As I hit the mid-point of my road trip exploration of the Upper Midwest and Midwest, I’ve been keeping a journal of thoughts, experiences and ideas. A lot can occur to you over the course of 15 days and 3,500 miles, particularly when a big chunk of those miles come while following the path of Lewis & Clark up the Missouri River. My adventures have exceeded my expectations, particularly as I moved further away from states where I had friends and familiar memories. I am now on the edge of the South Dakota/Wyoming border, 30 miles from Custer.
I have now visited 48 of our 50 states, knocking off Indiana and North Dakota already on this trip and I will reach Nebraska next week. That leaves only Vermont. I feel qualified in declaring the United States truly an amazing country. We are diverse in geography, customs, expressions, food and culture, but we share common bonds of respect, openness and goodness. This is no disrespect to any other country. I am fortunate to have been able to travel extensively throughout the world and have so many friends – primarily through my Worldcom Public Relations Group partnership – across the globe. But no country that I have visited has the variety and splendor I have witnessed on this trip.
I have also been struck by other random observations:
- Community banking is alive and well. I have seen more local banks than churches on this trip and am reminded that it is local banks that truly support small businesses and individual dreams.
- There are more colleges and universities in this country than I ever imagined. As a college sports fan, I thought I knew a lot about this landscape. But as I have gotten off the beaten path, I have discovered Concordia College (not to be confused with Concordia University in Nebraska), Presentation College, the University of Mary and dozens of others as well as countless community colleges. Education is the great leveler of inequality, and I am thrilled to see so many opportunities exist.
- Every community is facing a labor shortage. I have literally seen thousands of “We’re Hiring” and “Help Wanted” signs for businesses of every shape and size. Restaurants have restricted hours, motels are closed, manufacturing plants are running reduced shifts. RLF is helping several clients that are recruiting new employees, and I know firsthand how challenging it is. It is a brutal restart to the shutdowns and restrictions created by how the pandemic was handled. There are multiple factors for this conundrum, and both the government and private sector need to make resolving it a higher priority.
- While our country debates a massive infrastructure bill, I am constantly reminded of the amazing projects built during the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration. We are still benefitting from the national parks, trails, roads, dams and thousands of other projects that were built by men and women desperate for jobs during the Great Depression. A fantastic book on this subject is American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA by Nick Taylor. On my final day of the return trip, I am going to make a point to detour to drive part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a WPA project.
- In driving through vast open spaces, there are thousands of enormous windmills generating energy. But in many places, particularly North Dakota, there are also thousands of oil drilling rigs relentlessly driving into the earth. Renewable energy is making tremendous advances but seeing flames shooting high into the night sky as oil is burned off is a vivid reminder that our economy runs on fossil fuels.
My highest point north on this trip was Roosevelt National Park in the Northwest corner of North Dakota. A fantastic national asset that brought to life the stories I have read about Teddy Roosevelt’s days as cattle rancher and how it shaped his life. If I could invite 3 people from any time period to a dinner party, the Bull Moose would be on the list.
I’m headed now to my farthest point west – Casper, Wyoming – before turning for home. Let the adventures continue.