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Lucy and the Aluminum Football

World's Favorite Sport
Creative Commons License photo credit: vramak

Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the news and around the Flathead Valley about the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) offering a four year power supply deal to Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC).

The deal is subject to environmental review and other what-ifs, so it isn’t a done deal quite yet.

Given the economic struggles facing Columbia Falls, any news of new jobs is good news. Really good news, in fact.

The topic of CFAC concerns me – it always has. Folks who have lived in Columbia Falls far longer than I know the history of CFAC first hand. To summarize for everyone else: It opens. It lays off / closes. It changes hands. It opens. It lays off / closes. And so on.

Again, Lucy pulls it away
CFAC has at times been our employment Lucy (from the “Peanuts” comic strip). Just as Charlie Brown approaches to kick the football, Lucy pulls it away and Charlie goes flying through the air, screaming and lands flat on his back. Imagine having that done to your career and family -  several times.

No matter how good things are when CFAC is rocking, a shutdown ripples through the financial well-being of our fair town’s families and the businesses that serve them. The impact of the historical ups-and-downs of CFAC on those families is unimaginable.

To their credit, CFAC’s troubles haven’t always been bad news for the valley.

In at least one case, their troubles have generated substantial benefits. Several years back, CFAC paid their people to do what amounted to volunteer work for a number of groups that couldn’t have otherwise afforded the labor. Many organizations benefited big time from the hard work their employees provided back then – and continue to benefit from the work done back then.

Don’t be a commodity
It isn’t as if these troubles were created on purpose (feel free to argue about that in the comments).

While it may not have started that way in the 1950s, the CFAC of modern times is incredibly sensitive to the whims of commodity prices. Many businesses deal with commodity prices somehow affecting some part of their business. CFAC’s business has it as part of their raw materials supply, energy supply and their finished product. As things sit today, it’s a tough, tough business they’re in.

Imagine having someone else setting the prices of every major component of your business. Now imagine that the ingots you ship are not substantially different (speaking very generally here) from those shipped by a Chinese firm using labor that works for $10 a day, ore that’s mined locally by workers paid similarly, and so on.

Advice to everyone else – do whatever you can to avoid getting yourself into a commodity market. If you’re in one, work on your business model to get out of it.

In fact, that’s my advice to CFAC, though they didn’t ask. Let’s call it a wish for the betterment of Columbia Falls and the entire valley.

The Whole Valley
Wait a minute…the whole valley? Absolutely. It’s about airline seats, hotel rooms and rental cars. It’s about cafes and catering. It’s about grocery and clothing stores. It’s about car dealers and construction work. It’s about the schools that get property taxes from an active thriving business instead of the waiver-level taxes of a dead one.

My wish is that in four years no one cares what electricity costs CFAC. Not because they are gone, but because whatever they sell has so much value that people will pay whatever it takes to get it. It worries me deeply that in four years we’ll be right back where we are now.

What I’d like to see is for CFAC to add a ton of value to the aluminum they produce, *before* it hits the rails. I’m told CFAC had some of the best millwrights anywhere who could create “anything”.

I wonder
I wonder what CFAC could make that would allow them to sell a product that doesn’t get sold on commodity markets based on someone else’s price control. I wonder what they can manufacture with the skills and backgrounds of the people who worked there for the last 20-30-40 years.

I wonder what would happen to a community manufacturing valuable products for today’s economy, rather than commodities from my grandfather’s economy.

I wonder what would happen if Charlie got to kick the ball.

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iPads important to Montana tourism? HaHaHaHa, RIGHT.

Wild Goose Island and Saint Mary Lake
Creative Commons License photo credit: RTPeat

After reading yesterday’s comments about iPads and your business, if you own a business in Montana, you might have shrugged, rolled your eyes and thought “Yeah, but this is Montana”.

Long-time readers know that comment sends me to the stratosphere in a hurry.

So what made you think that?

It might be that “only” 600 were connected to the internet (for the first time) in Montana in the first week.

It might be that we don’t have decent GSM service, despite what the postcard-tossing guy on TV says. You’re right, we dont…yet.

That seems pretty wimpy compared to other states. It’s almost not worth bothering with, ya think?

Think about this instead

Around 3.5 million people visited Yellowstone last year.

Around 2.3 million people visited Glacier Park last year.

I don’t have to tell you which states they come from. You already know.

Can you afford to be invisible (or less visible than your competitor) to the “mobile, connected affluent” among that population?

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Is this why some artists (and others) are starving?

Family Values - Italian tragedy style
Creative Commons License photo credit: eliazar

Over at The Online Photographer, there’s an ongoing discussion about a photographer who is experimenting (good for him) with a mechanism to do what some artists never manage to do – trade their art for someone else’s cash and have both people happy with the exchange.

Because his experiment is a little unusual for the art world, it has generated a substantial discussion.

I was pleased to see that the experimenter had taken the time to do some research, consult with pricing experts and find out what impact minute changes in pricing might have on his results.

Many people wouldn’t likely have bothered with that level of effort.

What I didn’t find the least bit interesting or surprising about the ensuing discussion was the number of people with a litany of excuses (they called them ‘reasons’) why this experiment wouldn’t work.

If you are “leaning into the fear” (thanks to Perry Marshall for that gem) and trying something new, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone – probably someone who has NEVER leaned into their own fear – will find a page full of ‘reasons’ why your effort won’t work and why you should just go back to that job at Wally World and keep on doing that thing (whatever it is) as a hobby in your spare time.

You know, “Be realistic”.

Don’t roll your eyes

A little advice: Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t argue with them. Don’t try to justify your efforts to them.

Just say “Yeah, you’re probably right, I dunno what I was thinking” (or similar).

It’ll shut them up (since you appear to have acknowledged they’re right) or allow them to move on to their next topic, and you can move on with your project (and perhaps with the process of proving them dead wrong).

Feedback is valuable.

Unless it’s toxic (you should be able to tell the difference), it’s easy to discard. Sometimes you might even hear feedback that helps you toward your goal. A dime’s worth of serious value out of $5 worth of advice is still a dime you can spend to move a project forward, so long as you give them change with that “you might be right” comment.

Smoke em if you got em

Some time ago, it was suggested that my move to Montana would last no more than 6 months and that I’d soon be back in my old location with my tail between my legs.

That was 10 years ago. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Artist or otherwise, you can do that big, supposedly audacious thing too, whatever it might be.

Mark Riffey Montana

Some new Glacier Park photos

They rotate randomly, so you might not see them for a few days. All 3 are winter or fall shots in Glacier Park.

Yeah, I know. It has nothing to do with business. OTOH, it has everything to do with me, so bear with me now and then:)

Psst. I’m talking about the photos that appear on the right.