With apologies to Jules Verne, I haven't actually been "around the world," but it has indeed been 90 days since my last Against the Grain. It sure feels like I've seen a whole lot of this big, blue ball since then.
It doesn't matter if I'm going somewhere for the first time or visiting a familiar location, I love to travel. A trip near or far is always enhanced by who I'm traveling with, or who I meet or reacquaint myself with, on the stops along the way. I've been traveling more than usual during the first quarter of this year, and I'd like to share some of my experiences with you.
In late January, your board, officers and staff spent two days in Chicago for our organizational Board Meeting, where we welcomed four new board members. Included in normal business discussions were NAWLA finances, reports from our committees and plans for the year. We have many good things going on, and your association is being run well and is in pristine financial condition.
Mid-February, a delegation of 35 fellow Mississippians and I spent four days in Cuba. The trip was planned by our state development authority, and while in Havana we met with Cuban government officials, our U.S. Embassy, local business people, and chamber of commerce representatives, among others. We also witnessed our senior U.S. Senator Thad Cochran sign an historic memorandum of understanding between our state and Cuba. We took a day trip to the Port of Mariel, a state-of-the-art, deep-water port facility 40 miles west of the capitol, which is expanding rapidly and now capable of doing large volumes of business.
This was an overwhelming cultural and business experience. The people are friendly and look favorably at our country as a trading partner. Yes, a communist government rules, and freedom of speech and the press are restricted. There is much poverty and a very low average working wage (less than $30 per month -- it is a cash economy and the best earners are in services that rely on tips). The population is well-educated, health care is free and medical facilities are good. The vintage, 1950's-era U.S. automobiles juxtaposed with graffiti, billboards and massive images of Castro and Guevara everywhere gives it a dream-like feel, as if the country is stuck in a time warp with the revolution just a few years past. It is very safe (the crime rate is non-existent, the silver lining in the military state cloud), the food and hospitality exceptional, and the rum and cigars live up to their reputation. It is a large (nearly the size of Florida) and beautiful country of rolling hills, cattle and goat farms, interior lakes, abundant natural resources, palm trees and beaches, all surrounded by the Atlantic and Caribbean. There is much shared history with the United States (Columbus ran aground of Florida and Cuba in the same year), and incredible literary and architectural heritage, including Catholic cathedrals and Christian statues and other Christian icons plainly visible and accessible. A land of contradictions to be sure, but also one of immense opportunity. I will definitely return soon.
Two days removed from Cuba, Cindy and I visited with friends for a Mardi Gras weekend in New Orleans; my cultural cup runneth over.
On March 6, I was at Mississippi State University welcoming attendees to the Wood Basics course. The next afternoon, I met them at Biewer's brand-new, 250MMBF pine sawmill in Newton, MS. An outstanding experience for the Wood Basics students, and a toss-up as to whether I was more proud of this fantastic new mill domiciled in my home state, or my friends from Biewer. Tie goes to the runner.
Just a few days later, it was off to Tucson for the Leadership Summit. The Westin La Paloma was our lovely venue for four days of meetings, networking, some NAWLA pomp and circumstance, and a little fun in the sun, especially valuable for our northern U.S. and Canadian friends coveting a break from the long winter. The Arizona climate obliged with 90 degree temperatures, gentle breezes, and cloudless days. The speaker lineup was exceptional, and the feedback I've heard is that this was perhaps the best Summit in several years. Make sure to put this event on your calendar to join us in Austin next year (April 8-10, 2018); you truly can't afford to miss it.
My itinerary concluded with a trip to Montréal for the third of six Regional Meetings on the NAWLA 2017 calendar. This was my first visit to Montréal, and also the first regional meeting there; it was a huge success. Around 100 participants were present to hear interesting speakers discussing the SLA and other topics. Difficult subject matter, but everything sounds better spoken in French, eh? Oui! Cheers.
After a few weeks at home, I resume my road tripping with stops at regional meetings in Birmingham on May 4, and San Diego on June 27. I look forward to seeing you on the road -- Happy travels!
Jim McGinnis, President
The McGinnis Lumber Company, Inc.