After posting yesterday’s, it occurred to me that, because the phrase, American Mogul, is a fairly common one, it has likely been used in one context or another by someone. If so, I owed it to that person and myself to find out. I did what anyone does, nowadays, and googled it. Sure enough, there he was, Russell Simmons, an entertainment world figure and a successful entrepreneur himself, if still a toenail short of the billionaire cut. If he remains healthy and energetic, and continues to do everything right, he’ll make it. It’s still America, after all.
Reading about Mr. Simmons, I began to develop a wary admiration of him and his pursuits. He had some help along the way from family, like so many successful people have, but he surely deserves the “self-made” distinction that Forbes applies to billionaires (and less) that the magazine considers more worthy of our approbation. I realized that, while making money had been a relatively central factor in Mr. Simmons’ motivational complex, I was hard-pressed to think of anyone for whom that isn’t necessarily the case. All it takes, in fact, is a trip to the supermarket to put the point into perspective.
I cannot comment about the reality show of which he was the central character, for I’ve only just learned of its existence and have more pressing lacunae on my to-Google list. Apparently it didn’t have the leg for the long run. Others will know; I don’t. It was apparently interesting enough to be signed up for more than a single season, so one wonders what essential ingredient it exhausted first. I had to think about the point for a spell.
As I thought (an activity I do more vigorously before lunch than after) I slipped into a kind of afternoon reverie. I remembered a project I had worked on years earlier in Idaho, taking photographs for a project run by a long-defunct magazine called Idaho Heritage. I spent a day or two, (depending on Day One weather) wandering about taking snapshots, and only occasionally intruding into the daily activities of the residents, to get their ideas about what might be the interesting subjects of my work.
The communities and their citizens were charming, villages, really, each was unique. I’ll bring some of the photos here, soon as it occurs to me where they are archived, for they coincide in years with the advent of the personal computer. I mention these places; there were twelve of them, for one reason. Each of the towns was healthy, but not noticeably growing, and each showed signs of a struggle to remain not just economically viable, but stable enough to remain more than a mere ghost town, of which there are more in Idaho than one might guess.
It occurred to me to wonder what might happen if a single affluent individual decided that one of these towns would be, in a wired world such as ours, a reasonable place to take up residence for all or part of a year? What if, having determined to do so with a budget of a million dollars to make the move, using locally available products and services and tradespeople as possible, they spent 90% of their budget there?
In fact, there is nothing speculative about this scenario, and in Bellevue, Idaho (one of the 12 Idaho Heritage towns) something very similar has happened nearby already, and repeatedly. The next town north of it is Hailey, after which comes Ketchum. All three are part of the Sun Valley, Big Wood River area of central Idaho, which has become the site of serial homes of some of the most recognized names in the country. The easiest way for a longterm resident of the area to become a millionaire is to sell the building lot their pioneer family home still occupies.
The point of today’s maundering entry is that it doesn’t take a big investment in a small community, its residents and their businesses, to set in motion a chain reaction of progressive optimism and hope for the future that makes of such places some of the best places to live in the country. There are a large number of civic projects just waiting on a little bit of liquidity for launch. The knock-on effects of employing a dozen of the most capable local workers, normally resigned to the “rocking chair” of off-season unemployment checks is well known. People with an opportunity to repair, expand, upgrade, begin or complete long-idle projects in their surroundings are people with renewed optimism. Without optimism, life is merely being. The missing ingredient that brings the transformation from being to becoming is disposable capital, and that only comes from the exchange of goods and services, unless you are a Wall Street Banker or a big corporation. But that’s another blog post.