Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Massachusetts’

Barbour’s horse needs a trip to vet before he bets our money

September 2nd, 2011 Comments off

From the MBJ staff

Solar energy may be the wave of the future, but Mississippi should be careful where it comes to being an investor in new companies promising the moon — er, sun.
Evergreen Solar in Massachusetts went bankrupt last month, leaving that state hanging after an investment of more than $40 million of taxpayer dollars in the business.
Then, last week, solar panel maker Solyndra’s bankruptcy left stakeholders and industry observers wondering what the firm’s dramatic collapse will mean for the solar industry. At the same time Solyndra was announcing its bankruptcy, Gov. Haley Barbour was announcing his proposed deal to invest $75 million to bring Calisolar, of Sunnyvale, Calif., to Columbus. He said the company will create 951 direct full-time jobs with an average annual salary of $45,000 plus benefits. Calisolar’s Columbus facility will produce solar silicon.
Stion, which will make make thin-film solar panels in Hattiesburg, was awarded a $75-million loan from the Mississippi Legislature and plans a Sept. 16 ribbon cutting. The company says it feels comfortable in the marketplace with its thin-film technology.
By all accounts Solyndra was doing well, building a 1-million-square-foot factory and employing 1,100 workers to make its cylindrical CIGs solar panels.
But, while the company that “had been hailed as a poster child for the cleantech economy” fell apart, “its failure doesn’t spell the end for a robust solar market,” say investors and solar officials.
However, the company’s failure should make Mississippi officials much more leery about the millions of dollars they have doled out trying to bring jobs to a crippled Mississippi economy.
Mississippi has also awarded a large loan — $50 million — to solar company Twin Creeks, which will manufacture crystalline silicon solar panels in Senatobia. If Calisolar’s $75-million loan is approved, Mississippi’s total solar investment will come to $175 million.
You could say Barbour and other industry recruiters for Mississippi are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Yet, there are still many serious questions that must be answered as we loan piles of money into alternative energy startups.
Alain Harrus, a venture capitalist with Crosslink Capital, which is invested in another government-backed solar company, Abound Solar, told the San Francisco Business Times that Solyndra was a well-run company, whose demise was inevitable.
“They executed as well as one can be expected to on this type of scale,” he said. “The technology — it’s a success. Commercially, they got caught in a down-slope on the pricing. At the end of the day you can’t ship things if it costs more to ship than what you can get money for.”
The fact that Solyndra did nearly everything correctly and still went bankrupt should be terrifying for Mississippians.
Investment in solar power shouldn’t stop, but we have to be very careful to make sure the money of all Mississippians is spent well and that government can see the forest for the trees.
The real question is, what is the forced liquidation value of these companies? Mississippians have a right to know. If these companies fail and a fire sale occurs, how could taxpayers recover compared to what they put in? If the numbers are close to the loans amounts, these might not be bad deals. If not, then we could be in serious trouble.

Party on dude … Ole Miss No. 3 on list of top party schools … State still among bottom five for education

August 1st, 2011 Comments off

Ohio University, set in an Appalachian town known for its rowdy Halloween bashes, has been named the nation’s No. 1 party school, pushing the University of Georgia down a slot in the 2011 Princeton Review survey released Monday.

Ohio was No. 2 in last year’s survey of students nationwide. The campus in Athens, about 65 miles southeast of Columbus, has made the party school list 12 times since 1997, but has never before reached the top.

Top party, sober schools from Princeton Review The Associated Press The nation's top party schools and top stone-cold sober schools, according to Princeton Review's survey of 122,000 students: Party schools 1. Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 2. University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. 3. University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss. 4. University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 5. University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, Calif. 6. West Virginia University, Morgantown, W. Va. 7. Penn State University, University Park, Pa. 8. Florida State University, Tallahassee, Fla. 9. University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. 10. University of Texas, Austin, Texas 11. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 12. Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y. 13. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La. 14. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wis. 15. DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind. 16. Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind. 17. Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz. 18. University of Maryland, College Park, Md. 19. University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt. 20. University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. ___ Stone-cold sober schools 1. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 2. Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill. 3. Wesleyan College, Macon, Ga. 4. U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Conn. 5. U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. 6. U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md. 7. Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich. 8. Grove City College, Grove City, Pa. 9. Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif. 10. City University of New York — Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, N.Y. 12. U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y. 13. U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo. 14. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Needham, Mass. 15. City University of New York — Queens College, Flushing, N.Y. 16. Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, Calif. 17. University of Dallas, Irving, Texas 18. Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Ga. 19. College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Mo. 20. Gustavus Adolphus College, Saint Peter, Minn.

Rounding out the top five this year were No. 3 University of Mississippi, No. 4 University of Iowa and No. 5 University of California Santa Barbara.

The Princeton Review survey is part of its 2012 edition of “The Best 376 Colleges,” which includes 61 other rankings in categories such as best professors (Wellesley College in Massachusetts), most beautiful campus (Florida Southern College) best campus food (Wheaton College in Illinois) and highest financial aid satisfaction (Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania).

Brigham Young University in Utah tops the list of stone-cold sober schools for the 14th straight year.

Ohio University’s party reputation has long vexed administrators at the riverside school of about 20,000 students, and policies have been beefed up over the years in an attempt to reduce student drinking.

Among efforts are strong anti-drinking messages at freshmen orientations, tougher penalties on students for alcohol violations and added surveillance during the Halloween street party, which is not sanctioned by the university.

“We take seriously our responsibility to help our students succeed in all facets of their experience, including addressing high-risk behavior,” Dean of Students Ryan Lombardi said in a statement Monday. “We are disappointed in the party school ranking as it is not indicative of the overall experience of Ohio students and does not match the data we have collected.”

In formal complaints regarding violations of Ohio’s student code of conduct, about 60 percent are listed as alcohol-related in recent academic years, according to statistics posted online by the University Judiciaries, the school’s disciplinary division. In 2010-2011, 1,213 complaints, making up 59 percent of the total, involved alcohol, the numbers show.

The Halloween revelry dates to the 1970s and typically attracts at least 20,000 people to downtown Athens streets. Arrests and citations during the party, mostly for alcohol and disorderly conduct violations, have at times reached more than 200 in recent years.

The event spun out of control in 2003, when then-Athens Police Chief Rick Mayer called the bash “the worst event to date” after rioting partiers lit couches on fire, started fights and threw bottles at officers and firefighters.

Besides the party list, Ohio also lands in the top 20 in several other Princeton Review categories this year, including lots of beer and lots of hard liquor, as well as best athletic facilities, most beautiful campus and major fraternity and sorority scene.

The guide’s rankings are based on email surveys voluntarily filled out by 122,000 students at more than 370 colleges across the country. On average, about 325 students from each campus respond, and university administrators often call the rankings unscientific and say they glorify dangerous behavior.

The Princeton Review, not affiliated with Princeton University, is a Massachusetts-based company known for its test preparation courses educational services and books.

It has put out its best colleges guide since 1992.

Sad to see Shriver’s separation

May 10th, 2011 1 comment

I was sad to see this morning that Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger has separated after 25 years of marriage, especially since I was at the wedding on that beautiful spring weekend in 1986 on Cape Cod.

Well, sort of.

I was in Cape Cod as a 19-year-old college student in Massachusetts for the summer.

And I was there to see all the guests and happy couple as they were seen for the first time as husband and wife.

Yep, that was me, sitting on the curb across the street eating chinese food with a few other friends watching the festivities.

You see, I was working at a resort on Cape Cod and most all of the streets had been shut down for the wedding, effectively shutting down the resort for a couple of hours.

So, what better to do than take the back way to pick up Chinese and relax and watch the show.

It was impressive to be able to watch an event like that unfold as the Kennedy family is the closest thing to royalty that we have in the US and that wedding was likely as close as we will have to the Royal Wedding.

So, I have always kept an ear up through the years to hear how they are doing.

They are both successful people and they will be fine, but it’s one of those stories that just won’t be the same for me to tell anymore.

Idea of texting for faster service insults state’s restaurant owners, and it should

January 20th, 2011 Comments off

Ask Mississippi restaurant owners what they think of the new, hip idea of texting your waiter or waitress for faster service, and you may hear words I cannot print in this publication.

In fact, I guarantee it, but I was able to cobble together a few comments we could print.

“Just give her a holler as she walks by. In Doe’s, nobody is very far,” said Don at Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville.

“We like the small tight spaces that the restaurant set-up entails.

“Texting your waitress for faster service? No, don’t like the idea. Less personable, not friendly.”

You want a beer at Doe’s? Go get it yourself. You’ll see four or five tables  full of people you know on the way. That seems like more fun anyway.
Right?

Well, even with cool, quaint places, Fridays and Saturdays can be difficult in regard to customer service.
Your waiter gets busy, and getting an appetizer or even the check can prove aggravating. But don’t expect restaurants in Mississippi to buy into the latest technology that has been introduced.

Doe's Eat Place in Greenville

Doe's Eat Place in Greenville

TextMyFood is a new service that allows customers to communicate with their server via text messaging.

A story on National Public Radio last week highlighted a restaurant in Massachusetts with the service and detailed why many would or should opt in.
Bob Nilsson, the president of TextMyFood, told NPR the goal of the service is to increase the amount of money customers will spend. For example, guests are more likely to order another round of drinks if they text the request in the moment. If they can’t find the server, they often pass.

But Mississippi restaurant owners were more than a little offended by the mere mention of texting for service.

John Currance, owner and chef at City Grocery in Oxford

John Currance, owner and chef at City Grocery in Oxford

“I honestly cannot say how discouraging this is,” said John Currance, owner of City Grocery in Oxford. “Dining is about an overall experience. All an electronic service like this threatens to do is move us more in the direction of becoming more of a fuel stop…

“I find this service patently insulting because I believe that the dining experience is one which should remain as personalized as possible.”

Jeff Good of Bravo, Sal and Mookies and Broad Street Bakery

Jeff Good of Bravo, Sal and Mookies and Broad Street Bakery

Jeff Good, from Bravo!, Sal and Mookies and Broad Street Bakery in Jackson, was in agreement.

“Have we really come to that?” an indignant Good asks.

“Are we there now… That’s where we are now? We have to text our waiters to get good service?

“In my world, I could not ever imagine having a waiter looking down at his hands on his phone to be checking if Table 54 needed more iced tea.”
But Nilsson argues that his service doesn’t eliminate human contact.
“There’s always a server at the other end,” he told NPR. “You just want to have that contact sooner. If you can’t see them and can’t make that contact, rather than waving your arms or getting up, just use the natural communication and let them know what you need.”

Sounds like it’s losing human contact to me, as well as Good.

“The very definition of service and hospitality is to be one-on-one,  engaged… and responsive to the needs and the nuances of people.

“So you won’t be seeing any texting in our world,” Good continued.

As for Currance, he would rather see all of us, as busy folks, slow down and enjoy a nice meal in a good atmosphere.

“We, as a people, need to stop focusing on what we can do to speed life along and impersonalizing our surroundings, and this is exactly what this service facilitates,” he said. “(It’s) both dehumanizing and potentially puerile.

“It occurs to me, also, that this becomes an intermediate measure for poor management. If when a place becomes too busy for staff to keep up, shouldn’t management step in to adjust? This seems to be a simple and ineffective side-stepping of that area of responsibility.”

Currance walks the walk to go along with the talk.

At City Grocery, almost 20 years after it opened, waiters still hand-write tickets to turn into the kitchen because, Currance says, it maintains an elemental relationship between the front and back of the house. It matters how the servers write the tickets and how the kitchen ultimately responds. It personalizes each of them and establishes a line of communication that is absolutely irreplaceable.

“And I would really wonder what the priorities were of any organization if texting were to become the methodology for service delivery.

“I think that is the antithesis or service,” Good concludes.

“ With each tick of the clock, it seems, we are pulled farther from that as a reality, but if all you are concerned about is speed and efficiency, eat in your car,” Currence says as we wrap up.

I wish that had been my line.

Well said, John.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Education is our worst business ranking

November 12th, 2010 Comments off

In this month’s Atlantic Magazine, education is presented, front and center.

Unfortunately for Mississippi, the truth is not kind.

We’ve known for some time how this story ends nationwide: only 6 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced-proficiency level in math, a share that lags behind kids in some 30 other countries, from the United Kingdom to Taiwan. But what happens when we break down the results? Do any individual U.S. states wind up near the top?

Incredibly, no. Even if we treat each state as its own country, not a single one makes it into the top dozen contenders on the list. The best performer is Massachusetts, ringing in at No. 17. Minnesota also makes it into the upper-middle tier, followed by Vermont, New Jersey, and Washington. And down it goes from there, all the way to Mississippi, whose students—by this measure at least—might as well be attending school in Thailand or Serbia.

You can read the rest of the story here, but it is more of the same.

What I don’t understand is why education isn’t more of a priority for our state government.

Are we spending enough money or too much? That isn’t the question.

Education in Mississippi needs an overhaul, right now. Until we are willing to blow up the current model — from Pre-K to our universities — without regard to political consequences, we are going to be mired in the same education environment for the foreseeable future.

Is there anyone out there with the guts to try?

If not, Mississippi will continue to be compared to Thailand, where the large-scale sex industry flourishes and education is on the back burner.

Explosion does not signal end of off-shore drilling

April 29th, 2010 Comments off

There have been those in the last week or so that have found reason to link the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico to halting offshore oil production anywhere in the United States.
That’s way too much of a leap for me.
First, those oil rigs in the Gulf have been through a lot — hurricanes, high seas and more — and rarely show signs of wear and tear.
The offshore oil rigs off of America’s coasts have served the country well and will continue to serve their country for some time in the future.
What I did find interesting is that on the same week we are worried about an oil spill in the Gulf — which (as of this writing) is threatening to come ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — the Obama administration approved the 130-turbine Cape Wind  project in the Nantucket Sound of Massachusetts, and developers say they want to generate power by 2012.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision “allows our nation to harness an abundant and inexhaustible clean energy source for greater energy independence, a healthier environment and green jobs,” Cape Wind president Jim Gordon said.
What I do think is that we need to continue to be smarter about the energy we use and produce.
We all know that at some point we are going to run out of oil.
While they are needed now, offshore oil rigs aren’t there forever. Over the course of time, we will use less and less oil. That is just a fact. Why else would Exxon, Chevron, BP and others be investing billions and billions of dollars into finding more and better alternative energy solutions?
Wind and other alternative fuel sources can be used for as long as Mother Earth is a part of the universe.
But, to suggest we abandon offshore oil production because of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is short-sighted and not practical.
The explosion was an accident that likely should have been prevented, but we have to move forward, protect our coastlines and be better at monitoring the safety of those rigs for environmental and humanitarian reasons.
This is a transitional stage in the energy world, and we will have get through it together.
There’s no place for knee-jerk reactions.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.