Rural System's

The Slice Initiative

Sustained rural resources; sustained profits

This is a draft document and may not be cited. This is not a solicitation for investment and is strictly exploratory. The concept and related potential corporation is under development

July, 2006

one alternative, one slice of the solution
v.; cutting past the past, cutting in to find a solution
cutting unnecessary strings
a western Virginia region, a slice of the Commonwealth's wealth
an alternative form revealed, now that the slice has been taken

The Essence of the Initiative
The Local Problem
The Identity Issue
The Region
The Core
Preliminary Design of the Core
Rural System: Introduction
Rural System: In a Nutshell
What Rural System "Does"
Getting Started
Ways to Start
Three Stories
Frequently Asked Questions
Benefits and Costs
A Potential Start-up Unit
What RS May Offer the Small Single Ownership
Rural System Capsule
Related Ideas and Notes
The Essence
The Slice Initiative is proposed action to be taken by citizens to face growing local problems and create a new community. It forms a for-profit corporation to work toward improved quality of life in Blacksburg, its region, and beyond. The conglomerate corporation works for the Town, revitalizing downtown, building a new university linkage, and building a tax base. Simultaneously, it builds a new Town and regional identity, one of sophisticated modern rural resource management. It works from a line of credit to develop Rural System. That system, a corporate conglomerate, has four major parts: 1- The Enterprises, 2- Q Works, 3- Rural System Tracts, and 4- The Land Force. The Enterprises are 70 small rural- and natural-resource-related businesses. Q Works is a guidance system and an economizing central unit for quality of life. The Tracts are lands and waters, mostly of private landowners, managed under contract. The Land Force is trained staff doing superior work in the field, mostly on Tracts. Rural System does superior modern management of these lands, shifts economies of scale, and provides owners services, products, profits, and other benefits. It uses research results and offers new employment and a community tax base. It's a system using computers and the Internet in the business end of the work with their big payoffs in planning, decision-making, and in gaining efficiencies from using computer maps. It provides comprehensive services for using and developing land for sustained annual profits for the long run. It integrates profits from Tracts with those of the Enterprises. The Initiative and its Rural System shares profits with citizens, towns, and counties of the region...the new community. It works for them. It provides employment, dispersed enterprises and their tax bases, a new regional as well as international focus, and stabilizing power for the long term. Rural System will become a conspicuous worldwide franchise with regional identity to meet growing environmental and human needs.

The Local Problem

In Blacksburg and surrounding counties we have a few problems to solve. Some are old and persistent but many seem new and especially threatening. We can solve them together for now and the future. Of course we can wait, expecting them to disappear or become smaller. They may become larger and a few may be added. Maybe someone else will solve them for us. The problem has many sides or facets like those of a diamond, and we can concentrate attention on each separately or we can realize that they are a single thing that is an object of great risk ... or great opportunity. The facets are:

all affecting the perceived quality of life of the people of Blacksburg and the region. There remain unused inventions and research findings and the strong desire for the gains of capitalism.

We do not have to be very convincing about our local problem "gem of many facets" and can, instead, spend good time creatively on developing ideas and seizing opportunities. We might combine both approaches. We have a "situation" and we can work on it. We need to do so.

We know the local conditions very well and they are changing but some of these are new and international. "Globalization" has problems and we can complain about them, but we can grab on to it for marketing, tourism, and new business and developments ...toward the operation of Blacksburg, other towns, and its region as a profitable growing business ... a system for the benefit of its citizens.

We are aware of unfunded mandates from the State and the disproportion of state funds allocated to our region of the state, especially those for education, health, transportation, crime prevention, and environmental oversight. You are aware of the claims of economic importance of forestry, agriculture, and ecotourism to the state but also of the scant support to improve or sustain them. We have growing needs as people of the region move to cities and as new services are demanded, simultaneously, by dispersed at-home workers and new forms of businesses but also an advanced-age population that remains ... and federal cuts looming in rural health care and social services.

The Identity Issue

People like to respond clearly to questions of "where are you from?" or "where are you going." There is self identity in answers to such questions, also possible entries, reduced risks, or new opportunities. Much information is contained in the answer. More is at stake than a personal good feeling. There is marketing potential for the area in improved identity. Costs can be reduced, acceptances increased, new explorations made ... all having a strong profit motive, not only for citizens' gains but for the tax base of the area.

The Initiative suggests strongly a shift in thinking. We use different models and examples for they each may provide a useful perspective on our large, difficult situation. For example we ask "What does the cross-section of a complex form look like when three simple straight slices are made as at the right?" The answer is at the left, below. One slice does not give a true image. &quit;It depends on the cut" might be one of our mottoes.

We think that most of our thinking has been on a scale of "the store" or on that of "retail sales." We think that it will be beneficial if it can be more broadly on a corporate conglomerate, a collection of enterprises such as Pepsico. We use a professional football comparison. We have great interest in players, the ball, the stadium ... but the profits (the measurable payoff) for the football enterprise are collectively in food, clothing, travel, publications, etc. Similarly, we the people of the region, have been concentrating narrowly. We need to stop stressing the new factory, the new business, the new efficiency gained. We need to stress quality of life and cost effectiveness.We need a conglomerate mode of thought, one rooted in general systems theory and including centralized management, the advantages of great diversity, equal attention to costs and benefits, fail-safe procedures, continuing education, a clear objective (i.e., profit, discussed below), added-value strategies, and planned synergism. The realization for us is that the actual football in the center of the field is essential…but almost irrelevant ... within the enormously large, profitable system.
There is a diverse large corporation ready to be built around similar essential elements of the rural countryside. We have to take our eye "off of the ball" and put it on profits from the whole, large enterprise, by analogy, Blacksburg and the region.

The Region

We can spend time defining and discussing a "region" but these decisions and Designations come and go. There are no boundaries; the borders are fuzzy and will remain so. We can discuss towns, villages, and people (about 160,000 people (2004)) within the shifting borders of cities, towns, and villages within Craig, Floyd, Giles, Montgomery, and Pulaski Counties. Whether we call it a region or not makes little difference for we are now looking outward beyond the old mapped borders for products, markets, ideas, and energy. We are not taking a mapped area as a thing of interest but forming a new community. Over half of the people in the area are connected to the Internet and correspondence for service, ideas, and sales is now worldwide. People live and work in different areas. Families are widespread. More business is conducted out of than within the region. Distance learning gains improvement and acceptance. The region is not unique throughout the Commonwealth or the nation. We shall continue to use "region" but we are thinking about and moving toward developing a "community."

Local businesses benefit from a cohesive community. An intimate customer base with "ownership"can deal with local needs and desires, changing to fit the demands of their customers. When a dollar is spent, the spender has chosen to support a certain method of bringing products to market. That choice can support (or not) the community. At issue is the proportion of money spent that circulates within the local economy and that which is sent to distant corporate pools. Local funds are used to advertise in local newspapers, carry goods produced by local companies, and hire a range of [local] professionals.These transactions create a support structure for the communit. Business owners and individuals can band together to protect and promote their local and independent businesses.

Now Internet technology can expand the region and thus the potential markets, thus potential income.

Old maps are useful in conceiving and working with the region. . New maps developed from computer files can become even more useful. In the next figure, we show how a few single factors (boundary, road types, elevation classes) can be displayed together (work by Klopfer of the Conservation Management Institute of Virginia Tech.).

Major roads in Craig County with elevations shaded in 10 classes, light areas being higher elevations.

Similarly, county or regional maps can be made such as the one at the left. Here for the same county, US Forest Service land is excluded (in white) and land use types in the rest of the county are shown. More important than the map are the statistics that can be produced along with the map such as proportions of land now in each land use.

Cover types are shown only on private lands within the county, along with streams. As needed, a separate GIS map can be created for only one or several cover types.

The complexities of the geology of the region can be added to GIS map layers to improve business and other site location, improve knowledge of soils and their best uses, and reduce drainage and watershed problems...all by using past investments in research and investigations. (A map from W.D. Lowry. 1971, Appalachian Overthrust Belt, Montgomery County, Southwestern Virginia, Guidebook 5, Guidebook to Appalachian Tectonics and Sulfide Mineralization of Southwestern Virginia, VPI and SU, Department of Geological Sciences, Blacksburg, VA, May )

The Initiative, when seized, will make the region unique and that will make it more appealing, more marketable, and will enable people to have more pride in it than ever. The quality of life within it will be improved. Part of the change will be in people seeing the region as a working platform. This view allows us to look at land (temporarily) with little partiality and ask about its capabilities and limits, about its potentials. We do not have to farm as in the past, to restore, or to rehabilitate for past conditions. Laws and regulations as well as structures and systems have changed. The land and water of the region, once well known, can now be in question: "What is its highest and best use?" What will sustain reasonable profits for the long run (say 150 years, rational at least for planted trees)? The Initiative re-opens the question on all land and with the aid of a vast data base and computer power can explore the potentials for each small unit of land within the region. Such units are no longer fixed as forest or pasture or mined area. The can be studied in a new regional and economic context, one which is the not-yet-decided use of a part of the working platform.

Some people want to move quickly from the general to the specifics. What will working on the Slice Initiative really do? We can be no more specific than answer "What will your child be when he or she grows up?" We can say that it is intended to produce hundreds of new jobs, improve the tax base of towns, improve and sustain the scenery -forests, water, wildlife, and mountains, reduce farmland loss, achieve a new community identity and pride, and and open new economic potentials for citizens and investors.

The Initiative includes seeing the region as independent, important, self centered, and working for itself. It implies a developing area and its people, one having its own important personality and identity. The Initiative "re-focuses the lens" and clarifies the area and its people as a vibrant homeland in the eastern US, already with a major transportation system, electronic leadership, and the international center of systems-based innovative comprehensive rural resource management. Home of major medical and intellectual activity, some gentle-on-the-land industrial development, the region has its own university and cultural centers, its own outdoor recreational panoply, its own major university sports events, its own National Forest and important public areas. It has a University and Corporate Research center innovation that can be re-fit to a community. It has its own personality and a place where most everyone still greet passersby. Many things to many people, the region can now with The Slice Initiative become distinctive in being a unique center of sophisticated modern rural resource development and management. Modern rural resources includes the new phenomena of urban sprawl.

Rather than "saving downtown," or re-working political boundaries and area overlaps, The Initiative implies creating a whole new community and its core. Though we can compete against the large urban centers, we know we cannot win. We can compete with over-populated centers (Northern Virginia), and not win, because we are out-voted when tax dollars are allocated. We are dispersed in interests and many of our needs (especially information, entertainment, communication, and idea/information delivery) are now met by the Internet. Increasingly retail sales are made via the Internet. We (and the other people of Virginia and the nation) still need food, fiber, water, and structures and we must retain in rural areas the ability to meet many of those needs. Many people still find the healthful and native quality of local foods and produce far superior to mass-produced similar items. Changing energy supplies (thus travel and commuting costs) change the importance of towns and village centers. County boundaries are fuzzy and of little interest except for taxation differences. Residential sprawl continues gathering speed, consuming productive agricultural, scenic, and forestal lands and increasing demands from new residence owners for wildfire protection, emergency service, fire, water, sewage, quality roads, and crime protection.

The Core

We have rural beauty and sense its deep importance to us for food, fiber, air, water, recreation, and diversity of opportunities. Some landowners put land into trusts to preserve the beauty and perceived ecological goodness and lasting quality of such areas. We take the situation as given, spend little more time describing it, analyzing it for flaws, or whining. Through The Slice Initiative we begin to take control over our future. As stable energy access (an intrinsic human problem) becomes less secure for large numbers of us, in our new environment (i.e., the new populations and new Internet, mass transit, etc. ) we seek new forms for how we shall live and how we shall decide and design the conditions that we will ultimately describe as a high quality of life.

We look for conditions with the criteria of:

but we soon realize that such work, if rephrased, becomes a long list of human objectives for their communities. Citizen committees in Blacksburg in the '70s made such a list. We do not have to re-do that work, only to develop systems that seem to assure they are being sought and achieved as cost effectively as possible. That work and its results can be expressed in a quality of life index that can provide incentives and assurances for citizens, feedback on progress and deviance, and alert individuals and groups to inspire new efforts.

There are reasons to work together for ideas, ease of sharing, efficiency, and some real differences that do exist in Blacksburg and the region and that need to be emphasized. As a collective whole, as a profitable working system, people of the region can today, together, build a fascinating, progressive, healthful tomorrow. It has to be solid, innovative, and well planned for matching our strengths. We, as the people and players in the region, must seize an opportunity while preserving the best of our past for future generations. We must take initiative, take an initiative called Slice. The word is not important. It has many possible implications but it implies carving a place in the future of western Virginia, and then franchising that progressive system to other parts and people of Earth. We go beyond "sensing" that what we have done in the past has not worked well for Blacksburg. We have years of reports, evidence, and ... empty stores.

Preliminary Design of the Core

There are many perspectives on design, but a leading one is that the thing imagined or designed for the future must meet many criteria for the resulting "thing" to be judged whole, adequate, and worthy of creation or development. The design product, the design itself, is the sifted-sand of all possible ideas and parts that might be included. The core or imagined thing formerly known as "downtown" ) that The Initiative proposes (its preliminary design) has the characteristic of a dynamic ecosystem with the following criteria. It must have large numbers of diverse potential buyers every week, some live here already or are students within down-town proximity. There must be temporary housing and services for guests nearby, and sales operations to respond to them, housing for sales and service forces (and note the large number perceived that it now has *):

  1. a large group-meeting area or space
  2. temporary low cost residential units or rapid access to them
  3. *restaurant(s)
  4. key stores (to be listed) such as food and daily living essentials for most downtown retail and service participants (new retail areas are being built in Blacksburg but away from downtown)
  5. drugs and conventional pharmacy supplies
  6. physician office(s)
  7. *hardware sales
  8. *feeds, seed, and fertilizer processing and sales
  9. *post office
  10. *emergency equipment and storage
  11. warehouse
  12. access to freight delivery
  13. *proximity to group recreation space
  14. proximity to group event site(s)
  15. *proximity to transportation terminal(s)
  16. incubator or business service center
  17. business offices
  18. *historic sites efficiently used
  19. *library
  20. *city staff offices
  21. *markets
  22. events (dispersed, regular, annual)
  23. contests, demonstrations, and performances
  24. equipment and product shows
  25. local communication (relevant web sites)
In addition , among the above, the core or parts of it must be clean, safe, of pleasing appearance year around, free of excessive noise- and unpleasant odor, auto-effects free, crime free, and "where people want to be."

To get the core, to go beyond rebuilding or adding to the existing units, The Slice Initiative proposes to add the Enterprises, the incubators, and these then to provide new recreational area access, events, markets and new produce. It proposes and works to market Blacksburg, other towns of the region, and the region as the modern rural resource place ... The Town and region itself becomes the new factory producing benefits. It needs tending and management, the cost of doing sustained profitable business of the conglomerate.

Wishing for something will not make it happen. Taking The Initiative is a way to solve the problems outlined above, form a new community and its core, create Rural System, and achieve a vital new condition for the people here now and for the future.

First I describe it briefly, then tell several stories to give it life and meaning, and then suggest how it might get started ... that is, how the Initiative might be taken. After that, I provide more detail, first about a strongly related topic of tourism or its revised form called ranging.

Confusion about the difference between the Initiative and Rural System seems to have occurred in the past. The Initiative includes

If accepted and implemented, The Slice Initiative implements Rural System, partially to aid in addressing Core problems and others described above.

Rural System: Introduction

The Rural System has been difficult to describe in the past because it is large and complex ... appropriate for the large complex problems faced now within the region. Equally difficult is imagining how to get started. We shall discuss that below.

First, the proposed for-profit conglomerate has four major parts:

  1. The Enterprises
  2. Q Works or the guidance center
  3. The Rural System Tracts
  4. The Land Force

We mention each briefly, then describe each fully below.

People consistently tell us that Rural System is "hard to get your mind around it." You will find it easy when you see it in a nutshell, then hear a few stories about it and learn how it can be a for-profit solution to the local many-faceted problem.

First, in a nutshell -
A small group of people within the region starts a for-profit corporation called Rural System. It unifies about 70 small rural- and natural-resource-related businesses. It manages land and water, and provides services, products, and other benefits. It offers new employment and a community tax base. After 10 years it is expected to employ 300 people. It works for the region. The region is its "factory," its working platform. For it to be profitable, it must invest in maintaining its place of business. It contributes to non-profit entities of the region. Affiliated with governments, it works for its profits. It makes a modest rate of return for investors. It's a system using computers and the Internet in the business end of the work, but with their big payoffs being in planning, decision-making, and in gaining efficiencies from using computer maps and satellite data. It provides comprehensive services for using and developing private land for sustained annual profits for the long run. It uses government lands under permits. It is for citizens of the region but also for guests. It is planned to become a worldwide franchise to meet growing environmental and human needs.

A one page capsule is available.

As a system, Rural System is new, so there is little with which to compare it. However, only a few of the parts are new. It is better to learn about what it does that what it is.

  1. Like a good stock portfolio, it provides diversity
  2. It emphasizes and adds value to the natural resources here
  3. It provides employment, growing to an estimated 300 after 7 years
  4. Affiliating with willing existing enterprises, it increases their markets and profits
  5. Using a modern "systems approach," it achieves new economies
  6. It intensively uses the Internet for reducing travel, communicating, and expanding markets, providing abundant opportunities, some undreamed
  7. Computer simulation and optimization allow us to move past being average, uneconomical about half of the time
  8. It uses a new data base along with GPS for lands and waters of the county and allows land owners, especially absentee owners, to achieve new productivity and conservation
  9. Incentives throughout it allow every citizen opportunities for abundant, diverse benefits
  10. Working from a single office is no longer required, thus it saves energy and offers abundant part time employment
  11. It uses the stores of research results already paid for by tax payers
  12. Starting in the county, the system expands throughout western Virginia, then internationally
  13. It implements a new dynamic planning system, The Trevey (pronounced tree-vee)
  14. It uses a rationally-robust approach appropriate to management decision making
  15. Aware of the limitations of tourism and ecotourism, it promotes ranging a new composite of outdoor related activities and recreation with cultural resource links
  16. It uses and provides opportunities for cost-effective education, primarily called "distance learning" but working for high significant desired behavioral change per dollar
  17. It has a single group, Q Works, that economizes major common operations for its entire set of small enterprises and promotes a quality of life index
  18. It maintains computer and data resources valuable in protecting lands from major intrusions and for reducing costs of environmental impact analyses.
  19. It provides a Land Force, people with special equipment providing rural land services under contract. Employing the best practices, profits are shared with land owners and the land is improved for sustained profitability

Getting Started

We want you to join the Slice Initiative in creating Rural System, a public-private corporation, a diverse conglomerate. It is a solid solution for the problems facing our region and adjacent counties. It does not exist now. We cannot move into Blacksburg or the region a new factory or "call center" or similar business to an existing building as so many towns hope to attract. The longterm costs of such moves tend to exceed the gains and we are now in financial difficulties. We can, however, create an important new business, a new effective model for the region, state, and the globalizing world. We do not want others to copy us. We do not want competitors. We are competitive. We want to be special, for people to visit us to see how Rural System works ... and then benefit from its growing services and products...all beginning in Blacksburg and its Slice Initiative region.

There are many pathways to the same desirable end point… to the objective… to create a private profitable corporation that provides employment and reduces emigration and creates community stability, well being, and quality of life through gaining improved restoration, select preservation, and management of natural resources of the region…then expands. This will be seen as a new type of public/private partnership. We hope that people within the communities will work to find a clear, swift, economically viable means to implement Rural System.

We are not sure of how to get started. We think that there are many options. We know a few beyond "get funding, hire leaders, and go to work" and are eager to share them and, of course, gain better alternatives. Several thoughtful people have said "start small" but smallness of scale is the problem underlying many of the above listed problems. Diseconomies of scale, inadequate markets, lack of diversity, inadequate buying economies, inadequate capital to overcome in a timely fashion a major loss...these are all small-scaleness issues. Even a small start requires hiring many managers and key staff in many enterprises to assure expert performance, market building, and evident payoffs early. We cannot expect to attain a loan of the the estimated start-up investment of $3 million. Growth may be slow during that period, thus investment expenditures average $430,000 annually. Estimates are that Rural System will be profitable at 4% or greater after 7 years.

The following possible ways including seeking help from local economic development and business development offices, agencies, and committees:

  1. Benefactor - A benefactor or venture capitalist might become involved.
  2. The Barn and Garage Strategy (a la Bill Gates' Microsoft development site) - We hold public meetings, inviting those interested in each enterprise topic (over 70 are available). A temporary manager/coordinator is selected and each begins independent work with a few advisors. Q Works is developed rapidly to assist each of the formed groups working out of donated or rented space. An employee develops the Base and affiliations with existing enterprises, the university, Corporate Research Center and others.
  3. The Y Strategy - The Y at Virginia Tech, long an influence in the Town and University, might become the originator of several of the enterprises with financial benefit for that group and the Town and region. They would recruit service-learning participants, graduate students, volunteers, etc. to invest their time and talents speculatively in some of the less field-oriented enterprises. These will develop to paying jobs.These could include
  4. The Tracts Strategy - Q Works and The Trevey (a Tracts planning system) are rapidly developed and a manager is hired to work with Foresters, Inc. (South Main, Blacksburg) to develop certified sustainable forests under the Smartwood label. Affiliation with new Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative. Conversations with National Forest officials and Appalachian Trail officials. Special appeals are made to local absentee farm and forest land owners to participate.
  5. The Land Force - Working with local work-force training units, we hire and train local workers and encourage their involvement with their own land, those units becoming demonstration areas. We move them as rapidly as possible to affiliate with each of the developing groups as well as into specialized field activities in major resource areas (e.g., pasture, livestock, forests, lakes and ponds, etc.) Q Works develops personnel information systems.
  6. The University - Faculty help will be sought, primarily to gain assistance through student work on listed projects. Faculty involvement (consulting and graduate student studies will be sought later).
  7. Corporate Research Center/Town - Negotiations to offer Town spaces with full-scale Center services within downtown, making them satellites of the physical Center now off Ramble Road and the airport.
  8. Appalachian Regional Commission grant (or composite of grants such as Community Development Block Grants) - major start-up funds, perhaps with assistance from Congressman Boucher.
  9. Experimental funds from the Governor's and others economic incentives.
  10. Rural System Fund, a foundation is created in a local bank(s). This is a non-profit foundation created to create Rural System. A board of directors is formed. Blacksburg (and perhaps adjacent or nearby counties) guarantees $500,000; the State guarantees $1 million; and the federal government provides $1 million; foundation additions are sought. A key point … after 7 years, these funds are repaid by the working conglomerate and then the foundation is disbanded. These are not grant funds, only a special loan pool. Citizens and corporations are invited to participate in tax-deductible ways. The direct financial gains for investors from such investment seem to be conservatively 3-4% after 7 years. The rate of return is initially low but the investment expands the great secondary good from the corporate conglomerate. Employment opportunities are estimated to be about 200 people at that time.

    Continuing the suggestion about how to get started, partially to suggest intent, the proposed Rural System Fund when secure offers a line of credit. Staff then uses the funds carefully to develop Rural System as fast and efficiently as possible. Acquiring key managers, educating employees, gaining contracts for Rural System Tracts and working with local landowners will take much time. Contacting local businesses to gain their support and participation will be an on-going activity. Some enterprises will "takeoff" immediately. Others such as Q Works may not be functional for a year. Major development is needed for Q Works for it to provide efficiencies among the developing groups.

  11. Permutations of the above.

Many people have said just tell us a little story to help us understand. Here are three:
Together Everyone Achieves More

1The first story is about Bob Giles' work with C.B. Slemp after he got the Powell River project (western Virginia) started years ago with funding by Penn Virginia Resources Corporation of Duffield. They wanted to know what to do with their hundreds of acres of land after the coal was gone. He studied the optimum farm for the strip-mined benches but finally realized conditions were too limiting, the scale was wrong. He studied single enterprises such as raising cattle and found that only very large herds could be profitable. We needed on the newly restored mined lands a "cattle system" not a " few steers" with marketing, fencing, veterinary, pasture analyses, protein buying, and security elements to be profitable year after year …and that system could be very profitable. The need was to shift the scale of recommendation from unprofitable cows to a profitable cattle system. "Small" was not the proper scale.

2The second story is about one part of modern forestry. Well-done forestry can improve the profits on almost any wooded tract in western Virginia by 20%. If the wood comes from a certified-as-sustainable tract, the gain is likely to be an additional 10%. If wooded tracts are entered into the planned Rural System Tracts, then the profits likely from tracts will double. When Bob first described the concept to a logger he said, "Oh, all you are doing is providing annual income to the forest land owner." He was right. Instead of planting trees and waiting 60 years for a harvest, Rural System tracts would yield annual income from the collective activities of 70 enterprises on all tracts. If invested, the amount of money would equal or exceed the worth of the harvested trees…and when the trees were cut, the financial gain from the land would have been doubled and the forest would be regenerated and moving into the future. In addition, it would be moving faster than in the past because the productivity of the sites would be improved by the expertise and investments of The Forest Group, one of the enterprises of Rural System. Increasing or maintaining productivity is a cost of normal business…an alternative way of discussing the new "conservation."

3The third story is about an elderly family (hypothetical) that loved its land (120 acres) but had to leave it. The children had gone; one worked in Oregon; the work was too hard; consistent reliable help was too hard to arrange. They contracted with Rural System, became a Tract, and the Land Force developed a plan. Their pastures were well managed, better than they had ever done; the trees were marked and regularly harvested when at maximum profitability, and superior young growth assured. The pond, unlike others in the area, was dedicated to use by small children and their caretakers. An extra monthly check was received and when they visited their land, they were delighted to see youths with their colorful membership markers hiking to a grove of old trees where they once spent pleasant hours together. They declined an invitation to visit their Tract at night when a bus load of people left a Blacksburg motel, enjoyed encounters with wild owls and a campfire with catered refreshments on their land. On weekends they drove to the Tract and watched the gardens expand and improve on their land, one containing replaced wildflowers from timber-harvest tracts. They had to admit, the "place" looked better than when they left it; they were proud it added to the pastoral and forested beauty of the region, and the check from logging and profits from the Q Works (from 12 of the enterprises) wasn't bad either.. and their inheritance estate for the kids was improving at no cost to them.

* * *

Rural System is a company that doesn't cost the Town or nearby counties any more tax funds but contributes to the tax base. It works for Blacksburg and the surrounding region. We work on 10-yard x 10-yard land squares or cells called alpha units (recall the dimension on the football field) throughout the county, and then expand throughout the region and elsewhere. (County and town lands, small parcels, and parks are candidates for such sole-source management.) The other half of the enterprises works out of offices or homes, most with strong computer activity. Participants share in profits based on agreed indexed percentages ... providing incentives for all to participate. It provides employment, assists in stabilizing schools, improves the productivity of the land for the future (using a 150-year planning horizon), makes millions of dollars of past investments in research pay off, and uses the National Forests and other public lands (with permission) thus gaining tax-related benefits (now few from such lands).

In summary, the solutions are in the parts of Rural System:

  1. Q Works
  2. The Enterprises or Groups (with links to affiliates)
  3. Rural System Tracts
  4. The Land Force
The Slice Initiative creates that corporation with a headquarters in Blacksburg. There are offices elsewhere...the "virtual office concept." This is a special public-private partnership with elements of share-croping and the cooperative. An internal research foundation will develop later.


Special potential recreational dimensions related to ranging
Blacksburg and perhaps surrounding counties and communities struggle with much-touted tourism, sometimes "ecotourism." The region can become the starting place of ranging. Ranging is a concept that is needed to replace tourism or ecotourism. It's a new form of soundly-based, diverse, regional tourism, ecotourism, and sightseeing, combined with most forms of extensive outdoor recreation (hunting, fishing, archery, boating, hiking, camping, etc.), and outdoor projects, events, memberships, shows, contests, and games. It needs to be strongly affiliated with cultural resources for historical and future reasons but also for the practical reasons of responding to diverse family interests, trip orientations, and even for diversifying stops on single trips.

Tourism, as now promoted, tends to be narrow in scope, seasonal, costly, provides few financial gains for the county, often produces dissatisfactions, produces few desired jobs, and trespassing and disrespectful visitors bother local people. Clearly, tourism produces benefits in some areas but few in others.

Ranging is a complex activity that can help spell economic development for the region. It capitalizes on superior land management such as provided by Rural System enterprises. It shows how a new conservation and education base for a diverse private corporation can improve economic conditions for businesses and citizens. It provides novel dimensions of culture, lifestyle, and quality of life for residents as well as visitors.

The key relationship of ranging to other elements of Rural System is that ranging requires a superior environment. For that environment to exist and be sustained, there must be modern sophisticated management. Rural System can supply such management. Ranging needs an enterprise like Rural System.

Frequently Asked Questions

The above comments have often produced intense questions before we could finish the description of Rural System. Here are a few and I shall be happy to answer others (Please email questions to

  1. How can you compete on private land with the vast federal acreage nearby? We're users, getting some of the lost tax base back, but we provide on private land intensive management, clear objectives, diverse activities, employment, and security. That's enough. We also use the government-owned lands for gaining profit for the enterprise.
  2. Why did Bob wait until retirement to present this concept? He described parts of it in classes for students. He worked on parts for a TVA system and during consulting and when chairman of the Blacksburg Planning Commission. Parts were developed by graduate students over 35 years. It matured in the late 1990's and he has been drafting and refining it ever since he retired (1998) with advice from small business development agencies and others. Now there are real local needs, high energy costs, layoffs in nearby communities, fluctuating land, energy and food prices and changes afoot in farm subsidies and incentives. The State makes unfunded demands on local governments. The population of elderly people increases. The time is right to seize an opportunity. Bob is eager to share elements of the Rural System concept and to contribute to it.
  3. Why 70 or 80 enterprises or groups? We welcome others, welcome affiliating with businesses that now exist (with financial gain to them), and will leave failures behind as rapidly as possible. The numbers of involved enterprises can harvest the richness and imagination of the people of the county and region that have never been expressed or suppressed because there was no market,the scale was too small, or there were no linkages.
  4. Why not start small? Most of the proposed enterprises have started small and failed. The regional problems are a set of too-small scale conditions: , inadequate markets, seasonal issues, and lack of diversity. Small businesses fail; small towns fail; small farms fail. Cooperation, diversification, integrated actions, a systems approach, multi-county effort, and practical unification around a new common objective - sustained long-term bounded profit - can give us the proper scale.
  5. What's special? What will we have that no one else has? You'll have a unique new system not available anywhere. You'll have a lasting system with ever-improving feedback. You'll have a new composite of broadband technology, new computer power, vast past research, Internet marketing and communication (a new e-catalog), and unique groups all working together for their mutual benefits as well as those for the people of Blacksburg and its surroundings. People will come to the area to see the effects and learn about Rural System and the Initiative.
  6. What does the individual landowner give up? Nothing. No one has to join. Those that do so and become Rural System Tracts may specify limits for uses and activities on their property. Those that join the Rural System Tracts then, under contract, gain extra land value, increased land productivity, beauty, profits, preservation of all or select parts, protected viewscapes, and protection when needed from corporate, state, and federal taking of their land. Management of trust or conservation easement lands gives such land new value to the region, not alleged withdrawals. If allow, during certain periods, only supervised and authorized visitors (including your guests) may use your land and water non-destructively. Such use is one way that we "make money."
  7. How is this related to the New River Land Trust and conservation easements? We think that Trust lands should be evaluated and inspected and managed over time for the owners' purposes. Management is part of protection and we think that government as well as land owners will be pleased that their lands are beautiful, well maintained, that select sites are preserved, and all allowed to be profitable over the long term under superior management.
  8. Why is this to be a "for profit" enterprise? Why not "non-profit" since its objectives are clearly conservation, community development, and improving the environment? Blacksburg and its region needs a private, non-govermental group with a clear objective and with personal incentives for creativity, hard work, shared gains, and environmental and economic stability. It needs to avoid some unstable laws, regulations, bureaucratic tendencies regulations and policies and absence of clear, measurable objectives and accountability. The scale of Rural System now seems to require temporary government involvement just to get started. Afterwards, it works for its money in a continually improving environment. It minimizes the mandated costs of business and frees expenditures for their maximum long-term effects.
  9. What are the key elements or special ways of doing business? We can only list them here but they are discussed in and I shall describe them later. They are:
    1. a systems approach
    2. synergism and team work
    3. incentive-driven
    4. emphasis on producing benefits
    5. a clear, bounded, long-term profit motive
    6. value-added tactics
    7. shifted economies of scale
    8. dynamic planning
    9. maximum use of past research findings
    10. modern energy budgeting
    11. ecological and economic modeling
    12. system simulation and optimization
    13. year-around activity
    14. low capital investment needs
    15. safety and risk reduction
    16. an extended planning horizon
    17. futuristic models
    18. intensive use of GPS and geographic information systems

    The last item is enormously important and is a new link to old knowledge and farming and forestry practices. The following are two images of Floyd County provided by Bill Card of Contours. At the left is a recent map of the forests (only) of the county. At the right is a map of North- and Northeast-facing slopes of the county. These can be combined to find the forests on North and Northeast-facing slopes where, for example, certain trees grow best, certain pest damage control practices will be most effective, endangered species' sites can be avoided. The map below shows the further combination of these two maps, integrating seven factors to improve select decisions. An individual ownership map be "cut" from such data bases for site-specific work.
    At the left, forests are shown in green. Slopes facing 315 to 67 degrees are shaded in green at the right. Also shown are county boundary, streams, roads and cities. All are continually studied and revised as appropriate.
    A small version of the resulting map when the two above maps are combined is shown here. A specific use may be Designated but such maps (any scale) suggest many possible uses in improved crop production, animal husbandry, agroforestry... even improved energy budgeting and factory and residential location.

  10. What if I want to sell my land or get out of a contract? Standard laws apply. Rural System has an automatic one-month first-option to buy. If the resources of the land are to be "destroyed" by the purchaser (as for a parking lot) we retain rights to remove and use elsewhere surface resources (flowers, sod, etc., and half or more of the sale value of the timber resources) within a brief period. We operate on the basis of making significantly improved land use, erosion control and loss reductions, thus always counting positive production and value gains within the new community. A proportion of direct expenditures (investments made by Rural System) made on the land are to be returned if the land is sold.

Benefits and Costs

The economics of each of the 70 + developed group cannot be evaluated well without knowledge of the other groups. Each depends in part on the existence and efficiency of related groups, especially Q Works. Rural System is a vital business ecosystem with designed relations for stability. Each group benefits from the presence of at least one other group. Most of it must start at the same time. An additive strategy will not work cost effectively and will result in failures. Starting with many low-development-cost enterprises has been suggested. The start of each will largely depend upon employing a team of dynamic managers who will build the system rapidly, then improve it. The size and complexity and planned synergism make conventional business plans and alternative scenarios very difficult to formulate readily.

A frequently asked question is, "How much does it cost?" The best answer is "nothing," because it will be profitable and pay off in profits and benefits.

That answer is usually not satisfying.

1One answer is that for the unemployed it costs nothing but time and reinvesting personally in becoming a superior creative team player and employee. It may mean taking classes, emailing, using distance learning. It may mean allowing their land to become demonstration Rural System Tracts, placing their nearby lands under contract for the modern sophisticated natural resource management that is being offered. Depending on land characteristics and past use, it may mean making profits soon. The benefits can be counted in the differences between the services and gains from Rural System and those likely from an agency or a contractor (if one was available).

2Another answer is that is costs Blacksburg and willing adjacent county participants a total of $500 thousand in a bank account for a special kind of loan, a line of credit, to the forming Rural System. It really costs nothing because the funds will be used as quickly as possible to get started and then paid back by the conglomerate.

3One answer is that it (if option 5 above is taken) costs the state and nation about $2 million dollars. These are from a tax pool, but they are not citizen costs of improving their rural environment on which we all depend. They are like donations to out-of-state manufacturers being enticed to the area. They are not risky grants, merely a short-term loan, a special type of bond for creating a smoothly functioning system to help maintain the essential food, water, and amenities of the rural environment that is so rapidly being left by people for city life.

4Work will staunch the flow of private charitable environmental development funds out of the region and to groups in which overhead is high and gains inconspicuous. Creative uses of private donations and investments will be offered. New local libraries, corporate grounds development, and urban areas will bloom. The lands of The Slice Initiative may become a notable international rural environmental system capital, gaining special identity.

The bottom line … money talks. Improved natural resource management we now believe can be seen to be likely only within managed, private, socially-responsible capitalism. Rural System provides many benefits to citizens, most well beyond those of now-declining or unstable agencies. After 7 years of actual development, it will achieve advancing, improving rural conditions … for at least the 150-year planning horizon, all at a modest or better bounded-profits for members, investors, and citizens of the region. We provide a financial incentive for doing on the land what has been begged for for decades, that is, for conservation and restoration. We provide the financial grounding for the full practices of a land ethic. No longer only extractive or exploitative with the land, Rural System seeks to gain modern sophisticated rural resource enhancement and management for the people of the region for the long run, then to expand that knowledge and influence worldwide. No longer a joke: "We ain't farmin' half as good as we know how." Rural System changes that. We will farm and manage our environment at least as well as we now know how and show how to do that with two indices of sustained profits and a high quality of life.

A Potential Start-up Unit
Involving Half of the Suggested Working Groups

The following is offered as a potential or assumed budget, based on a gradual start (reluctantly small and under pressure) within 2 years, early development of Q Works and a dynamic planning system, continued development, and profit-driven incentives for both staff as well as affiliating enterprises within the region.

The entire list with links to a description of each is available within www.Rural

Rural System

Sectors of the Enterprises

  1. Forestry Topics
  2. Wildlife / Nature
  3. Agricultural Topics
  4. Sports and Recreation
  5. Products and Services

Q Works (also called System Central in the web site. It provides an e-catalog to all benefits)

The Rural System Tracts

  1. Lands of Private Land Owners and Corporations
  2. National Forest Land with permission
  3. Lands of the Commonwealth and Military Areas with permission
  4. County, city and select corporate lands
  5. International Land Units

The Land Force (leadership, staff, and equipment)

Groups and Functions Within Q Works

1. Ebay Group
2. Right Rural (memberships)
3. Writers' Group
4. RuraLives
5. The Memorials Group
6. The Tours Group
7. EarthQuilt
8. GIS Group (Conservation Management Institute affiliate)
9. Energy Group
10. The Trevey (dynamic planning system)
11. Tracts Contract Development and Legal Action

Enterprises by Sector

Forestry Topics

1. The Forest Group
2. Forestry Co-op
3. The Foresters

Wildlife /Nature

1. Nature Folks
2. NatureSeen
3. Holiday Trees
4. Bird Golf (Official Avi)
5. Black Bear Group
6. The Raccoon Group

Agriculture and Rangeland Topics

1. Alpha Earth
2. Livestock Group
3. Pasture Group
4. The Rabbit Group

Sports and Recreation

1. 4 x 4 Group
2. Walkers
3. Tree Tops
4. GPSence

Products and Services

1. Floats
2. Stills
3. Sculptor
4. Topics
5. Big Bandana

Total 33

With an average startup cost of $70,000 each, the total is $2,310,000. Addition costs are for equipping and staffing The Land Force involved in many of the above Groups. Investors will be invited. Estimated profits are 3% by year 7. Employment is expected to be about 300 after year 7. Over 200,000 acres are expected to be planned and under intensive watershed management by year 7. The total list of Groups proposed to be within Rural System follows.

You may link to the total list of over 70 proposed Groups.

A Single Ownership

On the following pages, we provide a brief sketch of the financial potentials provided owners of farms (based on Blacksburg assumptions). The emphasis within Rural System is first on absentee land owner units, Trust lands, and large tracts. Initially, tracts must be greater than 50 acres but that limit may change rapidly.

What May Rural System Offer the Small Farm Owner?

Systems work starts with objectives and for years we have studied those goals and objectives of people in rural areas. Even summarizing them results in a long list. We can discuss them later for on-site detailed analyses.

In Rural System we concentrate on financial stability, believing that if bounded sustained profits are achieved for many years, most of the other important not-easily quantified objectives can be achieved. Adequate income, one objective, may be a condition for being satisfied by the others. (We do know of special needs and can create custom systems.)

In Table 1 in a sample analysis we list the gross likely profit from local land use in the classes of average ownership. We show an example for an hypothetical 65-acre diverse farm area with land, house, and buildings valued at $3000 per acre, thus total value of $195,000. The gross 30-year mortgage at 6% is $33,951 per year. (For many farmers having inherited land, the mortgage is not part of the problem.


Rural System, within 5 years as a diverse conglomerate can offer conservatively to owners with their land under contract as a Rural System Tract (with examples)

  1. greater than 1% land value increase (due to information package, visual quality, reduced risks, reduced problem areas, and public relations as a Forest Stewardship Council- Smartwood "Sustainable Forest," "green," and "organic" (e.g., $ 1950))
  2. greater than 5% increase in forest productivity (e.g., $ 750)
  3. greater than 2% increase in crop and livestock production using computer aids (e.g., $100)
  4. Reduced storage, garage and working area cost (e.g., $500)
  5. Dogwood Inns development and rental potentials
  6. Enhanced land and environmental quality and reduced risks or probable costs (e.g., water pollution, ground water quantity and quality, other litigation) (not included but greater than $2000)
  7. Payment of real estate tax on the property (e.g., $1170)
  8. Achievement of 5-10 other importance-weighted objectives
  9. Improved local employment
  10. Improved local tax base and cultural conditions
  11. Local pride
  12. Direct proportional payments from all profits within the Rural System from ancillary activities, memberships, and services, the proportion based on each landowner's quality-weighted acreage under contract (est. $2000).

The total estimated annual financial addition for an hypothetical average 65-acre Rural System tract is $6470. Grossly Rural System brings the annual income $6,470 + 25,440 = $31,910 to approximately match (within 6%) the required mortgage of $33,951

The change is from annually-variable $25,000 - $30,000 to $30,000 - 35,000 and this compares favorably for the owner with the estimated mortgage ($195,000; 30 years; 6%) of $33,951. All of the production estimates are "average"; all of the gain estimates are conservative. Rural System approximately brings a slightly sub-marginal farm and house into a profitable state. The Rural System affiliation brings additional landowner income as a member of a diverse, growing conglomerate with profits expanding with additional enterprises, incentives, franchises, e-commerce, and enhanced land productivity grounded in computer data with maps and models. The personal satisfactions and lasting regional family attachments are inestimably great. The retention of rural lands in profitable agricultural production is essential, partially in recognition of the growth of the elderly and urbanizing population.

Assumptions needed are many and difficulties with them seem to compound. Costs are not included in the annual averages, but are assumed to be at least the same as priced yields for a break-even operation. In this example we now have a marginal operation … and evidence abounds that farmers are leaving farms at unbelievable rates, and urban expansion in number of people and use of rural land for residential/commercial areas is great. Rural System can make the desired change cost effectively and accountably.

Profit from owning land increases with inflation, diverse structural development, and speculation, rarely with crop, forest, and livestock production. Producing food and fiber remains important; fossil energy available is a new uncertainty; high land value for rural housing requires good water, waste disposal, and natural scenery; extending urban services to dispersed rural residences and corporate offices is very costly; rural employment and village stability is essential by many criteria.

We Propose to work with Aric Bopp, executive director of the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance, explore the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and a strategy to "off-shore" business functions via their Distributed Services Initiative to the Slice Initiative community.

We have provided much information and there may be questions. We shall be happy to answer questions and to make presentations to groups on the Initiative or any of its parts. Please contact R.H. Giles at RHGiles@RuralSystem or at 540-552-8672. We propose to share this information and concepts with local leaders and seek their involvement in taking The Slice Initiative.

Rural System - Capsule

Rural System is a proposed corporation, a conglomerate of about 70 small natural resource related enterprises. Some of the enterprises, subsystems, are new and some are very old. It is a system doing modern, sophisticated, computer-aided management of the lands and waters of an eastern US region in order to sustain long-term profits and quality of life for citizens. It responds to rapidly changing regional and national demographics. The nation's population is only 17% rural. Only 6.5% of those people are engaged in farming. People move to the urban core for work and many advantages but then many Americans prefer to live in smaller places that are near urban area, not in them. When no metropolitan center is nearby, counties and smaller cities are better able to retain population and attract new residents compared with more rural counties. People of rural counties and their small towns suffer from loss of employment and tax base, demands for new services, conflicts with residential land uses, and escalating land prices all making conventional farming untenable. Settlers as well as residents find their scenic quality and rural amenities declining. Rural System responds to many of these difficulties.

Concentrating on its objectives of gaining superior resource management, it includes outdoor recreation, specialized tourism and rural development, forest and wildlife management, and it works on restoring and enhancing production from the rural land resource.

The umbrella entity is a philanthropic for-profit corporation with a not-for-profit foundation spending a proportion of its gains on improving regional resources. It may use national and state lands and waters but, most importantly, it provides opportunities for the owners of private lands and waters (often for absentee owners and those within forestry cooperatives) to experience profits related to superior rural land management. While managing the assets of such lands, Rural System provides related services and products from the unified business units. Half of these units work from the private managed lands that are under contract. A central unit provides incubator-like services and allows the corporation to harvest public research investments, to achieve economies of scale and division of labor, to gain synergism, and to stabilize employment.

The enterprise leads the region in computer-aided, year-around, and private land management. It shares projects and funds with citizens and investors. It links citizens as well as visitors to the land and its long-term potentials for profits. It provides an alternative town and regional identity, one of a place for modern regional rural resource development and management. It links buyers and users with producers of certified forest products and wildland resource opportunities from well-managed rural land and water resources. Successes are achieved via diligent work with personal incentives, diverse enterprises and products, and computer optimization of a total system. It overcomes the old failures of natural resource management, i.e., diseconomies of small-scale operations, mixed objectives, lack of diversity, seasonal work, lack of annual income, and failure to add value to products and efforts. It capitalizes on innovative uses of past research, results optimization, the Internet, global positioning satellites, and computer mapping throughout the region.

The system is described at

The vision for the enterprise is that its success in helping improve the social, economic, and environmental well being of the region can allow the enterprise to become effective and expand. Thus, similar influences can be transferred, years later, throughout southern and western Virginia and eventually internationally. The work will be recognized as the product of a special paradigm in rural resource and wildland management. As such, Rural System will become a profitable conglomerate operating well past this century, given its 150-year planning horizon sliding forward annually.

What will happen if The Slice Initiative, Rural System (or their improved images) are not taken?

Related Ideas and Notes

See blog

Perhaps you will share ideas with me about some of the topic(s) above.

Rural System
Robert H. Giles, Jr.
June 25, 2006, revised July 3, 2006