The ‘Idea Standard’

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy, World

Why are we still using commodities and precious metals like gold as measurements of financial soundness? Why in this day and age when knowledge is worth infinitely more than a soft metal don’t we establish a ‘parallel standard’ for intellectual property that truly measures our wealth?

Together, the World Bank, WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization), and perhaps the UN ought to commission and conduct a regular inventory of the world’s patents and intellectual property to determine real market value. A team of scientists and economists could be assigned the task of examining each country’s inventory to appraise the value of their patents and intellectual property. In order to do so they should look at:

  1. total merchandise produced and sold that owe its existence to the patents;
  2. infrastructure that exists as a result of the patents (like factories, R&D institutes, etc.)
  3. the ‘downstream value’ of the patents as they apply to the other industries (crossover technology and multiple applications that are the result of those patents and are used to produce products/technologies that are directly dependent upon the patents)
  4. what each country’s economy would look like if those patents were rescinded and only allowed to be used in the country of origin

Using an agreed upon scoring and ranking method, each country would be assigned a dollar value on their technology which would form the basis of a country’s ‘Idea Standard.’ That standard (value) would ‘float’ — increase with world market demand or decrease if patents are retired.

This standard would be used as an additional measurement of a nation’s industrial or commercial strength. While this evaluation is already calculated into individual company worth, to my knowledge it has never been used to assess the core value of a country’s technology.

Economists will probably say this is a totally unworkable exercise given the complexity of the evaluation or because of other influencing factors such as a country’s indigenous raw materials that fuel the spread of its technology. I would contend, however, that we need to establish some new 21st century benchmarks if we are to move forward towards establishing true value/idea-based economies.

The growth of patents

Some countries have led the way in the race for patents. According to the latest report by WIPO, “Worldwide patent activity increased by 4.9% between 2005 and 2006, mostly due to increased filings by applicants from China, the Republic of Korea and the USA.

The total number of applications filed across the world in 2006 is estimated to be 1.76 million, representing a 4.9% increase from the previous year. Between 2005 and 2006, the number of filings worldwide by applicants from China, the Republic of Korea and the USA increased by 32.1%, 6.6% and 6.7% respectively.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office was the largest recipient of patent filings, for the first time since 1963, with a total of 425,966 patent applications filed in 2006. Patent applicants tend to come from a relatively small number of countries of origin; applicants from Japan, the USA, the Republic of Korea, Germany and China accounted for 76% of total patent filings in 2006. In that same year, approximately 727,000 patents were granted across the world.

Patent grants are concentrated in a small number of countries. Japan, the USA, the Republic of Korea and Germany received 73% of total patent grants worldwide. Between 2000 and 2006, the number of patents granted to applicants from China and the Republic of Korea grew by 26.5% and 23.2% a year, respectively (average annual growth rate). ”

The bottom line on patents: While the U.S. still holds a commanding lead, there has been an increase in the level of patenting activity in emerging countries, and it is bound to continue as those countries develop their state-supported R&D activities and even subsidies for inventors.

Globalists would argue that this is the right trend to support, that in order to bring the developing world along, we need to stimulate their technological growth. While that may be a compassionate view of world commerce, we live in a super-charged highly-competitive world environment. America needs its technology and its ideas, now more than ever, especially since we have ceded our manufacturing preeminence to foreign countries. To paraphrase an old saying, “Men who borrow their ideas can never repay their debts.”

Stephan Helgesen is former Director of the New Mexico Office of Science and Technology and retired U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Officer who served in twenty foreign countries. He is Honorary German Consul and CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing, an Albuquerque-based international high-technology consultancy company.

It’s Time for Specific Suggestions on how to improve NM government

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

In an Op Ed in the Albuquerque Journal on Sept. 8th (Jaunts to Cuba Don’t Net Trade), Jamie Estrada pointed out New Mexico’s failure as an exporter. His statistics revealed his understanding of life at the ’50,000 ft.’ macro level. I had a different perspective having spent 20 years ‘in the trenches’ overseas as a U.S. Department of Commerce Commercial Service Officer.

That changed in 2006 when the Governor appointed me Director of the Office of Science and Technology at the Economic Development Department (EDD). For the next forty-two months I collaborated with all the other divisions there, especially with the International Trade Division which is responsible for promoting New Mexico’s products and services. I watched how the ‘sausage was made’ at ground level and it was not usually a pretty sight.

Economic Development Departments are by nature, extremely active places. They are always under the gun to create more jobs, attract foreign investment, and their activities are seldom fully-funded. The EDD needs good people, and it already has quite a few who work hard and receive little praise. It is, however, a dysfunctional family owing to excessive politicization and as such needs some major changes.

House-cleaning needed: Some specific next steps

The EDD needs a thorough house-cleaning, a new structure and a new direction that is less ‘vulnerable’ to the whims of the Executive Branch which repeatedly appropriates its meager program funds to pay for questionable ‘Trade Missions’ to faraway places. Several analyses have been done on the EDD over the years, and while some have pointed out weaknesses, none to my knowledge has indicated how to improve efficiency and secure better outcomes. Here are just a few of my suggestions gleaned from a 42-month tenure there.

Suggestion #1 – Prepare a new, realistic and workable plan for the entire Department that has specific reachable targets, metrics and outcomes for everybody – upper and second tier management included. Vet that plan with the business community and the Economic Development Commissioners before implementing it. Then make it available to the general public.

Suggestion #2 – Safeguard against ‘vanity’ or ‘trophy’ projects. For example, do not create opportunities or markets where they don’t currently exist just to further an ideology (the ‘green economy’ is one).

Suggestion #3 – Eliminate the ‘dead wood’ (ultra-political board members) from business commissions and organizations like the NM Partnership that report to the Executive Branch. Replace them with apolitical people with broad business and economic development experience who can truly help the EDD succeed.

Suggestion #4 – Review and re-vamp the EDD programs that dispense resources. Make sure these resources are properly targeted at creating jobs. For example, we cannot afford to subsidize worker training if the training won’t help keep their jobs in New Mexico.

Suggestion #5 – Re-assess the export-related goals and ambitions of the State. Temporarily freeze all international travel for all EDD employees from the Cabinet Secretary on down – and refuse to ‘reclassify’ politically-motivated travel as ‘Trade Missions.’ The EDD must not be forced to move precious program funds to the Executive Branch without a high probability of achieving specific trade-related outcomes. Do a thorough exporting plan, choose the high-potential markets of opportunity and pursue them vigorously, but first staff up the Division and fund it or… eliminate it.

Suggestion #6 – Eliminate one of the two Deputy Cabinet Secretary positions. The EDD doesn’t need TWO former public affairs officers in Deputy Secretary positions (cost of two positions: nearly $200K).

Suggestion #7 – Move the Science and Technology Division’s function out of the EDD to the newly-established Research Applications Center and re-make the portfolio using contract positions instead of full-time State employees.

Suggestion #8 – Eliminate the Office of Mexican Affairs and move its few remaining employees over to the Economic Development ‘Partnership’ (the State’s foreign investment recruitment arm) so they can pursue real opportunities in many markets that include, but are not limited to, Mexico.

Suggestion #9 – Consolidate the EDD’s important offices under two roofs: one office in Albuquerque (where a huge concentration of business resides and which would save thousands of dollars in travel funds) and one in Santa Fe. Allow certain individuals to telecommute and improve the EDD’s capability to teleconference.

Suggestion #10 – Improve morale and reward exceptional performance. (In 2008, I offered to privately-fund a start-up certificate of merit/awards program, but management never implemented it.) If we expect our State workers to produce we must not only give them the tools to do so, we must also show them our appreciation from time to time.

These are just ten specific suggestions that could not only improve the delivery of the EDD’s services but the services as well. It’s time we had a statewide dialogue on improving government and move away from our usual general circular arguments and get right to the specifics. Time is not on our side.

Stephan Helgesen is the former Director of the State’s Office of Science and Technology and retired Foreign Service Officer who lived and worked in 20 countries. He operates a high-technology consulting company, 2nd Opinion Marketing & Communications.

The Magic of Politics

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

Harry Houdini was a master magician and illusionist. Like many other accomplished professionals of his genre, he performed amazing acts of legerdemain by diverting attention from what he was doing. The same could be said about politicians today. With one hand they reach to the sky to seemingly conjure up a dove in mid-flight while their other hand deftly picks our pockets.

If they weren’t so odious, Congress’ antics would be terrific material for a seventh season of the Sopranos. I can see it now, Tony (now Toni) Soprano, played by Nancy Pelosi, the powerful head of the Soprano family, is having problems with her Uncle Junior, played by Congressman Barney Frank who is frequently acting up during important family meetings.

So she’s called in Joey the Hammer (a successful mob doctor played by Cong. Steny Hoyer) to treat Junior with shock therapy, forcing him to watch his old interviews with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. If this weren’t enough, Toni’s son (played by Sen. Harry Reid) is having an affair with his cousin, Marie (played by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz).

Life becomes more and more complicated, and Toni’s reign as mob boss is becoming more and more precarious so she devises a way to shift attention away from her to her rival, Angelo Barbariano, played by House Minority Leader, John Boehner.

Act Two sees both rivals playing touch football on a deserted New Jersey parking lot lit by the headlights of six black limousines which have formed a circle around the two ‘gladiators.’ It’s fourth and goal to go for Toni and she smells victory, but just as she fakes right she twists her ankle and fumbles the ball only to see it drop into the arms of Angelo (Boehner) who sidesteps her weak attempt to trip him up.

He sprints to the goal post and spikes the ball. Looking back he sees her carried off by her son and Uncle Junior muttering to herself, “I should have had him whacked when I had the chance.”

Diversions aren’t meant to replace reality. They’re supposed to be momentary departures from reality that give the magicians just enough time to regroup for the final coup de grace. In the case of the Congress, it is passing legislation that the majority of Americans didn’t ask for, don’t want, and will not tolerate, largely because they have awakened from the deep sleep of years of indifference.

Americans have allowed Congress to become dysfunctional by standing on the sidelines for decades while ideologues have amassed power and have taken our lack of involvement as an invitation to concentrate more power into the hands of a few righteous power brokers.

The bigger question is, “Is the current American political chasm too deep to be bridged in our lifetime?” Has our political center of gravity shifted too rapidly and not moved the majority of Americans with it? Is there any middle ground left, or is the middle one of the biggest casualties of our political times? If we are to deserve our future, we must work at building it, by engaging one another in a meaningful dialogue that is absent of the petty talking points of the left and of the right.

Time is running out and America has no stomach for more diversions from the multitude of problems facing us. Our Congress had better pull itself together. There are no more rabbits in the hat. If they don’t listen to the voters soon, they might perform the ultimate trick and be the ones that disappear in January.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired diplomat and regular contributor to the Mountain View Telegraph. He writes from his mountain retreat in Tijeras.

NM’s Small Business Advisors – A ‘Happy Meal’ for Small Businesses?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

The number of small business assistance organizations in New Mexico don’t quite equal the number of McDonalds or Starbucks franchises yet, but they are seemingly everywhere. The real question is, “Are they providing real value for the taxpayers’ money?”

At last count there were over a hundred Federal, State, Regional, County and Municipal organizations and offices that provide some form of counseling to small businesses — all of which are supported by taxpayers’ money. That doesn’t include the non-profits or private sector consultants or for-profit companies. With all that help, our small businesses should be thriving.

Unfortunately, the reverse is true. Small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are rapidly becoming victims of the recession and from the problems that all SMEs face. That’s not good news for our State’s tax base. It’s even worse news for our labor market that desperately needs the jobs that SMEs create (it’s estimated that well over half of all jobs created in the USA are created by small businesses).

There’s no group of businesspeople whose impact on American society has been so grossly underestimated than SMEs, and while there are more small business assistance organization employees than doctors per capita in NM, I believe they are not living up to their potential and need to be used in a more coordinated, effective fashion.

The challenges to our family-owned businesses are even greater. In addition to the long hours and resulting low per hour take-home pay, a family-owned business has the added burden of living the company 24 hours/day – at home – as well as at the workplace. The business becomes their life as well as their livelihood.

Every decision affects the business just as every business decision affects the family in some way. These are burdens not shouldered by the captains of industry (though I’m sure some feel personally involved in their billion dollar operations).

What kinds of business support services do SMEs need, and can they get them in NM?

Many have said that a small business is just a large business without capital, customers and clout. That said, small business’ needs generally fit into ten categories: 1. More customers, 2. More hours in the day, 3. Market stability and predictability, 4. Less government regulation, 5. Better access to capital, 6. Tax relief, 7. A competitive advantage, 8. Information, 9. Better trained workers, 10. Better advisors.

New Mexico’s SME advisor community is actually two communities: economic development offices (State, regional and municipal like the State Economic Development Dept.) and SME business assistance organizations like the U.S. Commercial Service and SBA (Federal).

Both communities have their own missions, but they often tend to duplicate each other’s services, wasting valuable tax dollars. Economic development organizations exist to keep jobs/investment in our communities while they search for new investment. Small business advisor organizations give advice and counsel as do private sector companies and consultants.

The menu of their services covers many of the needs expressed in the ten categories mentioned above. Both groups fall into three categories: those with time-tested practical experience; those who think they have it (but don’t); and those who do but who are not offering the right services.

How does a small business choose the right advisor or SME assistance organization?

Choosing the right advisor is always difficult, and with so many to choose from, the decision is even more difficult. Having counseled thousands of small businesses in 24 countries for 30 years I can honestly say that that decision ought to be easier than it is, and that the logical first choice for most small business owners should be an organization that’s closest to home, but proximity seldom guarantees a successful outcome.

If a small businessperson belongs to a trade association or an effective Chamber of Commerce, they could be good starting points to get a referral. Often, a company simply needs to find one person who they trust and who understands the business they’re in and has proven, on-the-ground experience.

The debate on whether we should be spending so much money on supporting Federal, State and local business assistance organizations (and their programs) is an on-going debate and needs to be joined. For my taxpayer money, I think an election year is the perfect time for a thorough review.

Stephan Helgesen is former Director of the State of New Mexico’s Office of Science and Technology and retired Foreign Service Officer who worked in 24 countries. He is CEO of Second Opinion Marketing, a high technology consulting firm.

Meritocracy: The New Dirty Little Word?

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

Disclaimer: I love the ethnic and racial mix of New Mexico. It’s one of the main reasons I moved here. It is the spice of our Land of Enchantment. However, a recent article in the Albuquerque journal sent me scurrying to my dictionary to look up the word, “meritocracy,” because that’s what I thought was being advocated this year.

My dictionary defines it as, “system of government or control by persons of high practical or intellectual ability.” While I already knew that, I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating when I read the article which essentially accuses (or alludes to) the Albuquerque Mayor’s Office of unevenly distributing top city jobs based on ethnicity.

The argument made by a retired City of ABQ employee who was organizing a demonstration suggests that the City administration does not have adequate representation of a specific ethnic group among Director-level employees.

Just when I thought it was safe to come out of the water as one New Mexico, the specter of inequality pops up like an unwelcome shark in the shallows. I’m sensitive to and supportive of racial and ethnic equality, as I have been a minority all my life (I’m a Norwegian-American).

I’ve also lived in several other countries as a foreigner, one which was 60% African heritage and 30% East Indian heritage. That said, I’m just as sensitive to the need to pursue excellence by hiring the absolute best people we can get for the jobs we have irrespective of their surnames or ethnicity.

That must be the overriding goal – to achieve a meritocracy – and the way to reach it is to have specific standards for experience and capabilities. Neither this mayor nor any mayor in our great state would ever dream of purging their staffs of one ethnicity or favoring those of another. That would not only be political suicide, it would be just flat out stupid and un-American.

If we go down the percentages or quota route we will, invariably, end up with a workforce and management that is totally reflective of our ethnic mix, but I am also sure we would not always have the best-qualified people in the right jobs. That’s just common sense.

Can you imagine if the workers in every profession and in every business had to reflect the exact ethnic makeup of every community in the U.S.? I don’t believe that any of us are so naive that we would think that approach would work or guarantee us sound decision-making and success.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument that we did go down that path, we would have to institute a nationwide system of DNA-sampling, create a national ID card on which to stick it, hire more bureaucrats to administer the new Bureau of Equal Ethnic Diversity Worker Control who would prowl about checking and cross-checking the bloodlines of all our citizens (and by the way, what constitutes an ethnicity – 51%, 40%, 20% or do we leave it up to the individual?). And when one worker of a specific ethnicity departs his/her job would we have to replace that person with another from the same ethnic group?

I lived in Singapore for four years. That modern city-state of 3.5 million has an ethnic policy for public housing. Basically, it says that every public housing project reflects the exact ethnic proportion of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Anglos (they call them, ‘Europeans’) that populate the country, but they do not have a policy for regulating their public sector employment the same way.

Instead, they are meritocracy-based and try to hire the absolute best qualified people to run their civil service. They are a very pragmatic people and believe that their citizens must all perspire (work and study hard) and aspire (be goal-oriented). They hire on the basis of experience and capabilities and promote on the basis of performance.

To assure all ethnic groups that they’re getting a fair shot at city, county, state, and federal jobs, HR departments must create job descriptions that fit the job, standards of experience needed, performance measures and institute ombudsman or oversight functions that enable those who feel disadvantaged to be heard and have their cases reviewed.

Anything short of that leaves the door open to abuse of any system. It seems to me that demonstrations and protests don’t contribute to the dialogue, they distract from it.

- Editor

Coming To Terms With The Border

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

There is an immigration debate going on in the U.S., but there is another debate within that debate. It’s about terminology. It seems that we can’t even agree on what to call people who cross our borders, illegally. Some prefer euphemisms while others want straight talk. Depending on your political or ethnic background, you will refer to these people in one of the following ways: illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, illegal migrants, illegal border crossers, undocumented border crossers, undocumented migrants or maybe even … economically or socially disadvantaged undeclared temporary border crossers (if this is your choice, you can stop reading now).

What you say reveals who you are

Journalists with major southwestern newspapers will probably refer to these people as undocumented migrants or illegal immigrants, depending to a degree on their ethnic backgrounds. There are “style book descriptions” prepared by news editors that tell journalists which term to use in a given situation, but some editors give considerably more latitude to writers. This is not democratizing the debate; it is clouding the debate.

The U.S. government is another story. According to the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso, they have no guidance from Homeland Security on which term to use to describe these people. I know. I called, and the answer was, “We have no directive on that subject, but we have chosen to describe them as undocumented migrants.” When I asked a senior Border Patrol Agent why they chose this term, the answer was, “These people have not declared themselves to us as immigrants, and therefore we have decided to call them undocumented migrants as we believe they will come back.” I couldn’t resist asking, “How many of these people stop by your offices to declare their status?” The answer was, “Well, none, really.”

Adam and Eve: the first immigrants

Since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, millions of people have left their home countries and entered others. Some movements were migrations and diasporas, but many were for immigration purposes. Most of these happened long before laws regulated the process. Immigration is not just a legal issue; it is a moral, economic and social issue. That’s why we must see the problem from several perspectives. It has been said that if we use the term “illegal immigrant” to describe the millions of people inside our borders illegally, the Mexican government could be offended (the vast majority are from Mexico). So we allow the Political Correctness Corps to “soften the edges” for us and promote the use of “undocumented migrant,” lest anyone get upset by being called an illegal immigrant (migrants tend to go back home after awhile; immigrants don’t).  Whatever happened to calling a spade a spade?

The truth will set you free (maybe)

It’s estimated there are between 11 million and 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Does referring to them as illegal immigrants mean that we hate them or their home countries? Of course not, but calling them that does help us come to grips with the real problem: ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. If we call them migrants, we don’t have an immigration problem, we have an undocumented worker problem, and that’s a very different issue with different remedies. People here illegally don’t want to go back to a life that is worse than the one they have here, to societies that can’t give them work or provide their children with decent schooling or adequate medical care.

Yes, other governments have let their citizenry down, but to be fair, many of these problems are global in nature. The solution, however, is not to move somewhere else, but to solve them at home. We must agree to discuss the problem, openly and honestly. Polls say most Americans want a long-term solution for illegal immigration, but realize that deporting 12 million people who have struggled mightily to get here is not practical, reasonable nor fair. Instead, we should value their human capital and potential and help them become productive, legal U.S. residents. That’s what America is all about: valuing and nurturing human potential, rewarding effort and promoting honest and fair treatment of everyone, regardless of their ethnic background. Does that mean we should look the other way and let bygones be bygones? Probably not, because that would send the wrong signal to them and to those who might follow them.

A land of laws and a lawful land

Many who hold a “gentler view” would bend our immigration laws and give these people a free pass, just this once. They say, “We can’t send you back, so you might as well stay here, and just don’t break any other laws, please, or we may be forced to consider punishing you.” Those of the opposite viewpoint will say, “You broke the law; you must pay a penalty, otherwise you won’t respect us and neither will anyone else.” How do we reconcile the views of these two groups? The answer is, we cannot, totally, because they represent two entirely opposite poles of thought. One is for selective obedience to the law; the other is for absolute obedience to the law. Instead, we must have a serious national debate and strongly urge our lawmakers to enact fair, enforceable legislation. Then we must abide by the decision no matter which side of the political divide it comes down on.

That’s the American way. And, by the way, there are other pressing problems that face North America that must be solved, and the clock is ticking. Some would say Adam and Eve were lucky. After being tossed out of paradise, they formed the world’s first democracy with only two parties and two votes. Certainly makes you appreciate the art of compromise, doesn’t it?

Stephan Helgesen is a Tijeras resident.

Beware of the ‘Bolos” this Election Season.

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

Welfare checks used to symbolize the entitlement culture. Then came a host of other programs designed, I believe, to seduce the work ethic out of Americans and create a permanent underclass, dependent on government largesse.

I’m not saying this was done by a ‘vast left-wing conspiracy’ but it was rooted in a view of America that was radically different than that Americans held of themselves in the 40s, 50s and even early 60s, before we got the entitlement ‘religion.’

We take a back seat to no one in New Mexico. In addition to our entitlement programs we have taken the culture to the next highest level with our own special white collar entitlement class which I have labeled ‘Bolo Entitlement’ (def. Bolo Entitlement: a highly contagious pervasive offshoot of traditional entitlement that depends on nepotism to survive – is found in both the private and public sectors of New Mexico).

Bolo Entitlement has been with us for a long time, probably since the Conquistadors, who quickly figured it was easier to get others to do their work for them while they whiled away the hours polishing their armor in the skirts of the local femmes fatale and collecting favors from the locals.

It emanated from wealthy landowners, aristocrats, power-brokers and garden variety cheats who inflated their importance. After statehood, it spread like a cold in a brothel and was soon enshrined in our unofficial State motto, ‘Quid pro quo.’

Red or Green with that entitlement?

Seemed that no one expected something without first giving something. The successful Bolo practitioners got somebody else’s something before they gave you their something. THAT was a triple play in the lexicon of entitlement culture.

Government grew and became powerful, but the real entrepreneurial Bolo’ers saw government as a new delivery system for favors, a fertile field of fabulous fleecing opportunities. And fleece they did, but not before putting their own people and families into positions of power (where they still exert influence today).

Like pottery shards at an old pueblo, they’re everywhere… ensconced, entrenched, enthralled at the possibility of extending their time in the halls of power for another four or eight years.

But before you say, “This is just another hit piece to denigrate the fine work done by our elected and appointed officials,” let me say that Bolo Entitlement is multi-lingual. It speaks Republican as well as Democrat, but there’s no question that it has spoken louder and more often these last eight years as is evidenced by a myriad of disgraced public officials who have lined their pockets — well and often.

Bolo’ers are imbedded in our city, county, Federal and State governments. They breathe the same air as you and I, but they can live at higher altitudes, breathing less of it. Though they don’t have a secret handshake, they are recognizable. Look for the big (and I mean BIG) bolos.

Watch for the subtle hand on the shoulder or squeeze of the arm. Be aware of their orbit as they gravitate in and out of the corridors of power, bouncing off the influential like a pinball off a rubber, leaving promises and IOUs in their wake.

They’re not always present at town hall meetings or legislative hearings, but they do hang around the board meetings that are scheduled BEFORE those gatherings. They can be seen plying the powerful at local watering holes with a ‘tie loosener’ (Want proof? Check out Rio Chama in Santa Fe during the Legislative Session).

It’s hard to pinpoint where the entitlement culture truly began, but I suspect that it started with one spoiled child coveting another’s toy. After bashing the toyholder over the head and getting no satisfaction, the toyless one reasoned that this was a waste of time. It was easier to cajole or cry to mummy to get what you wanted.

While that’s pretty sneaky, it’s also pretty effective, especially if you have something the other person wants – in this case the promise of being good and keeping quiet. If we are ever going to move from a ‘Bolo’ mentality to a meritocracy we must call the Bolo’ers out into the open. Make them reveal the source of their power and tell us whose Quid they’re Quoing.

Stephan Helgesen is former Director of the Office of Science and Technology for the State of New Mexico and retired U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Officer who served in twenty foreign countries. He runs 2nd Opinion Marketing, an international high-technology consultancy company in Albuquerque.

Flex-Time Meets State Government Inflexibility

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

In 2008, Governor Richardson did something positive. He issued a directive to the NM State Personnel Office, instructing them to come up with a plan to help State workers save on transportation costs and maximize the State’s resources through a flex-time plan.

On the surface, this was a good move as $4/gallon gas would have severely impacted thousands of State employees who don’t live in the ‘City Different’ and must drive (as I did) 125 mi. round trip to their offices. The idea was to get Cabinet Secretaries to encourage their second-tier managers to devise a flexible work schedule for their employees that would not adversely impact their divisions’ productivity while accomplishing the Governor’s goals.

At the time, I was the Director of the Office of Science and Technology at the Economic Development Department and had two employees who reported to me. One lived in Santa Fe and declined the 4/10s Plan (four workdays at ten hours/day) thinking it easier to keep her normal 5/8s schedule while the second employee who lived in Albuquerque chose a ‘hybrid’ version of the 4/10s, opting instead to work four nine-hour days in Santa Fe and a half-day at the EDD’s satellite office at the UNM Science Park (more on that later) in Albuquerque.

It is important to know that this plan was flawed because there was never any opportunity for employees to choose even a limited ‘work from home’ (WFH) option – not even for one day a week! Hundreds if not thousands of State workers could have saved themselves a ton of money (and the State could have reduced building costs associated with electricity, etc.). An adoption of such an alternative could have helped create a new 21st century workplace in our ‘innovation-challenged’ State bureaucracy.

We missed a huge opportunity. I strongly suspect that a WFH option was not offered because the Executive mistrusted State workers (doubting their willingness to actually WORK from home and not literally lie down on the job). If that was the reason, it is insulting to hard-working honest State employees. Truth is, there are many State jobs that can be performed off-site (or by the private sector). That brings me to the old Santa Fe/Albuquerque ‘competition.’ Should State jobs be moved to Albuquerque or not? I believe many could benefit from it.

Whither to wither

If we don’t make some critical workplace changes like outsourcing of tasks to the private sector, re-alignment of department portfolios, job mergers, telecommuting, satellite officing, etc., our productivity will wither away while the cost of government services will increase due to the need to offset recession-based revenue losses.

I don’t have the exact figures for the number of State workers who work in Santa Fe and live elsewhere, but I’m assuming it’s substantial. The commuting time and associated costs spent by these workers are high. I used four gallons of gas/day. If you figure 48 commuting weeks/yr., I used 960 gallons of fuel. If the price of gas increases to $3.50/gal., the gasoline cost for a commute like mine would be $3,360/yr.

A commuter like me, working from home one day/week could save nearly $700/yr. A thousand State workers doing the same thing could save $700,000 (and 200,000 gallons of gas), money that could be used to stimulate the economy. And while this would also result in a loss of State gasoline tax revenue, it’s far more important to save precious fuel, time and personal purchasing power (it would probably come back in the form of GST, anyway).

This simple example illustrates that we must re-think not only what we do in our State workplaces, but where we do it. We should be outfitting and making available many of the State’s buildings to State workers (like the space made available to the EDD by UNM’s Science Park) to lessen commuting time and costs. New Mexico’s business is done statewide, and its workers are spread out over hundreds of miles.

In this age of webcams, Skype, and a State-owned computer with 25 remote Gateways capable of teleconferencing throughout the State, shouldn’t we take off our green eye shades and turn up the oil lamp so that we can see the benefits of re-organizing our workplaces?

Stephan Helgesen is former State of New Mexico Director of the Office of Science and Technology and retired Foreign Service Officer who worked in 24 countries. He is CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing, an international high-technology consultancy company.

How American Manufacturing Lost Its Virginity

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Economy

When I was a boy I was very international. I played with lead soldiers from England, metal airplanes from Japan, Chinese handcuffs and toys made in the USA. My parents joked about the quality of the foreign-made toys, especially those from occupied Japan.

Me, I just wanted to have fun. As an adult, I worked 20 years overseas trying to persuade our companies to export. I know now that our current economic condition is a direct result of our inability to understand the importance of exporting. Most of all it, is a result of three major blunders. The first is a sin of omission, our naiveté. We didn’t realize that unchecked outsourcing and exporting of our manufacturing jobs would lead to a massive dependency on foreign-made goods and a top-heavy service economy.

Second, because we didn’t understand the implications of our naiveté, we failed to offer American industry any reason to keep jobs in the USA. Third, we allowed our rigid, free-market ideology to keep us from creating a national industrial plan, something other mature industrialized countries have.

I can hear the free marketeers’ cries now. “Industrial plans are for planned economies. We must be flexible to the needs and demands of the marketplace!” That may be true in a perfect world where everybody plays by the same rules, but it’s not true in the real world where countries like China deliberately unlevel the global playing field by manipulating their currency.

The GATT and Free Trade Agreements (especially NAFTA) are noble documents that set forth trading regimes supposed to equalize and stabilize commerce, but the reality is they have been repeatedly subverted. On a macroeconomic level, government entities like the EU were supposed to police their member countries by levying penalties on nations not adhering to the EU’s minimum economic requirements like debt to GNP ratios. France faltered a few years back and was subject to fines from the EU, but to no one’s surprise never paid a sou.

What are the solutions?

We can begin our turnaround process by: a) bringing back many of the manufacturing jobs we lost over the last 30 years by offering American companies incentives like tax rebates, worker re-training and education grants or other inducements and b) by increasing funding for commercial research and creating a national industrial plan that doesn’t pick winner and loser companies, but instead focuses on supporting winning technologies that will help us secure stronger market positions by giving us some much-needed competitive advantages.

What should government’s role be?

Government needs industry and industry needs government. That interdependence is more evident now than at any time since the Great Depression. Government can adjust tax rates, set customs duties and tariffs, offer grants, etc. It can be a true partner with industry without embracing socialism and the wholesale ownership of industry. We need to form an “A team” of savvy government and academic experts joined at the hip with private industry and organizations like the U.S. Chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers, to name just two.

We need to take a fresh look at our FTAs, our membership in the WTO and artfully begin navigating our way towards a trading regimen that acknowledges our right, and I would argue, responsibility to re-build our manufacturing sector. This will not be easy, but we can accomplish much if we realize that we still have time and a good ‘bargaining position’ vis-á-vis our market size and our foreign manufacturing contracts that routinely come up for renewal.

What should industry’s role be?

Industry must trust government’s willingness to find the ‘third way’ to solve our manufacturing hemorrhaging. If we are smart, we will turn our overseas vendors into overseas partners that have a legitimate stake in our own prosperity. By crafting joint venture and technology transfer agreements, R&D-sharing and third country marketing agreements we can convince our vendors that there is more to be gained than lost through partnering. By working more closely together, we might see the light at the end of the jobs tunnel and recapture the rapture of a vibrant economy by putting Americans back to work and start making things again.

Stephan Helgesen is former Director of the Office of Science and Technology for the State of New Mexico and retired U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Officer who served in twenty foreign countries. He is CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing, an international high-technology consultancy company.

Our Energy and Our Senator

Posted on 05. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment, Politics

So Senator Bingaman is advising President Obama that we should “be ready to consider a release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” a move that might save you a few pennies on a gallon of gas. Suddenly Bingaman is concerned about the cost of transportation fuel. It’s a little late for that, not just by years, but decades. The 30-year senator has been the Chairman or ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the past decade. Outside of every U.S. President since Jimmy Carter, Senator Bingaman is arguably the man most responsible for the perilous position the United States finds itself in today. Yes, I said perilous. By the way, on the list of “Politicians Most Responsible for the Coming Oil Crisis” former Senator Pete Domenici and former Secretary of Energy and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson certainly rank in the top 10.

I interviewed Senator Bingaman for my documentary film, “spOILed,” which will be released this summer. I asked Bingaman what he was doing to make sure the country had enough liquid fuel for transportation. His answers amounted to what energy analyst Robert Hirsch classified as, “Nothing, absolutely nothing.” Actually, Senator Bingaman has done worse than nothing. One energy policy analyst I spoke with said Bingaman “was always the guy standing in the way of increased oil security.” Unfortunately, the stakes are much higher than simply keeping gasoline and diesel affordable for consumers.

Most energy analysts agree the world has hit or is near the peak of oil production. This means half the planet’s oil supply is gone and once the decline begins the world will produce less oil every year thereafter. Hirsch, author of “The Impending World Energy Mess,” researched Peak Oil for the Department of Energy in 2005. Hirsch calls Peak Oil “The biggest problem ever faced by mankind.” After delivering his alarming report, Hirsh says he was told by the DOE to stop “digging into this subject” because it made politicians “uncomfortable.” Who were these politicians? One would have to assume they would include President Bush and Senators Bingaman and Domenici among others. This decline is about to begin just when 2.5 billion people in China and India are demanding a lot more oil. Every energy expert I interviewed for “spOILed” told me we can soon expect to see much higher gas prices and probably fuel shortages.

So we’ll just have to ramp up hybrid and electric car production, produce more ethanol, ride trains and get busy making hydrogen fuel cell cars, right? Unfortunately, there are no emerging technologies or substitute fuel sources that can make any meaningful dent in our use of oil for transportation, and there won’t be for a decade and probably longer. Compressed Natural Gas vehicles can provide some relief, but this partial solution will be very expensive and take many years to develop. Petroleum fuels 98% of transportation and America is 65% dependent on foreign oil. Yet, politicians keep making us even more dependent. The Alaska Wildlife Refuge is still off limits and so are the waters off the east and west coasts and eastern Gulf of Mexico. Only one deepwater well has been drilled in the Gulf since President Obama issued a six-month moratorium following the BP blowout last April.

As a result, we are just one bad event away from a catastrophe of unspeakable proportions. The Middle East produces roughly 40% of the world’s oil. If civil unrest continues to spread causing the world’s oil supply to be restricted by even 10 percent, much higher fuel prices and even shortages will serve up a devastating blow to our economy. While this problem kept building to ominous proportions, Jeff Bingaman continued to be New Mexico’s “soft-spoken Senator.” Very soon people will wonder why Bingaman refused speak up—loudly—about the biggest challenge of the 21st century. Then they will discover he actually made the problem much worse.

Mark Mathis is the Director and Producer of “spOILed.” The documentary film will be released in late spring or early summer.

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