June 24, 2017 10:09:49 PM
It has been six months since the CBS News program "60 Minutes" told the Joe Max Higgins story of how the colorful, homespun economic development CEO brought manufacturing jobs to the Golden Triangle at a time when the industry was stagnant at best.
The residue of that program is still in evidence today. Higgins has been re-telling this story all over the country in speaking engagements ranging from industry-specific conferences to even a college commencement, appearances Higgins believes benefit his efforts as the Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO.
"After that show, we started getting all kinds of calls," Higgins said. "I was even approached about a TV reality show, which just wouldn't work in my line of work. Somehow, I don't think these companies would like the idea of having TV cameras around while we're sitting at the table."
But there was one idea that kept cropping up that Higgins found intriguing.
"I had three book agents contact me, asking me if I would be interested in writing a book," Higgins said. "Now, the one thing I know about writing a book is that I can't write a book."
The agent Higgins ultimately selected assured him that wouldn't be a problem.
"He gave me a list of about three ghostwriters," Higgins said. "I talk to them all and, to me, Seth (Schulman) really seemed like a good fit. I don't know why, really. We just clicked."
An odd partnership
At first blush, it seems like an odd partnership.
Schulman is an Ivy League-educated writer (bachelor's from Cornell PhD from Brown) who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. Higgins is an Arkansas native who has spent his life in the South, a man whose language and euphemisms are almost a foreign language outside of the region.
"You know, that's turned out to be a positive thing, I think," Higgins said. "When I'm talking, I'll use a phrase and people here know exactly what I'm saying. But in other places, it's 'what is he talking about?' So Seth is a big help there."
Schulman brings an impressive resume to the job, with 15 years as a writer, ghostwriter, consultant and writing coach along with well-established relationships with many of the top publishing companies.
Although he's had several phone interviews with Higgins over the past few months, Schulman's first face-to-face visit with Higgins came last week, as he accompanied Higgins through his typically busy paces.
"My first impression?" Schulman said. "First, it's how smart he is, and second, his electrifying personality. I came away from the trip impressed, not only with him, but Columbus as well."
In describing the idea for the book, Higgins first said what the book is not about.
"It's not about Joe Max Higgins because I don't think there would be a lot of people interested in that," he said.
Nor is it a re-telling of the story of Higgins' success in bringing manufacturing to the Golden Triangle, although he said parts of that story will be used to illustrate the points he hopes to make.
"I guess, maybe it's sort of a 'how-to' book," Higgins said. "What I mean is that there are a lot of things I've learned and the philosophy. I think a lot of the things that have been successful for me apply outside of economic development. I think a lot of the things that have worked will work in any kind of business. So that's what I want the book to be about."
Schulman is currently putting together a book proposal that Higgins' agent can shop around to publishers.
Although he is reluctant to discuss details of his work, Schulman said he's established a good relationship with Higgins.
Unlike some previous ghostwriting jobs he's had, where he's had to coax the story from his subject, there are no such problems with Higgins, whose enthusiasm for story-telling comes naturally.
"I don't know if that makes it any easier," Schulman said. "But it does make it a lot of fun."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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