But It’s Not Email!

16 11 2010

In case you haven’t noticed, the ways we communicate with people are in the midst of a massive change. And just when your grandparents were getting used to email.

Oh well. Email is so 2005 anyway. Time to move on.

And so we find ourselves texting and Facebooking (aka, FBing) our friends and contacts rather than taking the time to write (and read) those l-e-n-g-t-h-y emails that clog up our phones and computers. Texts and FB messages “pop” onscreen, giving recipients a far more engaging call to action than just the simple chime of an incoming email.

Facebook in particular has learned how to contextualize our communications, the container wherein virtually everything we do with our peeps is posted and read. We are increasingly finding ourselves locked into this massive portal of personal and corporate missives. A growing number of firms are adding shopping features to their FB fan pages. Heck, my FB iPhone app is now my default Contact list (especially for those friends who so innocently include their cell phone number in the profile).

So when Mark Zuckerberg and the new Facebook Messages feature yesterday, I realized that he and his crew were busy trying to tap nails in G-Mail’s coffin. Industry prognosticators had long predicted this big day, the release of the G-Mail killer. In the coming months, all 550 million FB users will be invited to form their own @facebook.com email account. This new account will allow users to still do what they’ve already been doing within the container, but now also send and receive messages to/from the outside, as well as organize texts.

I had to laugh, though, when Zuckerberg and his programmers stated flat out that FB Messages was not email. No, it is a messaging system, a unique one that combines all of the different modes of communication we employ these days. Zuckerberg sounded almost like Jerry Seinfeld, caught by his girlfriend with a nose full of finger, saying, “There was no pick!

Yeah, whatever.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be another address I have to remember.

While FB Messages will allow attachments (including videos), it does differ from standard e-mail in significant ways in that it does not use message headers, nor does it allow for multiple recipients. That alone is strange, because the current messaging system does allow for these things. And to be honest, I really do not care if it allows for attachments, because we should be relying more and more on cloud computing anyway. Inviting. Sharing. Collaborating. But seldom, if ever, attaching.

Still, kudos to FB for recognizing the sheer power it has over us. The more reasons it can give us to stay within its mighty confines, the more advertising it can direct to us. These are the same rules of engagement Google has used for years in their quest to be in our face at every turn. Facebook has now mounted a challenge to Google’s supremacy, the result being that both are now just big ad agencies. It’s all about eyeballs, and whoever can provide the most services while selling the most ads will reign supreme.

Meanwhile, Google has retreated to its Mountain View labs to try to figure out how to crack the mystery of social networking. Because if it doesn’t, a veritable San Andreas fault will have opened in its armor. Facebook can call its new service what they will, for it matters not. Users will clamor for a vanity email account, and continue to use less and less G-Mail, Yahoo, Hotmail, et al.

Of course, by 2015 we’ll all be laughing and saying, “Ha ha! Facebook is so 2010 anyway.” Maybe by then your grandparents will have figured it out.

Dr “FB Me” Gerlich

Out Of Print

15 11 2010

One of my favorite quotes from The Jerk (and I have many, believe me) centers on the annual release of something that has become part of the American tapestry. The phone book.

The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity I need! My name in print! That really makes somebody! Things are going to start happening to me now.

Steve Martin may have been a jerk in the movie, but he would be an even bigger jerk to believe today that this simple (yet long) list of names and numbers foretells stardom and riches.

Because, you see, the white pages are about to die in many locales.

Yep, another one bites the dust.

To be honest, I am surprised it took this long. Over 90% of USAmericans have a computer, or at least access to one. And over 50% have a smartphone. Armed with either one or both of these devices, any citizen can access all the information they need electronically. So much information is available online that I can get a map right to your front door, your property value, street view pics, and satellite imagery. The only thing missing is a key to the front door.

But there is something else afoot here as well. Not only is all of this information already at our fingertips, the types of numbers listed in the phone book are disappearing at an alarming rate. Those are land line numbers, and people are cutting the cords faster than you can say “pass the scissors.” Cell phone numbers typically are not listed anywhere.

In other words, if we wait much longer, the white pages will soon become a one-page pamphlet…just like the very first directory in 1878.

But if the white pages are quickly becoming fireplace kindling, what of the companion Yellow Pages? Can they last much longer?

While industry pundits like to think theirs is a sacred, immune cow, I think otherwise. The same devices that allow me to search online for people allow me to find businesses just as easily. Furthermore, apps like AroundMe do all of the working, letting my phone’s GPS figure out my physical location, and then offer a plethora of businesses categories for my tapping pleasure.

Which is another way of saying that those guys had better start looking for new jobs, because we simply do not need these 3-inch door stops any longer. We need not wait until the new year to receive the latest directory, because online information is updated constantly. We need not keep a compact copy (printed in 2-pt fonts) in our back seat. We need not evict owls in Oregon because we need to chop down trees to make paper.

Opponents to change will argue that businesses need to be able to advertise, and that the Yellow Pages provide the perfect medium. But the YP are far from perfect. Unless you pay tons to have a nice big display ad, you are listed alphabetically, and often in categories that defy logic. Pity the poor business whose name starts with Z. Think about it. If online shoe vendor Zappos had to rely on Yellow Pages advertising for its success, it would have been dead long ago.

No, the real jerks are those who think we still need to cling to our dead tree editions. Go ahead and call me a change freak, but this is one book I want off of my shelf. It’s time for this thing to start happening.

Dr “Spontaneous Disruption” Gerlich

Female Cart Attack

14 11 2010

This is really nothing new. We have known it for a long time. Women truly hold the purse strings in American culture. In addition to their multifaceted roles as wife, mother and taxi driver, it is quite the norm for them to also be purchasing agent and decision maker for the household. And this is regardless of whether they are actually the user of the product.

>How else can you explain the fact that roughly 70% of all men’s underwear sold in the US is to women?

But now marketers are starting to stand up and take notice about the rising economic power of women. It’s no longer just the fact that they are sent out to procure the family’s needs. No, today’s woman has stirred up an economic whirlwind of power. Clout. Hear her roar. Sheer energy.

In the three generations that have been born since World War II, women have progressed from being Rosie the Riveter to Patti the Professional. College campuses nationwide are heavily slanted toward women (the WT student body is nearing a 60/40 split these days). And young educated women earn significantly more income than their male peers.

Factor in that it’s not just married women buying for their families, but also the growing number of single women (never married, divorced or widowed) buying for themselves, and you have a purchasing bloc with which marketers must reckon.

Which probably explains why marketing researcher/guru Paco Underhill wrote What Women Want, detailing how companies have responded thus far, but also noting numerous ways in which they can improve.

Guys, have you noticed that more and more drug stores have come to resemble large convenience stores with a pharmacist in the back? That’s because women feel safer in pharmacies than they do in convenience stores. And what about that little ledge beside the credit card swiper in many retailers? That’s for a woman to set her purse while she pays the bill. And stores like Best Buy have made a concerted effort to soften the edges of the electronic man cave they once were, trying to make females feel comfortable in these shrines to jargon and all things tech.

Although my father the accountant was the chief purchasing agent for my family, I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason why the women in most families wind up being the default buyer is because they are good shoppers, and enjoy shopping. And it’s because most men simply do not like to shop. It’s not that we’re lazy. We hate it. When women shop, they are looking out for the well-being of their entire family, planning ahead for the week’s needs, etc. When men shop, they are looking out for the exit. It’s like a military surgical strike. In and out. Do your business and leave. Hit and run.

The real task for marketers is to simultaneously appeal to the growing cents and sensibilities of female shoppers, but not alienate the men in the process. This is no small task, because men tend to not be impressed by meandering displays in which we can lose ourselves for hours. I mean, unless it’s sporting goods and electronics. Those are entirely different situations requiring our undivided attention, possibly for hours.

But it is indeed high time for marketers to wake up and smell the coffee. If the market is a democracy, than the majority rules. He who responds earliest and best stands to win the patronage of the half of the population with well over half the spending power. To the victor go the spoils, as well as the privilege of writing the business history books.

It all adds up to me. I am OK with bowing at the feet of the female shopper. I can tolerate the softer side of Best Buy, and pharmacies that are just gigantic 7-Elevens. I can live with the little ledge by the credit card swiper.

Just don’t ever expect to see me setting a murse up on it while I pay my bill.

Dr “Change Is Good” Gerlich

Shoe Be Do Be Do

13 11 2010

Marketers have long been accused of peddling hope. When product attributes alone won’t carry the day, then focus on the intangible. Offer something that each and every human being craves. Yearns for. Lose sleep over.

Which is apparently what Skechers and Reebok have been doing with their toning shoes. Over-promise on the product, and under-deliver on the goods. Unless it is hope that is the deliverable.

Both the Skechers Shape-Ups and Reebok EasyTones promise to help the wearer tone their legs better than other athletic shoes. The promise is that, by toning the legs, the user will tone up everything up to the gluteus maximus. The hype and hoopla surrounding these shoes began to sound to me a lot like a late-night infomercial for the latest piece of worthless home exercise equipment.

And now there are clinical tests to prove that these shoes really do nothing more for the wearer than just perform as comfortable footwear. All at a premium price, of course.

This is not the first time that shoe manufacturers have marketed their wares under the premise of improving one’s self-=worth. While the toning shoes are aimed at women, men have been targeted for years with shoe ads that promise to help us jump higher and/or run faster. As if we could somehow mimic a cheetah. All the while dribbling and shooting a basketball or chasing down Usain Bolt.

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I found my wife inside the Skechers store at the Fashion Place Mall. She was oohing and ahhing over the Shape-Ups, to the point of starting to ask me to buy them. Fortunately for me, the frugal shopper in her overcame the impulse of the moment, and she opted to wait until she could check online later for lower prices.

Which bought me just enough time to find this article debunking the shoes. Purchase averted. Money saved. Can I get a hallelujah?

In my sport (bicycling), I see similar appeals being made on a regular basis. If you would just buy these $2000 wheels, you will trim a minute in the 40K time trial. This titanium bolt will shave 5 grams. This helmet is uber-aerodynamic.

Or, I could just lose 5 pounds from my gut and save 25 Benjamins.

Marketers are indeed guilty of selling the hope card, but does this mean they are going to burn eternally for dealing in such a fleeting emotion? Are they (OK, we, for I must count myself among them) going to be required to answer for preying on a human weakness?

I hope not, for then we raise the question of personal responsibility. And let us not forget that hope has value, even if it won’t shape our butts or make us sprint like an Olympian. Hope makes us feel good about things. Ourselves. The world around us.

Sure, hope has its price. And sometimes the initial hope leads to ultimate disappointment. It has its risks. For many people, there is hope in religion. For most of us, there is hope in buying and consuming certain products. And maybe, just maybe, we all have become a little bit too religious in our purchase of hope-laden products hawked by savvy marketers who see us as little more than participants in a Pavlovian experiment.

But that is for you and me to decide. I’m going for a ride. I gotta lose those 5 pounds.

Dr “Hope To Carry On” Gerlich

Graphic Design

12 11 2010

People who know me know that I am a fiscal conservative and a governmental minimalist. The less government we have, the better off we will all be.

But sometimes I am in favor of a little old-fashioned governmental intervention and regulation. Like with the tobacco industry.

Now I have heard all of the arguments for why we should allow people to make up their own minds, why we should let business owners decide whether they want to be smoke-free or allow smoking, and why we should allow the economy and all its constituents to function unfettered.

But let me go on record as saying that I am thoroughly enjoying being in Florida right now, where no smoking is allowed in any restaurant. And I would love the completely smoke-free atmosphere of California. A person’s right to smoke ends at the tip of my nose. Period. Go ahead and call me a liberal.

Which is why I was glad to read that the Food and Drug Administration has proposed 36 extremely graphic new images for cigarette packaging. These images will be voted on in 2011, and will start appearing on packaging by October 2012.

The new images do not dance around the sobering reality of tobacco usage and its inherent risks. Smoking is responsible for 443,000 deaths in the US each year…deaths that, while not completely avoidable (hey, we all have to die), but at least delayable.

Now I will be first in line when it comes to championing company rights to produce products freely, package them as they see fit, promote them as they will, as long as those activities are done within legal bounds. But when it comes to cigarettes, there is no love lost between me and the tobacco companies. I know all the freedom-of-choice arguments and all that, but let’s face it: Aside from putting bullets in your own gun and pointing it at yourself, there is no other product available that, used as directed, will kill you.

But will the new images cause people to think twice about smoking? We won’t know until we try. Current US smoking rates are down by 50% since 1970 (to 20%), but the level has stabilized in recent years. It’s time to make a bigger push to get people to quit, and others to never start in the first place.

Of course, there is the other argument that cigarettes are an excellent source of sin tax revenue. In the last 40 years, cigarettes have risen from 38 cents per pack to an average of $5.33, and most of that increase is from new state and federal taxes. If people smoke less, there will be smaller revenues.

But that is contrasted by the costs to society of people smoking and dying. Productivity. Hospital stays. The losses to families of prematurely losing a loved one.

I realize I walk a thin line, one separating complete freedom from the tangled web of governmental interference. But I have no sympathy for Big Tobacco. Sure, let them sell their products of self-destruction. Let them try to seduce us with their promises of sophistication and coolness. Let them try to fool us with the hope of eternal youth.

But let them do it with packaging that tells the rest of the story. Because anything less is just a smoke screen.

Dr “Cough! Gag!” Gerlich

Sneak Preview

11 11 2010

I always make fun of Microsoft every time they release a new version of the Office Suite. What in the world could they possibly do to make a word processor better? And what was up with that file extension thing a few years ago that forced us to eventually upgrade. Yeah, making it .docx sure made my typing experience a lot better than the way it was with .doc.

But when I read this morning that Google is rolling out Instant Previews on its search page, I shouted hallelujah. Anything to save me a few seconds in my search is an improvement worth touting. And if it keeps us from accidentally clicking into a porn sited, then it might even be worth paying for.

Yeah, I just dangled a preposition. So shoot me.

But I digress. The new Google Instant Previews will make for search what electric slicers did for bread. Now when we search, a small magnifying glass icon will appear to the right of the returned query. Click the icon and a quick view of that site will appear to the right…just like the image below resulting from my search on West Texas A&M University.

Google had already been releasing bits and pieces of this sneak preview feature on its companion Google Images site. Now when you search the web for images of a person or object, the snapshot will show up in a matrix of similar matches. A quick mouseover shows the image in its webpage context so you can see if it is relevant (and also not a porn site in disguise).

It truly is all about the user experience, and with Google providing both speed and a modicum of protection with this new enhancement, they just gave me two more reasons why I should search with them. Not Bing. Not Yahoo.

nd in the Facebook era, Google needs to be pulling out all of the stops, because at the end of the war, it’s not going to be Bing and Yahoo duking it out with Google. No, it will be Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook going mano-a-mano with Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google.

Either Facebook is going to figure out how to offer search, or Google is going to finally get a toe hold in social networking. And whoever does this first is going to rule the interwebs.

Best part about this? All of it is free. Can you believe that companies like Google and Facebook are fighting to the death for our eyeballs, and not making a single cent from any of us? That programmers in California are staying up late trying to make our online experiences better than they already are?

And can you believe that, farther up the coast in Washington, programmers are laboring trying to make our word processing experiences better, and then charging us a few hundred bucks for the privilege?

Welcome to the Economy of Free. You just got an instant preview of the internet’s future. Go ahead and Google that. Or post it on your Wall.

Dr “Search Me” Gerlich

No Speed Limit

10 11 2010

Many years ago, back when the federal government decreed we needed to save gas by dropping the national speed limit to 55mph, rocker Sammy Hagar crooned one of his memorable songs. “I Can’t Drive 55” still stands today as testimony not to just a long-lapsed speed limit, but as a metaphor of a generation determined to live life at the fastest until we all drop dead.

Which is why I laughed aloud this morning to read a small blurb in the Tampa Tribune about the first Baby Boomers will start turning 65 this January. Yes, those born in 1946, unknowingly at the beginning of what would become the most recognized and studied generation in American history, will now be retirement age.

>Holy crap.

But turning 65 does not mean for the boomers what it did for the generation prior. It’s just another birthday. And while the 0 and 5 birthdays can be a little traumatic, this one isn’t even a speed bump for those who made it their life mission to remain forever young.

There were 78 million people born in the US between 1946 and 1964, the years collectively known as The Baby Boom generation. While the assignment of particular start and end dates i rather arbitrary, it should be remembered that 1946 marked the end of World War II. Soldiers returned from war. Rosie the Riveter resumed her household duties (but that would change in time). And men and women did what they do best. They had babies.

Lots of ’em.

The Baby Boom was marked by a string of consecutive years in which there were 4 million or more live births. While that number is fairly routinely passed today, it must be noted that 65 years ago, the US population was much smaller. Thus, with a denominator about one-half what it is today, the percentage growth rate at that time was simply phenomenal. Babies were popping out all over the place.

While I still have a long way to go to 65, I must confess that I can see it from here. Once you hit 50 you can just about see the end of the road. But that doesn’t mean my Boomer friends or I are going to slow down. A few implications for you younguns:

  • We probably will not all retire in order fashion. Some of us will continue working because we need to do, while others will do it simply because we like to be productive. I can see myself doing my professorial duties until at least 75.
  • Even though we are young at heart, we will still need lots of meds to cover up the aches and pains. I see huge career advancement opportunities for pharmacists. And go ahead and buy some of that Walgreen’s and CVS stock. It will be very good to you.
  • Retirement and independent living centers as we know them now will not exist in the years ahead. Unless we all shift gears and start to veg out, we are not going to sit idly by waiting to die. Pinochle and shuffleboard? Are you kidding? We’re going mountain biking. After the Senior Olympics games, that is.
  • Las Vegas will be the next Branson. My cronies can’t handle the thought of going to Missouri to tap our canes to the beat. No, we’re going to be rolling with the changes at the REO Speedwagon Theater, rockin’ the Paradise with Styx, and taking care of business with BTO. Then we’re heading over to Moon at The Palms to shake our groove thing. Get over it.
  • In our spare time, we are going to travel. Everywhere. RVs. Cruises (but not those pompous wear-a-tux-to-dinner cruises). It will be casual, but classy.
  • While we are not digital natives, we have adopted it as our homeland. Our homes will be media-rich, as will our cars, pockets and purses.
  • And we are going to remain leaders…in our places of employment as well as in our communities. Whether it is on the payroll or as a volunteer, we are going to remain actively engaged in multiple spheres of our lives.

I realize that many Gen-X and Gen-Y folks do not like to hear about the Generation That Just Won’t Go Away. Some day we will truly find the exit, but until then we’ll be whistling that Sammy Hagar tune. And hanging out with you at Moon. Because it is a metaphor of our generation, on top and staying there.

Besides, the view is awesome.

Dr “Going Up” Gerlich

Deep and Wide

9 11 2010

There’s an old adage in business. If you can’t beat ’em, don’t join ’em. No, buy ’em.

And that is exactly what Amazon.com did yesterday by purchasing Quidsi, owner of the ever-popular (and growing) Diapers.com, along with companion sites Soap.com and BeautyBar.com. Purchase price: $500 million cash on the barrel head.

It was only a month ago that I wrote about how Diapers.com was steadily eating into Amazon territory, first with subscription diapers services, and then with all manner of kids stuff. It was a gorgeous strategy, not a whole different from boiling a frog. Quidsi was hoping to slowly turn up the heat so Amazon wouldn’t notice until it was too late.

But the frog did notice, crawled out, and changed places with the chef.

Amazon has always had the luxury of being flush with cash (even when its income statement was awash in red ink). It has used this cash to snuff out competitors by snapping them up completely, or buying controlling interest. For example, it is a majority owner of Webvan.com, the online grocery delivery service. And last year Amazon paid $850 million for Zappos.com, the online shoe retailer.

It all makes sense when you consider that Amazon wants to be to e-commerce what Walmart is to brick-and-mortar retailing. Nothing is allowed to get in the way. Would-be competitors are not challenged; they are purchased. Toppled. Snuffed out. Obliterated.

It’s up to you to decide if this strategy has any socially redeeming value.

Critics fear that consolidation such as this will lead to only one thing: higher prices. While this has yet to occur in the case of Walmart (who grew not so much through acquisition as it did sheer muscle), it remains to be seen whether Amazon will put the screws to families with diapered infants. Other companies that have grown through acquisition (Google comes to mind) don’t charge for anything at all, so perhaps the argument has no merit.

If anything, Amazon’s behavior signals a great opportunity for wannabe e-tailers. Launch a start-up, compete relentlessly until Amazon takes note, and then sell. I’m sure the founders of Quidsi are doing cartwheels in the company parking lot, knowing they will never have to work another day of their lives.

What Quidsi did was find a category in which Amazon was vulnerable. Let’s face it: Amazon is dominant in books, music and movies. And with all three of those either already gone digital, or about to go, that means just about everything else is fair game. Squeeze a few more cents out of the margin, and customers will click a path to your door. Squeeze long enough and hard enough, and you may just find a suitor ringing your doorbell.

Diapers.com was sheer genius, just as I said a month ago. And it is also sheer genius to sell to Amazon. Quidsi wins. Amazon wins.

And we’ll find out soon enough whether this is a poopy diaper.

Dr “Engulf and Devour” Gerlich

Coming Clean

8 11 2010

As much as I love to write about large companies, their fetes as well as foibles, there is nothing more I like telling than the success of small, local businesses. You know…the ones that start seemingly against all odds, but through sheer determination and shrewd decision making, they prosper. Not only here, but in places far removed from Amarillo Texas.

Like the Canyon Creek Soap Company.

From an educator’s perspective, it is especially gratifying when I am able to show my students examples of small start-ups deploying the very same tactics I teach in my classes. Yes, the things I prepare my students to use in corporate America are just as relevant for the entrepreneur. The primary difference, of coruse, is that the entrepreneur gets to wear all of the hats. At the same time.

Which is how Paula Davis, founder of Canyon Creek, runs her shop. She has turned her passion for handmade, all-natural products, into a manufacturer of soaps and personal care items available in boutiques across the country, as well as via the Canyon Creek website.

Earlier this year, Paula and her company were the recipients of a $100,000 award from the Amarillo Enterprise Challenge, an annual grant competition funded by the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation. She then moved the company into its current manufacturing facility at the WT Enterprise Center on the north side of Amarillo. Canyon Creek products are now featured in a showroom at the Dallas Market Center, with plans to expand soon to a similar center in Atlanta.

Nothing like putting your product in front of thousands of people at once.

If anything, Canyon Creek is a case study in how a small business should be run. Facebook page. E-Commerce site. Business incubator location. Regional showroom exhibit. Accounts with retailers throughout Texas and the nation.

And if an entrepreneur is lucky, they get to sleep once in a while.

At a time when the economy dictates frugality and belt-tightening, Canyon Creek has continued to prosper and expand. There are clearly many soap and personal care product alternatives available through mass merchandisers and large manufacturing conglomerates, but Canyon Creek has resonated with customers by providing not only quality, but also value. It’t a tightrope act during any conditions, but especially during a recession.

Much has been said recently in the Amarillo area about the importance of shopping locally, especially to help local vendors weather the economic storm. While that idea might sell well on some fronts, I think it is even better…no, make that genius…when a local business can convince non-local customers to send their money our way. For this is the road map to economic survival.

And as for that $100,000 award, I say it was a wise choice on behalf of the AEDC. The sales revenue that comes to Amarillo because of it is a clean return on investment. That’s how big companies are made.

Dr “Lather Up” Gerlich

Paula Davis will speak to my Marketing Seminar class tonight on the WTAMU campus, sharing her business wisdom and experiences.

Back To School

7 11 2010

This one isn’t going to be pretty. It’s not going to be funny. It’s about a subject near and dear to my heart, for it is my career: Education.

And it is something we are sorely in need of more in this area.

I have been at WTAMU since 1989. During this time I have seen our institution grow from about 6000 students to about 7850. I have also seen the Panhandle population (that’s the “top 26” counties of Texas), grow from about 360,000 to about 440,000. Which is another way of saying both are growing at about 1% per year over the long haul.

It’s also another way of saying that we at WT are just hanging on. Holding our own. But really not growing, because we are still pretty much at the same percentage of the local population as we were when I arrived.

And this deeply saddens me.

It is my hope that when the 2010 census data become available, I will be proven wrong. I truly hope that we have turned the corner on education and will have witnessed an increase in the percentage of adults with a college education. Because our future as a community depends on our ability to provide educated workers to prospective employers.

A decade ago, though, the stats were not very promising. At that time there were 23.2% of all Texans with at least an undergraduate degree (the US average was 24.4%). Since Amarillo straddles two counties, we have to look at two sets of data. Randall County reported a very impressive 28.9% with a degree (with about one-half of them sticking around to earn a graduate degree as well), but Potter County notched an abysmal 13.5%. For the sake of comparison, our neighbor to the south, Lubbock, reported 24.4%, matching the US average.

It is in combining Randall and Potter Counties, however, that we see an overall average that is still very low. Since both counties are very similar in size, the Amarillo metro comes out with about a 20% college degree rate. And this does not bode well for our community.

Our ability to attract employers with high-paying jobs depends completely on our ability to provide an educated workforce. While Amarillo boasts a very low unemployment rate (hovering in the 5-6% rate throughout the recession), much of our employment is via retail and call centers. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I will say that this is no way to fuel the long-term growth of an economy.

Aside from the highly educated faculty and administrators at both WTAMU and Amarillo College, our “higher-ed” employers are pretty much limited to the Pantex facility, the medical center, and the local school districts. There are a few other employers requiring college degrees, but for the most part we are a pass-through town with lots of motels, restaurants and stores. Say hello to minimum wage and tips.

When a community has a low rate of higher education, it means that change is effected slowly. Educated minds are open minds. The Panhandle 20/20 group has as its mission the continued promotion of education in this area, but change comes slowly on the High Plains. I am hoping the 2010 data show positive change, not inertia, but given our current market penetration rate at the University, I am not holding my breath.

I realize there are many plausible explanations for what might be viewed as an anti-education ethos. Poverty is rampant in Potter County, with about 25% below the poverty line, and 50% below 2X the poverty line. This in a state that ranks 50th in terms of people with a high school diploma.

And I also realize that colleges and universities have become expensive. Very expensive. But people cannot afford to not receive a college education, for it spells a life of low-paying jobs. The Panhandle 20/20 website quotes the Council on Competitiveness with this sobering reality: “Only households headed by a college graduate saw their income rise over the past 20 years.” I doubt the future will be any different.

Now I do not blame my institution for our lack of college degrees in the area. These are choices made at the individual level, so I place the blame squarely on the local population. If we do not embrace a culture of education, we will forever be an intellectual backwater.

I also am very proud of my institution. OK, let me be a little more blunt: Damn proud of my institution. I have taught at a flagship university while in my PhD program, and I would hold my discipline’s programs up against theirs any day. I would also send my children to WT, not because it is nearby, convenient, or cheap, but because it is good. If that isn’t testimony, I don’t know what is.

But until we convince the local population at large that education is worth the effort, the cost, the commitment, we will continue to see pathetic summary statistics about our region. It is a marketing message we all must carry to the region. Here’s hoping that you will join me in this noble quest.

Dr “Student For Life” Gerlich