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Why Bother Going After Jobs? Part 2

April 15, 2013 - Ernest Hohmeyer
We all hear about the interest in creating jobs. But is there a real strategy behind our approach? And if we do have a job creating strategy, do our individual small communities have the resources to pull it off by themselves? Should they even bother trying as I pondered in my last post? After all, the business parks which were built primarily on federal and state funds, cost the towns little. So why not sit back and wait for someone to come in? Besides can we compete with larger communities in the North Country?

Right – or Wrong?

And that is not to say we are doing nothing. The state of the community addresses that our municipal leaders use on occasion is a breath of fresh air. And some communities through organizations as ARISE, the Saranac Lake Village LDC and of course county IDA’s grapple with job recruiting efforts all the time.

But is something missing?

Can we do more – and should we? And if we do isn’t it going to cost taxpayer’s money?

A great thing about advocating a position is that you can attempt to rationalize almost anything and not be necessarily wrong. Complicating things even more is the different definitions of “cost” and our perception of “value.”

So perhaps in terms of going after jobs we may want to step back and ask ourselves 2 questions: 1. What is our current economic situation? 2. If things remain unchanged, what will our economy look like in the future?

Depending on your “relative” view on both of these questions may go a long way in deciding if going after jobs is a “cost” or an “investment?”

And if we decide “Yes, we should do something” what does that mean and who should do it?

A Community Journey

So I decided to research what other communities are doing these days. For this conversation I focused on 3 areas: • Growing economic base • High quality of life • Community roots remain strong

There is a ton of other factors related to a “healthy community” that we “sustainable developers” use such as good infrastructure, quality sites, workforce, schools, brewpubs (okay just kidding on that last one) etc.

To show you how much things have changed and why we may need to consider taking a look at our approach, I came across an interesting article “Libraries and Community Economic Development: A Survey of Best Practices.”

Jobs & Libraries – what?

Now why are libraries involved with this subject? I almost clicked past it but my curiosity got the best of me –and I am glad I did.

I started thinking about this and the numerous community meetings I have conducted or been a part of that have been held in our – libraries. What a great “neutral” community place – but there is much more of an important message here.

In this community development best practices piece by Krista Bowers Sharpe and Jeanne Koekkoek Stierman they point how creating jobs has changed. Quoting many sources (typical librarians! – but hey, did I learn a thing or two!) they talk about how “many local governments have been turning to more sustainable and progressive development strategies.” These include for example, “economic gardening, the cultivation of local entrepreneurship by fostering the growth of existing businesses…and by ‘creating a nurturing and information-rich environment where new entrepreneurs can flourish.”

Ah-h, I sense something new here…

They refer to a director of a Rural Policy Research Institute, who spoke about a “new rural entrepreneurial culture and climate.” Where it is strong is the result of three factors: “It is entrepreneur focused, it is strongly based in community, and it is regionally oriented.”

I began to realize there are many communities grappling with the issue of do we get involved, if yes, what do we do and how do go about it?

I understand now that many of the things we did as local community’s years ago when I first came onto the scene, which was so innovative at the time, may now in large part be out of date. The goal is the same, but how you go about doing it is quite different.

We are not alone

Michigan created a “Redevelopment Ready Communities,” Kentucky a “Work Ready Communities” and even the United Nations has a community best practices guide. Empire State Development also has a slew of helpful information.

While each approach to making an “investment” in jobs is unique, I took away 5 core commonalities. These include: 1. Regional approach that blurs municipal lines 2. Private-public partnership among businesses, residents and local government 3. Targeted game plan with a coordinated communication network among partners 4. Easily accessible information 5. Systematic follow-up

It’s All About Quality Investment

Michigan’s “Redevelopment Ready Communities” offers a best practice for localities that “certifies communities who actively engage stakeholders to vision and plan for the future.”

Are these “studies” that sit on the shelf?

Michigan’s program is geared to “attract investment to create thriving places where people want to live, work and play.” Developed by “experts in the public and private sector” they help with a key problem in our business recruitment programs: marketing. Certified communities are “primed for new investment because they are located within a community that has effective policies, efficient processes and broad community support.”

Kentucky through its “Work Ready Communities” also has a certification program that local communities can tout. This “assures employers that a local workforce has the talent and skills necessary to staff existing jobs and to master the innovative technologies new jobs will require.”

Ready for New Opportunities?

There is a lot we are doing and there has been success. We do not need more plans or studies. It may be just a simple question of becoming more organized, networked and leveraging our resources in a coordinated fashion on a regional scale.

But perhaps with a different twist that puts our small communities on the same playing field as the big boys: on-line communication and networks.

Will this be an “investment” to do so?


Does it have to be “costly?”

Perhaps not.

First, we may need to ask ourselves are we prepared as best as we can be for today’s new world?

Communication and technology has changed the face of our lives – it is there in almost everything we do. Has our job recruiting strategies changed with it? Are we prepared for these new opportunities?

Next time YOU will get a chance to answer that question with an interesting “Are we REALLY prepared?”


Article Comments

Apr-18-13 9:40 PM

No Ernie, we are not prepared. We continue along the track of thinking rail service is profitable. We ignore the Fact that tourism IS our destination and won't step-up to Plan for that. We continue to have local Gov't run business that should be done through the private sector. And we have Brilliant concepts (much are yours) that get ignored and not aggressively tackled by boards that are unwilling to take chances!!!


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