Our Faces: Portraits of Laramie County

The photo editor at our local paper has embarked on a year-long effort to capture a representative sample of our county’s current demographic. “Our Faces: Portraits of Laramie County” was inspired by historic photos:  What were our many ancestors thinking way back when?

Today, as a planner, I wonder the same thing:  What do people want for their community?  I have to think they would be more open with a photojournalist than a “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” bureaucrat.  I have begun to look forward to picking up the paper every morning for a glimpse of “what makes living in Laramie County great”.

Reblogged from today’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle:

John Shepard

John Shepard smiles during a portrait session at the Hynds Building. “Our Old West heritage and our New West future” are what Shepard said he likes about living in Cheyenne. To take part in WTE Photo Editor Michael Smith’s “Our Faces: Portraits of Laramie County” project, call 633-3124 or 630-8388 or email msmith@wyomingnews.com to make an appointment. Michael Smith/staff



Posted in Pursuit of Happiness | Leave a comment

Symposium on Small Towns Set for June

University of Minnesota Morris

The Center for Small Towns of the University of Minnesota at Morris presents an excellent conference each spring on small town and rural issues.  This is where I met Ben Winchester for the first time and started learning about his work (now with Extension) on rural migration.  I really wish I could make it back to western Minnesota for what looks like an excellent session.

The Center for Small Towns will present the 2014 Symposium on Small Towns this year on June 4–5, Understanding Rural Migration: Myths, Trends, and Opportunities Exposed. Hosted at the University of Minnesota, Morris campus, the symposium will address the changing truths of small towns and debunk the current myths surrounding migration to and from small towns. Spanning two days there will be a series of breakout sessions, discussions, and keynotes.

Goals for Symposium include:

  • Improving the dialogue surrounding migration research in rural areas.

  • Exemplifying the ways communities are connected through migration.

  • Informing the rural development industry of current strategies for recruitment and retention.

  • Bringing the macroeconomic perspective of migration theory to the rural development industry.

  • Exploring the role narrative language plays in recruitment strategies.

  • Delineating the strategy differences between youth and adult recruitment.

  • Developing a strategy to evaluate the effectiveness of recruitment and retention efforts.

  • Exploring common recruitment strategies between states.

  • Describing the economic impact of newcomers.

  • Exploring opportunities the upcoming baby boomer housing relocation may hold for growth.

  • Gathering experiences with place-based strategies; i.e. Land incentives, internships, alumni.


Posted in Policy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Jalan Crossland Packs Cheyenne Downtown

Jalan Crossland at the Hynds

Cheyenne’s Fridays at the Hynds is a bootstrap affair to bring more folks Downtown after work and to provide a friendly venue somewhere between the solo stage and the larger clubs.  I say bring folks downtown, rather than keep them downtown, because outside of state & local government, Cheyenne tends to be a suburban affair, sprawling into the Wyoming countryside.  In “real life” I help out with Cheyenne’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and we’ve got a lot of people with heart and soul working to help bring new life to the center of of the city.

I ventured out on a winter’s eve to see Wyoming songwriter Jalan Crossland, and so did a standing room crowd of my closest friends and neighbors.  They were turning ‘em away at the door.  Crossland is a multi-instrumentalist, switching between acoustic & electric guitars, but he shines on the banjo.  Jalan is a master of the absurd and silly, with crowd favorites like “Trailer Park Fire” and ” Methamphetamine Saturday Night”.  Still, he can take old standards and almost forgotten folk gems and bring them alive in a way to suit windy Wyoming.

Fast Tube

This night his son, Dylan Crossland, opened the show—his first show.  A high school science teacher by day, agronomist by summer, Dylan seems ready to shine through his father’s shadow with a fingerpicking skill all his own.  Dad has recognized it, beaming on stage with a birthday gift young Dylan can call a banjo of his own.

Fast Tube

Jalan plays in Billings Saturday 3/22, Cody 3/29, and New Orleans 4/12. Watch for him at Bean Blossom in May, and even good old Southwest Minnesota at Worthington in June.


Fridays in the Hynds 2014 schedule:
February 7th: J Shogren Shanghai’d
February 14th: Grant Sabin
February 21st: Greyweather w/special guest Melanie Devaney
February 28th: Calling The Restless w/special guest John Warburton
March 7th: Jalan Crossland w/special guest Dylan Crossland
March 14th: Brand 307
March 21st: Sean Curtis Band
March 28th: Wagonhound





Posted in Pursuit of Happiness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Bring Your Small Town Some First Class Design with CIRD RFP

CIRD Service Area

The Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) is a fascinating partnership of the USDA, Project for Public Spaces, and Orton Family Foundation, working to provide small towns and rural communities (population <50,000) with support on design, planning and creative placemaking.  Their competitive technical assistance program is a great opportunity to bring first class design ideas to your home town.

The Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) has issued a request for proposals to rural communities facing design challenges – such as Main Street revitalization, how to manage and direct growth, design community-supportive transportation systems, preserve natural and historic landscapes and buildings, protect working agricultural lands, and provide adequate and affordable housing – who are interested in hosting a local workshop in 2014-2015.

Successful applicants will receive a $7,000 stipend and in-kind professional design expertise and technical assistance valued at $35,000. The Request for Proposals is posted on the CIRD website.

The deadline for submitting a proposal is Tuesday May 6, 2014 at 9:00 pm EST.

CIRD works to help rural communities with populations of 50,000 or fewer enhance their quality of life and economic vitality through facilitated design workshops. CIRD brings local leaders, non-profits, and community organizations together with experts in planning, design, preservation and placemaking – all in an effort to help communities address pressing design challenges and to put design tools into the hands of the people who can create local change. CIRD does this by offering an opportunity for four rural communities to host local design workshops, and by offering free public webinars, conference calls, and a resource-rich website to practitioners and community leaders across the country.

Since the program’s inception in 1991, CIRD has convened 70 workshops in all regions of the country with results that range from strengthened local economies, enhanced rural character, the leveraging of cultural assets, and design of new housing and transportation systems.

Each community selected to participate in the Institute will receive $7,000 to support planning and hosting a two and a half day workshop. Communities are required to provide $7,000 in matching funds (cash or in-kind services). CIRD will work with community leaders to assemble teams of specialists most qualified to address the community’s identified design challenges. The workshops will be augmented with conference calls and capacity-building webinar presentations led by professionals who will discuss a range of rural design topics. All calls are also offered free to the general public through CommunityMatters®, a program of the Orton Family Foundation.

The CIRD website is a portal to resources on many aspects of rural design gathered from diverse organizations across the country including information on past CIRD workshops. It is a place for citizens and practitioners alike to get information about improving their own communities.

Find the RFP and application guidelines at: http://rural-design.org/apply. Selected communities will be announced in June 2014, and workshops will be held during the fall of 2014 and first quarter of 2015.


Posted in Policy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

APA Drafts Policy Guides on Hazard Mitigation and Aging


The American Planning Association (APA) is an educational and policy group of folks who are interested in urban and regional planning.  Every so often, a group of members are drafted to consider policy guides on issues of interest, which are presented before the annual national conference, which this year takes place in Atlanta.

I am especially interested in hazard mitigation, having done some work in the field, but demographic issues are already affecting many of our communities as well.  The documents are worth a look, if you are an APA member or just interested in good public policy.

This year’s National Delegate Assembly at the Atlanta National Planning Conference will feature consideration of two draft policy guides: Hazard Mitigation and Aging in Community. The Legislative and Policy Committee established two working groups charged with drafting the guides and has approved the drafts for distribution to APA Chapters, Divisions and members for formal review and comment.

Comments on both draft Policy Guides are due by Tuesday, March 25. The committee encourages all comments to be as specific as possible and, where possible, to reference a specific section of the proposed draft…

Aging in Community draft (pdf)

Hazard Mitigation draft (pdf)

Comments are due from members by March 25, 2014.


Posted in Policy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ag Census Tells Story of Unlimited Potential in Rural America

From Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:

Secretary’s Column: Census of Agriculture Results Tell Story of Unlimited Potential in Rural America

USDA released preliminary data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture that provides a snapshot of a rural America that remains stable in the face of difficult economic times. While the data do not paint a perfect picture, they do tell a story of the unlimited potential and growing opportunity in modern rural America.

Census data indicate that the loss of farmland has slowed significantly since 2007, which means that while a total of 72 million acres of farmland have been lost since the 1982 census, we have begun to stem the tide. New tools in the 2014 Farm Bill should help to further slow and perhaps even reverse this trend in some areas of the country.

The results reinforce what we have known for many years: the farm population is aging. While that is a concern, the data also show that the number of young farmers increased slightly and the number of minority farm and ranch principal operators increased dramatically, reflecting the changing face of America as a whole. We are hopeful that USDA policies that attract and retain the next generation of talent into rural America will help to continue this trend.

The number of small and very large farms held steady. This reflects, in part, USDA’s recent push to help farmers and ranchers diversify into new markets, including local and regional food systems, specialty crops and organic production, and expand market access for American farm products overseas. The 2014 Farm Bill will do even more to expand support for beginning farmers and new market opportunities for all producers.

At the same time, we cannot ignore that devastating weather events increasingly impacts producers’ bottom lines. The prolonged drought and lack of disaster assistance over the past several years have made it even tougher for livestock producers and mid-sized farms to survive and thrive, and the data reflects that reality.

We must do more to protect the middle—farms and ranches that are middle-sized and mid-income—and ensure that they can access resources and protections to help them thrive. Here too, the Farm Bill will provide much-needed relief and stability through guaranteed disaster assistance.

More than anything, the census illustrates the power of data. Data from the census helps to inform smart policymaking that makes life easier for farmers and ranchers. It helps to stand up programs and initiatives that benefit young and beginning farmers and ranchers just starting out; improve access to resources that help women, veteran and minority farmers and ranchers thrive; and help farmers and ranchers diversify into new markets, including local and regional food systems, specialty crops and organic production.

We are on the right track, but there is still more work to do. In order to survive, American agriculture must continue to embrace innovation and diversity in crop production, markets, people and land use across the agricultural sector.

- See more at USDA’s website.


Posted in Policy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ag Census Preliminary Results Show Growing Farm Economy

Number of Farms by State 2012

Preliminary results are in on the 2012 Census of Agriculture.  Following the long-term trend, USDA counted fewer larger farms, much fewer in some states like Minnesota, and actually a few more in others like Wyoming.  And farmers are getting older.  Full figures due in May.  The USDA Press Release gives the details:

Value of Sales up Dramatically; Number of Farms and Land in Farms down Slightly, USDA Reports

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2014 –USDA today released the preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture results.  Key findings include an increase in the value of agricultural products sold in the United States totaling $394.6 billion in 2012, up 33 percent ($97.4 billion) from 2007.  The number of farms and land in farms were down slightly, but held steady. Additionally, agriculture is becoming more diverse.

The 2012 Census reported several historic changes in value of sales for agriculture producers in the United States:

  • In 2012, crop sales of $212.4 billion exceeded livestock sales of $182.2 billion. This occurred for only the second time in Census history; the other time was 1974.
  • Between 2007 and 2012, per farm average value of sales increased from $134,807 to $187,093, continuing a steady 30-year upward trend. The increase of $52,286 was the largest rise in Census history.

Preliminary data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture also highlights national and state farm numbers, land in farms and farmer demographics.

  • The 2012 Census showed principal farm operators are becoming older and more diverse; following the trend of previous censuses. In 2012, the average age of a principal farm operator was 58.3 years, up 1.2 years since 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase. The Census also accounted for more minority-operated farms in 2012 than in 2007.
  • In 2012, the United States had 2.1 million farms – down 4.3 percent from the previous Census in 2007. In terms of farm size by acres, this continues an overall downward trend in mid-sized farms, while the smallest and largest-size farms held steady.
  • Between 2007 and 2012, the amount of land in farms in the United States continued a slow downward trend declining from 922 million acres to 915 million. This is only a decline of less than one percent and is the third smallest decline between censuses since 1950.

Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. The Census tells a story of how American agriculture is changing and lays the groundwork for new programs and policies that will invest in rural America; promote innovation and productivity; build the rural economy; and support our next generation of farmers and ranchers.

“The release of the preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture results is only a first look at the data and we are eager to publish the final report this May,” said NASS Administrator Cynthia Clark. “The 2012 Census was not conducted in a typical crop year, and drought had a major impact on U.S. agriculture, affecting crop yields, production and prices. NASS is still reviewing all 2012 Census items to the county level and therefore data are preliminary until published in the final report.”

For more information about the Census, including access to current 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary report, additional materials and full final report when it is released in May, visitwww.agcensus.usda.gov.


Census of Agriculture Infographic 2012.


Posted in Economy, Policy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mapping the Census Flow

County to County Net Migration 2007-11 Laramie WY

Americans are on the move.  About 20,000 more people moved from Los Angeles County, California, to nearby San Bernardino County, than in the opposite direction in 2007-2011.  The US Census Bureau has released new migration statistics based on their American Community Survey 5-year running average.  While I really don’t trust ACS for smaller, especially rural, places, the new numbers do offer some interesting insights.

Here in Cheyenne, Wyoming, my own Laramie County gained approximately 218 more people than we lost moving to and from next-door neighbor Larimer County, Colorado. We gained the second highest amount from Macomb County, Michigan (north suburbs of Detroit), with 192 more in than out.  Santa Barbara County, California, offered up 188 net residents, and 114 more people moved from Fremont County, Wyoming, then moved from Laramie County there.  On the flip side, 251 more people moved to Natrona County (Casper), Wyoming, then moved here.  Laramie County had a net deficit of 197 with Weld County (Greeley), Colorado, 163 with Campbell County (Gillette), Wyoming, and 162 with Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona.  Yes, according to ACS we’re loosing more than we’re gaining.

The overall data files are pretty bulky to work with—the “All-Flows” text file clocks in at 102Mb.  Census also is offering up a Flash-based “Census Flows Mapper“.  It doesn’t work on my Mac at home, which may be a good thing because I would just play on it all night, easily clicking counties on and off.  You can also control for variables including educational attainment, household income, and personal income.  Check out some of these maps across the county at Atlantic Cities.  Just remember the deeper in the weeds you get, the higher the ACS error is likely to get.


Posted in Economy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

No Net Neutrality for Amtrak on the Hi-Line

Great Northern Depot 1909 Great Falls MT

NPR this morning followed-up on my blog yesterday on the boom in rail freight, especially in the Bakken.  Amtrak’s Empire Builder follow’s James J Hill’s pioneering Great Northern Railway route, from Chicago & the Twin Cities to Fargo, then parallel to US 2 (the “Hi-Line”) across North Dakota and Montana to points Northwest.

Oil business in North Dakota is creating some big headaches for Amtrak travelers. Trains on the popular Empire Builder route between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest are often delayed for hours.

One reason for the congestion is an influx of trains hauling crude oil across the Northern Plains.

The delays are becoming so bad that a passenger group now wants the U.S. transportation secretary to intervene.

The ‘N’ in BNSF stands for the old Northern Pacific and the old Great Northern.  BNSF gets paid for freight, and is getting paid for a lot more oil car freight than in years gone by.  BNSF tolerates Amtrak, when they have to.

A BNSF spokeswoman acknowledges that the railroad is disappointed in its service to all its customers, but she says oil shipments alone are not responsible for delays. In an email, the spokeswoman says volumes of many other kinds of freight increased significantly last year, too.

The railroad is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand capacity, but that track work slows trains. The spokeswoman also says extreme cold has exacerbated delays.

In the meantime, Amtrak may just adjust its timetables and build the chronic delays into its schedule, so at least passengers will have a better idea of what they’re in for.

There’s an analogy here to the “Net Neutrality” debate in broadband circles.  I, like many Conservatives, don’t like the government telling private business what to do—we shouldn’t regulate the internet, and there’s good arguments not to encumber railroads with undue regulation.  Yet I also understand that much of the internet, like the rail industry, is made up of common carriers, who should not be permitted to discriminate from a monopoly position.  Farmers have been agitating on the issue as long as there have been railroads.  It’s bad policy, and its bad for local business.

Passenger rail will never succeed in the United States without Net Neutrality on the rails.


Posted in Economy, Policy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Railroads riding the Bakken Boom

AAR Weekly Railroad Traffic 20140125

Rail roads seem to define America, from the Golden Spike to the Singing Brakeman. We love them, we hate them, we ride them, we wait for them.  The rail industry, however, isn’t waiting for us, growing traffic where it can.  Recently the rail industry has been in the spotlight, pro and con, as the work horse transporting Bakken crude out of the Dakotas to an energy-hungry nation.

Warren Buffett has committed major capital to BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) Railway, which grew shipments by 4.5% last year compared to Union Pacific’s 0.3% growth.  I guess we’re starting to see why Berkshire Hathaway bought the nation’s 2nd largest railroad four years ago.

The Association of American Railroads represents North American railroad companies.  They are promoting joint development of pipeline and rail freight infrastructure for energy development:  “U.S. freight railroads transported nearly 234,000 carloads of crude oil in 2012, up from just 9,500 carloads in 2008. Early data suggest that rail carloads of crude surpassed 400,000 in 2013.”

AAR supplies weekly summaries of rail traffic, as a teaser to buy more detailed info. It is interesting nonetheless.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Jan. 30, 2014 – The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported increased U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Jan. 25, 2014 with 280,761 total U.S. carloads, up 5.6 percent compared with the same week last year. Total U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 245,883 units up 3 percent compared with the same week last year. Total combined U.S. weekly rail traffic was 526,644 carloads and intermodal units, up 4.4 percent compared with the same week last year.
Seven of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2013, including grain with 23,175 carloads, up 24.4 percent; and, petroleum and petroleum products with 15,211 carloads, up 13.1 percent. Commodities showing a decrease compared with the same week last year included metallic ores and metals with 22,539 carloads, down 1.8 percent.
For the first four weeks of 2014, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 1,074,281 carloads, up 0.9 percent from the same point last year, and 936,176 intermodal units, up 1.8 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first four weeks of 2014 was 2,010,457 carloads and intermodal units, up 1.3 percent from last year.
Canadian railroads reported 74,311 carloads for the week, down 1.6 percent, and 52,824 intermodal units, up 1.7 percent compared with the same week in 2013. For the first four weeks of 2014, Canadian railroads reported cumulative volume of 281,220 carloads, down 5.3 percent from the same point last year, and 198,167 intermodal units, down 1.5 percent from last year.
Mexican railroads reported 16,416 carloads for the week, up 8.9 percent compared with the same week last year, and 10,542 intermodal units, up 6.7 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first four weeks of 2014 was 56,896 carloads, up 6.1 percent from the same point last year, and 35,739 intermodal units, up 3.2 percent from last year.
Combined North American rail volume for the first four weeks of 2014 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 1,412,397 carloads, down 0.2 percent compared with the same point last year, and 1,170,082 intermodal trailers and containers, up 1.3 percent compared with last year.


Implications for communities, especially rural communities?  Watch your rail crossings, since there may be more traffic coming.  Train your firefighters for petroleum and ethanol spills.  And while decades of branch line abandonment might go on hold, keep in touch with your grain elevators and smaller freight users who may just get overlooked as consolidated railroads focus on the big shippers and their unit trains.  We’re all in this together.



Posted in Economy | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment