Incremental Dismantling of Communities

Working with and in communities in the capacity of economic development for over two  decades I’ve seen the subtle, incremental dismantling of good economic development practices.  Incremental dismantling of a community is created and fueled by poor public administration, misguided policy, and ego driven behaviors.

Economic development in many communities is taking place at the expense of the citizens and community resources.  In the past economic development was shaped by community development, which included planning, civic service, and a sense of the greater good.  Over the last decade or more it appears in many places to be morphing into a win at all cost, any project is a good project, ‘shoot at anything that flies, claim anything that falls’ charade.ThinkThrough

Does planning still take place in communities?  Often planning does take place, implementation however does not always follow.  I had a conversation a few weeks ago with someone who makes a very nice living creating community plans. He voiced frustration and discouragement of repeatedly seeing his work completed, only to go sit on a shelf in an office never to be actually implemented.  So we know paying for a plan isn’t enough.  Staying focused and implementing policy to  support a plan is vital.

In the places that economic development has become a shell of the original intent you can see a direct correlation between the incremental dismantling, or even production of poor policy to feed the ‘beast’  as community resources are squandered. When economic development is more about headline and glory grabs community members will disengage and a downward cycle will develop.

True economic development is focused on community engagement, growth, planning, and development supported by well thought out and implemented policy.  When good policy is in place the public administration path is clear and the influence of politics and/or ego diminishes.  That is a formula that leads to community and  resource growth, as well as civic pride.

 

Automation In Rural Manufacturing & Why It Should Be Incentivized

There are plenty of debates over automation in manufacturing. More often than not part of an automation debate includes automation vs. jobs. Automation is a complicated issue with multiple layers, but for this post, let’s focus on the’ jobs will be lost if automation comes’ myth in rural communities. That’s right “myth”. Let’s get this out of the way, jobs will not be lost, jobs will change.  automation

On January 24 this year Marketwatch had an article based on a Brookings Institute study. The Marketwatch item had the super sexy title, “Over 30 million U.S. workers will lose their jobs because of AI”, big stuff. The article went on to say “…“high exposure” to automation — meaning at least 70 percent of their tasks could soon be performed by machines using current technology. Among those most likely to be affected are cooks, waiters and others in food services; short-haul truck drivers; and clerical office workers.”

On January 25, 2019 CNBC had a piece based on that same Brooking study and CNBC titled it a semi-sexy, “Automation threatening 25% of jobs in the US, especially the ‘boring and repetitive’ ones: Brookings study,” less sexy, but still disturbing if you are cruising through life with only enough time to catch headlines as many of us are.

The two articles above are great examples of why the word “automation” can send fear into the workplace and leave workers feeling insecure. But here is the thing, automation in rural manufacturing is what will save many rural communities. Subsequently, anyone in the market of incentivizing via economic development needs to get on board with offering incentives to manufacturers who are automating, and quit tying incentives to job creation only.

Rural communities continue to see a decline in population. There is no indication that this trend will stop, it may slow, and occasionally adjust a bit, but overall rural economic and community development need to engage in clear conversations regarding doing as much and/or more with less people. This applies to rural manufacturers as well, many who already feel the workforce shortage pain, subsequently the need for automation. Failure to support the growth of automation within rural communities will, not might, but will result in rural manufacturers eventually having to pack up and leave due to a lack of workforce.

The current rural workforce reality has shifted from a dollars per job created equation, to a dollars per job retained and/or dollars that will remain within the community based on supporting, and stabilizing manufacturing growth. Unfortunately most States have not shifted away from the dynamic of only incentivizing ‘per job.’ And realistically rural communities will have limited capacity to do so themselves on a large scale.

So the bottom line, automation is necessary in rural communities if they are to survive. And when you look at employment opportunities vs. available workforce in the majority of these communities it is clear automation will not take jobs, it will change the type of jobs to a higher technical level, and/or assist in smoothing processes where a lack of employees exist. Not assisting manufacturers in automation will result in not just jobs lost in rural areas, but companies lost.

Quit Treating Economic Development Like A Game Show

Economic development projects are not something you win.  Economic development projects are something you first have a community plan for, along with collaboration and engagement with community partners, and then when an opportunity rises you have the economic intelligence to go after what fits your community culture and future, and pass on what does not.

Are you in your community sweet spot for smart growth and quality of life or are you just playing “Let’s Make A Deal”? Here are some indicators…

If your community has never passed on a “lead” your community is doing it wrong.

If you have no policy on what merits incentives and what does not, you are planning to fail.

If leadership is offering incentives as a “free gift with purchase” without running a formula on what the actual company need is, you are wasting taxpayer dollars.

Incentives are great, as is economic development; however, the propensity of human beings to win at all costs is what mucks things up.  And there is your loop back to economic development needing economic intelligence.  Freewheeling a deal is basically putting your taxpayers in second place and some strangers with either real, or possibly magic beans in the number one slot.

There are a lot of abandoned buildings out there that once housed projects communities fought for and incentivized, such as these three in Ohio.  None of us are surprised there are no politicians and glory grabbers standing at this end of the deal.

 

Economic Intelligence, A Must

Without economic intelligence your economic development efforts are basically just bribing companies to come to your community, often at the cost of the community itself.  What is economic intelligence?  It is knowing parameters, trends, competition, community cost per dollar, and community keys involving the greater good over the human propensity to win at all cost.

Economic intelligence in economic development is what makes economic development ethical, rather than a glory grabbing, win at all cost, race to the bottom.  Corporate is great, but putting corporate over the community you are representing is not.

'Remember, it's not a lie if it makes us money.'