitchen Tune-up is in a good position to take advantage of such broad Web exposure.

Still, the South Dakota businesses that are taking advantage of Google advertising are generating less economic activity per business than the national average. Each participating South Dakota business generated $16,500 in Google cash (the Madville Times is dragging that average way down). That amount ranks us 36th nationally on that score, so our Google-inclined businesses are making more of Google than counterparts in some other states. But compare our take to the national average of $35,431 in Google cash per participating business. The highest per-business performance is in Nebraska, whose 5000 Googly businesses generate $69,200 each in direct Google economic activity.

$69,200 per business: for you big operators, I suppose that’s peanuts, but wowza! if I could generate even half that with ads here on the blog, I’d quit my day job. Must blog harder!

Check the complete state-by-state data and my calculations yourself on my homemade spreadsheet (you’re welcome!).

New proof of why kids need books at home

Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 12:12 pm
By: Tim Gebhart
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Although there’s undoubtedly a self-congratulatory element at play, avid readers will say they’ve long believed what a study across 27 nations has confirmed: having books at home is extremely important for children. According to the study’s abstract, “Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class. This is as great an advantage as having university educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father. It holds equally in rich nations and in poor; in the past and in the present; under Communism, capitalism, and Apartheid[.]”

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Nevada, Australian National University and UCLA over a 20 year period and data from more than 70,000 people. It concluded that the difference between being raised in a home without books compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education).

But a 500-book library isn’t necessary. Mariah Evans of the University of Nevada-Reno said that as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on how far a child goes with their education — and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.

There is, of course, some variation among the nations studied. In some countries, such as China, having 500 or more books in the home results in 6.6 years of additional education. In the United States, that figure is 2.4 years, less than the study-wide 3.2-year average advantage but still an important gain. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home.

Still, the bottom line is that getting books into the hands and homes of children is crucial for educational success. Some of us are fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by books. Not all children are so lucky. Yet because the ultimate return on our investment is so enormous, we need to figure out more and better ways to get books into the hands and homes of children.

Brookings Buys into Branding

Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 8:24 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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When it comes to economic and cultural development, Brookings makes Madison look like pikers. Sometimes I wonder if Brookings sends its Dwaine Chapel to work at our economic development corporation as a spy just to keep us from catching up.

Alas, Brookings’s pre-eminence may be crashing to an end, as our neighbors to the northeast drink the same marketing Kool-Aid that makes Madison look so silly. The city is trotting out a new logo and “branding” campaign, despite clear evidence that they don’t need one:

The new logo and strapline are important, but there’s so much more to branding, says Victoria Blatchford, chair of the city’s Visitor Promotions Committee and member of the branding task force.

“A brand is something that can stand the test of time. It continues to be an experience. It’s a unified voice, and we just didn’t have that unified voice to promote Brookings” [Jill Fier, "New City Brand Tells Visitors, Residents to 'Bring Your Dreams,'" Brookings Register, 2010.05.22].

To preserve their sanity, marketing people must have to not listen to themselves. Blatchford says Brookings hasn’t had a unified “branding” voice. Yet the absence of that unified voice hasn’t stopped Brookings from kicking butt on the economic development front. SDSU, Innovation Campus, downtown Brookings, commercial development by the I-29 exit… all trucking right along with momentum built in those awful dark years when there was no unified branding.

More marketing-speak:

“When we looked at all the avenues of how Brookings is seen,” Blatchford said, “our looks and our sounds and how people look at us were just so different. … We have to define who we are, and we have so many different assets that are wonderful in Brookings, how do you culminate that into one feel, one statement, one look?” [Fier, 2010]

Maybe you don’t. Maybe Brookings’s success lies precisely in being many different things to many different people (or target markets). Maybe the effort to cram your entire city’s character into one silly, focus-grouped, expensive ($84,000!!!) slogan disguises your successful diversity. Look at Madison: we go slapping our cute sailboat logo on everything. But how many sailboat owners are there in Madison? How many sailboat regattas take place here? Most importantly, what does that sailboat say about 99.9% of the businesses and events taking place in Madison? Zip.

The Brookings marketers also buy into contradictory thinking on the nature of a town slogan. Fier notes at the top of her article past slogans that have come and gone. Blatchford seems to think the new slogan is somehow different, that the new branding will “stand the test of time.” Yet City Manager Jeff Weldon says in the same article, “Every organization, public or private, needs to refresh its image, update how it wants to market and sell itself to the public.” In a few years, this new slogan and branding campaign will go stale and need refreshing as well.

And the marketing firms will be back to score another $84,000 contract.

For towns, slogans and branding just don’t matter… at least not nearly as much as actual performance. Brookings is proof of that. Brookings could have had “Liver and Onions!” on its Chamber flyers and billboards for the last ten years, and people still would have come to Brookings for work and school and culture and groceries.

What makes economic development happen is more than any clever advertiser can slap on a banner. Madison hasn’t learned that lesson… and now Brookings is unlearning it.