Sunday, October 3, 2004

City’s low costs not a positive

Keith Lawrence reported in today’s Messenger-Inquirer Owensboro’s new ranking of being lowest among smallest metropolitan areas east of the Mississippi River for cost of doing business. The question to be asked regarding this ranking is this a good thing?


This is not a good thing in that local leaders can react to this news with an urgency to work with the Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Inc. to persuade businesses to come to Owensboro to do their work as a short term political necessity. Suffice it to say the Owensboro metropolitan area leadership simply does not do a good job of strategic planning, and planning in conjunction with the entire population. Planning in this community is left to the very small few, hampering the opportunity to tap into the larger community and working with the community at large in promoting opportunity for Owensboro.

This ranking is a good thing in that it is another opportunity for the leadership of Owensboro to do right by planning for the future of Owensboro. The planning approach that this community has taken, and continues to take is an outdated approach to community development. Community leaders once again have the tremendous opportunity of working with the community at large in a manner of dialogue and deliberation to move the community forward. Social and economic development simply cannot be seen as one person’s or one institution’s work. A tremendous error in planning has occurred and continues to occur in the Owensboro community: tunnel vision planning, whereby a single institution (local governments, economic development authority) do not consider the broad implications of ‘other’ institutional planning, while not planning with the community at large. Our problem institutional errors, such as job growth and job development, must be owned by the community at large. The way to make job growth, good job growth, responsible job growth, and equal job growth across economic sectors is to involve those actors and players of each economic sector, and community citizens at large to first determine where our community has been, where it currently is, and ultimately where our community WANTS to go. Residents will simply not work with the community to move in a direction if that is a direction they do not wish to go. If one believes this is apparent, which I do, then this situation is a reflection of poor local leadership.

Issues to consider

Education and the relationship of job growth to educational attainment were mentioned in the article. Judge Executive Reid Haire suggests that good paying jobs must be available before the educational level will increase. Others suggest the opposite, that the overall community educational level must increase before the good jobs will arive. But what appears to hamper our understanding of job growth (good paying jobs, sustainable employment, and responsible job growth) is our understanding of the dimensions of economic development. The aforementioned commentary on social and economic development can shed some light on this. Economic development and job growth simply does not rely on one cause to achieve the effect of development and growth. Education affects job growth, but so does health status of the community, the rate of crime, the demonstrable creativity of the community, the quality of life, and the niche that the community market plays. Currently, there is no visible no strategy that suggests an understanding of any of this. Rather what we have is the occasional lecturer or presenter at community events that are typically not public enough or open to the public (Rooster Booster or Leadership Owensboro), or editorials or letters to the editor will appear in the local newspaper that will shed some sort of light on the issue.

We as a community have not drawn the connections between these indicators and job growth, nor have we defined what our niche market is. Suffice it to say, with the changes in the tobacco economy our niche market has been in flux for the past decade or more. With a lack of a strong strategic vision then, our local government, economic development authority, and the local population has failed to move in a direction that is consistent with the vision of the community at large.

The lack of broad based, public oriented planning which taps into the will of the community at large has failed this community here in late 2004. A vision needs to be created, that is the community’s vision, and it needs to become the foundation for which everyone and every public and private group or institution pursues job growth, educational attainment, improvement in health status, creative opportunities for our citizens, and the creation of a niche market. Richard Florida's work on the creative class might serve as some insight.

The economic sector is certainly not dictated by strategy nor should it be. But an understanding of where we have been, where we are, where we want to go and where we will most likely be successful in going can certainly go a long way for creating a sense of direction for this community. Our community’s well being still suffers from the sundry elements of our lives such as low mean family incomes, family’s with multiple employment to maintain financial status, loads of debt for local citizens, a less than vibrant creative community, a lack of a meaningful invitation to participate and to become involved in local leadership, and most of all an unwillingness of the community leadership to do something different or to change our current path.

Check out our Census numbers to understand Owensboro a bit better.

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