Walking the Talking

Tim Becker at ParsNova has an excellent post on the issue of economic development and the positioning of Amsterdam within a regional economic development plan. You should read that. (And, on a separate topic, you should also read his excellent post on AIDA and the Mural).

What Tim outlined reminded me of my own experience with regional development and with charting a direction with the seismic shifts in the economic landscape. In short, how do the city and the county fit with the shifts in technology and the shifts to a service economy ? How can the region be economically competitive in these industries and what are some possible ways to revive manufacturing here?

I’m horrible with remembering dates but my experience probably goes back 10 years or so to the time when the region was touting the “Tech Valley” initiative and the Global Foundries project was still in its speculative stages. Through my involvement with the Chamber and my technology background, I was asked to sit on a panel to assess the possibilities for positioning this area in light of Tech Valley and Global Foundries. Also serving on the panel were a number of economic development folks, county supervisors and a few others who I don’t recall. I can also say that the oft-cited economic development agencies were not in attendance.

I attended one, possibly two meetings, and it was more than clear that the process of how to create a strategy and a framework for Tech Valley and Global Foundries was sorely lacking. Worse yet, you could sense that the buy-in to pursuing such a task was lacking. Let’s remember that since then, Global Foundries is indeed real and Tech Valley has been a successful initiative.

The point with bringing this up is that we have the same institutions and cultural mindsets at work today, 10 plus years later, as when I served on the panel. Nothing has changed to address, in substantive way, how to best move forward. It’s also quite clear that we are here today not based upon the last election cycle but on the election cycles and the resulting policies from decades ago. So when you hear folks touting regional development as the solution, you are looking at a decades long endeavor before you see any fruit from that.

And if you want such initiatives to bear fruit, you need to invest time and resources to make it happen — you know — money. And the political will and community mindset to invest money in a ten year effort to drive growth and development is approximately…. zero.

Sure. I’ll buy into regional development. There have been many opportunities to do something in light of Global Foundries as the most dramatic example with billions of dollars invested. What tweaks me about the talk of regional development is that no one is accountable for a strategy or plan– who should position this area for regional development? I have no idea.

How are we going to fund regional development? I have no idea.

And to Tim’s point, how does the city bootstrap itself in light of regional development? I have no idea.

How does the city benefit beyond selling water to foster growth elsewhere and at the expense of development within the city? I have no idea.

How does the city establish economic growth under a regional economic development model when it has none of the land assets within the city to lure large firms and large capital projects? I have no idea.

I write this in late 2013 so at best you would see regional development jumpstart in 2018 at the very best, 2023 most likely,  if things were in place today. And I can assure you that things are not in place today as the strategy and mindset differs little from that of a decade ago. Indeed, the cause celebre locally is suppressing any notion or vision of progress and ultimately to dismiss progress as wholly impossible. Sorry kids, you can’t develop a strategy or plan if you have zero buy-in to your objectives.

Sure, let’s talk regional development but let’s remember that we should insist that those cheering for it to articulate a plan and precisely what tradeoffs the city and towns have to make. And most importantly, who exactly is leading this regional economic growth.

We don’t have to be Nostradamus to see that no one will answer this in a meaningful way.






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