Monday, February 3, 2014

Public Comment to Delegate Don Perdue - Senate Bill 373 - Regarding Water Safety in West Virginia

Dear Delegate Perdue: I regret that I am unable to be there in person this evening during the public hearing relative to Senate Bill 373, but I thank you for giving those of us who can’t be there an opportunity to comment with respect to this important legislation.  WV has for too long allowed big energy financial interests to take precedence over the health and wellbeing of our citizens. If the horrible chemical leak into the Elk River affecting 300,000 West Virginians will teach us anything, it will teach us that it is time for West Virginia to place a top priority on its people, their health, and the health and livelihood of their children. As such, I urge our representatives to support Senate Bill 373 and to demonstrate further commitment to its people in the days to come.  I understand that additional action is needed, as well, and further urge our representatives to do the following:

  • Close any loopholes that would allow industry to circumvent needed regulatory oversight.

  • Require permitting and regular inspection of facilities that pose risks to public drinking water systems.

  • Fund the development and implementation of a comprehensive source water protection plan for West Virginia.

  • Ensure public comment and community involvement in water protection efforts.

  • Implement Chemical Safety Board Recommendations that are designed to protect the public health.

  • Fund the continuation of bottled water distribution to all affected communities until confidence is restored in publicly available drinking water.

  • Work diligently to identify an environmentally sound and safe mechanism to flush dangerous chemicals from water treatment plants, distribution lines, sewage systems, and residences.

  • Fund all necessary studies that can determine the short and long term effects of exposure to MCHM on human health so that proper treatment can be provided to our citizens.

  • Immediately institute and fund a health recovery program designed to identify and treat those whose health has been adversely affected by the spill.

Thank you again for considering these issues.  I realize that the last several weeks has been hard on everyone and I pray that your efforts and commitment to our people and their health will have long lasting positive consequences for the future of West Virginia.  –Layne Diehl

Sunday, December 11, 2011

An Open Letter to the West Virginia Legislature - Marcellus Shale & Hydraulic Fracturing

Good afternoon to our leaders in Charleston and thank you for your service to our beautiful state. For those of you who do not know me, I am a native West Virginian from Beckley and I’ve had the honor and privilege to live in numerous other areas of our state, as well, including Athens, Morgantown, Elkins, Summersville, and now Martinsburg.

I am writing you today in regard to an issue that concerns me greatly. I have followed the Marcellus Shale debate for some time now. I have also watched as energy companies for decades have trampled on the rights of citizens (and our military) in the name of profit. Now some of those same companies are lobbying you to open doors for their drilling of Marcellus Shale, and I worry that their lobbying efforts in this regard are both self-serving and deceptive. Jobs and a clean and safe environment are not mutually exclusive interests.  We can have both, and right now you are holding all the cards. The Marcellus Shale is not going anywhere. And this is not like the Macy’s or Toyota projects where West Virginia is competing with other states for the business. We rely on our legislators to leverage our interests effectively so that West Virginia can be a great place to live both from a natural resource standpoint and an economic one. Therefore, I ask that before you act on Marcellus Shale, you have confidence in the answers to the following questions and can rest assured that you have found the right balance in interests:

1.  Are we getting enough out of impact and administrative fees from the companies to properly monitor environmental concerns and address issues as they arise? Consider what the cost of regulation and enforcement will be and make sure the energy companies are paying enough on the front end to cover the costs of administration once the drilling begins.

2.  Are there measures in place to ensure that we can change directions quickly if it becomes apparent that the impact of drilling is too costly to our environment, our drinking water, or to the natural resources that our children and their children will have access to? Consider whether smaller steps might be more appropriate than taking a giant leap into massive drilling efforts.

3.  Have you determined what sanctions will be available for non-compliance and will proper bonding or other protections be put in place to ensure that such sanctions have adequate force and consequences to those who would adversely affect our state’s interest in a clean and safe environment? Consider how different our economy and the environment might be had the proper oversight structures been established years ago in industries like coal and timber.

4.  Are the hired experts’ opinions based on non-biased objective data? Consider what influence gifts like Halliburton’s $10 million to WVU have on those opinions and insist that such gifts are not designed to be subtle pay-offs to our state’s scholars in the fields of geology and environmental science.

5.  What impact will run-off of fluids related to hydraulic fracturing have on the state’s ability to comply with Chesapeake Bay mandates? The Eastern Panhandle continues to offer great benefits to our state as a whole. Crippling its municipalities with incredible costs associated with Chesapeake Bay environmental compliance could adversely affect the future of the entire state.

We are all counting on you as our legislators to make the right decisions. We are counting on you to recognize special interests for what they are and to avoid for yourselves the temptation to garner short term gains from those interests at the expense of honoring your duty to represent the people of West Virginia. Please do the right thing by our state and its people. Thank you for considering these issues and best wishes to you during this special session.

Sincerely & Respectfully,

Layne Diehl
Martinsburg, WV

Friday, July 1, 2011

Twelve Truthful Principles for Executives

1.       Respect everyone.  Respect does not always constitute conciliation and may sometimes require the communication of appropriate boundaries.  However, in dealing with others, remember that there are no “little” people.  Rather, leaders exist on all levels of an organization.  Those who arrogantly disregard this principle may rise to the top, but they will never, no matter how hard they try, find true fulfillment within themselves and will rarely earn anything more than coerced respect from those around them.

2.       Never lose sight of your mission.  Even if you work in a secluded office with lots of staff, the mission of your organization should be front and central to everything you do.  If it weren’t for the ones your organization purports to serve, be it the consumer, the student, the patient, or the client, you would not be where you are.  Every effort to serve their best interest first and foremost is essential to maintaining your professional integrity.

3.       Surround yourself with mentors.  Spend as much time as possible learning from the people who are divinely placed in your life journey.  They are not necessarily the ones who give you gifts or flatter you.  Rather, you will know them by these traits.  They will encourage you when you need encouragement and will provide guidance when you need direction.   They will never intentionally harm you, undermine you, or betray you.  They will not condemn you. 

4.       Mentor others gently.  Do not assume that everyone who works for you is there for you to mentor.  Offer sincere encouragement and respond earnestly to requests for counsel.  Listen before you speak and more often, but when you speak, make your voice count both for your audience and for those who would not otherwise be heard.

5.       Be true to self.  Give all that you can to contemplating self awareness.  Understand your limitations and make accommodations for them where you can, but more importantly, exercise your strengths with everything you have to give and without reservation for those who may judge you.  It is better to achieve a personal desire for excellence than to achieve for another a desire to limit you.  

6.       Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Everyone makes mistakes, even you.  Learn to find humor where you can. Put an end to any thinking that you have to be perfect in order to be successful.  You will get along better with those around you if you demonstrate your own humanity on occasion.

7.       Attack the system, not the people.  The blame game only results in cover-up and an inability to identify meaningful solutions, but it is through the critical analysis and revision of systems that defensiveness is diffused and the groundwork for long-term sustainability gained.

8.       Develop an exit strategy. Begin considering how you might transition out of an organization as soon as possible.  Those who do not may find themselves compromising their value system for the sake of self-preservation.  Don’t be anxious to walk, but always be willing and able if the circumstances merit it.

9.       Use spin sparingly, if at all.  In dealing with the public, you will be held to the things you say and to the position you take as a representative of an organization long after you have departed from it.

10.    Diversify your interests.  Even those who derive great satisfaction from a job may find themselves at some point looking for another one.  If and when that happens, losing one aspect of your purpose is less damaging to the soul than losing something that you have made an overwhelming and fundamental part of your existence.

11.    Reach outside the company.  Friends and colleagues at your place of employment are important to have, but they may not be in a position to support you in your career goals, particularly during an exit transition.  It is often the colleagues and friends you make outside of your organization who will help you navigate the path to your next venture.

12.    Leave your legacy at home.  Supervisors, coworkers, and subordinates are not your family and do not wish to hear you boast about yourself even if they may say otherwise.  Lift up those around you in the office and you may be lifted up in return, but remember that it is the people who live under the roof where you sleep who will pass on your story to the next generation.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

T-Shirts and Bankers

This article was published in part by The Journal in Martinsburg, WV on June 19, 2011.

It all boils down to a t-shirt and it’s on the backs of volunteers throughout the Eastern Panhandle.  We all have one, and if you don’t, you should.  It’s the t-shirt you receive when you give to your community, whether you’re Marching for Dimes or participating in the Day of Caring.  The logos you see on these complementary shirts are meant to recognize those businesses in our area who have invested in a local cause.  Many of those logos represent our local banks and it is our local banks that make up a large part of the philanthropic base here.

Make no mistake about it; you won’t typically see the likes of Citigroup or Goldman Sachs on these shirts.  Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase are not donned there.  Rather, what you will see are banks like the Bank of Charles Town, Centra, Citizens National, Jefferson Security, MVB, and City National, to name a few.  It’s what separates the small bankers of America from the mega-bankers of the world and it’s a distinction many of us fail to appreciate.

Bob Baronner, past President and board member of the Community Bankers of West Virginia and CEO for the Bank of Charles Town, spent some time with me recently to help me understand the distinction.  He describes community banks as having little turnover where bank employees are well known and established in a community.  “Decisions are made locally and community banks give their folks autonomy so that service is better,” says Baronner, “you don’t see that as much with the megabanks.”  Baronner goes on to explain that bankers who live in the community are going to be more interested in the community, so when people go through hard times, a community banker will do more to try to help than a megabank would.  “A community banker will sit down with you, understand your situation, and come up with a solution for your needs.”

What Barroner describes as a local community interest can be easily demonstrated if you think of our local bankers and realize how often you’ve had the opportunity to interact with them in your day to day activities.  How often have you shared lunch with a bank vice president at a Rotary Club meeting or a Chamber function?  People here can walk into their local banks and talk to the bank President if they need resolution.  The local banker’s children go to school with our children.  We sit next to each other at little league games, band recitals, and church functions.  And you just don’t have those same opportunities if you don’t bank locally.  Quite the contrary, megabank CEOs are known for their ability to avoid the general public and to shelter themselves in private elevators and high rise offices so they don’t have to face the realities of the common person’s financial situation. 

But it goes beyond just a simple conversation over lunch or a mutual cheer when our kids’ teams score.  Barroner also describes local banks as being the most charitable businesses in the community, both through financial contributions and volunteer work.  Executive Director of the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle Jan Callen concurs. “It's not just the dollars; it's the volunteers at all levels.  They are so engrained and integrated into the community.”  Callen says the volunteer support from local banks is priceless and describes their willingness to get involved as a culture of community service.  He says that a lot of the big chains are not connected to the community like local banks so you don't see that culture of giving back. “Community service is good business,” says Callen, “and it's just like community banks and megabanks are not from the same breed of cat at all. I just couldn't be more grateful to our local banks.” 

Callen shares that the United Way campaign alone benefited in actual dollars of over $134,000 last year due to local bank support, but he described that as only a small portion of their philanthropic effort.  Callen estimated the value of volunteer support by local bankers to be worth around a quarter of a million dollars, as he described the many projects that local bankers get involved in each year.  “BCT every year takes on a major project.”  Last year they remodeled an entire non-profit office house including laying floors and painting.  Callen describes school business partnerships, 4-H programs, the Future Farmers of America, and the local county fairs as all benefiting from what our local banks provide.  He says that a lot of the local banks even include community service in their mission statements.  “The non-profits could not do it without the local banks,” says Callen.

As banks generally have gotten their fair share of criticism over the last several years, community bankers often feel unfairly lumped in with those mega-bankers whose predatory lending practices helped drive the global economy into what feels like a perpetual state of intensive care.  But the sub-prime mortgage and derivative activities that were occurring at megabanks are based on a different focus than what you see at local banks, where Main Street takes priority over Wall Street. Baronner describes the balance sheets and associated transactions at megabanks as being extremely complicated, but he stresses that local banks’ investments are simpler than that and focus on improvements for the greater community.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was designed to shelter consumers from practices that contributed to our current financial crisis, but regulations and amendments associated with Dodd-Frank have been hotly contested recently by those representing community banks.   Last Wednesday, when the Senate failed to pass the Tester/Corker Amendment to Dodd-Frank, our local banks cried foul.  Barroner explains the purpose of Tester/Corker as one that would give banking regulators an opportunity to study the effects that new interchange regulations would have on community banks and, ultimately, on the consumer.

“Interchange fees refer to the debit card transaction fees that merchants pay to banks and the big box retailers think it’s unfair to charge them for this payment system” explains Barroner.  He describes how the current law if implemented would place restrictive caps on these merchant fees and how small banks who rely on these fees as a source of revenue will now have to compensate for the loss by revising programs like free checking that are designed to make banking affordable to their local customers.  “The cap is a kind of price control and in any kind of business where price controls are present, the small business still has to pay the overhead and will ultimately have to raise fees to compensate for that,” says Baronner.

How the debate nationally will be shaped by the Senate’s inaction and what affect implementation of new bank regulations will have on you and me locally remains to be seen.  It took years to see what affect deregulation of the banking industry would have on our local communities and it will take years to restore an appropriate balance to regulating the industry in a way that doesn’t choke out local banks.  The current economic slump has lingered now for the better part of five years.  Barroner doesn’t give much hope for an economic rebound any time soon and predicts that the real estate market locally will continue to struggle for some time, but what he does assure me is that, as long as local banks are able, they will continue to be an active part of our community.  Baronner sums it up like this, “It’s not all about the bottom line.  It’s about helping people.  And that’s what separates us.  When you experience problems, we’re going to be more understanding.”  So the next time you get one of those t-shirts, whether at a march, or a walk, or any other volunteer effort, pay attention to the logos on the back of the shirt and take the time to thank your local banker.  

Looking forward to seeing you about town!  ~L

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Trend-Setters in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

This article appeared in part in "The Journal" of Martinsburg, WV on Sunday June 5, 2011, page D5

Trend-setters.  They can make a business or break it.  They have been targeted in stealth marketing campaigns, researched as a phenomenon by the likes of Malcolm Gladwell and Duncan Watts, and aspired to by rising generations including the Boomers, the X-ers, and the Y Generation.  They have been labeled revolutionaries, influencials, and Indies, to name a few.  They are, perhaps by their own design, misunderstood, evaluated, criticized, and imitated.  But it is their creativity, their imagination, and their innovative ideas that have brought to fruition realizations such as harnessed electricity, democracy, Sputnik, and the Internet.

Trendsetters are not typically found at a run of the mill operation, but are more often part of the fray, making up an aspect of the fabric that gives its essence beauty and life.  Trendsetters define contemporary, establish fashion, and personify the arts.  They are the earliest of adopters, but the first to move on to explore new ideas.  A diverse and interesting business community will offer havens for trendsetters to mingle, to explore their creativity, and to garner strength for their ideas from the creativity of those around them.  Such havens can be found in places like Soho, the French Quarter, and Niagara on the Lake.

I spent some time this weekend at just such a haven right here in our own backyard. A place that distinguishes itself as being one of the only towns in the country that can boast more massage therapists than lawyers, it is a place where our founding mothers and fathers used to get away for a few days so that they could relax in bath houses and take advantage of fresh spring waters.  The rural setting, small town feel, live sidewalk music, and small boutiques and cafes set the stage for a relaxing and enjoyable experience.  An emphasis in art, healing, and history is evident.  The local ice cream shop becomes a social gathering for those who want to escape the heat and, if you want to catch the newest flick, you can do so at one of the country’s last surviving downtown cinemas.  It is our very own Berkeley Springs, and it is a thriving and fundamental component to the greater Panhandle’s business community.

If you know anything about Berkeley Springs, you know that its voice is often expressed by the one and only Jeanne Mozier.  Mozier, author, business owner, self-proclaimed “popcorn empress” at the Star Theater, and a Cornell grad no less, is herself a trendsetter, and one who thrives in the atmosphere that makes up Berkeley Springs.  She describes her town as having a dynamic leadership and attributes that to the support that comes from being a creative person in the Berkeley Springs community.  She explains the common thread that binds its business members’ collective vision.  “The notion that Berkeley Springs is itself a brand and that everyone does their part in their own unique way to contribute to that brand is what makes Berkeley Springs,” says Mozier. “People feel that connection. And when we feel it as part of the business community, people feel it when they come.  So when people come to visit, they want to come back and often will eventually stay.”

Mozier goes on to say that “one of the things that makes Berkeley Springs unique is that historically there has always been a flow of outside energy such as the founding fathers and industrialists who came to build their summer cottages and who brought electricity to town.”  The attraction to outsiders is still at play, as Mozier explains that “this in-migration of creative people now make up the people who are retiring here and starting their own businesses and doing their own kinds of interesting things.” She explains how this constant influx of new people creates a business culture where things don’t get stuck in an entrenched power structure, but instead allows creative change and rejects the notion that things should always be done the same old way.

A nice getaway location, yes, but Berkeley Springs isn’t so out of the way that it’s not attractive to new business development.  “We’ve done such a good job at selling Berkeley Springs as a weekend getaway that people forget how close it really is to places like Frederick and Baltimore,” says Bill Clark, Executive Director of the Morgan County Development Authority. “We have access to big population centers even though we’re in a more rural setting.”  Examples of businesses that have found a home in Berkeley Springs include places like US Silica, as well as Caperton Furniture Works, a unique and growing online furniture distributer.  Additionally, Washington Homeopathic Products, the second largest homeopathic manufacturer in the nation, is headquartered in Berkeley Springs.  

Mountain View Solar and Mock’s Greenhouses are also headquartered there, two of the area’s most rapidly growing businesses that are attracting attention from the State and other businesses up the East Coast.  Berkeley Springs Water Works and Berkeley Springs Instruments are also important pieces to the business landscape there.  Bob Margraff, a resident Business Executive and Consultant in Berkeley Springs, is pleased with the support that the Development Authority provides to new and growing businesses in the region. “They work hard to assist area business and support an environment in which companies like these can develop,” says Margraff,  “the Development Authority will assist in finding investment resources and will stay involved with smaller businesses to be sure they can grow.”

Smaller businesses in Berkeley Springs that make up the town’s eclectic culture include those like Ridersville Cycle, the Lion’s Lair, Tari’s Cafe, Nature Niche, and Temptations Too Bakery.  There are seven spas in Berkeley Springs, including the nation’s first spa and the historic bath of President George Washington.  It’s the home to beautiful Cacapon State Park and a dozen or so bed and breakfast destinations.  Mozier shares that the town has a very active and very inclusive Chamber of Commerce, an engaged Development Authority, and a thriving Convention and Visitors Bureau that identifies itself as Travel Berkeley Springs.  These groups work closely together to ensure that local business has the support that it needs.  The Morgan Arts Council is also a valuable resource to artisans and shop owners who make a living selling unique and interesting art to weekend tourists.  All of this and more is what makes Berkeley Springs the perfect backyard escape where people from all over the Panhandle and beyond can take their friends and out-of-town visitors to show off our area.

So how can area business leaders become a part of the trendsetting culture in places like Berkeley Springs?  Mozier offers this final word of advice, “What you do needs to be authentic.  This town exists by virtue of legislation that incorporated the vision into its establishment, which is to encourage and build housing and support for those persons who came to take advantage of the waters for their health. Know what is authentic in your area and how you can use that resource to expand your own business.”  And with that, you’ve got the secret of the trendsetter.  Looking forward to seeing you about town.