Quantifying My Contribution, or, Picking Up After the House of Cards Fell

A few months ago, during my campaign for Town Council, I wanted to refer potential voters to a blog entry I wrote when I worked at NC State University. Unfortunately, when I searched for it, I found instead that nearly every post I had made to the Industrial Extension Service blog had been deleted when the outfit rebranded itself, changed its name, and revamped its website.

Specifically, of the 145 posts that I personally wrote for the blog, only 1 — an entry about a company joining the “Manufacturing Makes It Real” Network — was left online. Why that one was left is a mystery to me,* since the manufacturing network languished since my departure and now for all practical purposes appears defunct.

Although I missed the campaign opportunity to refer to my blog entry about North Carolina’s restrictive small business licensure requirements, I contacted IES — they still use the same acronym as when I worked there — to obtain a copy of the blog archive. It took some time, but eventually I got what appears to be a complete collection of the entries. One of my former colleagues had to piece the records together, since apparently IES’s effort to purge the blog did not include a concurrent effort to preserve its contents. That’s odd and disappointing, since as public records of the state — having, in at least a few cases, some historical value — their retention would seem to be important even if public access to them is no longer desirable.

Why we blog
Yeah, that about sums it up. (Image: “Why We Blog,” by Duane Storey, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

At any rate, I obtained the collection, and it was easy to see just how thoroughly the old blog was destroyed in producing the new one. Of the 546 entries that had been made prior to my April 2014 departure — I was made an offer I had to refuse — only 9 are still available as of this morning (1 of those being the mysterious MMIR Network reference I mentioned above).

It was also easy to see just how much I contributed to the old IES blog. My 145 solo entries accounted for over 25% of the blog’s content; not surprising, really, since I was employed as a writer and at the time we saw the blog as a viable platform for telling people about what IES did. (For the last couple of years I was actually in charge of the whole blog, and coordinated a team of folks who contributed other entries.) I also ghost-wrote some entries for people, and I’m not sure exactly how many of the remainder I either edited or posted on behalf of the authors, but it’s safe to say that I had a hand in producing at least 40% of the blog.

It was also disappointing, and a bit sad, to see what that platform has become. The numbers above show how active it used to be in terms of content, even if its readership was limited. But as of today there have been a grand total of 15 new entries made to the blog in the over 18 months since I left IES. (Add that to the pre-departure entries still extant and you’ll see there are only 24 entries on that blog currently … dating back to 2009.**) If IES maintains that rate — not even 1 new entry a month — it will take them until around 2057 for their blog to have as much content as it had when I left.

I could speculate as to how it came about that the IES blog was so completely scrubbed of content. At first I thought all the entries by people who had left IES had been purged; if so, they obviously missed a few. But entries by some people who are still IES employees were also dropped from the blog, so it seems the content removal was general as well as radical. I cannot discern any rhyme or reason in what was deleted versus what was retained; perhaps there was no rationale or philosophy behind it at all. That, unfortunately, would not surprise me.

But don’t be surprised if from time to time you see a “blast from the past” post here on my blog, in which I reprise some entry of mine from the old IES blog that still has some value or interest. Even if I’m the only one who thinks so.

*It may get deleted if they see this post.
**Specifically: 14 entries so far in 2015, including 3 each in October and November; 1 from 2014, after my departure; and, prior to my departure, 1 from 2013, 1 from 2012 (my MMIR Network post), 1 from 2011, 4 from 2010, and 2 from 2009.

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Is Your Business Prepared for a Disaster?

(Cross-posted with light editing from the Industrial Extension Service blog.)

If a natural disaster or major accident impacted your company, how quickly would you be able to recover? Do you have backups of important files stored off-site? Do you have ready and portable access to contact information for your employees, customers, and suppliers? Do you have an emergency plan, and have you tested it?

(FEMA / Patsy Lynch)

Many years ago I was the Chief of the Disaster Response Force at the Air Force Astronautics Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, during which time I led the responses to two rocket propellant fires, so I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to handle emergencies. But last Tuesday I learned a few new things about disaster preparedness from a business perspective, and soon I’ll be able to apply my prior experience and what I just learned to teach the “Ready Business” course.

Ready Business is a half-day course designed to give businesses some practical tools to get prepared and stay prepared. The program operates under the guidance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is being brought to North Carolina in a team effort by the Cooperative Extension Service, the Industrial Extension Service, and the Small Business Technology Development Center.

Several of us will be available to teach the Ready Business course, and we hope to offer it many times throughout the state. If you’re interested, let us know!

Finally, while we’re on the subject of disasters, I love this bit from Karl Smith and the “Modeled Behavior” economics blog:

If we actually want to help the world, we focus on details and that usually means the short term. Things we can see closely and understand the nuances of. In short, we Stop Disaster.

One day we will lose and the world will come to an end. The apocalypse only has to win once. Our job is to make sure that that day, isn’t today.

Maybe we can’t truly stop disaster, but we can be ready for it — and that’s what disaster preparedness is all about.

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Making It Real in North Carolina

(Written as a guest post for, and cross-posted from, the Beyond Lean blog.)

Because I’ve driven across the country several times, from one Air Force assignment to the next, I sometimes think in terms of the nation as a whole and forget just how big some states are. Last week I helped the NC State University Industrial Extension Service (IES) conduct the “Manufacturing Makes It Real” tour, covering over 1100 miles in 5 days, and trust me: North Carolina is a pretty big state.

The central message of the tour was that manufacturing — the actual production of durable and consumer goods — matters to all of us, because it is the source of almost everything we have and almost everything we do. As Dr. Terri Helmlinger Ratcliff, IES Executive Director, wrote before the tour, “Manufacturing makes the difference between imagination and reality in ways that make modern life possible.” Invention creates new products, but manufacturing brings them into all our lives.

To spread the message about how much manufacturing matters, we went to every region of North Carolina: the piedmont, the mountains, and along the coast. As we traveled, we held rallies where manufacturers showed off their products and praised their workers. The host sites made the rallies truly “local” events: some had employees sing the National Anthem, some invited Junior ROTC or other school groups to perform, and one invited the local area’s apple orchards to bring some of their products for attendees to sample. Local, State, and even Federal elected officials attended various events, which usually included plant tours to show off the host sites’ capabilities in more detail.

Our convoy included a tractor-trailer with dozens of different “Made in NC” items that showed off the diversity of products made throughout the state. At each rally, people lined up to walk through the trailer to see their handiwork as well as others’. Many people expressed surprise at the variety of products made in the state: “from tortilla chips to microchips,” as IES Deputy Director Dr. David Boulay said.

I like to think the individual rallies were like “county fairs” for manufacturing, and we were pleased at the number of companies that attended, even though we didn’t have blue ribbons to award. And considering the weather we had — record levels of rain along the coast, making us travel on nearly-flooded roads* — we were very fortunate to make it to each stop and hold each rally on time.

(The Monroe Fire Department’s flag display at Scott Health & Safety. NCSU photo. Click to enlarge.)

The most memorable rally for me was held at Scott Health & Safety in Monroe (east of Charlotte). The Monroe Fire Department had set up two ladder trucks and suspended a huge U.S. flag to help the companies demonstrate their “Made in the USA” pride. That pride-of-workmanship theme was repeated at every stop, but the Monroe event was special to me because I relied on Scott Air Pak breathing gear when I worked disaster response in the Air Force. Their workmanship can literally mean the difference between life and death in dangerous situations. (I wrote more about the Scott Health & Safety rally on the tour blog**).

All week long, from companies big and small and representing many different industry sectors, we heard stories of continuous improvement through lean and Six Sigma, expanded markets through ISO certification, and risk-taking through entrepreneurial ventures and new product development. Company leaders admitted to a lot of belt-tightening and uncertainty in the last couple of years, but seemed pleased that people were paying attention to the good work they do.

The tour ended with a final rally at the NC Legislative Building in Raleigh, where NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson symbolically presented the truckload of products to NC Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco. The speakers at the final rally, along with the companies that sponsored and participated in the “Manufacturing Makes It Real” tour, testified that manufacturing is alive and well in North Carolina. We are all committed to keeping it that way.


*Not complaining! We needed the rain to counteract the summer’s drought.

**For more from the tour blog, including pictures from most of the sites, see http://mfgmakesitreal.wordpress.com/.

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