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World's online marketplace auctions W.Va. without reserve

January 22, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

If I owned the state of West Virginia, I would turn it into a showpiece. I would re-create the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, all between Virginia and Ohio.

I would build the Great Pyramid of Wheeling and the Lighthouse of Parkersburg and the Statue of Zeus at Pickens. A magnificent bronze Colossus would straddle the creek at Great Cacapon. I should build the Temple of Artemis at Hedgesville, the Hanging Gardens of Beckley and the Mausoleum at - hmm, where to put the mausoleum? I suppose Fairmont would serve.

I got to thinking of this last week, when it came to light that the state of West Virginia had been put up for sale on eBay, the online auction site.

More than 50 people placed bids (the highest being just shy of $100 million) before the humorless corporate eBay folks smelled a rat and pulled the plug.

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Apparently the sale was a satirical reaction to the state's financial woes. Its deficit is somewhere in the neighborhood of $120 million, the state pension plan is in debt and the medical insurance issue is proving hard to fix. And I think there are some other problems. Matter of fact, I doubt I would buy West Virginia unless they threw in Mississippi for free. And only then if there turned out to be a Lemon Law for states.

Still, I don't believe there's anything wrong with West Virginia that a good, commercial mind, such as my own, couldn't fix.

First, there would be no politics in West Virginia, which from that day forward would be known as West Virtimia. You've heard of running a government like a business? With me, it would be a business. There would be no governor and Legislature, just a CEO and a corporate board. I think I could have it showing a profit in six quarters.

So to build some working capital, our first move would be to turn around and sell the state's politicians on eBay. True, that's not likely to bring much, but it's a start. To raise the rest of what we would need, I'm thinking about an IPO. Every resident of the state would be entitled to 10 shares of the West Virtimia Corp., (ticker symbol, WET) and the initial public stock offering would flesh out the account.

This would provide the working capital, but as a for-profit business, the state would need something to sell. These days, everyone is trying to force "high tech" down everyone else's throat, but I wouldn't. My philosophy is to go with what you know, and here I am thinking specifically of moonshine.

There is no shame in this. It's the craft of a marketable commodity. Think of it, it was the one thing we really did well, and in the '30s the feds came in and busted it all up.

The problem, as I see it, is the name. "Moonshine." Or "White Lightning" or "Corn Likker." Way too cartoony. Obviously, the early moonshiners were unfamiliar with focus groups.

For your corporate moonshining product, you need a name that's edgy, but with a more positive connotation, like "Nutribuzz." You pattern your ad campaign after something tried and true, like getting some lantern-jawed longhair and dressing him up in colonial garb so he can stare powerfully but somewhat unsteadily into the camera and say "Nutchribuzzz. Arrays a (hic) good sedition."

There are a million opportunities for market share. Nutribuzz would be the first to come out with a low-carb whiskey. There is a mint to be made on the gender issue. Look at all the high-proof products: "Jack" Daniels. "Jim" Beam. "Johnny" Walker. "Dean" Martin. All men. Tell me there's not a niche for "Lucinda's Cornsilk Reserve."

If there's enough hooch flowing around, pretty soon you are going to attract the NASCAR circuit, and that's Phase II of the business model. It ties together seamlessly of course, because NASCAR got its start with the moonshining industry. So we build big tracks at the venues listed above and create the Seven Wonders Cup. You have the Mr. Zeuswrench 500, the Artemis "Jeff" Gordon short track, the Great Pyramids-United Stonecutters Union/Pharaoh Quality 600, the Bud Lighthouse 450, the Rust-O/Mauso/Leum 500 and on and on. As the folks at Guiness say, "Brilliant!"

As a matter of fact, the only way this plan won't succeed is if the NASCAR fans don't get the archaeology jokes and the archaeologists don't get the NASCAR jokes and if no one gets the "Wild Wild West" joke which was tossed in for free - the odds of which, come to think of it, are pretty strong.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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