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Sun Sep 08, 2013 at 07:57 PM PDT

Dems: Burning Out the Volunteers?

by RuralRoute

Been a long couple days on the campaign trail. And yes, I know this ain't even election year, 'cept for a few off year local elections. But here in Minnesota our Democratic Farmer-Labor Party has a program called "turning on the off year". So a few days back, noting that Mankato Pride was coming, I reminded the rest of the Stonewall DFL board (GLBT caucus) that we'd best organize our presence there. Problem was, the DFL had a few other things going on this weekend- a heavily promoted training session in Minneapolis, a meeting of the Constitution Committee, as well as local campaigns in Minneapolis and St.Paul for the compulsive campaigners... And I'm sure I missed another meeting in their somewhere.

Pretty obvious we were spread kinda thin, and as of friday it was obvious I was going to be pretty much the DFL presence at Mankato Pride. Not much of a presence it would be either- I've got Walz, Franken, and Dayton lawn signs and a few stickers and bits of generic DFL lit. Spent the morning hand addressing letters to delegates from a county that hasn't had a DFL meeting in over a year inviting them to coffee. At the last minute a couple other Stonewallers answered the call, one offering to pick up supplies and bring them to Mankato Pride and another offering to come down and help after the Constitution Committee meeting. But the person in charge of the Pride supplies and tabling (we've got about 8 prides in Minnesota) hasn't answered phones, e-mails, or other known forms of communication in months... Perhaps another burned out volunteer?. My fellow board member checked the garage where the canopy, lit, and other pride supplies were stashed and said canopy was missin' along with just about anything else useful. Our congressional distract after a summer long battle with the DFL got a small grant to buy a canopy and a few other supplies, but I'd been holding out for a sale. But at last minute I heard Congressman Walz would be there, which later turned out to be his campaign staffers there for the Pride Parade. Oh well, at least I had excuse to bring the new bike and sidecar and try it in it's first parade.

So 'bout 8 I began the 110 mile ride to Mankato, decent weather 'til I got there at 11 and the heat index was already in the 90s. Fun parade with a good crowd, but our site for tabling at the Pride festival was lousy... Our treasurer quit a few months back and we didn't know if we had volunteers to do the event, so we paid our fee at the last minute and thus got the lousiest spot. I set up and lasted about an hour in the sun before seeking cover, with the heat and our lousy location we weren't getting much traffic anyway. My fellow board member who'd planned to bring the supplies that were missing anyway got stuck babysitting, and our other board member, a real trooper, got stuck at the constitution committee meeting that dragged on for hours and couldn't get to Mankato 'til the event was just about over.

Thus I had a couple hours to steam in the 90+degree heat and humidity and contemplate the state of the democratic party today. The background is that the Minnesota DFL party has a six figure list of volunteers that will give us a day or three during election season, and a "hard core" group of a thousand or so that run the party, and an even smaller group of "compulsive campaigners" that went out doorknocking after the weekend long training session. The core cities like Minneapolis are full of activists that will sit through a daylong convention, while out here in rural Minnesota our local DFL groups are as much social circles as political groups. We've got a whole array of committees and caucuses that meet monthly, and almost always in "the cities"... I'm a member of two of them and it's usually a 350 mile round trip to each of their monthly meetings. Add to that 40 and 60 mile monthly roundtrips to our local DFL meeting, and a mercifully only quarterly congressional district DFL meetings in our 400 mile long district.

The takeaway? Instead of "Turning on the off year" we may be burning out the volunteers. We have too many meetings that require too much travel and take too long. We've overemphasized the most dreary campaign work, canvassing, and we're burning out volunteers in the off year so the won't be back next year when it really matters. We're a bunch of political junkies and compulsive campaigners who fail to understand that most folks have jobs and lives and precious little time for our next meeting or canvas. and accomplishing anything often requires an extended battle with the DFL bureaucracy like I spent much of the summer fighting... With the funding I fought for coming too late to do much good. We need to campaign smarter, meet less and online, and tear down the layers of bureaucracy that drag the party down.

So another board member quits, one says he's leaving when his term concludes, our event person has gone incommunicado, and whole counties have no DFL party organization. Turning on the off year? No, were burning out the volunteers we'll need come next fall's elections!
 

Discuss

Wed May 29, 2013 at 10:48 AM PDT

Bachmann Returning to Iowa?

by RuralRoute

(crossposted from Buffalo Ridge Blog )

Been working on a post for a while... The theme was how the republican strategy seems to be to retreat to their conservative homelands where they can win enough congressional and legislative seats to block progressive legislation. And failing that, they won't give an inch on their "right" to bully gay kids and amass ample arsenals to make their arrest for such bullying and similar crimes impractical. One could see that strategy in the MN legislature, where the republicans let marriage equality become the law with but token opposition while threaten daylong filibusters that blocked anti-bullying and gun control bills. In congress, gerrymandering has given the republicans veto power via an unearned (a million more voters preferred democratic to republican congress members) majority in the house and threatening to filibuster anything and everything in the senate. Then democratic senators in IA and SD announced they'd be retiring and not seeking reelection in 2014, followed shortly by  the SD democrats strongest candidate, Stephanie Herseth, announcing she'll sit out the race. 'Cross the Big Sioux River in IA, Bachmann's soulmate Steve King has been rather shy about entering that race, no doubt still  bruised from barely winning reelection in his own conservative dream district in western IA. So we have a political void...

And we now have Michelle Bachmann, cut loose from the responsibilities (not that she ever took them too seriously) of her central MN district, and endowed with a leftover multi-million dollar campaign war chest and the ability to raise millions more. And ever the drama queen, she'll play the whole civil and probably criminal investigation of her as yet more "libral" persecution, as the donations roll in. And heck, how many decades has it been since a congresscritter did hard time? Yup, Michelle will walk...

And where better than to stage her political comeback then in the rabid red republican counties along the Rock River on the Buffalo Ridge in northwestern IA, where Obama lost by 30 and 40 percent margins? Heck, rumor has it that the Bachmann's "Clinic" is getting a name change, and with the improving real estate market surely the Bachmann's can get out of their McMansion in the wrong district. Having collected a million or three selling those properties, the Bachmann's could easily afford a decent sized spread in the conservative "homeland" or northwestern Iowa, far away from those nasty metro gay activists that keep laughing at husband and fashion consultant Marcus. And a lovely base for Michelle's 2014 senate and 2016 presidential campaigns, right smack in the middle of northwestern Iowa's rabid religious republican homeland, from a section sized estate with her own TV studio and  a fleet of campaign buses running on untaxed red diesel... How can the Bachmann's resist?

Our small corps of Buffalo Ridge bloggers stand ready to roll out the welcome mat for the Bachmanns in their new home... And then we'll open up a gay bar right next door!

Discuss

Global warming we can handle... Drier and a couple degrees warmer, just farm like it's Nebraska instead of southwest Minnesota. Maybe have to irrigate and actually rotate beans with the corn, but we'd get a longer growing season in the bargain. If only climate change was so simple....

Had a couple years of great crops up here on the Buffalo Ridge on the northern plains- plentiful precipitation, even a little too plentiful, more on that later. Early springs and late falls with hot summers to make the corn skyrocket. 'Twas a couple years of silobusters that came out of the field dry, high test weight too. But last spring the drought moved north, with the spigot being turned off from July through December. We made it through on some residual soil moisture, and for the lucky farmers that had a crop to harvest, the higher prices made up for the smaller yields. On my own little homestead and my neighbors gardens, we low tech "irrigated" from the nearest lake and managed a respectable vegetable crop, and my little vineyard overflowed with juicy grapes.

So I come back from a few weeks in the Everglades in February, expecting another global warming early spring riding my motorcycles... Not! We've seen a steady bombardment of snowstorms and even a couple NOAA certified blizzards, even snowed again today! The good news is that the drought is over... The bad news is that today's updated flood forecast for the Red River of the North at Fargo is for a crest of 38 to 40 feet, just shy of the all time record. Even 38 feet will put this years flood in the highest five crests ever, with three of those five occurring in the last five years- The 2009 crest set the record at 40.84 feet, followed by a 2011 crest of 38.81 feet. With over a century of records and what looks to be 60 percent of the highest crests occurring in the last five years, we got some weird weather goin' on here!

And the cost of all this global weirding? Ever been in Fargo for a flood? I have. Figure on a hundred dump trucks with police escorts hauling dirt to build the dikes, plus a couple dozen loaders, 'dozers, and 'hoes working day and night at a cost of upwards of  $10,000 an HOUR. Easy to see why the near annual flood fight in the Red River valley alone runs well into the millions. The (maybe) fix: A billion dollar bypass channel around Fargo that should be able to handle a hundred year flood. But given that we're seeing hundred year floods about every other year, an elementary application of Stats 101 suggests that a real hundred year flood would see downtown Fargo become an island between the river and a new back channel down the I-29 trench.

This year's and 2011's floods sandwich a drought that saw our rural water systems in southwest Minnesota and the Buffalo Ridge stressed to the point that new industries requesting water had to be turned down. The (maybe ) fix for that is the unfinished Lewis and Clark water system, a better part of a billion dollar bunch of pipelines and pumps to bring water from the aquifers along the Missouri as far as south central Minnesota. Good luck getting that funded with the GOP halting all "pork" except their own.

So yes, we can maybe mitigate global warming for a few billion dollars just for the Buffalo Ridge and a bit beyond. But this ain't global warming, it's global weirding, with a return of the dust bowl, the flood that swallowed Fargo, and the Hurricane that dumped the built environment from Miami to Naples back into the Everglades in the offing...

Maybe it'd be a little cheaper to cut back on our greenhouse gas emissions?

(crossposted from my Buffalo Ridge Blog )

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Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 08:38 AM PDT

Midwest Blizzard(?) Open Thread...

by RuralRoute

The Weather Service hasn't officially upgraded the Winter Storm Warning to a Blizzard Warning yet, but the 10 am CDT observations showed winds gusting over the 40 MPH blizzard criteria in South Dakota and northwestern Iowa. At my earth sheltered home on the Buffalo Ridge at the intersection of US 14 and MN 23 I was greeted by heavy wet snow at dawn and it's been all downhill from there. That means the switchover from rain to snow came early in this three day storm, meaning even more snow. Visibility is down to about a hundred yards, barely enough to see the lack of traffic on usually busy MN23.

This is looking to be a historic storm- heck, the heaviest snow ain't even forecast 'til tomorrow night! Weatherdude, you inna house? And fellow weathergeeks, feel free to chime in! I'll update as news rolls in... So far, the cell tower hasn't gone down.

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Hi, country cousin here- You know, the folks that grow your food and preserve our natural and cultural resources. We're a lot like you, believing in living wages, family farms, small business, equality, and stopping global warming. 'Cept we know how to drive tractors, etc...

Now we know you city cousins don't do it on purpose and don't mean to hurt us, but some of the stuff you do makes us wonder if we're on the same side. I know, things like municipal and co-op power companies and why tiny towns persist is a mystery to you, but before you legislate us out of existance, could you listen to us a bit?

For a start, here in Minnesota we have a program called LGA, and that stands for Local Government Aid, with the state sharing some of it's largesse with less fortunate towns that don't have a lot of tax base, have a lot of older infrastructure that's expensive to maintain, etc. The republicans have been shortin' us on LGA, but now that the democrats are back in control of the legislature LGA funding is going back up to what it should be, and the formula's gettin' revised.

That's where we got a problem, the proposed formula figurin' that a town of less than 100 like mine can get by on a budget of around $400 per person. But a town of over 100 is some how expected to need more like $600 a year to keep the lights on, fresh water flowin', the streets passable, and the city park neat. OK, we can take a hint- maybe that $200 a tiny town head penalty is to motivate us to disorganize our tiny town? If that's the intent, it's not workin'... We've now about a hundred towns of a hundred souls or less here in Minnesota, up about twenty since the 2000 census. And no, the co-op doesn't charge us a third less for fuel for our city's tractor because we've less than a hundred of us here. And our tiny towns provide a lot of services that we can't afford to provide without LGA help- Like the playground in our park that kids from the townships for miles around play in, because we've the only playground for over 5 miles in any direction.

Second, and I'll cut the laundry list there, could you remember us when you mandate wind and solar power percentages. Our (we own 'em) little municipal and rural co-op power services out here were making and distributing renewable power long before it became popular- for example, a lot of our power comes from East River Co-Op and has been 30% renewable from hydro for decades. We've got wind power aplenty out here too, and it's a lot cheaper than solar, so please don't force us to buy solar when we can get more bang for the buck with wind. And please remember that some of our municipal and co-op power services are tied into long term contracts to buy dirty power from coal- we don't like it either, but we're stuck with it. forcing us to buy solar generated power can thus make us pay twice for electricity, and worse yet a big solar producer that uses public subsidies to plop down in our town will bankrupt us if we're forced to buy power for them at artificially mandated high rates. The big boys like Xcel Energy can spread those costs over multiple states and millions of users, our small town municipal power services and county sized co-ops can't. And the big boys in the power biz would just love to see our little municipal and co-op power services forced to sell out for peanuts.

We'll get to why we need safe roads and rural transit just as much as you need new billion dollars light rail lines in another discussion...

Discuss

The way the republican congresscritters from the Buffalo Ridge and beyond tell it, the federal government is a bloated jobs program and all the sequester shrunken legions of feds will have to do to keep up is to cut their lunch hours to two and reduce their recreational web surfing a bit. This from a congress that works a four day week at best, takes a week off for most every holiday, and knocks off for the whole month of august! The reality for most feds is a harried workday (or night) struggling to put out fires (sometimes literally) and trying to serve the public in understaffed agencies.

Interestingly, a lot of these republican critics come from states that are rather severely dependent on the federal government and federal workers. States and places here on the Buffalo Ridge like the Dakotas, Republican Steve King's congressional district in western Iowa, and southwestern Minnesota which fortunately has the benefit of rural savvy democratic congressional representation. Unlike the metro's, this is a rural region where the invisible departments like Agriculture and Interior affect our everyday lives in significant ways.

Out here, farming and food processing are the major industries, so let's follow the food cycle from planting to supermarket to see how the sequester will cut deep. Today the fields are covered in a lovely blanket of white, but in a few weeks it'll be time to plant. But what day is best? Farmers rely on the National Weather Service for accurate forecasts and gigabites of other info like soil temperature and moisture statistics to time their plantings. As sequester cuts deep, Weather Service offices in places like Aberdeen are likely to close and the vital stats buried in the Weather Services websites may well disappear. Republicans will say farmers can just tune to the weather channel instead, but the weather channel and their ilk just repackage Weather Service data and add their sensationalistic dramatics... For a farmer, they're useless. And what to plant? Farming today is intensely data driven, and the Agriculture department supplies most of that data, for now.

OK, we got the planting done, how about the livestock? Well, those reams and endless web pages of statistical guidance  may disappear at any time, but you can bet the big packinghouses will have their own stats to take advantage of you.  But the packinghouses will go intermittently silent as Agriculture Department inspectors are laid off, and with no inspector the packinghouse shuts down. As I write, no doubt everyone in the frozen food logistics chain is reserving more warehouse space to get them through the unpredictable production schedules trimmed by sequester. In a town like Marshall, Minnesota where Schwans, the turkey plant, and the university are the major employers, intermittent layoffs of a few inspectors cascade into massive layoffs of workers. Those layoffs cascade through the economy as workers quit going out for dinner and put off purchases, and pretty quick our food based rural economy isn't recession proof anymore.  

And with the frost out of the ground, the construction season starts... But maybe not in this season of sequester, as DOT cuts funding for badly needed transportation projects and Agriculture cuts home loans and infrastructure improvements they fund. And even if the funding comes in July or so, the projects won't get finished and we'll be driving on half finished dirt roads past foundations without houses all next winter.  And that's just the beginning- Shipments of urgently needed tractor parts and foods headed to export will be delayed at understaffed border crossings and closed airports, national parks and forests will close during peak tourist season, social security applications will be delayed, federal education funding will be cut, and a thousand civilian Defense Department employees in South Dakota alone will be laid off. In a state with a workforce of only 300,000 or so the direct loss of a thousand employees is a lot, and given the usual follow-on loss of a couple thousand more jobs dependent on those thousand Defense jobs, the sequester will ratchet South Dakota's unemployment rate up by a full percent. In North Dakota the republican state administration there thinks the booming Bakken oil economy can overwhelm the sequester cuts, forgetting that Interior Department cutbacks will delay oil leases, exploration, and drilling. With the rig count in the Bakken having peaked and fallen, sequester will cut deep into the Bakken boom.

Add it all up, multiply by a few months, and the sequester's deep cuts equal a recession... And we're still not fully recovered from the last one!

(crossposted from Buffalo Ridge Blog)

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On the tracks barely 100 yards from my home a steady parade of 100+ car unit trains of crude oil from the Bakken pass by each day and night. Yup, over a hundred 25,000 gallon or so tank car loads, amounting to a "mere" couple million gallons of oil in each unit train. Everyone has seen at one time or another horrific pictures of what a spilled 6,000 gallon tanker truck can do in the way of pollution and hopefully not conflagration. What's passing barely a hundred yards from my house is 400 tankerloads in one train, and several of those trains a day.

Now the railroad, BNSF, does a damn good job of keepin' up the tracks- they are literally out there every day and sometimes into the night maintaining the rails and the signals and such. Same with the engineers and conductors and dispatchers- they're the best! They have to be- get caught speeding or running a red light on the railroad and it's a 30 day suspension, do it again and you're fired. And  from what I've heard, the railroad would really rather not be hauling Hazmat, but as a common carrier they have to.

And despite all those precautions, derailments and other accidents still happen. Over the last couple days BNSF's main line across northern Montana was shut down by a derailment, and UP had a frac sand train derail east of St.Paul. Both accidents produced no injuries  with few cars derailing and the tracks were quickly cleared and repaired. But sometimes whole trains derail and cars get split open. That's the worse case scenario with most of a couple million gallons of crude oil spilled along the tracks. Up here on the ridge the streams are small and steep and would quickly be flooded with oil. A couple million gallons of oil is more than our little volunteer fire departments can handle, and we're hours away from the big cleanup specialists that would have any hope of containing a couple million gallons of crude, never mind clean up said crude. If the spill went into our landlocked Twin Lakes they'd be destroyed, if the spill entered the Redwood or Rock Rivers they'd be running black and dead within hours for miles downriver. Couple days and the Minnesota or Missouri would be polluted for months.

That's if were lucky and all that crude oil don't catch fire. Fortunately oil doesn't get all gaseous and easily flamable like gasoline and other lighter oil refinery products, but it'll burn if it finds enough heat and flame. And while the fire wouldn't propagate at the speed a gas would, a couple million gallons will burn up a pretty good sized area and  create an inhalation hazard over an even bigger area. Now the rail line I'm on doesn't pass through a whole lot of major metro areas, but it does pass through several medium sized cities of up to a hundred thousand or so population. Now imagine that derailment and couple million gallon spill and inferno happens in the middle of one of those bigger cities, at 3 in the morning?

That's why oil belongs in pipelines, which have the best safety record of any method of transporting flammable liquids. But the big city environmentalist groups want to shut down oil production, and the arrogant oil and pipeline companies think they can drill "everywhere now" with impunity. Thus needed pipelines aren't getting built and trainloads of flammable crude threaten our rural countryside. Meanwhile, we're paying a premium for diesel fuel out here and supply is tight during harvest season due to insufficient pipeline capacity.

What we need is environmental groups and oil companies that will climb down from their uncompromising positions and make reasonable compromises... Like allowing new common carrier pipelines while restricting greenhouse gas emissions to keep the dirtiest tar sands oil in the ground 'til we develop cleaner ways to extract them.

Discuss

The Postal Service today released it's latest scheme, following on the heels of a bunch of other schemes that closed tiny local Post offices and giant Postal sorting centers all over the country but didn't save a cent or the Postal Service. I know, I've read the post consolidation reports of how few positions were eliminated, transportation costs went in the ditch, and the Postal Service is now stuck with a thousands of big & little buildings in a weak commercial real estate market. Oh, and I know what a scheme is (a strategy for routing mail), but those traditional schemes worked, and these hair brained new ones won't!

I spent over a decade at the Postal Service moving mail by the literal semitrailer load, sandwiched by temp gigs at UPS. They taught me most of what I know about logistics, and logistics tells us that moving mail, parcels, or twinkies is like managing a river. And like a river, the flow of letters and parcels continues 24/7/365, with customers great and small dropping letters into mailboxes and filling trailerloads with letters and parcels at all hours of the day and night. My department at the Postal Service was open 24/7/365, even had a skeleton crew on Xmas day, and for good reason- We'd get calls from citizens that mailboxes were overflowing on 3 day weekends and have to go out and collect overflowing mail. Same with the big shippers- they loaded the Postal Service's trailers all night and weekends too, and it wasn't unusual to get a call from them on christmas eve to come pick up a trailer they'd loaded, and please bring an empty trailer 'cause they were gonna work into the holiday.

Yup, the mail and parcels flow just like a river, and trying to damn that river for even a day will flood Postal facilities with enough mail to plug the buildings and make restarting operations even more difficult. Seen it before when blizzards would close the roads- within hours the affected facilities would be jammed with mail, and within a day distant facilities would also be jammed with backed up mail destined to the snowed in facility, and after the roads reopened it would take days to get service back to normal standards.  

By stopping saturday delivery the Postal Service will be hobbling themselves with the equivalent of a blizzard every weekend. What savings? The trucks will still be running saturday to deliver parcels, might as well deliver the letters and periodicals too. But Nooo... The letters that are now delivered saturdays will now jam Postal Service facilities all weekend, and it'll take even longer for the Postal Workers to "dig out" from under this mountain of mail on monday, and the letters that won't physically fit on the truck won't get delivered 'til tuesday or later.

Wake up, Postal Service execs- This is a 24/7/365 world and it's cheaper to move the mail than to store it. And the customers, who also happen to be us, your bosses, prefer our mail to be delivered promptly rather than warehoused!

Discuss

Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:21 AM PST

Armed Guards for One Room Schools?

by RuralRoute

And not even a full room at that... In the next county over they've got a high school with two students, taking coursework online. In my district we've got three buildings serving less than 500 students, plus the Developmental Achievement Center and students visiting the library a couple blocks away. Yup. five buildings to secure from dawn to the last event ends 14 hours or more later. Thats at least 60 hours a week we'd need armed guards at each facility, which after you figure in training time and holidays and vacations comes to at least two full time equivalent (FTE) positions for each facility. Where we gonna get the money for that? Heck, Minnesota still owes our schools a billion or so in state aid!

It gets worse... Our district's turf includes parts of four counties, and each county has a bunch of little towns with declining populations. Thus civic pride makes it impossible to consolidate schools much further. And practical problems like the cost and study time lost on hour long school bus rides make much further school consolidation unlikely- If anything we may see more online schools proliferate. So the county next to me with less than 1000 students split between over a dozen sites under the NRA's armed guard scheme will need a couple dozen guards just to cover onsite events, plus more armed guards to cover field trips and athletic events away from school sites. In a county with a mean age of 45 and unemployment under 5%, recruiting a couple dozen folks that can pass a background check and make it through Minnesota's required two years of Peace Officer training is a tall order. That's just the beginning-  Police and security workers typically have a 20 years and out pension plan! So let's add it up- we need to recruit a couple dozen workers who can make it through tough background and physical screens  in a county with maybe 75 unemployed workers, then get them through two years of training at the nearest college offering the required training over a hundred miles away. Fat chance!

Rural america is the NRA's target demographic... And the NRA is taking aim at rural america!

Discuss

Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 09:41 AM PST

Hostess: the Vultures are Winning

by RuralRoute

After lecturing us for years that Hostess is a worthless legacy company saddled with overpaid union workers, Hostess 'fessed up yesterday... There's been over a hundred offers to buy all or parts of the company.

No surprise- The wholesale bakery biz has devolved to a near monopoly, to the point that even a bakery chain saddled with mediocre management can make money... Which says something about Hostess' management. With the closure of Hostess, there's but one surviving nationwide full line bakery chain, Bimbo. On the cake side of the biz, McKee's Little Debbie brand and Flower's cake brands play 2nd and 3rd fiddle to market leaders Hostess and Dolly. On the bread side, Flowers has grown from a regional to covering most of the southern markets, and a few other regionals like Pan O' Gold in the upper midwest have large market shares. But in much of the country with Hostess gone there are only two or maybe three competitors left.

Now imagine how outrageously profitable the auto industry would be if Toyota, Honda, Nissan, VW, Subaru, KIA, Hyundai, etc. were all gone and the the only "competitors" left were the big three- GM, Ford and Chrysler. Then shut down GM... and that's the situation we've got in the baking industry today. Now it ain't rocket science that an industry with just two competitors can't help but be immensely profitable, so it's no surprise that over a hundred companies want to take Hostess' place in a near monopoly market.  

Now one would think a company could just rent a big warehouse, roll in some ovens, truck baked goods all over the country, and take over Hostess market share. Well, ain't that simple- for a start you need a building that will meet sanitation standards, so not just any vacant warehouse will do. You need silos and freezers for ingredients, giant vats for preparing doughs, ovens that would fill the longest semitrailer, automated wrappers, a series of conveyors to move the bread down that line, and sophisticated computers, software, and servos to run the whole line. That'll set you back about $20,000,000 at today's prices, and that's just for a conventional bakery- for high volume metro markets like NYC, Chicago, or southern Cal you'd better upgrade to a high speed bakery for around $50,000,000. And you'll need a lot of those bakeries- truck bread over about 300 miles and the transport costs eats up all the profit. Just to cover 80% of the U.S market you'll need 40 or so bakeries and at least 5 of them should be the pricier high speed variety... Figure about a billion $$$ or so just for your bakeries. Then you've got to deliver your bread, so figure on a thousand "transport" semi tractors at over $100,000 apiece and 2000 trailers at $30,000 a piece and 100,000 shipping "racks" (big shelves on wheels) at $500 apiece... Heck, we've spent another couple hundred million and we don't even have a place for them to deliver too! You'll need at least 500 depot/thrift stores spread around the country on pricey retail corridors, so figure another 250 million $$$ there. Then you need step vans to make the final delivery to the stores- just the bare chassis (and I mean bare, not even a windshield or floor and the drivers seat is a temporary wooden bench) runs over $30,000, and figure over $50,000 by the time they put a body on in it. You'll need around 10,000 of those step vans, so add another half billion $$$ to the tab. Then there's the odds an' ends, like hundred dollar displays for your half million or so customers, 10,000 plus $1000+ handheld computers for the route drivers, and another hundred million $$$ or so in ingredients and inventory on hand. And the trademarks and brand names? I'm no expert on brand "equity" but the #1 selling bread and cake brands for decades (Wonder and Hostess) and the #3 selling bread (Home Pride) are worth a few hundred million at least- think how many "points" it'd take to just get 300,000,000 consumers familiar with your brand, never mind persuade them to buy it.

And don't forget (like Hostess execs did) that you're gonna need around 20,000 skilled workers to run all this. Sure, you can get your help from the temp agency "slave markets"... Hostess tried that during the strike and it didn't work. There's no "running a bakery for dummies" book, and screw up and you'll burn your multi-million dollar bakery down. Same with the delivery drivers- you need folks that can drive through the worst weather and deliver. The competition is paying a living wage and benefits for such skilled bakers and drivers, and any bakery that hopes to survive will have to also.

So tally it all up and it'd cost over two billion $$$ to rebuild Hostess from scratch, but with a near monopoly market position it'd still be a paying proposition. That makes Hostess worth over a billion $$$ dead or alive. So all Hostess vulture capitalist owners have to do is cover their couple hundred million dollar "investment", and beyond that it's pure profit! Yup, having legally robbed it's workers of near a billion dollars in pension contributions in bankruptcy court, Hostess vulture capitalist owners will make off like bandits!

There oughta be a law...

Discuss

Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 01:27 PM PST

Breaking: Hostess Lives!

by RuralRoute

Here's the story from the New York Post, continuing it's excellent coverage. Bankruptcy Court Judge Drain refused to grant the usually routine motion for Hostess to switch from a bankruptcy reorganization to a liquidation. The judge ordered the Baker's Union and Hostess into mediation, which looks like it will begin tomorrow. Folks, let's not give up the faith- Hostess may be on life support, but she's still alive!

Gotta run- Im blogging from a truckstop in South Dakota and gotta stop and look at a 50s Mercedes sedan and some machinery that's up for auction on the way home. Ill be back later... In the meantime, talk it up!

Discuss

Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 04:56 PM PST

Hostess Brands: Logistics Loser!

by RuralRoute

(Crossposted from my blog for "gearheads" and written a few days before the execs killed Hostess off)

Hostess Brands is a trucking company that bakes a bit on the side. The process of morphing from a collection of a hundred odd local bakeries into a 10,000 truck fleet with a dozen or so functional bakeries took nearly a century, Hostess’ current second bankruptcy is evidence that the process is nearly complete and the company’s days are numbered. The first  sign of this corporate mission creep was buried in the financials back in the 1940s when ancestor corporate entity Continental Baking reported that the cost of delivering and selling their products had risen to the point where it exceeded the cost of actually baking it. Transportation costs took off starting in the 1980s though with a string of bakery closings necessitating longer hauls to markets that no longer had local bakeries. The company’s transportation honcho even tried to spin this as a good thing, claiming that closing bakeries improved “transport truck utilization” by increasing the mileage the big trucks ran. Hostess’  production kept slowly dropping as consumer tastes changed, grocers gave shelf space over to more local suppliers, and then Hostess responded with a distasteful additive intended to keep it from going stale on the shelf that insured that the tasteless bread stayed on the shelf.

Thus Hostess went from near four billion dollars in annual sales to half that and dropping. Yet the truck fleet barely shrunk, with about the same thousand semi tractors as Hostess had in their heyday and 8000 or so route trucks, barely shrunk from Hostess’ glory days. And those trucks have literally had the wheels run off them- with zilch new trucks since 2004, the average fleet age is a staggering 18. As the volume of Hostess baked goods sales dropped, Hostess still had to run just as many miles to deliver less baked goods to the same number of retailers. So Hostess is running a fleet of half empty worn out trucks all over creation and wondering why they’re not making money…

Now you’d think that at one of the musical executives that have briefly lounged in Hostess executive suites would have figured this out and maybe even stumbled across a solution… Like reopening local bakeries to be closer to markets, combining deliveries with other grocery suppliers (“truckpooling”), and using intermodal for long hauls. But Noooo… Hostess management du jour is doubling down, closing even more bakeries in retaliation against the bakers who have gone on strike in response to the latest wave of wage and benefit cuts. One of the bakeries closed is their only Hostess cake plant in the northwest, and production from that Seattle bakery will have to be shifted to Hostess closest cake bakeries… In southern California. How is a company whose fleet of big trucks value is dictated by current scrap prices going to muster enough trucks for that 2400 mile haul?

As I write, barring a miracle or sudden resumption of sanity in Hostess executive suites, the company has but days to live. The parcel delivery business, down to three major networks, could certainly support another competitor… And Hostess has near nationwide infrastructure and calls at neighborhood stores almost everwhere. Might be a viable business plan there… And note that logistics winners UPS is delivering bread as well as parcels now.

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