Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Growing Jobs

Jobs. We talk about them a lot. We keep asking questions like "Where are the good paying jobs?", "Why aren't there more jobs?", "What about benefits?" and of course the always popular "What are they going to do about it?"

These questions happen everywhere. I hear them in bars, restaurants, parties, and at this weeks joint City Council / COSADC meeting. Everyone wants more and better jobs.

The joint meeting grew out of the recent denial of a monetary incentive to ACT on a very close vote. There were some questions about communications, and some feelings seemed to have been hurt. The recent meeting was to improve communications and to clarify some guidelines such as how wage thresholds are determined. There are unlikely to be any major changes in how business is done as a result of this meeting. Still, I think we remember a quote from former Mayor Izzard from the Jan 9, 2002 Standard Times: "If our votes were unanimous, it would show a lack of oversight." This quote was after the council approved the Taylor Publishing move to the industrial park by a 5-2 vote. There are frequently differences in philosophy, perspective, and ideas on something as complex as economic growth. Still, it is useful to examine some fundamental ideas.

To expand on an idea from a previous post, lets do a simple thought experiment. If our property tax rate was lowered to that of Odessa, our closest benchmark city, how many $25k jobs would that pay for? With no benefits, it would pay for slightly over 180 jobs, with benefits about 150. Considering how slow our job market is growing, that would be quite a boost. Probably not realistic in the short term (that would take over $4.6 million from the city budget) but as a long term goal, I really like the idea.

There are other ideas and approaches besides incentives and tax cuts that need to be looked at to grow the economy and create jobs. One popular idea is to grow local businesses. Long term, it's probably better to grow businesses with deep local roots. To be fair, we have projects such as the ASU SBDC and the CVCED. These are useful, and there have been some successes. Still, we can probably do better by looking at other successful approaches. One such approach is Economic Gardening. This approach was pioneered by Littleton, Colorado in the late 80's after their largest employer up and left town, taking several thousand jobs with it.

Economic gardening focuses on building a nurturing environment for local growth companies. It recognizes that most jobs are created by fast growing small businesses commonly called gazelles. These innovative, entrepreneurial gazelles are what are grown in a successful economic garden. Articles and information can be found here, here, here, and here that will explain the ideas better than I can. Hopefully we can get someone like Chris Gibbons to come and give us more details.

The idea of Economic Gardening is growing. Loveland is using it. The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship promotes it. It is even being used successfully in Australia. It is something we need to look at here. Let's see if we can't cross a gazelle with an armadillo.

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