While oil lurches toward some of our finest beaches—the powderwhite sand stretches along the Alabama and Florida panhandlecoasts, I was in Norway last week where off shore oil drilling andthe economy are basically one and the same. This Scandinaviancountry of four million people, laced by stunning fiords andmountain valleys, is essentially the Saudi Arabia of Europe and thethird wealthiest nation in the world in monetary value. In some villages which dot the countryside, entire populations workfor the petroleum and gas industries. Shipbuilding, merchantmarine, fishing (Atlantic salmon and mussel farms), sheep and goatfarming and tourism are now secondary players relative to big oil.The government largely controls oil production and oil handsomelyfunds healthcare, social security, and infrastructure development(for the past 30 years since North Sea oil reserves were discoveredNorway has been building tunnels through its mountain sides to makeit easier for people to get around). That doesn’t mean taxes arelow or gasoline pump prices are cheap—they’re not. The governmentrealizes that its oil fields will eventually run out and builds alarge reserve fund (the largest per capita in the world) tobuttress the economy when black oil production begins to ebb. In the meantime, the country has steered clear of membership in theEuropean Union and keeps its krone currency separate from the Euro.Life in this capitalist-social democracy welfare state feels verysecure at least for now—and locals shrug off the BP spill assomething far away that won’t happen here.

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In the meantime, Oslo and Bergen, the country’s two largestcities at about 600,000 and 260,000 in population respectively, arecharming, but are too small and not dynamic enough to be hot bedsfor international real estate investors. Most tourists don’tspend their nights in hotels—they sight-see the fiords in largecruise boats gazing at deep green waters and towering cliffs.Idyllic farm valleys irrigated by magnificent waterfalls andrushing mountain streams would make for outstanding resortdevelopments except for their remoteness… I stayed in a farmhouse athousand feet above the confluence of three fiords (comparable inbeauty to looking down the Grand Canyon), taking a wood fired hottub at gorge edge, watching below as one of those cruise linerspassed by, and later dined in an outdoor kitchen, served lastFall’s venison kill washed off by currant juice and finished with araspberry torte—the berries coming from surrounding fields. It wasa once in a life time experience, but to get there I kayakedthrough the fiord and climbed up an ultra steep mile long trailwhere a slip along the path’s edge would have abruptly ended mytrip so to speak. The American-born owner, who hosts occasionalsmall groups in rustic accommodations (no electricity), brings upsupplies from below on a zip line and tends an organicgarden. The main road between Oslo and Bergen still is amostly two lane affair—forget major interstates let alonehighways.

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Back here, Gulf Coast developers, hoteliers and real estateagents lament the likelihood of despoiled shorelines for years tocome, while large constituencies in Louisiana want drilling toresume so people can return to work. When we were the biggest oilproducer in the world (40 years ago) we didn’t build up capitalreserves and we may be still the world’s wealthiest nation andbiggest economy by far, but we also have the largest debts. States and cities lay off more workers and begin to face up tocutting pension benefits. The average consumer is too in hock toramp up spending and companies can make more by staying lean andusing available technologies to enhance productivity withoutramping up hiring…

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Ah, that hot tub was just too good… But Norway’s midnight suneventually sets into dark cold winterstoo.

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Jonathan D. Miller

A marketing communication strategist who turned to real estate analysis, Jonathan D. Miller is a foremost interpreter of 21st citistate futures – cities and suburbs alike – seen through the lens of lifestyles and market realities. For more than 20 years (1992-2013), Miller authored Emerging Trends in Real Estate, the leading commercial real estate industry outlook report, published annually by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute (ULI). He has lectures frequently on trends in real estate, including the future of America's major 24-hour urban centers and sprawling suburbs. He also has been author of ULI’s annual forecasts on infrastructure and its What’s Next? series of forecasts. On a weekly basis, he writes the Trendczar blog for GlobeStreet.com, the real estate news website. Outside his published forecasting work, Miller is a prominent communications/institutional investor-marketing strategist and partner in Miller Ryan LLC, helping corporate clients develop and execute branding and communications programs. He led the re-branding of GMAC Commercial Mortgage to Capmark Financial Group Inc. and he was part of the management team that helped build Equitable Real Estate Investment Management, Inc. (subsequently Lend Lease Real Estate Investments, Inc.) into the leading real estate advisor to pension funds and other real institutional investors. He joined the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S. in 1981, moving to Equitable Real Estate in 1984 as head of Corporate/Marketing Communications. In the 1980's he managed relations for several of the country's most prominent real estate developments including New York's Trump Tower and the Equitable Center. Earlier in his career, Miller was a reporter for Gannett Newspapers. He is a member of the Citistates Group and a board member of NYC Outward Bound Schools and the Center for Employment Opportunities.