Developing a sustained modern rural system

A bunch of people in western Virginia is beginning to get together for their common good. There is talk of a region but that is a place and people are important. Most of them love where they live but realize that they have a "situation." They are similar to folks in other areas of the US and many places of the world. Many people are unemployed for many reasons, especially recent layoffs and business cutbacks and closings (e.g., Lear Corp., Covington, Virginia). Unemployment effects, like those of flood water, creep everywhere. Natural resources have not been used efficiently, health can be improved, and causes for difficulties can be easily found. There is a feeling -- the quality of life could be much better. Just as easily, though, the friendliness can be found. The region has great beauty, diverse resources, points of great interest, great location. The situation is what we have now; the past is past, and there is need for change -- for solutions, remedies, innovations. The "fix" will be complicated and difficult but it is possible. There are new concepts, ideas, technology. There are research findings, new ways to structure old solutions, and new effectiveness to be gained.

The Powell Initiative is a solution by a single person …not the only one… and it needs advice and improvement. It is not a welfare proposal, only one for a start-up. It is a proposal for a modern team. It can start, become real immediately. (Others can proceed simultaneously and interactively, or not.) We need to discuss all of it and to make it as clear as possible but it is large and complicated…a proper response to an enormous, gigantic, diverse and dispersed problem that can be faced by the people in this region. It is a solution that, once demonstrated here, can be of help elsewhere.

The Region

The Initiative is about people, their employment and quality of life. Place is important too. Clifton Forge can become the center. We must not emphasize the region or the boundaries because in the modern globalizing world, those boundaries are no longer important. Emphasizing them will do more harm than good, waste more time than gained. The initial region is northern Craig County, some of West Virginia, Alleghany County, some of Botetourt County, and southern Bath County. The edges are blurred. If you the reader want to be included, want to participate actively, then you are included. We'll expand and franchise our services and processes as rapidly and as far as possible, world wide.

The name of the Initiative is to honor retired US Forest Service employee, M. Leon Powell, deceased, and physician, Dr. Unity Powell of Covington, Virginia. Dr. Powell, now retired, lives in Covington and continues serving the people of the region from the Lowmoor Clinic.
What is it?

The Initiative is a solution to a local situation and it is a way to name and concentrate work. It starts and implements Rural System. Rural System is a for-profit corporation. It is described in detail at and in Bob Giles' new (free) Internet book Rural System? Just Dreaming... : A For-Profit Conglomerate for Meaningful Jobs, Healthful Communities, and Improved Natural Resource Management . It does not exist (November, 2007).

It is an emphasis, a singular concept, hopefully with appeal for everyone.

Much more than that, it is a new corporation, a conglomerate, that knows that major evident improvements in natural resource management will now only be achieved if there are significant financial incentives for doing so. It operates a corporation to do just that, for diverse benefits for people, for now and the distant future. Its targets are benefits for people, reasonable lasting net benefits, with restoration from past errors. It operates some five interrelated major parts -

  1. Incorporated Enterprises - about 50, many that are often too small for success, but successful when operated within a system with modern computer aids and adequate scale. It has the advantages of a diverse stock portfolio and of a lasting ecological system.
  2. Rural System Tracts or Enterprise Environments - private lands under contract, often of absentee owners, managed year around for lasting profits from many sources (not just forestry) and with restoration and increased productivity.
  3. The Land Force - a working group of well-trained men and women, many working in the outdoors to manage farms and forests and waters (Land includes everything from groundwater to geology, soils, and air quality over the map area.) They implement research results.
  4. The Foundation - sponsoring needed practical research, aiding in land restoration and conservation, and developing and conducting education about the environment and its management.
  5. Q Works - an incubator-like central group using new management systems, simulation, optimization of land use with RRx, quality of life indexing, and centralizing corporate services to the above enterprises.

It harvests the fruits from millions of dollars invested in research to add to a a rural knowledge base of InteractiveGIS, Inc. of Blacksburg, having geographic information system technology (GIS and GPS technology) for useful knowledge about lands, waters, geology, wildlife, recreation for improving decision making broadly and for very site-specific optimization.

It advances Ranging a regional marketing ploy, for Clifton Forge and its region to become that ranging place. Ranging means engaging in one or more of a diverse set of extended, dispersed outdoor or rural activities for health, recreation, study, appreciation, and adventure. It is a new and expanded version of "ecotourism."
Ranging may also mean the enterprises that are related and that promote, support, and supply these activities and the areas and resources used. It includes (but is not limited to) hiking, tramping, trecking, camping, climbing, biking, horseback trail riding, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kyacking, boating, archery, touring, sightseeing, studying nature, and wildlife watching.

The Initiative and Rural System change the scale of operation in rural areas. The modern family or individual is too busy, singular, has too many competing demands and questions, does not have to time to master the complexities of rural life. The family is told almost daily that he or she must master the complexities of the total environment. Areas are too small to be profitable; equipment is too expensive for small jobs. Teams are needed for many tasks. Rural System changes too small to the right size.

Rural System harvests knowledge, exploiting a gold mine of research results that have been hard won from spending vast tax dollars. Staff knows where the "gold" is hidden. It does studies, rarely does research, and is in the business of exploiting and applying research results from universities and agencies within the region. Testing and demonstrating results are secondary gains usually made and extended elsewhere.

It treats whole landowner systems - everything in the boundary and adjacent - ponds, forests, livestock, recreation areas and adds to those profits extra profits from the conglomerate. It moves land production past the "margin" matching the best crops and products to the land and water potentials and then enhancing production for the longterm - the 150-year sliding-forward horizon.

It is constantly using feedback, checking and improving.

It provides diverse safe, healthful employment opportunities for local people,

It adds value to land and its products, services, opportunities, views, ideas, information, inspiration, memberships, and memories.

It uses concepts of interoperability, gaining efficiencies among enterprises and functions.

It uses planned synergism, making extra gains from making unions and simultaneous action.

It operates from private and public lands and has low capital investment requirements.

It works with private land and uses (well within regulations and laws) the public land. Its objective is clear - lasting bounded profit.

It markets through local facilities and its electronic catalog products and services transnationally.

It concentrates on improved decision making, using simulation of ecological and human systems, and often in concert, computer-aided optimization to make best and satisfactory decisions.

It works with and tries when requested to enhance and improve the profitability of existing enterprises.

It has special education capabilities and educates staff, the public, and offers distance-learning resources.

It stresses being safe, legal, humane, esthetically coherent, and decent work.

It is not the imported big factory with its added urban costs, required service, and high capital outlay. It is "appropriate technology" for a rural region and its people and their communities.

It has many individual, group, community and other planned incentives including those financial.

It is well located with Interstate and other access and abundant transportation services.

It is not just a collection of things but each enterprise, by design, is closely related to, linked with, and supportive of several other enterprises.

The System

Grounded in many volumes of general system theory, Rural System uses published system principles and techniques, concentrates on temporarily-closed systems, then their objectives, skillfully using limited inputs, using processing systems effectively, checking and correcting all parts of the system continually (feedback), and adding "feedforward." Feedforward is the process of working to see the future and to project it, then to use the result of that effort to improve immediate decisions. The improvement is in making them better for the long run. As in shooting, it means "leading the target."

A Little More About the Situation

Here is the perceived context for the Initiative and some of our potential work together in an era and area now cross-whipped by change. It is "where we are coming from" -

  1. A large Eastern US national forest, state park, large lake, and hundreds of ponds and many trout streams; increasing absentee farmland ownership
  2. a likely fossil-energy-short future
  3. a likely clean-water-short future
  4. a likely declining rural population and increasing urban population
  5. increasing roles for the Internet and communication systems
  6. high and increasing real estate taxes, depressing land values and discouraging land improvement
  7. low and declining nearby bedroom-community appeal (high energy costs)
  8. low general recreational tourism
  9. increasing "trust" land, unmanaged, depressing tax base for counties
  10. few changes in federal land holdings and reduced management of it
  11. increased interest in trees on private land (as well as government lands) as "captured carbon"
  12. new delivery and mass-transit
  13. new technology, GIS, GPS, field computers
  14. declining hunting and increasing vertebrate pest problems
  15. other counties, communities, and refugee settlements increasing around the world needing the model for a major solution.

After much study, the Initiative is the only proper response to such a complex, large, and changing situation.

The Groups

Most of the Groups of Rural System are self evident. Each is described and can be linked from the web site.Here is the current grouping, without priority or assigned values, and it too may change (for example, the limited grouping of "Products and Services"). From here you may link to any Group

Q Works - System Central

  1. System Central Overview
  2. The Land Force
  3. Base (Marketing)
  4. Insurance
  5. Wealth Management
  6. The Law and Justice Group
  7. The Knowledge Base
  8. The Dogwood Inns
  9. The Realtor Group
  10. The Ebay Group
  11. The Homys (homesource employees)
  12. The Warehouse Group
  13. Youth and Adult Camps
    (Codgers, Clachan, and Writers' Camps)
  14. RuraLives
  15. The Memorials Group
  16. The Tours Group
  17. EarthQuilt
  18. The Safety and Security Group
  19. Health
  20. The Rural System Foundation
  21. The GIS Group
  22. The Energy Group
  23. Zeta (International Group)
  24. Borders

Forestry Topics

  1. The Forest Group
  2. The Certification Group
  3. The Trevey
  4. Fire Force
  5. The Chestnut Group
  6. Holiday Trees
  7. Walnut Vales
  8. The Arborist Group
  9. Stoneworms
  10. The Wilderness Group
  11. The Soundscape Group (Earshot)
  12. The Odorscapes Group
  13. The Viewscapes Group
  14. The Foresters


  1. Nature Folks
  2. NatureSeen
  3. Coyote of Nature Folks
  4. The Owls Group
  5. Prospectors
  6. The Plant People
  7. The Butterfly Band
  8. The Fishery
  9. The Raccoon Group
  10. The Furbearer Group
  11. The Black Bear Group
  12. The Bobcat Group
  13. Official Avi: Birdwatching Sport
  14. The Wild Turkey Group
  15. The Covey (bobwhite quail)
  16. The Dogs Group

Agriculture Topics

  1. The Pasture and Range Group
  2. The Gardens Group
  3. The Moss Group
  4. The Bamboo Group
  5. The PleasantYards Group
  6. The Blueberry Patch
  7. The Worm Corral
  8. Alpha Earth
  9. The Vineyards
  10. The Bison Group
  11. The Stables
  12. The Goats System
  13. The Sheep Group
  14. The Rabbit Group
  15. The Goose Flock

Sports and Recreation

  1. The Wildland Crew
  2. The 4 x 4 Group
  3. The Wildland Walkers
  4. Run Along (Youth Program)
  5. Tetra (International
    Cross-Country Relay Race )
  6. The Biking Group
  7. The Rural River Runners
  8. Tree Tops
  9. NovoSports
  10. GPSence

Products and Services

  1. Right Rural (The Citizens Group)
  2. The Codgers (or
    The Old Geezers)
  3. Fog Drip
  4. Floats
  5. Stills: Favorite Images
  6. The Products Group
  7. The Sculptors
  8. Topics
  9. The Big Bandana
  10. Inquire: The Unified Laboratory (e.g., ecorods)
  11. EcoRods
  12. The Fence Group
  13. Belles and Whistles
  14. The Pest Force
  15. Competency: Performance Assurance
  16. The Power Places
    (the teaching/learning system)


We the people in the region have to take The Initiative. There are many ways to get started, many pathways for attack. I have suggestions, but I need help on this topic.

The Initiative helps start Rural System and ranging as a local policy and high-type objective.

Rural System is a proposed, startup, a for-profit corporation. It is a conglomerate.

It is a diverse, synergistic, private citizens' conglomerate doing modern, sophisticated, computer-aided management of the lands and waters of Alleghany County and related communities and counties.

Concentrating on private land restoration, enhancement, and production for long-term sustained profits, it "tends"' private lands and waters (often those of absentee owners) and manages them for longterm owner profits. As part of such management its land force provides related services and products from about 70 small, unified resource-related business units. Many of the activities of these units occur on the managed lands. A central unit provides incubator-like services and allows the corporation to harvest public research investments, to achieve economies of scale, and to stabilize employment. The central unit assists all units, including several fee-based organizations, a products group, and an Internet unit.

The corporation uses the vast public and private rural resources of a beautiful region of Virginia and provides an entrepreneurial response to an array of current problem trends there. It capitalizes on innovative uses of the Internet, GIS, and computers in the region. Success in improving the social, economic, and environmental health of the region may allow transfer, years later, of a similar system to other regions of the US and elsewhere.

The Vision - The Result of the Powell Initiative

Successful in one western Virginia region, the Rural System enterprise (herein proposed) develops within other regions of Virginia, then the U.S. and internationally. The enterprise displays a paradigm of a free-enterprise-based regional economic development system centered on modern, sophisticated rural-land and natural-resource management for the 150-year future.

The enterprise leads in computer-aided, year-around, and profitable private land management. It links buyers and users with producers of certified forest products and diverse resource opportunities resulting in sustained profits which are possible from well-managed rural land resources. Successes are achieved via smart work, synergistic designs, diverse enterprises and products, interoperable processes and, and computer optimization of a total system.

"Tell a tale, show an example," someone said. "It is tough to get your mind around it!"

Tale 1 - Midway

Through the downtown windows of the Clifton Forge office of Rural System, Jake, standing on the sidewalk could see large maps on the walls. These were unusual, computer drawn things. Seven people sat with backs to the window. They were new employees, evident since several wore their notable, new, colored shirts. On the window were directions to the Covington office where most people came for tickets to a variety of activities and services. Jake had been there. It had a large products display area. Inside, here, there were only a few items on display. In the back were computers printers and people working leaning over tables of maps and printouts. Bill walked out, greeted Jake and asked if his wife had signed up as a Homy one of the businesses of Rural System run from 73 homes throughout the area. Mothers with children, several retired people, and 6 injured Iraq-war veterans were on the role. Jake, newly married, was having difficulty finding a job for his wife who had a graduate degree. Bill bragged about the large number of birds seen on Avi the bird-golf course and agreed to meet Jake on Saturday for atlatl spearing. Bill was delivering a monitoring device to one farm for Jane and afterwards he was visiting another farm place to plan a pest damage control operation. Working together…enjoying life together.

Tale 2 - An End Results

In an amazing demonstration area, near Covington, was a real departure. There, a new diverse enterprise had an educational and research area under- and overlain by a complex electronic information technology monitoring and integrating topics from the depths of soils, the heights of clouds, to the expanses of international markets and native cultures. People came from all over the world to see where science meets history, where history generates the future, where millions of dollars invested in old science is practiced, and where a new way of science struggles with old ways of learning.

This is a natural resource place, a forest and wildland place, but strangely the hub of a progressive county/region-wide system with information centers devoted to weather as well as water, interpreting land use influences on local raccoons as well as on domestic rabbits and wild trout. This is where you are as likely to find a person exploring a treetop as a deep marsh soil, as likely a lecturer as a lab worker. People come for learning and exploring, but for a new form of recreation. They come for ideas and knowledge and leave with those, influenced and connected to the place from all over the world. Ideas are pumped into this place (and its satellite places in the region); lessons are developed; general models built for how to create similar places …with the variable and unique characteristics of each place and people where the practice, method, structure or efficiency might be tried. This is the natural resource "open-sourcing" place. The core 5-E dimensions are economics, ecologics, energetics, esthetics, and enforcements. The core processes are decision aids … logic, optimization, and expert systems. The statement of expected satisfactory profit remains unchanged for if the rural country anywhere is to be retained, it must produce satisfying profits for groups every year over at least 150 years. That takes profound computer-aided work, specialized world-team work in caring for the land and water and its old and new productivity… and then enhancing it. Such work can be seen and learned here … in the rooms, the labs, the trees, the tours, the contests, the memberships, the day and night presentations, and … yes, the polished poems sent and sold around the world on the Internet by the elders and by the children ... Bath to Craig counties.

Tale 3 - Trees and Extra Profit

Trees are like bank accounts. A small amount is invested. It grows with known but changing compound interest rates, and after a long investment period, the investment with interest is withdrawn -- logged. What if during that long required waiting period, extra money could be added to the account, it too increasing with about the same compounding rates? For example, from fees from annual hunting rights or special crop production? Over the period of the life of the trees, at least as much money can be made as from the trees, usually more! By careful management of combined uses of an ownership, the financial return from the same forested acres can be more than doubled by harvest time. The combined profits from all groups, minus the investments in land productivity, all as incentives, suggest the real profits.

But What Does it Really Do? Local and Immediate Action Specifics

Expand but be more brief!
Here are the major beginnings for one developmental pathway (among many suggestions):

  1. Develop two center-of-town offices and retail and service display areas
  2. Implement Ranging concepts
  3. Recruit staff for sophisticated modeling and optimization applied to the region
  4. Immediately implement 10 enterprises including RuraLives, Stoneworms, Right Rural, Nature Seen, The Sculptors, The Tours Group, The Owls Group, the Products Group, Homys, and System Central…and others as local expertise and enthusiasm is found.
  5. Sponsor 2 general meetings explaining the Initiative and seeking interested workers, participants, and employees
  6. Invite present entrepreneurs and representatives with local sponsorship, to a meeting to develop cooperative relations
  7. Solicit an intense action for the area by the Conservation Management Institute of Virginia Tech and related USFS and private GIS entities
  8. Implement high school science, writing, and history projects and The Rabbit Group
  9. Gain addresses of university students and request term papers and other investigations of interest for the region
  10. Solicit an immediate conference with the local garden clubs and people with gardening interests and involvements
  11. Solicit Virginia Tech involvement and promotion/production of a local conference on"The Messages of Modern Landscape Architecture for the Alleghany Region"
  12. Find or develop a compendium of sites of historic or cultural importance by work withlocal libraries and investigators
  13. Request the USFS to establish for at least 4 years a research out-reach unit including emphasis on the NED system and Dr. Rauscher's work (Ashville, NC)
  14. Solicit intense local USFS involvement with Rural System providing information and area orientation for 2 months
  15. Solicit establishment of an educational unit for the Northern Virginia Graduate Center (College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech)
  16. Solicit contributed projects by Dabney Lanchaster College students, faculty, and staff
  17. Develop a Lake Moomaw fishery
  18. Solicit intensive action from Harry Groot and the Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative.
  19. Solicit several immediate timber sales for gains to the Initiative
  20. Gain public wood-drying areas
  21. Develop an ancillary Trails center with Appalachian Trail affiliation
  22. Solicit a College of Natural Resources Conference to be held in Clifton Forge on "The Resource Potentials of Virginia's Alleghany Region"
  23. Solicit Prof. Savage (VMI) development of text and maps tours of the Geology of the Alleghany Region
  24. Develop a Douthat Park Resources Compendium
  25. Develop the Wildland Walkers and Douthat Park emphasis.
  26. Solicit a Cooperative Extension Crisis Taskforce with one-month involvement for the region and developing Rural System
  27. Solicit Foundation support (usually a revolving line of credit) for key programs and developments
  28. Develop specific arrangements with the USFS and their new plans for the region
  29. Recruit and train the Land Force
  30. Solicit local hospital and medical unit involvement in the Chi concept and means for reducing health risks and costs
  31. Solicit cooperative work among nearby colleges and universities offering criminal justice programs for a plan for regional security
  32. Develop a White Paper on "The Regions River and Crescent Management" (a study of the resource potentials of the Jackson and its watershed)
  33. Request newspaper space for a weekly column on Rural System and the Powell Initiative and contributed advertising space
  34. Start a Powell Initiative blog
  35. Get a list of addresses of absentee land owners and acres owned and tax maps
  36. Get from Soil Conservation Service (NRCS) a list of ponds and lakes developed in the county and owners/contact addresses.
  37. Solicit private camps within the county/area for contacts and interest.
  38. Solicit Chamber of Commerce involvement
  39. Get potential leadership candidates (or existing enterprise manager/owner) for each of the following part-time activities:

All of that work results in a unified system of resources, people, knowledge, and expert performance. It is not just of a map area of ownership and nearby lands. It is that of part of the GW National Forest and nearby public and private lands and waters as the likely center of high regional quality of life, an entrepreneurial "commons," a core of economic presence and development. This is the place where there has developed a new public / private partnership, one between the Forest, the local Colleges and universities, citizens, Rural System, an ad hoc local committee of stock holders, and they with their affiliates. The National Forest and State Park would continue to encourage conventional use of its land in legal and supervised ways. The new partnership would grow with employee-owned and citizen-owned principles. Over 70 small businesses are suggested as working together from a single unit, incubator like, the headquarters of a new expanding conglomerate. Expertise, GIS information, optimization, are all offered. Employment, so badly needed within the region, is stabilized, the tax base is increased, and by agreement, part of the "profits" are allocated to help maintain the communities at the edges of the Forest, and part is used for improving the productivity of the resource base of the Forest, Park, and region. The developing enterprise would work with and on the Forest and Park, as well as on private land but also with a mission of bettering them. New enhanced links can be made with federal research centers, North and South, East and West. The businesses involved are those of and on the Forest, so dominant in the region but also of the surrounding private lands and other supported enterprises. The collective businesses, the total conglomerate, work as a diverse stock portfolio, diverse and profitable. Educated crews with designed equipment, for example, would do modern contract logging and other field tasks. There are jobs for guides, services, foods, computer work, equipment sales, tourism, etc.

The above pathway, 1, can be achieved with an estimated initial investment (e.g., a line of credit) of $800,000 in year, and 2 million more by year 4, a total of $2.8 million. The payback if this investment is 7 years, with highly-probable profitability thereafter.

Alternative Paths

2 Start small. Grow into it. This sounds wise and conventional. It is what we know. Small is the problem - too small farms, too small markets, little diversity, no backups, infufficient tax base, missing key components. Time is also the problem, too little of it for people laid-off, for training, for building, for regional work and discussions. We are already aware of problems, not just predicting them. "Starting small" reduces the risks of financial loss but magnifies them for failure, denies the magnitude of the ecological, economic, and environmental problems listed above. A small strategy foregoes possibilities of synergism and team work. It ignores the lessons learned in developing computer software - the high cost of system building but the low and diminishing cost of use of the results thereafter.

We've started. We have a long-developing design (pre 1998), draft business plans, a website, 20,000 hours invested in progress on the land use prescription system, RRx, several systems, an e-catalog, a small list of cooperators and advisors (including the InteractiveGIS, Inc., VTKnowledgeWorks, VTEarthWorks, Conservation Management Institute, Mills Arborists, The Northern Virginia Graduate Center (College of Natural Resources Program), a long list of correspondents, a small amount of money, cooperative small business center advisors, and enthusiasts as well as detractors (already heard saying: too complicated and complex, no market, managerially too difficult, no land owners will join, etc.). "Starting small." cooperation and comments toward Rural System ends will be appreciated.

3 Continue planning. Describe the system as it might become. Publish a book about it so that the ideas can be shared some day, developed later, perhaps elsewhere. Text for such a book is now available (November, 2007 ).

4 Do a demo. Find an area, and demonstrate with it what you are talking about. This is the "be-fully-operational and brag about first-uses" strategy. It works for government investment and it sold hybrid corn to farmers. We all yearn for observed success. We need the first- or early-adopters, and those in the region need to be the first. The start-up costs are high. The products and services are developed as rapidly as possible and there may be something to show, something "working." It is likely to be rushed, then failing badly and gaining a reputation, itself costly to overcome.

We need an announcement of phased funding - $500,000 a year for 6 years - a conspicuous show of united cooperators - Park, Forest, University, College, Towns, Foundation. We need newspaper and news support. We need public meetings.Then several products (e.g., framed 3-d computer maps). We need to develop the Q Works where economies will be made for all groups that will be working together. The RRx and GIS Group along with USFS's NED system need to be developed for they are fundamental to diagnosing land and prescribing for it. Their services relate to most groups. Simultaneously, where interest and expertise is found, the non-land, low-development-cost groups are built (NatureSeen, ReaLives, Sculptors, Right Rural, Stoneworms, The Tours Group, The Owls Group, the Products Group, Homys). Land Force leaders need to be found and integrated.

5 If developed elsewhere and a satisfactory demonstration is available, invite early participation and franchise development for the region.
To have a desirable rural environment within a county and its region, there has to exist a sustained, profitable, diverse, natural resource-related enterprise. In that enterprise there must be abundant, satisfied employees (many who are self-employed), residents, visitors, and customers who must find safe, interesting, beautiful, diverse activities and opportunities, some of which are novel, others that change little. Quality living occurs within managed quality spaces. Such spaces need to be restored, created, and managed soundly and cost-effectively with history guiding decisions for the future. That's all!

Perhaps you will share ideas with RHGiles at (email RHGiles [at] RuralSystem dot [com] about some of the topic(s) above.

Maybe we can work together
... for the good of us all
... for a long time.

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