I've always had a desire to understand another person's perspective. If you spend any time reading American history the name W.E.B. DuBois shows up a lot of the time. If this is the first time you're hearing about him, shame on you for a general lack of American history knowledge. The truth is he is pretty hard avoid, even if you're only casually looking. His work touched a lot of people over a number of generations in the United States. DuBois lived into his 90's and was well ahead of his time. You can read a little about him here.
This work, originally published in 1903 tackles a lot of issues in the black community and America as a whole. The section that was probably the most touching to me was Chapter 13: The Coming of John. It follows a young black kid named John as he travels to the north to receive his education with the hope that he will return one day. After starting his education in a lack than serious way he buckles down to complete his work. While in New York he comes across an old childhood friend, also named John, of his that is white and the son of the local judge from their hometown. The white man acts as if he doesn't know him while in public. Eventually black John returns to his home in Georgia to take up as a teacher for all of the black children in the community. Without resources he makes progress, until it is found out that he is teaching equality to his students as part of his lesson. This forces the Judge to come down and shut down the school. The story continues from there.
Many other topics and tackled within the chapters of the book including the struggle to set up education for freed ex-slaves and also the struggle to get justice after the Freedom Bureau was pulled out of the south following Reconstruction. This book is really worth the read, although it is a lot to take in and is written 117 years ago. Understanding it isn't as bad as texts like "The Scarlet Letter" however.
What Did I Learn?
1. I learned that it was a remarkably difficult struggle to set up education for newly freed slaves in the South. The Southern whites would rarely voluntarily give funds to the black schools. If they were publicly funded the ratio of funds would be anywhere from 4-to-1 all the way to 7-1 in proportion of white-to-black spending. It was difficult to find teachers, either from Northern whites coming down after the war or educated enough blacks. The black community was largely forced to create their own elementary, high schools and eventually universities. DuBois actually attended Fisk University in Nashville and Harvard, but he certainly was the normal story.
2. There was an agreement in place after the Civil War to give land and a mule to freed slaves, largely from the southern plantation owners. This didn't come to fruition for the vast majority of ex-slaves, who eventually went into sharecropping, manual labor or low level manufacturing positions. They went into these positions making a fraction of white workers, with no real hope of getting a promotion to management. This made it very hard to survive, much less build savings. There are countless people that were able to break away and finance a college education, but is often took generations to build the wealth to pay for it or to find someone who would give you funding. Basically what we refer to as a scholarship.
3. Sharecropping or tenants was a much worse relationship than I even imagined. This was for both poor white and black residents, although the whites were often given better terms. In a lot of situations you were expected to turn over half of your crop yield, pay rent for your housing and the land and also buy all of the tools and goods from the landowner at often inflated prices. This left little to nothing for the tenant of the land and really was spinning wheels.
4. DuBois went a little into the prison system, which was largely expanded after the Civil War to trap poor people and often blacks for minor crimes. They would be put on work duty for chain gangs and bid out for jobs picking cotton, agriculture, construction, etc. at a drastically low cost to the bidder. Those who died from exhaustion from working were lucky to get a proper burial and certainly weren't paid for their work. The money from the bids was often pocketed to more than cover the expenses to feed and house inmates. Where the proceeds went, no one really knows. Likely in someone's pocket.
"I Will Teach You To Be Rich" is my favorite personal finance book. Why? It doesn't treat you like you're a clueless adult like some books do and it isn't so technical that only a handful of its readers really grasp the lessons. It bridges a nice gap in the middle that anyone that is looking to get a handle on their personal finance should buy into.
I've actually read both editions of this book. The first I checked out of the Penn State on campus library, but I bought the newest edition for my own library. I will comfortably say that after reading the text the first time I made a couple of decisions that made me anywhere from $800-$1,000 in my first year. Pretty good return-on-investment, right?
I've always been pretty responsible when it comes to my finances. However, there is always room to get better. In this book, you don't have to give up your expensive activities (for me it is my gym), but you also need to find ways to achieve your financial goals before you go crazy spending or even worse borrowing through loans or credit card payments. This means investing up to your company match in your 401(K) or in my case a SEP-IRA. If you've already done that find a way to fully fund your Roth-IRA (up to $6,000 per year for those under age 50). Both are pretty sweet deals to grow your money and not make 65 year old you want to hop in a time machine and beat up 30 year old you with a cane.
The book goes into big purchases such as cars, home, marriages and more. Setting up a savings plan to pay for those goals should be part of your strategy if you see fit. Unlike many personal finance gurus the author doesn't shove home ownership down your throat. This is ideal for me, because I work in tourism and sports where there are only a handful of such organizations per region. For me, I would rather invest those funds rather than having the urgency of home ownership.
There are so many lessons to take from this book that I am only scratching the surface.
What Did I Learn?
1. The first thing I did after reading this book the first time is quit using my debit card for all of my purchases. I found a credit card with a strong cash back program and have used that for anything that I could. Most importantly, just because I have a credit card doesn't mean my spending habits change. All that changed was the route that I pay for. I also pay off my credit card in full each month meaning I get all the perks of cash back without the inconvenience of paying interest.
2. I opened up a high-interest online savings account. Most people work with a typical brick-and-mortar bank you can walk into. It's great to say "hi" to those folks and you absolutely should have a checking account through an organization like this in my opinion simply for the support of your community. However, I wouldn't stash my money in their savings accounts, CD's, money market accounts or anything else. When you do you're paying their overhead and getting a lousy interest rate in exchange for doing so. I found an online savings account that gives me anywhere from 20x-30x the traditional bank interest rate. It was eye-opening in my first month when my interest total was greater than a full year in my traditional bank.
3. I had just a SEP-IRA through work, which functions similar to a 401(K) meaning that my money doesn't get taxed until I take it out after I turn 59 1/2 if I so choose. However, I have enough extra money laying around that I opened a Roth IRA through Vanguard recently. The difference in this account vs. the other two I mentioned is that the money was already taxed when it was paid to me and will NOT be taxed when I pull it out in my ripe old age. I can contribute as much as $6,000/year into this account.
4. This is still one I am kicking around, but I love to travel. It might make sense for me to open a travel focused credit card to pay for my travel I already do and also my going out to eat. Obviously, you pay the dollar amount in full each month and keep the rewards that come with owning the card. At the end of a year or two, what kind of rewards will I be looking at. Will it be enough to cover most of a weekend getaway? That sure would be nice.
I happened to be in San Francisco for work and had heard about a relatively famous bookstore in the city called City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, so I had to stop in. The trip to the shop didn't disappoint. I was finishing up reading another book I brought with me from home here on the East Coast and needed something else just in case.
I've always had interest in Mexican drug cartels and the elaborate system of corruption and money they have flowing. The sad part is supplying drugs to the United States for consumption is one of the largest industries within the country. Many people with minimal education have few options to stay above poverty's grip. For example in the book the average American corporation factory worker makes about $60-$75/week. These are the companies that largely popped up because corporations in the United States no longer wanted to pay living wages, deal with unions or environmental regulations. However, what they pay is only a fraction of what one could earn by joining gangs or the cartel.
Further complicating the issue is that citizens can't generally rely on the police or military to protect them. Those organizations, at least in Juarez, are more interested in lining their pockets than they are with fighting the well armed and funded drug cartels. When there is competition for money at hand murder is sure to follow. The number of murders annually in Juarez between 2007-2010, which is what the book mainly covers, is startling.
What Did I Learn?
1. I learned a great deal about how dangerous it is to do a good ethical job and live in Juarez. Rarely are names of victims released, unless they are dead. Journalists are basically told to take bribe money to not report on what is really happening. One such reporter's experience was told where he reported the truth and his life was threatened. He drove to the United States border in fear and was thrown in prison despite coming to a check point and providing the proper documents. His fear was that he would be deported back to Mexico where it was only a matter of time before he was killed.
2. Throughout the book a former Sicario (hit man) told his side of the story from his teen years when he used to drive cars across the border for $50, to be financed by the cartel through his police training, getting into kidnapping, murder and lastly finding God. His story by itself is a full book.
3. I thought the author's points on myths that the American public believe was very interesting:
-The Mexican President is fighting a war against drug cartels
-The North American Free-Trade Agreement is a success
-That the Mexican army is fighting the cartel
-That violence is spilling across the border
-That there is a river of guns heading south
-That a wall will stop illegal immigrants and drugs
Table 1: The relationship between teams total targets for receivers with at least 10 receptions vs. the rest of the league. It is no big surprise here that the majority of dominant QB's make up the coveted top left quadrant on this model. The team that might surprise everyone is the boom-or-bust passing game of the Ravens led by Lamar Jackson. Tons of TD's on minimal targets and receptions.
Table 2: This really looks just at catch rate, where you see a pretty consistent trend line with little variance. The average is about 67.5% of balls thrown are caught by these receivers and you see that really play out in the next graph.
Table 3: This is what I call your deep ball threats vs. possession receivers. The truth is you probably want to be somewhere in the top right quadrant, because you're reliable enough to go up and get balls, but you're also getting yards as part of that. The bottom right is dominated by RB's on check down and short throws such as screens. The top left is your 50/50 ball specialist who go big or go home. The bottom left is where you don't want to be as you're below average yardage and below average catch rate.
I'm going to take you through some of the mistakes I most commonly see in marketing, media buying and tracking results. I've got 10+ years of marketing in sports and tourism under my belt and have learned some key lessons along the way. I've cleaned email lists to being a point of a strength in an organization, doubled web traffic in an established brand, quadrupled social media followers and negotiated advertising rates down to fit $88,000 in media buy into a $40,000 budget.
Note: Don't advertise in Times Square as seen above. I would get called at least once a year by someone selling the space at a deeply discounted price. It was still like $15,000. Don't fall in love with the idea of marketing somewhere, but do it because it makes sense and you will get a return-on-investment. Now onto the mistakes and lessons...
Only Investing in Branding Out of the Shoot
You want to get your name out there? Cool! The problem is that it takes years to build a reliable brand that people trust. You should worry more about conversions and being a cost-effective problem solver out of the shoot. Yes, it's nice to have pretty ads and be everywhere, but many small businesses can't afford that. Work on developing a small core of customers that you go above and beyond for. What is nice about this is that they will talk you up to friends, family and neighbors and it is also money in your register.
Not Being Clear About Your Brand and Its Ability to Be a Problem Solver
Tying into my first point you need to think about your marketing messages in a way that focuses more on how do you solve someone's problem in a more effective way than your competition. People buy things because they're trying to solve a problem or finish an errand in their life. Think through the last 10 items you paid for. I bet the moments before you bought them you thought about a problem and how it could be solved. For example, I finished up at the gym last night and wanted a quick, easy and healthy meal for a good cost. The quick, easy and good cost are low hanging fruit in a college town, but the healthy can be a bit challenging. I have a soft spot for locally owned places, so I hit up Yallah Taco for a chicken bowl in salad form.
Having No Data Before You Spend Marketing Dollars
You don't need a pile of money to develop insight into who your customer is. If you're a traditional business you can build a quantitative profile from your Google Analytics on your site, your receipts and your social media analytics. Odds are pretty good that they will align and each will give you a few more pieces of the puzzle. Your goal should be to go after the customer you already have and those most like them, not going after the customer you dream of having.
Having No Mechanism in Place for Tracking Your Success
This is super common, especially when businesses are just starting out. They will launch a website, but forget to put on Google Tag Manager, analytics tracking or tie their social media platforms to their website. They are so eager to get an ad in the market that they forget to have a clear trackable Call-to-Action (CTA) in every message they put out there. Once your money is spent you should know exactly what marketing messages and outlets created the best results for you. Double down on the best outlets and pull your money out of the bottom 25% of those that don't.
Investing in Poor Outlets
I'm going to go into some of my least favorite options for marketing that I've gained from 10+ years of marketing experience.
There is too much to worry about here and only a very small percentage of people get this right. Frankly, I think most people buy billboards so they can see their message personally and beat their chest that it is out there. The problem is you're dealing with drivers that are cruising at 65 MPH watching the road and at best you have 2-3 seconds of exposure. This is assuming the lighting on the billboard is correct and you aren't rotating with nine other advertisers. Oh and there aren't leaves on the trees blocking views.
Sports Marketing That Isn't Creative
Sports marketing with teams/leagues is expensive. I'm talking like 2x-3x what you would spend in the open market for comparable ads. Sports marketing sales teams sweeten deals by throwing in free food, a private event or some tickets to make you feel special. They'll make claims like "Oh, our fans collect the programs and hand them around to 10-12 family members." There might be one fan where this is true, but certainly isn't the normal experience. Like most businesses their goal is to make as much money and build value-added without spending any dollars out of their pockets.
Listen, I've worked a good portion of my career in sports and there are people that sell sports marketing opportunities correctly and those that don't. Most people fit into the second group and do what other places do, which made sense 15-20 years ago. Those that do it well look to add to the fan experience while making the sponsor feel like the key to making that happen. Think you're invited to the coolest party, but they just need another case of beer to take it to awesome.
The best way to get the most out of your sports marketing investment is to never tell the rep how much you're willing to spend, but just that it is over their minimum investment. They'll always call and say "I was thinking of you when this opportunity came up", because they know you have money and you're really like call seven after the other six turned him down. Make them go fishing over and over.
If you're going to go down this route make sure that every little piece of the deal should be a home-run if executed correctly. I had a lot of success with ticket giveaways through social media that built up my email marketing lists. Sponsor a memorable segment on the video board (i.e. official hype video), a very visible addition to the game experience that might not be possible without your investment and of course take advantage of tickets and food expenditures to woo potential clients. You'll get some pushback from sales reps telling you that this costs them money. That might be true, but it won't be nearly as much as the check you're writing.
TV Ads That Can't Be Paused To Take Down Your CTA
I'm not sure why investing in TV for homes that can't pause your message is still a thing. There are some people that can go back and watch your message again with cable, but it isn't the majority of people. It takes time to find a pen and paper to write down a CTA. This is why you should focus more of your effort into the YouTube and streaming side of things. Before you invest you should be 100% sure on the genre and audiences of the shows you will be running during. You don't want to be a meat salesman running ads during a show about vegetarians, just because you got a good rate. Clickable ads from say YouTube make tracking the easiest and allows you to refine your efforts.
Much like the TV ads, no one pulls their car over to write down the CTA from a radio ad. If you're going to spend money on radio ads it would be wiser to do so with a custom web address only used for radio ads. There is a long-standing debate on how many people actually still listen to the radio when things like iTunes, Spotify and podcasts are gaining more of the monopoly on our ears.
Print Newspaper Ads
You can do well in newspapers, but it is here one day and gone the next. When you're talking to the sales rep make sure you ask them what their circulation is and how many papers go unsold or undelivered. It isn't unreasonable to ask for a discount off the sales rate comparable to the papers not seen. For example: they have a claimed circulation of 100,000 and 5,000 come back unsold from news stands. Ask for a 5% discount at the minimum. In this day-in-age, you can probably do a lot better than that as most companies are digital heavy.
Something that news sales reps I've dealt with don't do that they should is comparing the ability to easily see and take advantage of the CTA without needing to pull over or pause an ad. When working with sales reps they often represent a family of newspapers or magazines. They'll often try to up-sell you to several days and outlets. I wouldn't enter an agreement with a newspaper unless I was confident of my data I gathered from a few steps above.
Investments in Poorly Maintained Email Lists
Email lists are valuable, if used correctly and well maintained. The lists should be earned and built honestly as well.
Here are the four questions you should ask someone selling an email marketing campaign:
1. What are your total number of subscribers and how were they added?
You don't EVER want bought lists. That goes for your email efforts or paying for advertising through an outlet. It isn't unusual to be approached by a shady character willing to sell you 50,000 names and emails for a few hundred dollars. The problem with this is they send this message to about 2,000 potential buyers and maybe get 60 dumb enough to buy into it. These poor people get bombarded with 60 emails they didn't opt into and it gives your company's reputation a bad bruise. You can legally only send to this list once and it isn't worth it to do so. Work with a company that is the right context for your audience and did it the hard way of building a loyal list slowly.
2. What is your list's open and click rate for a typical email?
You should be paying for the number of people that open an email, not their subscriber list total. If they have an incredible low click rate (think 2% or under) it is probably because their email presentation is poor and no one takes the time to read them.
3. How often do you clean your list and how do you go about it?
Traditionally, I've unsubscribed anyone that hasn't opened any of my last 10 campaigns. This keeps my open rates high, click rates high and keeps me in people's inboxes. A good email marketing relationship should be a two-way street of you providing good content and them rewarding you with engagement.
4. How many other advertisers go into this email?
You don't want the email to be too watered down with messages from sponsors. You want the email to be of value and not interruption to users.
Banner Ads That Aren't Re-Marketing or Fit That Site's Context
The only time people should see a banner ad from your brand is if they're been to your website before or your brand goes hand-and-hand perfectly with the website they're seeing it on. Don't fall in love with buying 5 million ad impressions, because it sounds awesome. That is for the big boys that already have widespread name recognition.
An example I have is I worked with a blogger that was a perfect fit with my brand and my click-through and conversion rate was as good as anything I invested in. Within a couple of years this blogger switched over to a Google AdSense style of banner ads to save time. Now their visitors were seeing ads for Tide, Quilted Northern and my brand which diluted my message and took away from the credibility of their site.
With re-marketing you are just sending them a reminder to keep top of mind. It is a really affordable option and gives you another touch point to bring people back to your website. The equivalent of these kind of ads is the subtle wave from across a busy street when you see someone that you know walking the other way. They probably won't come and talk to you, but they'll be thinking about you for a minute or two.
Not Replacing the Weakest Link in Your Sales Funnel
There should be clearly defined steps in your buying process. Most people consider it "awareness", "research", "consideration"and finally "purchase".
Awareness should be your audience built by the demographics that you compiled from every data source that you have available to you. The truth is most people won't get beyond awareness. If you have a monster drop-off between awareness and research you might have a problem in your messaging or outlets.
Next comes research. This means they're likely on your website gathering information on your brand. If they aren't satisfied with the information they're presented or the experience they aren't coming back no matter what you do. However, this is when you get people into the re-marketing funnel using banner ads (if your click rate is low, they probably got what they needed or had a bad experience) that hopefully gets them to return to do some more digging and get them to the next step of....
Consideration. You're in the finalists for where they want to spend their money. They're looking at individual items or prices to see if it fits in their budget. In most eCommerce businesses this leads to very specific product re-marketing and why you see that pair of shoes you were looking at on Dick's Sporting Goods show up 10 minutes later on Facebook. This step is pretty easy, because if people are on your product page and not adding it to a cart or they're leaving an abandoned cart or they get frustrated with the payment process you can look to fix that.
Lastly, you have the sale, which gives you a true return-on-investment (ROI) on your advertising spend.
You should know what step causes the greatest damage to a potential conversion and look into fixing it.
Eliminating the Bottom 25% of Your Marketing Investments
A lot of times businesses go on auto-pilot doing the same thing every single year and never audit how their marketing is going. Either they get busy with other tasks or they don't know how to track their marketing efforts into sales. Sometimes the lowest performing marketing outlet might be the nicest man/lady you know and you feel bad pulling your business. Sometimes it is as simple as saying "Hey, it didn't work this way, what other opportunities do you think would work better? Always look to cut your bottom 25% of marketing ads and double down in your top 10-15%, but leave some cash open for new opportunities.
You Should Be Able to Trust Your Sales Rep
Trust comes with time, just like anything. I've always been suspicious of companies that send me a new sales rep every six months. What this tells me is the company either pays poorly, treats its employees poorly or is just badly managed. Basically the Donald Trump White House Administration. When I have to introduce myself to a new sales rep every year, I'm not investing with that company, because it is a red flag. When you see your sales rep coming you should recognize them and be excited to see them.
The sales reps that last the test of time are the ones that do what they say they are going to do, go to bat for you with their organization and check in with you regularly. It isn't about the short-term what money can I get from you now feel, but the I want a lifetime relationship that we can evolve.
Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
I grew up in spending a ton of time in flea markets as both and buyer and seller. By the age of 18 I was an absolute veteran of the wheel-and-deal. To this day I love negotiating, but not everyone is like me and thinks finding the best terms is a confrontation. What I've learned is that both parties need to be relatively honest in their approach and have their interests on the table. Most times the seller is trying to maximize the money they can take from me, where I'm wanting maximum media value and ROI.
An example of something I do is I will email 8-10 sales reps that I have some interest in working with and tell them "Hey, I have $10,000 to invest what is the best package you can put together for me? I've emailed a handful other finalists I think could be a good fit. You have until Friday at noon to email me your proposal." What is often the truth is I really have about $30,000-$50,000 and I'm looking to take the best 3-5 deals of the 8 or 9 I get back. This is an example of how I would regularly get $75,000-$90,000 in media value for the price of $30,000-$50,000. You can do this at a lower scale and frankly it is kind of fun.
There is just something about TED talks and captivating speakers in general that gravitate crowds and opportunities to these people. The way that their stories and examples are something that you become passionate about in just a short 15-20 minute speech.
I got Carmine Gallo's "Talk Like TED" for Christmas last year, because I've always enjoyed the chats, have attended some and regularly watch them on YouTube. Throughout my career I've also done more than my fair share of public speaking. Anyone that has taught a class or given plenty of speeches has a certain level anxiety. For some that is embarrassing themselves in front of a crowd, maybe feeling stupid, but for me it is about boring my audience.
The problem is that not everything I find interesting translates to my audience in the form of enthusiasm. I've sat in their seat and the majority of people in power are frankly horrible public speakers. They spend too much time reading their slides, fixate on data and speak in technical jargons that don't translate to their audience. I'm very guilty of this working in digital marketing, specifically in the sports and tourism fields.
What Did I Learn?
My Top 5 favorite TED talks
According to CNBC, in 1987 tuition at a four-year public university cost about $3,190/year in 2017 dollars. I created a chart above using Tableau to track the whole history of minimum wage since FDR's New Deal. In 1987, you could pay off your tuition on a minimum wage job in about 449 hours, before taxes. That is 8.6 hours per week.
A four-year public university in 2017 costs about $9,970/year. According to the chart below it would take 1,375 hours, before taxes. That is roughly 26 hours per week.
The trend line, which creates a fair historical baseline looking at the full history, says the current national minimum wage should be around $9.00. This is well below the $15 that some people are seeking, but we also do have to consider this is a national number. Midtown Manhattan isn't the same place as rural West Virginia when it comes to how far you can stretch a dollar.
In fact, only three years (1997, 2009, 2010) fall above the trend line in my lifetime. If minimum wage got bumped to that it would eliminate about 200/hours of work per year for a college student trying to pay their way through. With numbers like these it is no wonder why many students opt to think long-term and pad their resume for a career rather than working a regular low-paying job. It comes down to simple risk vs. reward.
To see the source of the data that I got online adjusted by year, click on the file below.
I've always really enjoyed personal finance and taking lessons from the books I read. One of the first people that got me interested in personal finance was Dave Ramsey. In his book The Total Money Makeover Dave lays out a very clear path on the way to a wealthy and healthy life. Here are Dave's Steps:
There were very few things I disagreed with Dave throughout reading this book on. The two big ones were 15-year fixed rate mortgages and the concept of not having credit cards. I would say that you can make out on a relationship with a credit card company as long as you pay your balance in total every single month. For me personally, I get about $250-$350 annually in cash back for just living my normal life and never carrying a balance to the next month. Also, I'm more of a believer in a 30-year fixed rate mortgage with an absolute minimum of 20% down payment on the home. I just think this gives you more wiggle-room in case of emergencies and you can always pay well beyond your payment to chip away at your principle.
This was an outstanding read and is well done. It provides a road map for even the most clueless of consumers. I really enjoyed how Dave has been getting his steps in front of schools and churches to hit a lot of eyes and hopefully spark smarter consumer budgeting.
What Did I Learn?
Follow along with the story of Merl Eberly and a small town in Iowa named Clarinda in this true story about one man and his baseball program. Eberly was a beloved local summer league baseball coach in the small town of Clarinda, Iowa and built a baseball team from nothing. He simply enjoyed that game and saw the possibility of teaching the game the right way on to many college-aged players.
At first the team was largely made up of local players, but Eberly wanted more. He wanted to compete with the teams made up of elite college players and win national championships in the process. He was able to do just that with the help of future major leaguers such as Ozzie Smith and Von Hayes buying into his program.
The book teaches some great lessons along the way on leadership, teamwork and building something from nothing. There were many times where Merl didn't seem to confident in having the money for the team year-to-year. Somehow he always found a way to make summer baseball in Clarinda possible. This is an absolutely terrific read, even if you aren't a baseball fan.
What I Learned?
1. I learned a great deal about summer college baseball in this book. Obviously, most people have heard of the Cape Cod League, but I always assumed there were only a couple of prominent summer baseball leagues, but I was mistaken.
2. Merl made his players hold regular jobs during the day for some spending money and then play at night. This must have been exhausting, but I bet he did it just as much to keep players out of trouble as give them some spending money.
3. I think what impressed me most about Merl was his ability as a salesman. Not only coming up with the cash to finance the team every season, but also selling the baseball program to college coaches all over the country AND getting players to agree to come to a small town in Iowa from across the country.
Benefit #1: Tons of really smart people
Outside of coming to school here, it is the people of the community that keeps me here. Although not the most diverse place I've lived, it isn't unusual to hear 4-5 languages while crossing town. I love that! State College is probably the most informed place I've lived when it comes to current events and history. The conversations you'll have here are at a much higher level than most places in the country.
Challenge #1: Lots of smart friends moving away
Smart people tend to have a lot of employment options. The problem is that the majority of them that pay a competitive wage are not here. It is tough to listen to your friends in larger metro areas be able to job hop and quickly build up their salary level.
Frankly, I wish the local business community would do a better job of trying to retain students by making a compelling argument on why they should stay. Not every student is looking to escape to NYC, Philly, Pittsburgh or DC when they graduate. Pooling funds and effort to make a strong push for new graduates would be ideal. Also a growing a foothold in 2-3 niches (i.e. medical, tech, robotics) where you have 3-4 companies competing for talent would be ideal.
Benefit #2: Great walkable neighborhoods
One thing I really love about State College is that I can walk most anywhere if I have the time. It is a well-regarded bicycle friendly town as well. There has been some chipping away at this walkable and bicycle friendly city though in much of the construction on the outskirts of town with big box stores that are more car dependent to get to. All and all, if you live near downtown you can go weeks without driving and the CATA bus system is pretty good.
Challenge #2: Expensive housing market
New housing construction is mainly for luxury student housing and monstrosity family homes. It is really difficult to save a down-payment and pay the mortgage if you're a single person making less than $50,000/year. According to Zillow at this very moment there are only 25 properties under $150,000 within shouting distance of State College and many of them are run down. This leaves you with the options of renting an older apartment, having roommates or buying a home 30 minutes plus away from State College where most of the jobs are located. The problem with much of the new rental projects going up is they all have hidden costs associated with them such as amenity fees forcing you to pay an extra $100 a month for a clubhouse and pool you'll rarely use.
Benefit #3: Tight-knit business community
A benefit of a community that teeters between city and town is that most people that have been here a while know each other in the business community. They know where each other stand and there isn't a lot of wasted time feeling each other out to reach higher goals. It is a most-friendly and helpful collection of people that work with a smile and eye to the greater good.
Challenge #3: Lack of competitiveness between local companies for talent
I touched on this above, but this is the greatest hurdle I deal with as a 30-something that has spent his whole career in sports and tourism. There are really only about three places I can work locally within my industry and at one point or another I've worked for all three. None of the three came out of this COVID-19 looking great. This experience is common for many young people looking to drive up their earning potential. If you get another job offer to take back to your employer to match it usually necessitates a move. The other option is you have to switch and learn a whole new industry.
Benefit #4: Above-average restaurant and nightlife scene
This is something I don't think State College and the surrounding community get enough credit for. There are some really talented chefs and great places to eat in our back yard. Just walking downtown you'll find well over a dozen nationalities of food catering to a diverse university tied community. Those of us that do enjoy going to large cities to eat can usually find something comparable here in State College. The nightlife is largely built for the university, but it is enjoyed by the community as a whole. In a lot of smaller destinations everything closes at 8 PM or 10 PM. Luckily for us, you can find a great bite to eat really up until about midnight.
Challenge #4: Many jobs are hourly service based
This is the downside of having a strong service community outside of the university. It is tough to pay rent or a mortgage on $10-$12/hour jobs unless you're driving in from quite a distance. In the best of times many restaurants and small businesses have had trouble finding people to fill vacancies. "Well, what about the students?" you ask. Many students believe that in today's day in age where you can't work summers to pay off your tuition any longer, it is better to just fall into debt and invest your time in building your resume for a career position than spend time working 20-30 hours a week in a pay my rent position.
Benefit #5: Four seasons
If you're someone that loves a diverse set of seasons, this is your place. Spring usually pops out in late April and is really beautiful throughout the region. Summer typically tops out in the 80's and is wonderful to go to local pools, state parks to cool off with friends or go pick strawberries. Fall shows off a rich collection of colors and we go 107,000 strong in Beaver Stadium for Penn State Football. Oh and....
Challenge #5: One of those seasons is winter
Winters here are long....I mean like five months long. For someone that hates cold weather, every year's winter is brutally long. We lucked out a bit this 2019-2020 winter with minimal snow fall and mild temperatures, but that isn't the norm.
Benefit #6: Proximity to the great outdoors and a very active community
State College is hands down the most athletic and active place I've ever lived. There are always people out jogging, working out, hiking the trails, skiing, playing rec sports and going for a walk. What is nice is you can go from your desk in the middle of downtown to a hiking trail in the middle of nature in less than 15 minutes. It is a major reason why people move to this region.
Challenge #6: Lack of proximity to diverse shopping
The remoteness is also a challenge. We have your basic big box stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble and Old Navy. There is also a large collection of small business that you should spend time in. What is challenging, and it is a damned-if-you-do or damned-if-you-don't situation, is that there are no close outlet malls to this region. A true shopping trip involves going to Grove City, PA or Lancaster, PA to the outlets. If you're really looking for high-end or urban design it necessitates a 3-4 hour drive to DC, Pittsburgh or Philly. Also the fashion capital of North America, New York City, is less than five hours away.
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.