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CNN Express bus seeks out innovators

By Tom Foreman, CNN
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Lumbering through tough times
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN Express bus tells stories of people who evolve and innovate amid hard times
  • America is filled with workers who find ways to succeed and have lessons to share
  • First stop, Texas: Area from Austin to San Antonio may lead the way out of recession

Austin, Texas (CNN) -- Texas is one of those great Western states that is simply beyond belief for many of us: It is too big, too bold, too sprawling, too brawling for many folks east of the Mississippi River to fully grasp.

And yet, its very "otherness" makes it the perfect place to begin our grand journey to find out how our fellow citizens are "Building Up America."

For each of the next seven months, we are going to roam the American countryside in the CNN Express bus asking people, communities and businesses how they're finding ways to succeed despite the hard times we are all facing.

We will share what we find here and on CNN programs like "American Morning," "The Situation Room," and "AC360°."

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One thing I know already from a lifetime of traveling over and over again to all 50 states: America is filled with independent, hard-working, innovative souls who find ways to succeed even when success seems unreachable.

There may be no state with a deeper streak of that independence than this one, which was once a nation.

In the Lone Star State, we found people with big smiles, determination, enormous pride in their home and their country. I suspect I'll find very much the same elsewhere on our journey, despite the economic slump that has hit everyone so hard.

Laura Culin is one person we found. She's the owner, chief executive, forklift driver and all-around hand at the Austin Lumber Company.

Five years ago, her business burned to the ground. No insurance. And with the construction business soon to head into a steep decline, she could easily have been forced into an early retirement, or at least an entirely different trade.

But Laura never considered it.

She rallied her friends and family, scraped up money and moxie, and the first business day after the fire, with little more than a working phone, she sold a load of plywood.

Since then, she's rebuilt, rewritten her business plan and shifted heavily to green and sustainable building materials to capitalize on changes in the marketplace.

She's the first to say that "Building Up America" means constantly evolving and innovating.

That is just one of the success stories we've seen up close during our visit to Texas.

Some economic analysts predict that the area between Austin and San Antonio will lead the way for much of the nation as the economy slowly recovers.

We'll also spend a lot time just traveling around and listening to ordinary citizens: blue-collar laborers and white-collar business folk; farmers and field hands; musicians, housewives, students and more.

The simple truth is, the real secret to any hope we have for a recovery lies out there, not inside the Beltway in D.C.

It rests with all sort of normal people who, despite the downturn, have never stopped "Building Up America" and have a lot of lessons to share with all the rest of us.

Saddle up. And if you see me on the trail, flag me down to say hello.