Monday, October 4, 2010

Michael Ciamarra: Planning, strategy and vision help you make all the right moves

  Recently, a cable news pundit mentioned in context of the economy that bad policies lead to bad outcomes. "But," he continued, "the reverse is true as well. If we have the right policies in place, ones that expand our free market system, we can create better outcomes than we can imagine. It's like chess, you make good moves and good things happen. If you make bad moves, then ..." and the talking heads were at it again. 

  This got my attention for reasons which will become apparent.

  I coach young chess talent to nurture them to their full potential. In the mid-eighties, Alabama looked a lot like the young chess talent of the business world - filled with undeveloped and undefined potential. Due to the same persistent coaching and strategic vision, Alabama's current economic strength and status is undeniable. In the last decade, Alabama has clearly and convincingly attained the profile of a grandmaster.

  Chess is an obvious metaphor for competition, business and politics. Great truths lead to success in any endeavor. Because chess is part of the allegorical language of everyday business, attorneys, soldiers and politicians have all at some time described their trials and tribulations in the same terms that describe a chess game. We "checkmate" our opponents, we are just "pawns in this game" or they are always "three moves ahead.”

  Even people who have no personal experience with the game of chess recognize that strategic demands are placed on players. Chess, politics and business - these worlds might be different if they didn't have so much in common.

  Can Alabama achieve greater economic success? Yes, even grandmasters never rest on their laurels but continue to improve.

  Even these very difficult economic times, Alabama's unemployment rate of 9.2 percent is one of the lowest in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over 9,200 new jobs were created since last August. A recent Alabama Business Confidence Index indicates expansion, after 10 consecutive months of contraction, and is optimistic for hiring, sales and profits.

  Plants, Sites and Parks magazine ranked Alabama as one of the top ten states to locate a business. We ranked in the top five in the U.S. for business climate, according to Site Selection magazine. Just last month, Alabama was ranked first in the nation with $1.98 billion in industrial and capital projects, ahead of Illinois and California. Alabama automakers are renowned and Alabama is now identified with recognized worldwide corporate names. 

  There's more good news - our S&P rating is AA; Forbes ranked Alabama, based on a series of economic indicators, as 25th in the nation and also projects a 2.1 percent job growth even before a new governor and new state legislature go to work to create incentives for new private sector jobs.

  Like world chess champions, the state of Alabama has earned a reputation for combining talent and hard work with the charisma and drive it takes to market ideas which invite new businesses to locate here and existing businesses to expand.

  What does it take to succeed in business, legislation, policy reforms or chess? Simply,  good moves and a plan. 
  Chess coaches advocate that players seek small advantages rather than relying on flashy tactics and traps. A small gain on a chessboard may not lead to immediately winning an opponent's piece or delivering a scathing check. On the contrary, it may mean the slightest, subtlest change in position, one that the opposition may not even notice. The quiet move can change the big picture in every game. Little subtleties matter.

  I constantly remind chess students to play with a plan. Successful companies, small businesses and politicians are guided, most of the time, by the same advice. They have learned to keep it small, straightforward, and simple whether they're standing in a classroom or in the executive meeting room.

  But it's not enough to plan - you have to be flexible, imaginative, willing to adjust to every nuance, and prepared to do the hard work to reevaluate at every move. The most important thing about demanding that we play with a plan is a willingness to scrutinize, modify, and even drop an idea for a better, faster, or more effective one.

  Creativity comes from knowledge applied in unexpected ways. Chess requires exactly that sort of on-the-spot resourcefulness. States do not enact changes in a vacuum - every time they increase the cost of doing business in their state, their state's brand immediately loses value.

  On the policy front, some very good moves to further real economic recovery and to help business are at the federal level:

-Reduce the payroll tax by half for 2010 to provide business immediate liquidity.

-Eliminate the Capital Gains Tax to encourage risk taking and investment.

-Reduce the corporate tax rate to 12.5 percent to improve America's global competitiveness.

-Permanently reduce the Death Tax to ensure the longevity of small businesses and family farms.

-Provide immediate business expensing for new equipment.

For starters, at the state level:

-Tax breaks for businesses to further job creation and expansion.

-Retain Alabama's status as a "Right to Work" state.

-Improved infrastructure to help industries move into rural areas.

-Cut bureaucratic red tape that restricts the growth of businesses.

-Work to boost Alabama's tourism industry.

  Chess can have an expansive significance far beyond the confines of the 64-square board. If you know how to play the game, you're already set to make the right move. The same holds true for Alabama.

  About the author: Michael Ciamarra is vice-president of the Alabama Policy Institute and a World Chess Federation certified chess instructor. He can be reached at

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