Rosie the Riveter, Tree Farms, and Adapting

Rosie the Riveter, an icon of labor during WWII, must be rolling in her grave. The festive parades celebrating the workingmen’s holiday on Labor Day are distant memories. The job figures for August was similar to Dean Wormer’s reading of Mr. Blutarsky’s report card, “Zero point zero.” Rosie’s “We Can Do It” spirit is challenged today by a sluggish economic recovery, a tough housing market, and uncertainty, even anger, with wonky policies towards our debt, deficit and unemployment woes.

Our debt and deficit numbers are huge. Too many zeros. Someone suggested to me to take away 8 zeros, and relate them to a household budget. And here’s what you get (using figures from the Congressional Budget Office):

Household Income: $23k (vs $2.3 trillion)
Household Spending: $36k (vs 3.6 trillion)
Debt: $140k (vs. $14 trillion)
Additional Borrowed: $13k (i.e. the deficit of $1.3 trillion)

In this simplistic example, aren’t you barreling towards a cliff? You’re slapping $13k on your credit card, interest rates will rise, and the bank will someday freeze your credit. The solutions are obvious – slash expenses, look for more work (income), and pay down debt – or file bankruptcy.

Zoom out to the big government picture, and we understand why Rosie is frustrated. We hear debates. We demand leadership with thoughtful solutions.

However, the good news is that more Rosie’s are adapting, fighting and surviving (even thriving) today. You see examples every day – hopefully you. I’ll share one.

Driving up the Columbia River gorge on I-84 between Portland and Hermiston, you transition from forest to high desert country. A little before I get to my destination, I see an oddly located ‘forest’ near Boardman, OR. It’s huge and stands out like a sore thumb in the adjacent cornfields and desert terrain. Why would someone plant tree farm there? Isn’t the forest industry suffering?

I did a little research. It is a 17,000 acre popular tree farm owned by Potlach Corp. The trees grow fast (10-12 feet annually) and mature in about ten years. Originally, the plan was to produce wood chips for paper mills. But wood chip prices fell, and they sought alternative markets and products. They recently announced a partnership with a fuel and chemical firm. The trees will provide biomass for a biorefinery which will be built on site. They estimate a significant cost savings due to the proximity of the refinery, and wood costs 50% less than Brazilian sugar cane and 80% less than corn based processes. Now that’s innovation in a greener-oriented world.

So what do tree farms and biofuels have to do with personal finance? Plenty… In these frustrating and challenging times, control what you can control, and defend yourself.

• Adapt your financial, business and family plans to protect you from danger, and to be poised for opportunities

• Enhance your skills and be more marketable in advancing and competitive careers

The “We Can Do It” spirit lives on. Don’t wait for policy makers to fix America’s economic problems.

About Brian Loy

Brian Loy writes insightful and inspiring articles about the ever-changing world of personal finance and the global trends that affect the risk and return on investments and shape the financial- and retirement-planning process.
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