Economic development. A buzz goes through the room when the words are uttered.
We were knocked back on our heels with the arrival of the Great Recession and while our national leaders have done little to harness the forces that brought us near to ruin, little to regulate the greedy interests that seem to be back to business as usual, most of us have been reeling.
When we hear talk of economic development, our ears perk up.
As do the ears of our local elected officials. “Economic development” is the elixir that will heal us, bring back our strength, propel us again down the road to prosperity and security.
We have heard the talk before, when times were rough, when times were good. Over the years, organizations were formed, individuals hired with the hope that “economic development” would occur. We witnessed numerous plans drawn over the years, “visions” developed. We’ve seen the creation of an industrial park that now sits relatively unoccupied. We heard electric chatter about Lone Eagles and High Fliers. Rumors spread like wildfire, for decades, concerning industries ready to move to the area.
Truth is, since the demise of the timber business, there has been but one relatively steady industry here — tourism. We experienced a tremendous and welcome surge in construction and real estate business with the boom that flowed out of the ’90s, but it is now clear it was doomed, predicated in large part on a corrupt scheme perpetrated by lenders and investors whose avarice overcame their ethics.
So, what must happen for economic development to become more than a parlor game here?
First, the efforts of skilled individuals working to encourage this development must continue. Whatever they lure here, whenever, is welcome and needed.
But, second, efforts by local governments to bolster the basic infrastructure must continue with vigor.
We believe in a simple notion: That to successfully convince businesses and business owners to locate here, we must first ensure the place is attractive — not just scenic, but attractive in the sense that the environment adequately satisfies the needs of its inhabitants and businesses. Before industry arrives, the road system, sidewalks, trails, lighting, school system, water and sanitation system, fire and police protection, advanced telecommunications, transportation and shipping options must be in place. Build and maintain the base, and amenities multiply. And the economy develops.
The county has several projects underway: a five-year road plan (a “living” document open to modification); obtaining federal money for a Piedra Road project; bridge replacement on West Cat Creek Road; revamping of land use regulations; the “bean pole” project that will amp up government telecommunications. We have an airport that functions well and a public transportation system. Hopefully the county will step up and create a viable recycling service.
The town is taking action on a new wastewater treatment facility — something long overdue — and the alarm regarding the geothermal system is being sounded. Paving is envisioned for three blocks of Lewis Street and a section of Sixth Street. Money is being sought for completion of the Riverwalk trail system and for bathroom facilities at Yamaguchi Park, and work on whitewater features in the river is planned. The town has a five-year capital improvement plan to examine maintenance of capital assets (including roads) and completed year one of the plan this year.
PAWSD completed a major project, closing a treatment facility and building a pipeline. The district is still wrangling with the issue of future water storage and fees.
The local school district continues to contend with budget constraints flowing from the state, and creative ways of supplementing programs are sought and welcome.
These and other local entities have a big job on their hands. Money is tight, and needs are many. There is no room for frivolity. The task is to work on the foundation, and prepare the way for what might come.