Business features: Carnies, damsels, scams and beer

by August 13, 2014

It’s been a month or so since the last edition of Quicktips and those scraps of paper are piling up again in my notebook.

From the sober to the silly, here are a few story nuggets you may want to add to your near-term lineup:

State Fairs. How did that sneak up?  Summer 2014 is heading for the home stretch and many states and counties will begin holding agricultural fairs and other festivals soon.

Minnesota State Fair ferris wheel in sunset

Sunset added a golden glow to the Minnesota state fair in 2013. Photo: MJIPhotos

On a serious note, these harvest-oriented events (or what’s left of that aspect in between the carny rides, rock concert and food stands) aren’t a bad time to take stock of the future of agriculture in your state or region.

What are the tensions between the market value of farmland – which the U.S. Department of Agriculture just reported is up 8 percent year over year – and the economics/aspirations of the next generation of family farmers?  Who’s snapping up farmland in your area and for what purpose?  How are environmental and animal rights concerns shaping the farming agenda in your area?  The agricultural fairs are a great opportunity to cultivate sources among farm families and industry officials.

On a less serious note, who wouldn’t enjoy a profile about the job of being an itinerant carny, sleeping in a tractor-trailer bunkhouse and operating the Ferris Wheel or Tilt-a-Whirl?  What do these jobs pay, how long do workers stay in them and what are the pros and cons?  Something tells me it’s not all fun and games — here’s a USA Today story from last year, “Migrant carnival workers need protection, advocates say,” that’ll give food for thought.  Many people might be surprised to know that thousands of workers are here on temporary visas doing these difficult jobs.

Here’s a directory of state fairs from About.com and a more extensive listing of events from Festivals.com. Don’t forget that at least in the northern tier, Renaissance Faires and other reenactment shows are getting set for a last hurrah as well.

Corporate inversion. That’s the current buzz, highlighted last week when Walgreen’s backed off its plan to move its headquarters overseas; this interesting corporate inversion graphic produced for the office of U.S. Rep. Sander Levin gives a timeline of inversions and is worth scanning to see if any local corporate names are on their; you could do a follow-up on how any moves have affected local workers and communities.

Your state’s booze profile. Legal marijuana stories are in vogue but traditional highs like beer and wine still pack an economic wallop; the Beer Institute, an industry trade group, was recently out with state-by-state data about who drinks what; North Dakota is the leader when it comes to brew, but Washington D.C. drinkers outpace the nation in wine consumption.  (Wonder why?)  Consumers love stories that reflect their own behavior back to them; consider checking with the state’s liquor commission for sales data by ZIP code – it’s fun to graph which communities favor Meister Brau vs. Grey Goose, and so on.

Phishing. There was a funeral home phishing scam making the e-mail rounds a few months back; another one trumpeting “Notice to appear in court” is making its way round, and a consumer brief to this effect might be in order.  In addition to consumer advocates, you might want to talk with psychologists and marketing experts about the sort of buzzwords that get even savvy people to click.  Fear of running afoul of the law, death, money – the scamsters seem pretty shrewd about tapping into primal anxieties, especially those affecting older people who so often are targets of these crimes.

And, like everything else consumer, phishing is going mobile, with texts and alerts tricking the unwary.