Friday, February 27, 2009

Winterville Native Up for German Ambassadorship?

According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Winterville native Tom Harrold is being considered by the Obama administration for the ambassadorship to Germany.

Harrold, a quarterback for Athens High School in his youth and an Athens Y Camp alumnus, is known as one of the state's top international and economic development attorneys. He began his career at Fortston, Bentley & Griffin before moving to Atlanta (there he practices with Miller & Martin) and has been politically active for years.

Harrold, who characterized his candidacy as a "long shot" in an interview with the Chronicle, would join Mercer Reynolds and UGA Law Professor Don Johnson as the only individuals with strong local ties in recent years to serve as ambassadors that the Inbox is aware of.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Could Local Cable Get Worse?

Apparently, in the wake of confusing my Tivo and ruining my plans to see the entire Duke-UNC game last night, Charter has decided to file bankruptcy. Obviously forcing thousands of Charter subscribers to watch the game on Raycom rather than ESPN was the straw that broke the camel's back. I wonder if they will give the judge a five hour window of time when they may or may not appear to actually file.

In all seriousness, Charter is the cable provider in Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, so it will be interesting to see if their operations are impacted, or if other cable companies will try to grab a piece of that monopoly. The company also provides high speed internet services to a number of households in the region.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Higher Education Funding

Just a quick note, but if you have time, check out President Adams' testimony to the house higher education subcommittee from yesterday. It offers a fascinating summary of the challenges faced by institutions of higher education and the steps they are taking to deal with them. It is amazing how much money UGA has to raise on its own to run our flagship university.

Inbox Goes Nuts

Ever since the peanut butter-salmonella scandal broke, I have been waiting for someone from the Peanut Corp. of America to step forward and 1) take the blame and 2) provide a resolution that the media can latch onto and provide an opportunity for forgiveness (and eventually, forgetfulness).

Apparently, this family-owned business is getting some conflicting legal advice, or just isn't getting good advice at all. Their relative inaction has probably doomed their company and is putting one of Georgia's largest agricultural industries at risk. The deaths and illnesses attributed to the contaminated peanut butter are tragic, but there are some concrete steps the company and industry need to take in order to help these families recover and the public to regain confidence in peanut butter.

The story so far: poor cleaning and inspection practices at a plant in South Georgia allowed salmonella to contaminate peanut butter that was used in more than 1,800 products nationwide. The FDA has said that PCA knowingly shipped peanut butter that was contaminated. Today, the headquarters of the company in Virginia was raided, and another plant in Texas was shut down. To date, 8 deaths and at least 550 cases of illness have been linked to contaminated peanut butter.

In looking at PCA's website, it is apparent that they are trying to get their message out. But their web page is archaic, with no background on the company or multi-media elements. The news page is simply a series of statements, etc. And the statements are too long and not attributed to an individual. There appears to be no proactive outreach. In short, this is crisis response circa 1988, and not surprisingly, the company's message is not getting through. If comments from PCA are used in any of the escalating and increasingly shrill coverage, they are buried.

This is not a time to sit back and issue statements about the past. The peanut industry needs to take dramatic action to show it has a commitment to a safe product and demonstrate concern for those impacted before an entire product's reputation is ruined.

Taking a page from Tylenol, it would behoove the industry to do the following: immediately close all PCA plants until they are inspected and certified as safe. Recall all peanut butter products aside from jars of peanut butter. Pay for healthcare for all those affected. Adapt safety standards and develop an icon that highlights that peanut butter used in a product passed a "quality test" of some sort. Proactively encourage and welcome government inspectors at all peanut butter factories on a weekly basis, and support legislation for stronger inspections. And when things have calmed down, implement an aggressive advertising and multi-media campaign to educate consumers about the facts around the issue and to convince them that peanut butter is safe once again.

Georgia grows nearly half of the nation's peanut crop. I would imagine that Georgia's peanut industry, major candy and snack food organizations, along with JIF and everyone else are ready for a resolution to this story (recognizing that part of this will be driven by various federal and state investigations).

At this point, it is probably too late to save PCA. Who, after all, will be buying from them in the future? But for the good of those who enjoy peanut butter, the entire industry and our state, let's hope peanut plants are cleaned up and the narrative begins to change -- and quickly.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's Official: Med School Partnership Formalized

According to today's Atlanta Business Chronicle, the UGA-MCG medical school partnership is now formalized. Not sure what exactly this means, but it sure seems like good news for medical education in Georgia.

As MCG and the Regents continue to add more medical programs in other areas of the state, we at the Athens Inbox hope that the Athens expansion (and plans to add more graduates and a dental school in Augusta) can be a winning template for Georgia to grow more of its own doctors in the future, which is of critical importance to keeping our best and brightest home, and luring a few of the best and brightest from other states as well.