Author Archives: philhardwick

On Being a Mississippi Tourist at the Grammy Museum

(My column this week in the Mississippi Business Journal)

My wife and I became Mississippi tourists on a recent Monday holiday and motored to the Delta town of Cleveland to check out the Mississippi Grammy Museum. We had been meaning to go since its opening in March of 2016. It is, after all, a national attraction in our own backyard. We were not disappointed, but what happened on the way there and back was half the fun.

On the way, we enjoyed the flat earth, early growth crops of corn, cotton and the greenery of the late spring fields. It was a cool, cloudy day. We nodded our approval of the flashing four-way stop sign at the intersection of Highways 7 and 8 in Holcomb. During the I-55 portion of the trip, wife Carol read aloud from the current issue of Garden and Gun magazine, its current issue featuring an article by Greenville native Julia Reed and a mention about the Bentonia Blues Festival coming up June 12 -17. I learned a lot about the legendary Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, owner of the Blue Front Cafe, including the fact that his hands and guitar grace the Mississippi Statehood Forever Stamp issued in March. I made a mental note to take the U.S. Highway 49 route on our return trip and make a stop in Bentonia.

We arrived in Cleveland just after lunch and satisfied our hunger at the Airport Grocery, which is a rustic “eat place” that includes pool tables, farm antiques, a bar and even blues music on certain days. The grilled catfish was excellent.

The Mississippi Grammy Museum, located adjacent to the Delta State university campus, is a high tech music mecca where visitors learn, experience and are just blown away by music of all types, especially the music of Mississippians. The museum exceeded expectations. Check out www.grammymuseumms.org, and you’ll see what I mean. The current featured exhibit is about Taylor Swift. If you are one of her fans this is as comprehensive an exhibit about her life and music as you will find.

Afterwards, we drove around the Delta State campus, which looks better than ever. Under the leadership of President Bill LaForge  it now has over 3,500 students and is affiliated with the Grammy Museum. Its Delta Music Institute, which is located on campus, offers students the opportunity to learn about and study the music industry. It even offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Entertainment Industry Studies.

Driving back through Yazoo City and points south we marveled at the kudzu-encased trees and structures now looking like randomly placed art installations. As we approached Bentonia we just had to stop by the Blue Front Cafe. Even though I had never been there I had heard about it a few years earlier from some European visitors to the 2014 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson. They said they had heard about a juke joint in Bentonia, and wanted to visit it after the ballet competition one Friday evening. I can now see why.

The text on the Mississippi Blues Trail marker in front of the place reads in part as follows:

“During the 1980s and ’90s the Blue Front Café began to attract tourists in search of authentic blues in a rustic setting. In its early years, the café was a local gathering spot for crowds of workers from the Yazoo County cotton fields. Carey and Mary Holmes raised their ten children and three nephews and sent most of them to college on the income generated by the café and their cotton crops. The café offered hot meals, groceries, drinks, recreation, entertainment, and even haircuts.

The Holmes family operated under a tangled set of local rules during the segregation era. The Blue Front was subject to a 10 p.m. town curfew, but at the height of cotton gathering and ginning season, the café might stay open 24 hours a day to serve shifts of workers around the clock. The Blue Front could not serve Coca-Cola, however, nor could black customers purchase it or other items reserved for whites anywhere in Bentonia; African Americans were allowed only brands such as Nehi and Double Cola. Still, white customers regularly bought bootleg corn liquor at the back door of the café. After integration, the Blue Front boasted its own Coca-Cola sign.

Music at the Blue Front was often impromptu and unannounced. The café seldom advertised or formally booked acts. Many itinerant harmonica players and guitarists drifted through to play a few tunes, but at times the musical cast included such notables as Skip James, Jack Owens, Henry Stuckey, Sonny Boy Williamson No. 2 (Rice Miller), and James “Son” Thomas.

Musicians also performed at Carey Holmes’s outdoor gatherings on the family farm, which later evolved into the Bentonia Blues Festival, sponsored by Jimmy Holmes. Jimmy Holmes’s first two CDs, released in 2006 and 2007, were recorded at the Blue Front, perpetuating the music he learned in Bentonia from Jack Owens and others.”

Now on this lazy, now sunny, afternoon we pulled up and parked in front of the cafe. Sitting on a bench in front was a man whom we soon learned was none other than Jimmy “Duck” Holmes himself.  We went inside to the vacant juke joint where we sat and talked with him almost an hour and each enjoyed a cold beer. We marveled at his guest register which had names and comments from visitors from all over the world.

In the words of Carol, “Such a nice man. Such a nice day! Home before dark. Can’t wait to be a tourist again!”

It’s all about value.

Question: Our business wants to increase sales, but is having a difficult time because there is a lot of competition in our town. A consultant told us that customers did not perceive our business as providing as much value as our competitors. Our prices are already the same or lower. What can we do?

A: Value is more than just a lower price. For some reason, your competitors’ products or services are seen by customers as offering more value even though they cost more. If your competitor has a website and allows comments spend some studying why their customers like that business. Likewise, review your own customers’ comments. If you don’t have a website allowing comments consider starting one. You may also want to survey your customers using comments cards. Also, raise your prices to at or near your competitor’s levels. The recent Sauve/Evause case illustrated why many customers perceive there to be a relationship between price and value.

Q: What is the Suave/Evuas case?

A: Earlier this year the company that manufacturers Suave shampoo, one of the cheapest (and one of the best?) products in the category, launched a campaign for Evaus shampoo at a price in the range of the most expensive shampoos. There were comparison tests with the most expensive shampoos, marketing messages and more. Users were then told they were not in fact using some new expensive shampoo, but were using Suave instead. By the way, I checked the price at a local drug store last week – $1.00 for a 12 oz. bottle. Most users in the tests rated the Evauas as equal to or better than the expensive shampoos in the test. What does this mean? Obviously, it disproves the saying that you get what you pay for. Indeed, research shows that seven out of ten women think that expensive brands work better than inexpensive ones. Check out more at www.EvausIsSuave.com. Way to go Suave.

Q: What creates value?

A: In general, the four things that are the components of value are:

Demand – the market is willing to buy the product or service;

Utility – the product or service provides something that is useful, i.e. can be utilized;

Scarcity – there is a limited supply; and

Transferability – ownership must be given from the seller to the buyer.

For example, a house would have no value if no one wanted to buy it, or it had smoke damage and was unlivable, or if plenty of houses were available or it could not be sold because of deed restrictions.

In another example, a newspaper would have no value if there were no subscribers, or the newsprint was unreadable, or there were plenty of free similar newspapers or newspaper sales were illegal.

Q: What is market value?

A: The most common definition is the one used in the real estate appraisal industry. It goes like this: “The most probable price which a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, the buyer and seller, each axcting prudently, knowlldegeably and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulous. Implicit in this definition is the consummation of a sale as of a specified date and the passing of title from seller to buyer under conditions whereby: (1) buyer and seller are typically motivated; (2) both parties are well informed or well advised, and each acting in what he or she considers his or her own best interest; (3) a resonable time is allowed for exposure in the open market; (4) payment is made in terms of cash in U.S. dollars or in terms of financial arrangements comparable thereto: and (5) the price represents the normal consideration for the property sold unaffected by special or creative financing or sales conscessions granted by anyone associated with the sale.”

Q: If market value is the most probable sales price, what would be the highest price?

A: I suggest that sentimental value is probably the highest price a product would bring. For example, my first car was a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro. If I could by that specific car I would be willing to pay more than market value. Nostalgia has a way of influencing value. If I could buy my grandparents’ homestead I would pay more. What would the wedding ring my great grandfather gave to my grandmother be worth to me. Probably a lot more than to anyone else because of its sentimental value.

Q: What would be the lowest value?

A: The lowest value of a product or service is one that involves the need for a quick sale. It’s often called liquidation value, such as a true going out of business sale. If the seller is desperate to sell the product or service, then the price will be lower. Hence the adage, “You make money when you buy, not when you sell.” Most of the successful investors I know say they never pay market value.

Q: Is it possible that there is something that has no value?

A: I would argue that everything has some value. However, using the definition above it is logical to assume that everything has a price. And yet it would be difficult to purchase the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier or the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom because at this point in time their ownership is not transferable.

Frank the Foreclosure Man

Are you several payments behind on your mortgage and not been able to get any more relief from your lender? The next person you see at your door just might be Frank the Foreclosure Man.  Do not be surprised to discover that Frank is not from your mortgage company.

Frank the Foreclosure Man is a composite I made up to describe what is generally referred to as a foreclosure specialist or foreclosure broker. It was the early 1980’s when I first met Frank, a man who made his living off foreclosed properties.  Back then, interest rates were skyrocketing, homeowners were having trouble selling, and foreclosures were going up. Frank appeared on the scene, sought out desperate homeowners and attempted to get them to sell their homes to him for the amount in arrears. Frank then resold at a higher price or took the unsuspecting owner on the ride of his financial life.  Frank disappeared for a while after interest rates went down and the real estate market got hot, but now he is back. It’s not because foreclosure rates are going up.

According to RealtyTrac, (www.realtytrac.com) an industry organization that maintains a nationwide database of foreclosures, foreclose rates are going down. Its market summary there are currently (March 2017) 808,143 properties in U.S. that are in some stage of foreclosure (default, auction or bank owned). In February, the number of properties that received a foreclosure filing in U.S. was 1% lower than the previous month and 16% lower than the same time last year. Home sales for January 2017 were down 26% compared with the previous month, and down 76% compared with a year ago. The median sales price of a non-distressed home was $215,000. The median sales price of a foreclosure home was $126,000, or 41% lower than non-distressed home sales.

Nationally, one in every 1,609 housing units were in some form of foreclosure. The Top Five States were as follows:

New Jersey -1 in every 581;

Delaware – 1 in every 654;

Maryland – 1 in every 743;

Illinois – 1 in every 886; and

Nevada – 1 in every 1070

In Mississippi one every 2985 housing units were in some form of foreclosure. The following counties were listed as the Top Five:

Hinds -1 in every 589;

Pearl River – 1 in every 2011;

Hancock – 1 in every 2224:

Rankin – 1 in every 2367; and

De Soto – 1 in every 2389.

If foreclosures are down, why is Frank back? I suspect it has something to do with television shows and other marketing selling courses on how to buy foreclosed properties and flip them. Whatever the case, it pays for homeowners in mortgage trouble to be especially aware. Let’s learn more about how Frank operates.

Frank the Foreclosure Man awakens each day and immediately checks the newspaper.  He does not care about the news; he goes straight for the legal notices. There he scans the foreclosure section and makes a list of houses in certain neighborhoods.  Some of these houses he will want to buy and others he will want to negotiate with the owner.  His goal is to find homeowners who are behind on their payments, but have a lot of equity in their property.  He is especially in search of owners who are desperate.  He knows that desperate owners feel that they have only two choices – lose their home to a foreclosure sale or negotiate with Frank to keep their home.

Frank calls on the owner and says that he may be able to help in these desperate times.  In Mississippi a lender can foreclose on a home in a matter of several weeks after giving public notice.  In some states it takes several months.  Frank points out to the owner that if the property sells for less than the mortgage balance plus expenses then the owner may have a judgment placed against for the remaining balance.  And then there is that nasty matter of a credit rating that will certainly be affected.  The owner, not wanting to lose his home, his credit rating and more, listens to Frank.

Frank’s offer is rather straightforward.  Frank will buy the property for the back payments and then lease the house back to the owner until the owner can get financially back on his feet.  Frank even promises to resell the house to the owner for only a small profit for Frank’s time and effort.   Frank whips out a warranty deed and has the owner signs the property over to him.

Now it gets interesting.  Depending on the circumstances, Frank might just hold onto the deed and collect payments from the owner. He will use that money, plus his own, to make up the back payments so that the foreclosure does not go forward.  He might begin advertising the property for sale at market value.  If he finds a buyer he might evict the owner, file the deed and then sell to the new buyer.  That can result in a hefty profit.  Sometimes the old owner does not make the payments to Frank, moves out and leaves a vacant house.  In that case, Frank may even rent it if he can get more in rent than the mortgage payment, or he may sell it.

So, is Frank the Foreclosure Man in a legitimate business?  As long as there are no misrepresentations to the owner or the lender, Frank may very well be providing a valuable service.  Websites are also popping up offering programs to teach you how to be a foreclosure specialist.  There is probably a cable television program on the subject by now.

Is Frank the Foreclosure Man a piranha?  That’s what one state attorney general calls foreclosure specialists.

If you are a homeowner who has received a foreclosure notice, contact an attorney and discuss your legal rights.  I would advise you to contact your lender, but I am assuming that because foreclosure proceedings have begun you have already done that with unsuccessful results.  By all means, do not sell your house for less than market value without being fully informed.

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TOO MANY COLONOSCOPIES, NOT ENOUGH TATTOOS

From the Ground Up by Phi Hardwick

TOO MANY COLONOSCOPIES, NOT ENOUGH TATTOOS
Most strategic planning retreats begin with an opening exercise designed to energize the group and get participants to know each other better. The big issues surface later on during the retreat. However, at one recent retreat the opening exercise exposed a major issue facing the organization. The issue: an aging workforce. The exercise: autograph party.

Autograph party, also known as autograph bingo, is an excellent way to begin a team building meeting or a strategic planning retreat. Best used with large groups it asks participants to mingle and discover facts about each other.
In the autograph bingo version participants are given a sheet of paper containing five squares across and five squares down similar to a bingo card. Each square contains a different fact or trait. For example:

– has traveled by train;

– grew up on a farm;

– has two or more siblings;

– voted in the last election;

– plays a musical instrument.

Participants then stand up and find another person who fits the trait or characteristic. When they do so they have that person place their autograph in the square. The fun begins when it becomes increasingly difficult to find someone who fits the desired trait. The facilitator can make it easy or difficult depending on the group. For example, if the group was composed of only professional people it might be difficult to find someone without a college education. When someone has five squares across, down or diagonal as in bingo then that person shouts, “Bingo,” and the game is over.

In the autograph party version participants are given a list of characteristics and instructed to find others in the room who possess that particular characteristic. Such was the case in the above-referenced retreat, which included approximately 25 participants in the same division of a larger organization.

After everyone in the group had done their best to find a match, the facilitator reconvened everyone, and asked everyone who possessed that certain characteristic to stand as read the characteristic. Most stood when asked who had voted in the last election. Only a few stood when the characteristic was “does not like sushi.” Almost everyone stood when the characteristic was “has had a colonoscopy.” Only three people stood when “has a tattoo” was read. At that point there was a lively chatter about where on the bodies the tattoos were located. Then it became obvious that the tattooed participants were under 30 years of age.

At that point one of the wise elders in the group remarked, “So we have too many colonoscopies, and not enough tattoos.”
All realized that the comment was another way of saying that this organization had an aging workforce and a wave of retirements coming soon. After all, people don’t begin colonoscopies until they are over age 50. They also realized that tattoos are mostly associated with younger persons.

Thus, autograph party broke the ice for the group and allowed the participants to begin focusing on some real issues facing the organization. In this case, the issues were the aging workforce and the differences in how baby boomers and millennials approached their jobs. That in turn led to serious discussion about succession planning and whether the current policies and procedures needed to be changed to accommodate the current and future workforce.

These issues and how an organization should handle social media seem to be the hot topics facing almost every organization these days. Management everywhere is attempting to understand how to deal with these issues.

Baby boomers, those 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964, are entering retirement age. As they become so-called older workers a range of issues face employers, not the least of which is a declining labor force participation rate. In other words, by 2020 this country is expected to have a shortage of workers. Many employers are making plans to deal with this phenomenon. Many are not, and are just hoping for the best. Thus, labor force participation rate is one issue.

A current issue is how to deal with a mix of employees who have different values. Many articles have been written about millennials, those born between generally between the early 1980’s and the late 1990’s. One 2012 study found Millennials to be “more civically and politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values, and less concerned about helping the larger community than were GenX (born 1962-1981) and Baby Boomers (born 1946 to about 1961) at the same ages,” according to USA Today. The study was based on an analysis of two large databases of 9 million high school seniors or entering college students.

An issue facing state government in Mississippi is its aging workforce. Over 35 percent of state government workers are now eligible for retirement. That’s not only a workforce issue, but an economic issue as well.

So how should an organization even begin to deal with these issues? Perhaps the answer lies with colonoscopies and tattoos.

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STRENGTH OF DOLLAR OFFERS TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES. CONSIDER CANADA IN 2017

STRENGTH OF DOLLAR OFFERS TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES. CONSIDER CANADA IN 2017

The strengthening U.S. dollar hit a 14-year high recently. Depending on your perspective that can be a good thing or a bad thing. For U.S. manufacturers, not so good. For Americans traveling abroad, it could not get much better.

If you are a U.S. manufacturer who exports a significant amount of products, a strong dollar can be a bad thing by making your exports more expensive and your foreign earnings less valuable. For example, a manufacturer who pays wages and other costs in U.S. dollars, but receives payments in Canadian dollars will be severely threatened. That’s because as I write this, the exchange rate in Canada is 1.28 Canadian Dollar for 1.00 U.S. On the other hand, if you are considering traveling outside the United States now is a great time.

My wife and I discovered the benefits of a strong dollar on a recent trip to Canada. It was like getting a 25 percent discount on every purchase. We paid for just about everything with a credit card. Even $5 worth of items at a convenience store. Our trip included the coast of Maine, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Herein is a brief summary of our trip if you are considering a similar venture in 2017. Consider this as Part one of two.

Although most of our time was spent in Canada we first spent the first few days exploring the Maine Coast. Highlights included a two-hour schooner sail on the Casco Bay to and from the Old Port in Portland, a visit to Acadia National Park and shopping and dining in Bar Harbor. The peak of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is the spot where the first ray of sunshine touches the United States every day. The view from there is absolutely gorgeous. Some tourists even go there at daybreak.

Be sure to include Bar Harbor in your itinerary. We found this village at the edge of the sea not overrun by tourists even though there was a cruise ship in the harbor. The shopping, dining and strolling is nice, but the best part for us was simply sitting on a dock and watching the harbor activity as the tide ebbed. This town of just over 5,000 residents is surrounded by Acadia National Park.

A highlight of any trip is meeting and talking with locals about what they do and their local customs. In one case, I spent almost an hour with a retired lobsterman learning about the intricacies of lobstering, marking and protecting traps and how prices affect the lives of those in the industry. We stood on a dock at sundown, and I listened while he talked as he fished with a rod and reel. I also heard his views on national and local politics.

After Maine, we headed in our rental car to St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, pausing at the border to show citizenship documents and answer the usual questions. It’s a good idea to carry your U.S. passport with you, especially upon returning to the United States, otherwise other forms of proof of citizenship will be asked for. We chose the St. John route because we wanted to ferry to Nova Scotia across the Bay of Fundy, where it is not uncommon to see whales that make their summer home there. The tides on the Nova Scotia side of the bay are some of the highest in the world at over 35 feet. Twice a day the tide comes in and reverses the flow of rivers. It is a natural wonder of the world.

The route from Digby, our ferry’s disembarkation point and “the scallop capital of the world,” to Halifax is an enjoyable ride through the Nova Scotia countryside. We stopped for lunch in Wolfville, known for its local vineyards, and checked in at the local chamber of commerce for suggestions. And we certainly were accorded an excellent one. Luckett Vineyards is located on a hillside overlooking the town and the Minas Basin. Lunch is served on an open-air patio crush pad. In the middle of the vineyard is a London-style telephone booth, signifying owner Pete Luckett’s connection to Nottingham, England.

Upon arrival in Halifax we met the representative of the owner of the condominium that we reserved through Airbnb. Then it was off to the waterfront for dinner. The waterfront is home to numerous restaurants, beautiful sunsets and all types of water vessels going to and fro. Our first dining experience there was at Salty’s Restaurant. There’s much more to Halifax. I would even recommend the Halifax Central Library, with its contemporary design, art exhibits, coffee shop and more.

I like the history of places we visit, and Halifax is full of it. Hydrostone is a trendy neighborhood in north Halifax, so named after the Halifax Explosion, which occurred on December 6, 1917 when two ships collided in the harbor nearby. One was carrying 2,700 tons of munitions. The subsequent explosion killed about 2,000 men, women, and children that day, and some 9,000 were injured. It was the largest explosion prior to the detonation of the atomic bomb, and it flattened the neighborhood. Today the neighborhood is the place to be in Halifax. Dinner at Salvatore’s Pizzaiolo Trattoria sidewalk café was a special treat.

The fishing village of Peggy’s Cove is a 45-minute drive from downtown Halifax. If waves crashing on rocks appeals to you, as it did us, then this is a fascinating spot. Again, watching the tide come in and out is captivating.

After a few days in Nova Scotia, we were off to Prince Edward Island.

 

Bay Ferries Ltd – http://www.ferries.ca

Luckett’s Vineyard – http://luckettvineyards.com

Salty’s Restaurant – http://www.saltys.ca

Peggy’s Cove – http://www.peggyscove.ca

Hydrostone – http://hydrostonemarket.ca

Salvatore’s Pizzaiolo Trattoria – http://salvatorespizza.ca

 

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Holding Parents Accountable

Hardly a week goes by in the Magnolia State that we don ‘t hear about how to solve Mississippi ‘s perennial education problem. Almost all of the education reform proposals deal with students, teachers and/or schools. Perhaps it ‘s time we looked seriously at how to have parents be more responsible and accountable.
And dare I say it, we need to find ways to help economically disadvantaged – and disengaged – parents help their children with school. It will not be easy. The family issues are complex. But if we don ‘t focus on issues in the students ‘ homes we will continue to get unprepared students who get further behind every year because their parents are ill-equipped to handle their homework assignments and out-of-school activities.

The reason for this suggestion is that the data clearly show that there is a strong, if not direct, correlation between parents ‘ income and success in school. But it ‘s more than that. Income is correlated with education. The parents ‘ education. An educated parent usually results in an educated child. Indeed, consider this statement from an August 18, 2013 Tampa Bay Times article entitled “Parents have biggest impact on students ‘success’:

“Recent reports from the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, and the Center for Law and Education all echo a study by the national Parent Teacher Association that concluded, “The most accurate predictors of achievement in school are not family income or social status, but the extent to which the family creates a home environment that encourages learning … “

Creating a home environment that encourages learning takes work as my wife and I learned recently from taking care of our grandchildren for several days. They live in upscale Alpharetta, Georgia, which has an excellet school system. Every day upon returning from school our grandson ‘s backpack contained a folder from his teacher. Inside was a pocket on either side, one for items to be returned to school and one for things to keep at home.

Here ‘s a sample of the tasks were to be completed one day: Draw and label 10 living things and 10 non-living things, memorize the 10 sight words contained in the sight word sheet, cut and paste various shapes (triangle, square, rectangle, etc.) onto a robot figure, and locate several shapes (cube, cylinder, etc.) found in the house. There were also tasks to be completed each day of the week, such as counting to 50, reciting each day of the week, etc. And of course the parent and student were to read at least 20 minutes each day. These activities took over an hour of interaction each day between parent and child. Oh, did I mention that our grandchild is in kindergarten?

On the day we left to return to Mississippi the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contained an article titled, “Elementary school scores drop in latest report card.” State officials attribute the drop to, “… the performance of at-risk groups, such as children from low-income neighborhoods. “ Results of the 2016-16 College and Career Ready Performance Index released on Dec. 8, 2016 show elementary school in Georgia on average scoring 71.7 points (on the 110 scale), a 4.3 point drop from the previous year. The Georgia Governor ‘s Office of Student Achievement applied its own readily understood grading scale, i.e. A-F. Thus, Georgia ‘s elementary schools scored a C, as did the middle schools. The Georgia Department of Education attributed the drop to the performance of “economically disadvantaged “ students.

Finding ways to help disadvantaged parents or guardians is not going to be an easy task. Many economically disadvantaged parents have educational shortages themselves. Many could not provide the homework help mentioned above. Nearly 7 percent of adults in the state have less than a ninth-grade education, which is two percentage points above the national average. As of 2003, the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, at least 15 percent of adults in Mississippi were found to be illiterate, with rates soaring as high as 30 percent in some of the most impoverished and rural counties.

And then there is the issue of race and education. I highly recommend a Washington Post article by Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, titled “White flight is creating a separate and unequal system of higher education.” He points out that “… whites are fleeing the underfunded and overcrowded two-year and four-year open-access colleges for the nation’s top 500 universities.” He also states that “our racially stratified postsecondary education system serves as a passive agent that mimics and magnifies the race-based inequities it inherits from the K-12 education system and projects them into the labor market.” He says that we must also acknowledge the inherent limits of affirmative action as we know it. The racial stratification of higher education is a systemic problem.

Reflecting on this issue reminds me of how Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Perhaps we should remember the maxim: We are perfectly structured for the results were are getting.

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The strangest eminent domain case ever

There is an intriguing eminent domain case going on in south Mississippi. It involves a popular, well-known local eatery, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), the local county government and a 100-foot strip of land alongside a highway. The real estate issue is property value, but that is only the beginning.

Let’s begin with a brief, but incomplete factual timeline because there are so many issues with this case.

2001 – The Shed Barbecue and Blues Joint opens on Highway 57 in Jackson County. It becomes popular and well-known outside the county. It even had a season on the Food Network channel.

February 2012 – The Shed destroyed by fire.

2012 – Owners rebuild, but without permits in a special flood-hazard area, and for having unpermitted signs out front, according to county officials.

August 2012 – MDOT files court case to take 100-feet of The Shed’s property to widen Highway 57.

2012 – 2014 – Owners given permission by county to operate as a temporary structure.

July 2014 – County notifies The Shed it is in violation of building code.

April 26, 2016 – Jackson County cites The Shed with building code violations

October 2016 – MDOT case is set to go to trial over taking of strip of land beside roadway. Case had been continued five times. MDOT has said the land is worth less than $200,000. The business owners want more than $1 million for the .43 acre.

November 2016 – A jury sets the value of .4 acres at The Shed at $408,334 that the Mississippi Department of Transportation will have to pay owners. Owners deciding whether to appeal.

In short, there are two cases: An eminent domain case with MDOT and a building permit violation case with the county. One of the main issues in the eminent domain case was how much the business value contributed to the land value. And one argument there is whether a business that may be operating without the proper permits even has any value. Obviously, the jury thought so.

Now for a bit of real estate primer.

Highest and best use is defined as that use that is physically possible, legally permissible, financially feasible and most profitable. These four attributes are the ingredients for determining highest and best use. In this case it could be argued that because The Shed’s use was not legally permissible then the current use is not the highest and best use. It does not mean that it has no value.

Value, as it applies to anything, has for basic components, as represented by the acronym DUST, where D stands for demand, U is for utility, S is for scarcity and T is transferability. For something to have value it must have all four. Demand means that there is a market for the property or the item. There is someone willing to pay for it. Utility refers to that idea that it has some use. For example, a pencil can be used for writing, a refrigerator can store things at a cool temperature and a parcel of real estate can be developed or can be used for other purposes, such as agriculture or recreation. Scarcity means that there is a limited supply available. All real estate parcels are considered scarce because no two are exactly alike if for no other reason than they are physically located in different places. Transferability refers to the concept that title to the property can be conveyed to another party.

There are many different types of value. For example, there is sentimental value, assessed value and insurable value. When valuing real estate, the most common form of value used is market value, which is defined as “The most probable price, as of a specified date, in cash, or in terms equivalent to cash, or in other precisely revealed terms, for which the specified property rights should sell after reasonable exposure in a competitive market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, with the buyer and seller each acting prudently, knowledgeably, and for self-interest, and assuming that neither is under duress.”

It will be interesting to see how these cases are resolved. As mentioned earlier, The Shed is a popular, well-known place. It is a bona-fide tourist attraction. It serves thousands of customers each weeks in a collection of – well – sheds. The owners are involved in the community, and the community is involved in The Shed. After Hurricane Katrina over 50 volunteers helped to rebuild the place. There was some wonderment in the county about whether there could be found twelve impartial jurors.

Now that the eminent case has been before a jury, we now await the county’s building code case. The question being asked: What’s the future of The Shed?

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