Most of us accept that when it comes to power, a vacuum is a condition waiting to be filled. It almost always is.
In New Albany, with local government barely a blip on the chart, both Develop New Albany and One Southern Indiana (the latter to a lesser extent) exist to fill the vacuum created by the inexplicable, ongoing refusal of independent local business owners to organize themselves, to advance their economic interests as a bloc, and to take seriously their potential power as such a purpose-built collective.
If business owners are content to outsource this clout to an organization, then shouldn’t it be an organization whose primary purpose is to advance the clout of business owners?
New Albany First might yet become this sort of organization, and make good on its founding promise to be a true association of independent business owners, but NA 1st has had much difficulty getting started -- some of it organizational, and partly because of apathy and confusion on the part of those independent local business owners who should be its greatest supporters.
Also, there has been the impediment of predictable push-back from those who are threatened by the prospect of independent locally-owned businesses finally demanding an overdue seat at the table.
Verily, Develop New Albany cannot help us, and neither can One Southern Indiana. Both are driven by ideologies that are admittedly useful to specific constituencies, in certain circumstances, but which simply are not form-fitting to the needs of independent locally-owned businesses. They both have their places, as does the Urban Enterprise Association, although it currently is in a governmentally-induced vegetative state.
All one needs to know is that in this community, there is almost no disagreement: Independent locally-owned businesses have driven New Albany’s revitalization, and yet in terms of decision-making, the reins are nowhere close to our hands. Why do we acquiesce in this? Why do we not insist on input commensurate with our achievements?
Is it timidity, overwork, and under-education? Is it because we possess an inbred revulsion against cooperation for mutual benefit, or perhaps mistake it for unionization or some other ridiculous buzzword intended to frighten the uninformed into rejecting measures intended to redistribute local power more fairly? Whatever it is, it needs to stop.
As a case in point, think back to the tragi-comic, doomed “Come to City” marketing campaign almost foisted on the community by the compromised, England-endowed DNA cabal.
Ironically, at the discredited campaign’s heart was a generally truthful proposition: Independently owned local restaurants and bars represent the best known, and to date, most successful symbol of revitalization; therefore, these should comprise the gist of the marketing campaign.
Granted, the campaign was as ineptly maladroit as Dick Cheney is pure evil, but this isn’t the critical point in relating the story. The point is this: Independent locally-owned business was being told it was crucial to a marketing campaign presumably designed to advance the interests of the city as a whole, and this admission was tantamount to usurpers assigning the credit where it actually does belong. We should have seized the reins right then and there, and run the campaign ourselves; that way, at least we’d have been able to control how were to be marketed – a question DNA and its advertising man never even bothered to ask.
I’m suggesting today that there’s a far greater truth involved. As noted earlier today, “There truly is strength in numbers," and if we independent locally-owned businesses do not unite to assert our collective strength, there’ll be no one else to blame, and our credit will remain the sad debit it is today.
By insisting on going it alone, we’re at risk of blowing a huge opportunity to restore balance to the local conversation, and to establish a baseline for future reference. Maybe you can live with missing the chance ... but it really gripes my cookies that we remain oblivious to it.