March 2013 was a mile marker month for Insider Louisville reader feedback – the first month dozens of posts got dozens of comments.

We also saw more new names commenting.

We like to think of Insider Louisville’s comment section as Speaker’s Corner without the hecklers.

Everyone took time to communicate thoughtfully, employing flair, critical thinking and passion.

Thank you.

This reader feedback helps us fulfill our mission of realizing the Internet’s potential as a noisy – yet shockingly civil at IL – public square. Sort of like Speaker’s Corner in London without all the pigeons and hecklers.

It also helps Insider Louisville staff refine what we’re doing, with you telling us which topics are front-of-mind with you.

You also called us out on errors and flawed arguments, poked holes in our logic and called us on the occasional slide into sophistry.

You keep us on our toes.

You make us better.

We are remark among our IL staff that sometimes what you’re posting is way more interesting than what we’re posting.

March coverage included many, many hot topics, including the promising tech startup Roobiq leaving for a Silicon Valley incubator, and a post asking you to help us identify students who excel at academics.

The post that got the most comments was the March 11 Monday Business Briefing that asked the question, “Is Louisville on the way to becoming the next Austin, or Loserville?”

The premise being, if no one is paying attention, will a growing number of less-than-sensational problems, such as growing downtown office vacancy rates, neutralize all the great things happening in Louisville right now?

The comments were pointed and occasionally heated, and we couldn’t post them all.

We chose the comments below based on how well commentators made their points, and we tried to place in them in chronological order.

• MARCH 11 MONDAY BUSINESS BRIEFING: IS LOUISVILLE ON THE ROAD TO BECOMING NEXT AUSTIN, OR LOSERVILLE?

From RyderCup1

“will we become the next Austin? Or will we become Flint, Mich”….more Chicken Little the Sky is Falling…and all of this conjecture appears based on downtown Louisville challenges with Class A office vacancies. Before we pack our bags and move to Flint….you might want to check Indy and Cinci’s Class A vacancies (and Nashville). Those cities are always cited as doing things better than Louisville….well their CBD vacancies are worse than Louisville (Nashville not quite as bad but close). The fact is most CBD’s around the country are having challenges because of the Great Recession and the fact that there are many more people working from home.

City leaders should review what they can do to make downtown attractive without giving away the store. On a related front how about leading the charge to support alternatives to JCPS. Imagine if the majority of students in Jefferson County could go to a good school in their neighborhood? It is possible if JCPS would work with the Archdiocese of Louisville to truly provide excellent education to our students via vouchers or some form of financial support (not for religious studies). Imagine how strong our economy would be if everyone had an opportunity for the type of education provided by the Catholic schools/West. End School.

It will not happen because our leaders will not lead. It will not happen because parents will not demand it. The result will be more money flushed down the JCPS toilet and an economy that will never be what it could be.

Cruke Duise RyderCup1

Well said. The comparison leaves no room for something in between what is regarded as the most economically successful city and the most economically depressed city, despite the fact that 99% of metro areas lie somewhere in between. Louisville, as the article points out, has some major advantages over many cities. But it does not have the advantages of Austin (center of government for a large state, home of an elite research university). So Louisville will forever lie in between the two extremes presented. Aspiring to be Austin is a worthy goal, but the reality is that we are very unlikely to ever achieve that status. That doesn’t make Louisville a failed city or a bad place to live.

Education should be Louisville’s no. 1 priority. Not real estate market manipulation. The downtown / suburb ebb and flow will continue for years to come.

And another thing: you are crazy if you think Stites & Harbison is going to Nucleus. They are renegotiating a lease – plain and simple.

RyderCup1 to Cruke Duise

I totally agree that education should be the number one priority. That does not mean throwing more money at JCPS. It does mean taking a really revolutionary view at what is working and then replicating it as best as possible. If Jefferson County had the best school system in the US it would attract business without incentives and without the NBA/Professional sports.

That said I would like to see professional sports in Louisville as long as not one dime of taxpayer money is involved in getting a team(s) to locate/relocate here.

Steve Bittenbender 

Louisville is not now just coming to a crossroads. It’s been there for quite a while. Ten years ago, my old boss used to say the city was on its way to “becoming the next Peoria” had it not passed merged government and combined the chamber and economic development agencies (among other things). Holding us up to Austin is silly. Yes we have similar populations, but that’s about it. Quite frankly, cities like Omaha and OKC are much better comparisons, as our are regional competitors.

It almost seems like the insiders are hoping Louisville plays the economic development lottery and lands the next Microsoft, Google or Facebook. Would that be nice? Sure. Realistic? Not so much. Yes, we need ideas and intellectual capital here. But eschewing bunts and singles for the home run is a misguided approach.

J. Bruce Miller

What you’re describing, here, is the results of the misplaced public relations effort of the local university to ‘brand’ the city as the nation’s best college town. You can’t compare Louisville to Austin because Austin is the capital of one of the wealthiest states in America and it’s university is ranked in the Top 25 in its academic programs and offerings. I posit the reason for the Class A vacancies in Indy, Cinci and N’ville is that they ‘overbuilt’ in the 2000s. Louisville didn’t build a Class A downtown multi-story building during that time. As a matter of fact the last Class A skyscraper built in Louisville was the Humana building — and it’s not for rent.

This place is a charming and ‘nice’ place to live, but ‘charming’ and ‘nice’ doesn’t have an economically vibrant heartbeat. Enhanced Ford and GE factories are $15 and $20 an hour jobs and the decisions and corporate structure and corporate salaries are made, exist and earned – elsewhere in a ‘big league’ city. Nashville is NOT an overgrown Murfreesboro, nor is Indy an overgrown Muncie, nor is Cinci an overgrown Youngstown — but Louisville is increasingly economically irrelevant – ‘charming’ and ‘nice’ like Danville and Berea.

That won’t cut it in the 21st century ‘global economy.’ We have a pitiful public education offering that simply has to be revolutionized. We have to quit ‘morphing’ into Kentucky and help lead Kentucky by having Kentucky morph into Louisville. We need to begin acting like and demanding to be considered as an ‘economically- relevant’ major league city. Otherwise, Louisville’s future will be that of little more than the largest city in an increasingly irrelevant economic near 3rd world country called “Kentucky”. Time for the ‘body politic’ to wake up and demand action.

Cruke Duise to J. Bruce Miller

No. The last Class A building in Louisville was the Aegon Building. In the 2000s, Nashville added 1 tower of office space in the CBD. Cincy, one tower in the CBD. Indy? I can’t think of one. Cincy is hardly the beacon on the hill of economic growth. It is economically stable, but it is hardly growing a la Austin – or a la Nashville. The irony of the article is that Indy and Nashville’s rise to economic “prominence” has come in the ‘burbs – Williamson County and Carmel, respectively. Regionalism has been the reason for the growth of our peer cities. Not CBD growth. Also, I love how you sneak in “major league” city, as if the NBA is the answer. How is that working out for Memphis? I don’t see us holding them up to the Austin-standard.

J. Bruce Miller to Cruke Duise

You’re correct about the ‘power of regionalism’ — however Louisville damages its ability to ‘regionally-succeed’ because of the continued verbal ‘battle’ with Lexington and its university. This ‘childishness’ is extremely damaging to Louisville’s ability to achieve economic hegemony in the region and should be ended, promptly. Collegiate rivalries exist in North Carolina, Indiana and Tennessee — but they don’t damage Charlotte, Indianapolis or Nashville and Memphis — because they are major-league cities with a face on the world.

Lastly, I’ll deal with your final paragraph. Since the Grizzlies have moved to Memphis it has gained the international corporate headquarters of International Paper, ServiceMaster and Hilton Worldwide. Three remarkable additions to AutoZone and FedEx’s international corporate headquarters. For your information – UPS’ corporate headquarters are in Atlanta and the lions share of decision-making, financial and economic matters occur there and they have occurred there since 1991.

Scott Hack

I don’t live downtown, why would I want to commute downtown to go to work? Why would I want to drive downtown and deal with paid parking and traffic? I think the businesses leaving downtown are smart.

Cruke Duise to Scott Hack

If you work alone and do not have routine business to conduct with others, I agree. But your position assumes that everyone in your office lives in your neighborhood. Why do the workers from New Albany have to drive across town? A central gathering place has been instrumental in cities and communities since the beginning of civilization. It’s pretty egocentric to expect your life to the be the central gathering place, don’t you think?

Stunoland

Downtown is critical to Louisville’s economic future. Quasi Mid-western/Southeastern rust belt era City’s that lack attractive dense urban areas cannot be serious competitors for high-value added economic sectors. Downtowns require higher real estate costs, smart planning decisions, and significant infrastructure investments. Louisville has made numerous planning mistakes and the State of KY drains a greater percentage of Louisville’s wealth than probably any city in the country. Obviously Louisville should seek to maximize suburban logistics and manufacturing development but a competitive city requires a diverse economy. This city is not making the right decisions and has structural disadvantages that result in corridors of permanent underinvestment. Unless people in this city embrace bold and pragmatic changes we are headed toward a future with an economically depressed urban core and an economy that focuses on low to moderate value-added economic sectors to the exclusion of high-impact industries. Our current trajectory is not favorable.

Economic fundamentals matter, it’s not rocket surgery. Economic stagnation is Louisville’s fate unless this city embraces the bold and pragmatic changes necessary to overcome residing in the economically dysfunctional State of KY. No city can offer the infrastructure and amenities necessary to compete when it receives approx. 50 cents back on its State tax contribution decade after decade. Given KY’s terrible economic fundamentals and structural rural bias this situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. The only realistic path toward alleviating KY’s crippling drain on Louisville’s resources is by trapping non-local dollars through maximizing the economic potential of its unique cultural heritage. To compete Louisville must extend pro-sports wagering to competitors on 2 legs. This strategy is not a panacea for all that ails this city but it is a prerequisite to building a vibrant and diverse regional economy.

• MARCH 11, MONDAY BUSINESS BRIEFING, FORT KNOX’S EFFORTS TO BECOME ENERGY INDEPENDENT THROUGH SOLAR POWER AND NATURAL GAS

Msradell

I’m not so sure we should be happy about Fort Knox becoming energy independent. It may be a good thing as far as the posts expenses are concerned and it may be good for federal government expenses but I bet it won’t be good for people who use the local utilities! If those utilities lose a big user like this the expenses for everyone else will certainly rise. With a smaller user base the cost per user to cover capital costs will be divided among a small group. In addition the cost per unit of energy will also probably rise (especially for electricity) because generating capacity will be underutilized.

• MARCH 17, IT’S TIME TO CELEBRATE LOUISVILLE’S STUDENT ACADEMIC STARS THE WAY WE WORSHIP ATHLETES

Jeremy Mott

Here, here! Agree. Like. As Terry mentioned, this is not about denigrating sports fandom and it is great when our local teams do well. But how about something closer to horn-blower parity? Not necessarily about statistics and rarity either. That said, I would take issue with comparing probability of a perfect score on a general aptitude/college entrance exam with stellar performance in one specific sport at one particular level.

One thing is evident: the perfect ACT scorer’s path to (manipulative?) monetization is much less clear than a star basketball player’s. And I’m not even talking about personal monetary gain–which may or may not come later in the pros. Just think of all the millions tied up in NCAA men’s basketball tournament ads alone. Sadly, I think many value this narrative (hoops star -> college team success -> star professional athlete -> $$ -> small later potential for altruism) more than the alternative Terry elevates (intelligence leading to musical genius, breakthrough discovery, literary ability, or just a highly-functioning, contributing member of society). There are many exceptions to this of course…true star athletes are rare, bright young people could fizzle out or apply their intelligence to evil or a simple pursuit of greed, girlfriends could be killed derailing a career, etc, etc. Highly intelligent young people overwhelmingly contribute more to culture than basketball or football players. Period. This should be recognized. And they should be commended.

Charlene Burke

Congratulations to Calley! And kudos to you, Terry, for wanting to showcase talent, other than athletic, amongst our young people. I will be forwarding this to my network to see if they can add to your list. Value judgements aside, a UK/UL caliber basketball player has a short amount of time to use that skill and is limited to that skill, while an academic achiever like Calley and others who achieve a perfect score on the ACT can take that skill into any field and affect change in the world that we can all appreciate – whether that change occurs now or in the future.

Mark Coomes

The article implies that celebrating athletic achievement over academic achievement is a societal flaw indicative of misplaced — even brutish — priorities. That’s not really the case. First of all, the article compares apples and oranges — star high school students to star college athletes. Comparing the disparity in attention paid to high school athletes vs. high school intellectuals is far more valid but far less dramatic. Mostly, though, it fails to see athletics for what they actually are — a form of entertainment enjoyed by millions who are, in a free market economy, entitled to vote with their wallets and eyeballs (in the form of TV viewership).

Jeremy Mott to Mark Coomes

I can see your point there. You are right – there is a distinction between academic achievement at the high school level and athletic skill in college. Can also buy your ‘vote with wallets and eyeballs’ argument to a degree, but people also watch what they’re shown. Is the sports fandom of Louisville nature or nurture? Do people actually ‘vote’ if local TV, internet, radio, and newspaper coverage is so skewed toward sports?

I agree that this shouldn’t be an either/or proposition. There’s room under the big tent for recognition of sports as well as academics. But attention spans can be short and, like I said, people will watch what they’re shown. And the crowding out of mindspace in favor of sports is a little unfortunate.

John Little Sr.

I think the point here is that U of L is not the mistakenly viewed university that is seen, by many, as something (sports) much more than academics.

Cordially, John Little, Sr.

• MARCH 13– BRAIN DRAIN: ROOBIQ LEAVES LOUISVILLE FOR SILICON VALLEY, THIRD MAJOR TECH STARTUP DEPARTURE IN FIVE YEARS

Julie

 Congratulations to Adam and his team – I wish them the best in this next phase of their company development. However, as you stated in your article, you aren’t too objective here. While I think anyone would agree that these folks are bright and innovative, it’s a stretch calling Roobiq a major tech startup. While the company may have potential, it has not yet hit even some of the most preliminary hurdles startups face… and is certainly not in the same category as Backupify. Where Adam in particular has succeeded, in my opinion, is in promoting himself; your coverage is evidence of his PR success. And of course, “fake it til you make it” is a saying for a reason! I don’t mean to disparage what Roobiq has done so far, but let’s not get carried away, especially at the expense of numerous other startups in town who are at further stages in the game and are committed to remaining in Louisville if possible.

RyderCup1

It is always disappointing to see talented folks leave the area, but the guys are doing what they need to do to grow their company. There is only one SV. Louisville should not aspire to be SV. What could make sense however, is for Louisville to target successful SV companies who have reached a maturity where they are no longer a start-up but trying to make money. SV is a very expensive place to run a company and attract/keep people that can afford to live there. Lastly, please consider that the 3 start-ups you cite, while interesting and worthy of investment consideration, all operate businesses that are ‘complex’…..meaning it is hard to ‘show me the money.’ I am quite certain that a start-up that can show a ‘simpler way to find the money’ is much more likely to find the support it needs to thrive in Louisville.

Jeremy Mott

And no disservice at all to iPhone app makers, but how many jobs do these create (even indirectly)? Maybe the hard-nosed, black-and-white of sheer job creation is the wrong question–how would several successful small-to-medium sized tech start-ups really increase the quality of life/vibrancy of the city? I think the presence (and success! and retainment!) of tech start-ups would be a great thing, but seems more a hip-and-cool niche than a turnaround potential for the city.

[It’s right about here where you accuse me of living in the 20th or even 19th century. It’s okay…I’ve been called worse.]

I think small-to-medium size modern manufacturing should be encouraged (in certain opportunity zones, some of which may be slightly outside the city, Greenbelt Hwy, Portland, Shepherdsville). They could exploit the natural advantage of UPS, employ more people in a little more diverse set of roles, and have (nowadays though, only slightly) more inertia to moving once setup than app makers. I think Portland (especially with an influx of Holland investment) is ripe for small/craft/cottage industries where something material is actually made.

A few small companies making piece-parts out in PRP may not help too terribly much with the creation of a new urban utopia built on intellectual capital and sustained through “metawork”. But, on the whole, it may benefit Louisvillians more than tech start-ups. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. And the right amount of modern/cool/smart/small-scaled manufacturing might be just the right fuel for Gill Holland’s kindling in Portland. You’re not going to create a tech hub there overnight and the more employment an industry can offer the better.

Erik Snyder to Jeremy Mott

Have you heard of the Vogt Awards? They are a program for manufacturing startups making real things. I think they can be one of the premier programs for start ups that want to make tangible products instead of software.

Jeremy Mott to Erik Snyder

Sure. As a EE Speed graduate, yes, I am familiar and, yes, you are right. IL recently had a post on the Vogt Awards in fact. They seem way more interested in small software concerns though. Not that that is a bad thing, unwise, or unneeded.

Christopher Cprek to Jeremy Mott

Vogt Awards this year is being refocused as a hardware / manufacturing prize. This was done intently by the organizers to refocus on the original spirit of the prize. They’ve gone so far as to partner with UofL’s Rapid Prototyping Center to provide those fabrication services to applicants. Once the website gets a refresh I expect this to be a big buzz in the national HW Startup community. It’s an established prize (1999) and as an endowment doesn’t take equity like an accelerator (huge psychological point for HW startups).

 And for the hardware / software fun side of things that displays a true hardware identity for Louisville, see LVL1 and what we’ve been doing to promote 3D printing and DIY fabrication. We’ve got LVL1 members routinely bragging about being able to get *anything* via UPS in 3 days to our friends nationwide. Not to mention all the local part distributors and fabricators making hardware components easily accessible.

 I wish the Roobiq team best of luck and am certain they are making the right decision. SV has an immense amount of gravity because of developer density that feeds a salary escalation loop. There are plenty of talented software guys in Louisville. Here’s the thing: they are getting paid lots of SV equivalent money and are telecommuting from Louisville to companies in California, with hosting in Utah, and other services scattered everywhere else.

There’s certainly a case to be made that Louisville has a tech identity as a place where real things are made and moved around. I’m glad to hear that others in the community think that’s possible too.

RyderCup1 to Christopher Cprek

Great post! With all due respect to those that have moved (Backupify, Impulcity, Roobiq) taking all of 20 (being generous) jobs with them…good luck. “There are plenty of talented software guys in Louisville. Here’s the thing: they are getting paid lots of SV equivalent money and are telecommuting from Louisville to companies in California, with hosting in Utah, and other services scattered everywhere else.” No true-er words spoken…and it applies to sales/biz dev types as well!

Jeremy Mott to Christopher Cprek

This is all very encouraging stuff to hear and get out there. I honestly was cringing in anticipation of a (possibly deserved) shout-down by app people. Would love to eventually see a product that people find useful–if not outright covet–that might have etched on it “Designed in Louisville, Kentucky”. Add “..and Manufactured…” all the better. Would be awesome to hit a home run (oh God, here’s a terrible pun) and make a Louisville Slugger equivalent for the 21st century. Or, at the very least, an admirable product someone might be surprised came out of our fair city.

RyderCup1 to Jeremy Mott

Excellent post. Heartily agree! SV is filled with all sorts of startups all chasing $ for the next big thing. Some will make it….most will not. The same can be said of Austin, NYC, Boston. For all the techies is Louisville….how about developing an app that would be of interest to UPS Airlines or UPS WorldPort or Humana or Kindred or B-F or Ford or GE Major Appliances etc etc etc. (I have sensed a disdain for those old style companies from the Louisville techies….it is a disdain that is misplaced. The techies can help those ‘old style’ companies re-invent themselves….and is so doing, both will likely be far more successful than some app that does something that no one is likely to pay for.

If you can create it….then pitch it to the right people…you might find success!

Guest

You just don’t have the wealth / money / capital there to keep this segment. I live in an area where there are lots more VC, and still they leave for Silicon Valley…..some of them…because that is where the money is….a whole lot of it. Personally, I think Louisville needs to reckon with what it is and what it does best….focus on that….don’t be a wannabel

jaws2112

I am curious about several comments that you make regarding UofL in this article. You state that Louisville lacks a great university while simultaneously suggesting that the University of Cincinnati is a great university. One of your quotes claims that the start-ups can’t hire qualified engineers here in Louisville even though the Speed School graduates several hundred engineers every year who are looking for ways of staying in Louisville. Finally you state that UofL needs to do more than provide a sports program when the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research is hosting a national level workshop on Renewable Energy next weekend trying to raise the profile of the city and the university while bolstering research and tech development in the field of renewable energy. So, I am confused. What exactly do you want UofL to do that they aren’t?

Jeremy Mott

Strongly agree with your three points outlined above. You hit the nail on the head with sports meaning nothing and contributing nothing tangible at all to Louisville’s future. Bread and circuses. It is almost sad to watch. But I also think IL regularly exaggerates overall potential contributions of tech start-ups. It is definitely a crying shame to lose bright people, who started something (or will go on to start many things) potentially big. But to claim that a proper tech incubator will somehow be our savior from all that ails our ‘duct-taped bailing wire’ city is more than a bit hyperbolic.

I fully agree with all stated here…up to a point. Many more resources and attention need to be thrown at entrepreneurial efforts. But the same essence which makes them agile and gives them so much potential is a liability when they get big enough to need/chase more money. How do we plug that hole?

Guest

Don’t chase after these “dreams.” Does anyone remember e Street…..or whatever is was / Wasn’t? If Louisville is a Fast Food Business Mecca……go with that….build on that. Or more likely, it’s a health care provider…..long-term especially…..go with that. Build on that. Don’t try to be something you aren’t, because the Reality is you are NOT that, and probably won’t ever be that.

• MARCH 26: REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH: KFC YUM! CENTER MAKES U OF L NATION’S RICHEST BASKETBALL PROGRAM WHILE TAXPAYERS COVER ARENA DEBT

Msradell

Seems like the bottom line is, UofL is very smart, economically, and Metro government (as well as the fair board) are very dumb financially! Of course the general public is even dumber for believing the politicians’ projections that show the YUM center would make a profit. I believe the contract is written that if the YUM goes into default or bankruptcy on the bonds, UofL has the 1st priority for purchasing the building. I’m not sure of the terms, but I believe even after they bought it Metro government could have to pay a significant amount of money to retire the bonds! Maybe Mr. Boyd should look into the political side of this issue instead of criticizing the UofL who seemingly is the only smart participant in this entire issue!

Wiseguy0204

Well, if it all goes to hell in a handbasket (i.e. a bankruptcy), bondholders would get (1) possession of the Yum Center, (2) the city’s rainy day fund (as I believe it was used as collateral) — but (3) the contract with UofL (and with everyone else for that matter) would likely be voided, leaving UofL without a contracted venue and certainly no Plan B. UofL would be left without a good BATNA in renegotiating the new contract with the bondholders-now-owners of the YUM! Center, and the new owners would stick it to them, as they should (being the responsible fiduciaries that they most certainly are).

The only real sane option would be to refinance the bonds or renegotiate with current bondholders to extend the current maturities and soften the amortization-whammy (probably with a revenue participation or a coupon sweetener). Or the city could go “prime time” and issue omnibus bonds retiring all of the TIF insanity that’s been created over time. The only completely unprotected party in a melt-down scenario is the city, so it better get off its duff and figure it out.

ulfinancialplanner

 You are naive if you don’t believe everyone involved in the contract knew this was going to happen. Slick Jurich had a good plan on being the 1rst right to refusal. UL most profitable Athletics in the country yet the YUM center will be paid for on the Taxpayers dime. Jerry Abramson continues to show how dumb he really is and how dumb the voters were to keep voting for him. I Love how UL is cashing in on the profits from the YUM but wont take care of the lease. Maybe they should cut the pay of the whole Jurich family that is employed by UL.

Ben Wathen

It’s very clear that Mr. Boyd should be criticizing those that are responsible for bringing revenue producing businesses to the TIF district. It’s not U of L’s fault that they negotiated generous terms on their lease. Who’s supposed to recruit tenants within the TIF district?

John Receveur :

Terry, would be interesting know what similar tenant arrangements around the country look like, and where UL’s contract stacks up against those. Just a thought.

So, smoke ’em if you got ’em, and remember – keep those cards and letters coming ….