Bay County Economy - Dynamic Change Required.
by Marvin Kusmierz
October 26, 2004
Bay County - Recent economic studies done by independent companies are consistent, we have a problem! While that awareness isn’t new, it remains alarming!
"You are at ground zero and you shouldn’t be.”, Jay A. Gardner, president of Competitive Strategies Group of Atlanta, GA, told the Board Members of Bay County on October 21, 2004. Mr. Gardner’s company and Whittaker Associates of Holland, MI, were hired by the county to the investigate the county’s poor economic conditions and to propose actions that can be taken to improve .
The findings of the study confirm other recent studies on the subject, and what is the experience of many individuals and families of Bay County. Our youth are leaving Bay County at an alarming rate and this spells difficulties for the future. The traditional political bickering that has been the discourse that has helped to block progress has to end. Individuals and groups with a self-interest agenda are impeding the progress necessary to deal with global issues affecting the local economy, and these have to be rendered impotent.
Mr. Gardner pointed cited the county’s failure benefit from the economic good times of the 1990s. While many other communities moved forward, Bay County defied the trend and slipped further behind. A sobering fact that we have lost precious time to the competition.
Change of Attitude Required.
However, it is within our power to do something about it, if we truly want a better future for our community. It won’t be easy and there is not one solution. First and foremost, we need to change the attitude that has buried us into the present situation. That may be the hardest task to accomplish. We must not dwell on blame, we don’t have the time for such trivial folly anymore.
Those who want progress must adhere to a “can do” attitude and avoid the pit falls of the past that have stunted progress. Simply put, what is required is a cooperative effort that places the highest priority on the economy of the county taking precedence over that of a city or township. Leave local politics to issues other than the economy. What’s good for the county’s economy will benefit all cities and townships.
To improve our economy, we need jobs! Nothing else is more evident or necessary in the work that must be done to sustain and grow our communities. We are losing our youth at an alarming rate that increases each year because they are being forced to look outside of our community for a job that provides the income to live the life style enjoyed by most of the parents.
Jobs wherever they are located in the county benefit every city and township. This should not be a new awareness to community leaders. It has been the going on since the beginning of the industrial age. The historical progress of businesses is not locked to providing jobs only to the community it exists in, but to any qualified individual able to get to work on time no matter where they live. Our modern highways and vehicles have removed distance as a barrier to a good paying job. One has only to consider what General Motors plants in Saginaw or Dow Chemical in Midland have meant in the way of jobs for the citizens and the economy of Bay County.
A global economic approach is essential for an effective strategy to succeed. Indeed, what’s good for Bay County, is also good for the counties of Saginaw and Midland, and visa versa. Therefore, a regional economic alliance may ultimately be the most desirable solution. Regionally we have the accumulative assets that can maximize the attraction of our area to new businesses. To date, the businesses that are already invested in our region have no problem crossing county borders in order to expand. Dow with its headquarters in the city of Midland has enterprises located in hundreds of communities around the world, and in each of the Tri-counties.
However, developing a regional economic alliance is not a short-term solution nor is it even possible until we can build a strong county economic alliance among the local governments of Bay County. Community and business leaders have already made strides in this direction and they need to get it into action as quickly as practical. It is critical that this group is able to move forward quickly and is not hindered by those unwilling move beyound the failed practices of the past. Local governments need to be represented in this group without any minority interest being able to block the majority.
Economy is First Priority
In spite of our history in fighting, we’ve had some substantial progress on quality of life issues. Indeed, we are blessed with fine resources that have in recent time been able to enhance to the benefit make our area a very desirable place to live. But, this progress does not solve our basic economic problem of creating jobs. No resource of time or money should be invested in any area that could support our efforts to create jobs. All of the improvements that have been made, pails in importance to the need to improve our job situation and stop the loss of our youth who are being forced to move elsewhere for employment.
Part of the solution is integrating all of our assets into an economic alliance. That means government, business, environmental and education must be working together in unison towards the same goal. The lead in a discussion of what the goal should be has to come from our existing businesses. After all, they know what companies are looking for in assets available in communities. They are the driving force that can most quickly get us going in the direction of success.
This doesn’t mean that we opt our power of decision making to business leaders. We simply tap their readily available knowledge about what businesses are looking for when they consider where to locate a new company. By knowing the issues, we can better determine what it is we can do to accommodate them and thereby, increase the possibility of being successful.
Any manufacturing businessman will tell you that they are competing in a very dynamic world market. Yesterday’s solution to success becomes a fleeting memory as market forces are constantly changing requiring them to respond accordingly or be knocked out of business. Their solution quite often is pricing, but performance. Simply, this means giving more tax breaks isn’t going to save them. Instead, what they need are knowledgeable and highly skilled workers that are adaptable to dynamic change. In such a situation, the answer may lie in our educational institutions being able to support the knowledge and training needs of these businesses.
The community of Portsmouth Township is struggling with the issue of whether or not to modify an ordinance to allow historical farmland to be used for a new commercial district. The main issue is one that will have an impact on the environment. The question boils down to what is a rational solution to satisfy these concerns and still expand the economy. However, resistence to change simply because it has always been farmland should not stymie progress. No one wants their backyard groomed by others, and no one wants the economy to returned to the days when farming was the only job available. The answer has to come from some compromise between the opposing parties that is relatively fair, but not totality satisfactory to only one of them.
Over in Monitor Township, another a struggle has some citizens of the township at odds with the boards desire to expand an industrial park operated under a DADA taxing authority. At the same time, the county is threatening the Monitor Township board with a law suit if they proceed without a new agreement regarding the use of the taxes collected from the industrial park. It is probably the most apparent example of our basic problem. We’ve taken a good economic situation and used it to kill the golden goose that this industrial park has become to our economic development.
Both of these situations are sad examples of why our economy is slipping backwards. Neither represents an insurmountable problem, but out traditional approach to resolving them does. Most everyone wants their kids to live where they grew up, but when the issue of taxes and progress affects them personally, they opt for answers that in their personal self interests. That has to change.
Implement Economical Efficiencies.
Bay City’ mayor, Robert Katt, has stated publically that he is in favor of looking at a metropolitan approach of public services. He believes this could help to control budgets through efficiencies and may help to minimize the tax burden of citizens. It is not only a good idea, it is the only choice. We either, move in this direction or the cost of doing business in this county will in itself keep new businesses from locating here and will eventually drive those here out of the county.
The only way that I can see a county regional alliance being tolerable to local governments is if they are able to benefit economically whether or not businesses directly locate in their domain. This would encourage each city and township of the county’s economy globally rather than that of solely their own community. A fair participation would need to be devise and reviewed annually for adjustment.
An example might be to use each community’s percentage of the total county property tax assessment for their cost contribution and revenue from the success of the economic alliance. Say that the economic alliance is able to bring in a new business to Portsmouth that will generate $100,000 in new property taxes, that amount is divided up among all city and township governments. Using, Mayor Katt’s idea of a metropolitan public authority, whatever township the new business is located is assured help by the county metro-authority with any new services required. That community derives the benefits of jobs while getting help with infrastructure that doesn’t overburden taxes on the citizens of that community. While other communities add new tax revenue to their coffers.
But, you say – that’s insane. It will never happen because it’s – well it’s too (whatever)! If you have already concluded this than it behooves you to either come up with another approach or get out the way. We know what does work! I’d rather risk the future on hope than the despair of certainty that is the present condition.
We must think in new innovative ways, not to reinvent the wheel, but to get outside of the box that we’ve put ourselves into. It’s not that we don’t have the people or leaders in place to do that, they just haven’t had much help in taking us in a more positive direction where success is defined by job creation. Government’s role isn’t to create good paying jobs, it is to facilitate an environment where private enterprises are able to do that.
Educational institutions to a large degree are stuck in the traditional mode of a farming community. They sit idle during the growing season when they could be put to better use to meet the needs of our modern age. Our youth need to learn the basics of reading, english and math, but they also need to learn the skills of becoming productive workers. Their eyes need to be opened to the world in which they will have to cope with as adults. They have to learn how to think not only about the present, about how to adapt their skills and knowledge to change.
Environmentalists need to protect us from greed that would destroy the natural elements of our live giving planet. But in doing so, they need to allow room for the human species to evolve to its natural state as well. Much can be done to educate citizens on how they can help make a difference in protecting our natural resources by buying goods made by environmentally sensitive businesses that pay a decent living wage to their employees.
Businesses exist for one reason only, to make money. Whether they manufacturing products or simply sell them, their incentive is to derive a profit. Their allegiance is foremost to their owners and not to the community that they do business in. They will uproot and move whenever they have to stay competitive. If they don’t, they know they will have no future.
Status-quo Is No Longer A Viable Option.
Our job as a community is simple, we either adjust to the dynamics of change or get passed by.