Business Notepad

Preserving the past

It began with simple curiosity. Ten years ago, John Morris was at a family Thanksgiving gathering, looking at some old photographs his grandmother had. He’d seen them before, but this time they really caught his interest — particularly one time-worn postcard.

“It was obviously very old, [and] it was a panorama of the town in northern Italy from which her parents had immigrated around the 1890s,” Morris explains. “On the back of it, it had an inscription in Italian, and it was signed by somebody by the name of Agosto.”

The postcard, says Morris, piqued his curiosity. “I started digging around, seeing if I could find out who this Agosto was because my grandmother didn’t really have any recollection of the postcard or how it got to be in her possession.”

After doing some serious genealogical research, “I still haven’t found out who Agosto was,” confesses Morris with a laugh, “but I’ve managed to trace my family’s history back into the early 1700s, in this little town of Borgialla … about 50 kilometers north of Torino in the foothills of the Alps.”

Then, five years later, Morris’ grandmother moved into an assisted-living situation at the age of 101 — and he became the custodian of the family photos. By this time, he’d become a self-described “red-hot genealogist” and was looking for ways to promote this interest as well as share the photos with other family members who were scattered across the country. He’d been teaching himself computer-graphics and photo-restoration skills, and he now began to put them to use to create ingenious products that would serve those purposes.

“I began with the calendar. It was a way to send 12 [restored] photos a year out to all the family members. Then I developed a photo family tree. And then I started putting all the photos on CD.”

His products were received with such enthusiasm, says Morris, that he ultimately decided to offer his services to others. His business, Nexus PhotoGraphics, opened in October.

Talk to Morris for a few minutes and it becomes obvious how passionate he is about preserving the photographic legacies of families.

“All the old photos in the world are literally disappearing,” he explains. “Photos are made of organic material, and they interact with the atmosphere and the humidity and light in such a way that they end up fading over time. Many of these old photos, especially on the East Coast where there’s a lot of humidity, are in pretty bad shape and getting daily worse. It’s almost like digital photography arrived just in time to help people who care about these photos to rescue them from the ravages of time.”

The first thing Morris does with an old photograph is to get a high-resolution computer scan of it. “Just the simple act of scanning it and putting it on a CD arrests the process of deterioration, because although the original photograph will continue to deteriorate no matter how well you try to preserve it … the digital image that’s made from that photo won’t deteriorate.”

Morris’ next step is to manipulate the digital image with software that can enhance and balance color; improve brightness and contrast; increase image sharpness; remove dust, mold or stains; and repair cracks or tears. The image can then be printed on photographic paper or viewed on a computer or television set. “The end result is often something very near what we would imagine the original photograph looked like — or sometimes even better, because often a poor-quality photograph can be digitally enhanced to the point where it’s even sharper and clearer … in ways that the original photograph and photographer couldn’t achieve. It can be pretty breathtaking, the difference between the original and the restored version.”

Since beginning this kind of work, says Morris, he’s run into many other people who, like himself, are the keeper of their family photos. “Often [they] are overwhelmed by what to do with them. … [The photos] are in disarray and in various stages of decomposition.”

“Part of what I do is consult with people [on] how to manage these collections.” The consulting part of his service is free, explains Morris, and the work he does for clients runs the gamut from simple restorations of just a photo or two to more extensive projects.

His business is as much a labor of love as it is an economic endeavor, says Morris. “It’s a lot of fun, and I feel like it’s important work. Photographs are a nice way to keep memories [of our grandparents and other ancestors] alive — sometimes the only way. Sometimes it’s the only thing really left … aside from a story or two … of their memory.”

For more information, call Morris at 252-9039, or visit his Web site: www.NexusPhotographics.com.

Boomers, Gen X-ers flock to Asheville area

If you were under the impression that it’s strictly retirees who’ve been fueling our area’s rapid population growth, think again. In the last 10 years, the local populations of both Baby Boomers (35- to 54-year-olds) and Generation X-ers (25- to 34-year-olds) have grown at more than twice the statewide rates, according to the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. The latest census figures show that the Asheville “metropolitan statistical area” (which includes Buncombe and Madison counties) has seen an increase of nearly 14,300 Boomers since 1990, a 26 percent increase (compared to a 10 percent increase statewide).

Tom Tveidt>, director of the Chamber’s Community Research Center, notes that “the Baby Boom generation represents a significant source of consumer spending, accounting for nearly one-half of all consumer spending at the national level.”

During that same period, the local Gen X population increased by 7,300 or 31 percent in (compared to 15 percent in North Carolina as a whole). Even the local Generation Y (15- to 24-year-olds) contingent grew faster here, adding nearly 7,000 people (33 percent growth) compared to 27 percent for all of North Carolina.

“The results,” Tveidt maintains, “provide valuable clues to marketers and challenge the commonly held view that the area’s growth is driven solely by retirees.”

N.C. tops in business-climate rankings

For the second consecutive year, North Carolina grabbed the top spot in Site Selection magazine’s annual “Top 25 State Business Climate” rankings, finishing well ahead of its closest competitors (Michigan, Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina).

Five criteria determined the rankings: total new and expanded corporate facilities in 2001; total new and expanded corporate facilities for 1999-2001; total new and expanded facilities per 1 million residents for 1999 through 2001; and total new and expanded facilities per 1,000 square miles of area. The fifth criterion was Site Selection’s annual survey of corporate real-estate executives, who were asked to identify the most pro-business states.

The data used in the rankings came from Site Selection publisher Conway Data’s New Plant Report, which compiles industrial and commercial openings, expansions and relocations. The data base is updated daily based on company announcements; Conway Data’s proprietary survey of development agencies; and information gleaned from daily and weekly newspapers, magazines and electronic sources, including the Internet.

“Both subjective perceptions (in the form of corporate real-estate managers’ input) and objective numbers (the Conway Data New Plant Database rankings) point to a robust business climate in North Carolina,” says Site Selection Editor Mark Arend. “The executives surveyed indicated a fondness for much of the South as a region in which to expand their operations.”

The Atlanta-based Conway Data is an international publishing and economic-development-information company. Site Selection — a magazine of corporate real-estate strategy and area economic development — is published bimonthly and distributed to more than 45,000 executives responsible for site-selection and facility-planning decisions worldwide. Site Selection’s content is available on-line at www.siteselection.com.

WNC Alliance to sponsor transit forum

The Western North Carolina Alliance and Friends of Asheville Transit will host a community meeting at the Haywood Street United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Dec. 3 from 6-8:30 p.m. to discuss improvements in public transportation. Sponsors say public input is needed to create a system that will appeal to the entire community.

A key theme of the forum will be the potential for creating a high-frequency transit route in Asheville, with passes that would allow citizens to ride for free at any time. These strategies are modeled on policies adopted in Boulder, Colo., considered by many to have the most successful public-transportation network in the country. Leaders from Boulder have emphasized that public input was the critical ingredient in designing a popular transit system.

Organizers say that anyone interested in reducing traffic and congestion, improving air quality, freeing up parking places, and increasing mobility and access for everyone should consider attending the event.

Haywood Street United Methodist Church is at the corner of Clingman and Patton avenues. The event is free; drinks and snacks will be available. For more information, call Norma Ivey (258-8737).

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