On the Paris Agreement

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I’ve been told there is a petition started by someone (not from Apex, NC) asking me to sign on to the Climate Mayors initiative to show President Trump that people oppose his decision to withdraw the United States of America from the UN’s Paris Agreement to have its members voluntarily make efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

To date I have not seen this petition, but it makes no difference. I will not participate in the Climate Mayors initiative. If you’re open-minded, please continue reading.

[Update 6/18/17: I’ve just read the petition. The Apex petition on change.org was, in fact, started by an Apex resident. I don’t know the author, but we do share a couple of Facebook friends. The wording was copied from a model petition and adapted to reference Apex and me. Wilmington’s petition, for example, is nearly identical and three days older. This is a minor detail, but I wanted to establish the facts, since I started with what I was told, the specifics of which were simply lost in translation. Be that as it may…]

Personal Policy
It is my personal policy to let a governing body govern themselves when it does not hinder our ability to govern ourselves. Let me elaborate with an example.

Suppose the North Carolina General Assembly decides that all new drivers (less than 3 years of experience) must wear their driver’s license on a lanyard while operating a motor vehicle. Any bill they may propose or law they may pass does not hinder our ability to do what’s right for Apex, and therefore, I would choose to ignore it.

Yes, it will affect people in my town, and many may find it intrusive and obtuse, but a law governing driving in the state is the purview of the state. If I want to call my representative as a citizen and oppose it personally, I may choose to do so.

But in my role as mayor, this law does not hinder my ability to guide town council to solving local issues. I will not make a proclamation or draft a resolution because the state has not hindered my ability to manage municipal issues.

Taking Care of the Home Front
We have a duty of care for the people and the problems right in front of us. We have increased traffic motoring along our old narrow roads and speeding through our residential streets.

We have gaps in our sidewalks that make walking to school or downtown difficult or dangerous. We have parents trying to sign children up to recreation activities, ending up on waiting lists.

We have citizens who want to frequent our downtown businesses that wonder where they are going to park as the town continues to grow. Today, like every day this year, we issued two C.O.’s and seven people became Apexians, paying taxes and demanding services.

These are tangible problems, calling for immediate solutions, staring us down like velociraptors. We are strong enough to handle it because we know our primary responsibility is to take care of our home front.

Stewardship Doesn’t Require Signatures
Anyone who has followed my public service for Apex since I first joined the Planning Board in 2003 can testify that I believe smart planning and solid execution result in a sustainable town that can stand the test of time.

I want to live in a neighborhood with a healthy diversity of trees. I want our commercial services to be located in pockets around the town, nearest the intersections of our existing (and future) thoroughfares in order to provide convenience and reduce the distance required for travel, which also reduces the total number of car-miles driven per day.

Within the past year your town council defined our first Tree Board to advise on common-sense tree-related development regulations. And we planted a tree for Arbor Day and become a Tree City USA certified town. We even just passed a tiered water usage rate to encourage conservation.

My first involvement in local government was to stand in front of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Advisory Commission and tell them why disc golf was a such great activity into which the town should invest because they wouldn’t have to cut down any mature trees.

Heck, I’ve been known to pull plastic bottles out of trash cans and carry them until I find a recycle bin. I turn out lights when I’m not using them, I keep my shower under seven minutes and I turn off the faucet when I brush my teeth. I often walk, rather than drive, to downtown.

It would be incorrect to presume that my non-participation in any national initiative implies that I’m not committed to promoting environmental responsibility in Apex. I don’t have to sign an agreement in order to be committed to being a good steward of the resources that we’ve been given.

So, petition or no, I care about a sustainable Apex. No one can rightly say otherwise. If every mayor would spend as much time doing the right things for their town as they do posturing and politicking, we’d all be a lot better off.

Excuse me for a moment, I see a plastic bottle in the street. I’ll be right back.

lance-sig

2017 Apex Town Council Retreat

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For the past several months the Town of Apex staff have been feeding the town manager data so he could present his first draft of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the fiscal year 2017-2018, which begins in July 2017. Last month, our town manager, Drew Havens, handed each of the council members his first draft of this big-spending planning document so we could review the contents and plan for the annual retreat.

Earlier today (March 3, 2017), the council met in the training room of the Apex Police Station on Saunders Street for our all-day retreat to learn, discuss, decide and guide the staff. The summarized agenda included the following items:

  • Development Statistics, presented by Dianne Khin, Planning Director.
  • Construction Statistics, presented by David Hughes.Asst. Town Manager.
  • Financial Update, presented by Vance Holleman, Finance Director.
  • Capital Improvement Plan, presented by Amanda Grogan, Budget & Management Analyst.
  • CIP Ranking Results and Analysis, discussion led by Lance Olive, Mayor.
  • Non-CIP Initiatives and Priorities, exercise led by Lance Olive.
  • General Obligation (GO) Bond Basics, presented by Vance Holleman.
  • GO Bond Practical Discussion, discussion led by Lance Olive,
  • Master Subdivision Plan Legal Review, presented by Laurie Hohe, Town Attorney
  • Master Subdivision Plan Planning Review, presented by Dianne Khin.

During the first presentation, Dianne Khin told us how our population is currently 48,500, and we expect to reach 89,392 by the year 2030. This expects a growth rate between 4 and 5% percent, and this is consistent with predictions that we’ve been making for the last few years. The year 2013 was the beginning of a noticeable increase in rezoning requests, development and plat submissions, with non-residential and construction plan submissions trailing a year behind. The ratio of single family homes to town homes is about 5.4 to 1 and new business startups have been fairly consistent over the past five years, ranging from 70 to 100 per year.

David Hughes then followed with construction data, showing us how residential construction permits have surged since last July, which didn’t surprise anyone in the room. With commercial permits, we’ve seen a smaller number of permits, but a higher total valuation, implying a strong base is being built for non-residential tax revenue and jobs. Permit fee revenue is up strong this year, compared to last year, and we’re arguably the hottest market in the county.

In the third presentation, Vance Holleman showed us that our actual revenues and expenditures and solid when compared to the working budget. We looked at the General Fund, the Electric Fund, and the Water/Sewer Fund. We then reviewed our current debt service, which is around 7.5% of budget, and debt capacity, which is about 20% of our policy maximum. We have a sound budget with room to take on additional debt to cover expensive projects, if we deem it necessary.

After a brief break, our new budget analyst, Amanda Grogan, reminded us that the CIP is the 1 to 5 year plan for spending on “big ticket” capital projects. While we’re currently working through the 2016-2017 year CIP items, we spent the last few weeks reviewing the draft 2017-2018 CIP, which contains projects that fall into the following seven categories:

  • Transportation
  • Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
  • Public Safety
  • Public Works & Environmental Services
  • Public Facilities
  • Electric
  • Water & Sewer

The council members individually ranked the entire list of 35 CIP projects and turned in a set of cards, showing their preferences. Amanda ordered them by average ranking and grouped them by standard deviation so we can see the groupings. The result was four sets of priorities, broken down into quartiles. Council negotiated a few minor adjustments and accepted this as their group set of priorities.

After a foreshortened lunch break, we reviewed the list of non-CIP issues, staff put them up on large flip charts and voted using dots so the staff could get a sense of the most important pursuits.


Vance Holleman then walked us through what would be required in order to pursue a possible tax increase to support a general obligation bond to fund Parks & Recreation projects. Each $10 million that we need would “cost” about 1 cent per $100 of property valuation. In the end, we gave staff general direction to assign the scope to be the list of parks and recreation projects that total about $30 million, and hold onto the other $20 million of needs for another referendum.

Lastly, Laurie Hohe and Dianne Khin spoke with council about making master subdivision plans a properly administrative effort, rather than a judicial one decided by council. We mostly accepted the modifications of the UDO in order to establish objective criteria against which an administrative body, such as the planning board, can make approvals of MSPs, allowing council to focus on larger issues.

We departed having accomplished all the planned goals for the day: learn, discuss, decide and guide.

Selling PCB Design Services in a First World Country

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By Lance Olive, Director of Business Operations, Better Boards, Inc.

Quality PCB Design is an evolving breed of services in first world countries. As North American and European companies squeeze the skilled designers out of their own workforce, pushing more of the work into Eastern Europe and Asia, those who remain with the skills either opt for retirement, career change or consolidation.

As the Business Operations Director for Better Boards, Inc., I see our company at the focal point for consolidation – a gathering together of skilled board designers to create a center of excellence. It is at this point that we have the critical problem facing a PCB Design services company: How do we effectively sell these services back to the companies that cast off their own skilled employees? How do we sell PCB Design services into small companies that can barely afford the one overworked electrical engineer that they hired last year?

In addressing these key questions, we evaluate the three key challenges and embrace the three tantalizing opportunities. Doing this well gets our foot in the door and positions us to sell these services in the hardware design teams that would prefer to be designing circuits rather than layouts.

The first challenge is the price competitions of both overseas labor and the designer working from home. PCB Design Layout service rates in Europe and North America remain relatively high for companies who know the value of the skill that they bring. Meanwhile, small companies in the Czech Republic, Poland, India, Russia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and China can offer layout services for about half of those domestically. Likewise, the designer in his bonus room has very low overhead (sometimes quite literally, thanks to knee walls) and can often undercut the hourly rates of a proper services company.

The second challenge is that of being multi-lingual in CAD tools. Between the customers demanding the use of Allegro (PCB Designer), Altium, MG Xpedition, Eagle, KiCAD and other cheap and free tools, it’s enough to drive a designer mad. No person can reasonably support all of those. To support multiple customers means to support multiple tools. This is difficult to achieve with just a one or two designers since most professionals are great at one tool, fair with another, and merely aware of the rest. Doing this successfully means establishing a team of designers with varying skillsets – a matrix of designers with a mix of tool knowledge that can support any type of RFQ that comes in.

The third challenge is the commoditization of board layout. Tool vendors tout auto-routing as their newest, most improved, wonderful feature. Electrical engineers prefer to hand off their schematics to someone else to “route the wires”… after all, how hard can it be to connect the dots, quite literally. The expectation is that the layout phase shouldn’t be all that difficult, but we all know that as technology pushes us into hyper-fast clock signals and escaping 0.2mm BGA pins in the smallest number of layers possible, it often does feel like a game of Jenga, Tetris and Candy Crush Saga all rolled into one. The expectation oversimplification of the layout phase of board design leaves many of us pulling what’s left of our hairs out.

But where there are challenges, there also lie opportunities – especially those that give us competitive advantage to nullify the challenges.

The first opportunity is that of a fast turn time. Even though no one plans to be in a hurry, many product development teams, especially their managers and PMs, take longer than expected to get the schematics underway. And when it’s time for layout, they have very little time, want us to start tomorrow and be done in about half the estimated schedule. This is an opportunity for those who have developed an internal process that allows them to actually deliver. And when sitting in the office of a prospective customer and you can tell stories of delivering under duress, it makes the sales job so much easier.

The second opportunity is that of service. In many senses, this is the same axiom that you’ll find in most businesses. In our line of work, if we can make the life of an engineer, a manager or a project manager easier by picking up their pieces, arranging an accurate, timely, best-practice-following board layout so they only need one spin before they are ready to make the push to production, we have provided a service to them that engenders happiness in their own job, creates a level of trust, and becomes their path of least resistance to product success. The loyalty that grows from this is very difficult to sever. Selling services where “service” is truly a core competency being delivered becomes easier.

The third opportunity is one of design accuracy. Getting the board right the first time means investing in reviews on the front end, and saves time and money downstream. I come from the software industry and we would employ a technique known as Development Phase Containment. The concept involved selectively reviewing and approving the design along the way to contain the software bugs to the development phase closest to when they were created. Said another way, when a mistake is made, do what it takes to discover and fix it as quickly as you can because the cost of fixing later it can double every day that it goes undiscovered. In the world of PCB Design, this can take the form of a pin assignment problem, missing pull-up resistors, incorrect assumptions about amplifier behaviors, incorrect x/y/z dimensions for component placement, and reversed polarity, to name a few examples. One the best comments I can make to a prospective customer is to let them know how many of our designs involve just a single iteration before heading to production (although, product marketing can change the best laid plans).

A company that can embrace the opportunities while meeting these challenges head on by changing the way they do business creates fantastic sales stories that enable the sales representative to walk into any prospective customer situation – outsourced, tool-centric, fast-paced, floundering, tight-budgeted, endless iteration – and lay down a scenario that meets them where they are, engenders trust and opens the door to just a small enough crack that, once opened, will open again and again.

Selling PCB Design services is only made easy when the company supplying those services has done all it can do to provide these stories and win prospective customers’ hearts.

Copyright 2016 Lance Olive and Better Boards, Inc.

Reprint permission is granted retaining writing credits

Apex Music Festival 2016 A Great Success – Septmber 19, 2016

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“The Apex Music Festival 2016 provided a wonderful weekend activity for many who live in the Triangle, and produced some of the best music in the state. Besides being an event that appealed to music lovers all over, this and other town festivals contribute to the superior quality of life that has propelled Apex to be named as the The Best Place to Live in America.”


Lance Olive, Mayor

Apex, NC

Challenges for 2016, A Year After Being Named #1

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Demand for homes in Apex has become very strong — annual population growth for 2016 may exceed 8% by year’s end and stay strong for 2-4 more years. So what are we doing in response?

We just hired a new plans examiner just to keep from getting further behind processing the sudden wave of construction permit applications. Apex will need to manage growth more closely than ever. Quality of life is a critical element of Apex livability and we are working hard as a team to ensure we don’t lose it.

To that end, we are focused on 1) minimizing traffic impacts, 2) ensuring business balance and 3) preserving nature. The Peakway extension, Olive Chapel / Kelly Rd intersection and TIAs for new development address traffic impacts. The 2030 Land Use Amendments and Economic Development pursuits address business. Tree City USA planning, funding parks and extending greenways address our commitment to nature.

And finally, our downtown is our crown jewel, so we will continue to invest to keep and preserve it, hosting events and festivals there, while supporting our unique small-town character businesses.

As more people decide they, too, want to live in Apex, your local government is working hard to manage the demands that come with being the #1 Best Place to Live in America for the past twelve months. Thank you for allowing us to serve you. We continue to welcome and value your inputs.

It’s best at The Peak!


Lance Olive, Mayor

Peak City Pig Fest 2016 – June 20, 2016

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“The Peak City Pig Fest 2016 provided a wonderful weekend activity for many who live in the Triangle, and produced some of the best barbecue pork in the southeast. Besides being a fundraiser that ultimately benefits the community, this and other town festivals contribute to the superior quality of life that has propelled Apex to be named as the The Best Place to Live in America.”

Lance Olive, Mayor
Apex, NC

For Orlando…

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Today we gather in remembrance — to honor the lives of the 49 dead and 53 wounded in Orlando, Florida. Their families grieve — and we grieve with them.

The man who committed this heinous crime pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State — and ISIS, in kind, has claimed victory in this massacre.

Today, we the citizens of Apex stand to say, “We are Americans. We are a nation of free people. You can not intimidate us, nor kill our people with impunity, nor put us under the oppression of your sharia law.”

We also mourn the loss of the child at the Disney resort and offer our prayers and support to the parents as they bear the weight of their family tragedy. Orlando has born much in the past week. And we pray for them.

For all these souls, lost, wounded and bereaved, we lay this wreath.


Lance Olive, Mayor

Apex, NC