Monday, January 20, 2014

If "the industrial park is about job creation," then what are indie local businesses -- chopped liver?

I'll lead with the link, and then tie the knot.

Commentary: To Tout Good Jobs, Visit Main Street, Not Amazon, by Jeff Milchen (at Bloomberg Businessweek)

 ... While politicians always gravitate toward a photo op at a business that promises loads of new jobs, the sustainable creation of good jobs almost always occurs incrementally. The actions that help nurture real, lasting job creation rarely make headlines.

It seems that every politician masters the statistics about small business being the engine of job creation, but delivers the goods to corporations that wield significant political power.

Following the Jeff Speck presentation last Thursday, and amid a broader-ranging chat, I mentioned to David Duggins, New Albany's director of economic development and redevelopment, that local independent business owners earnestly question the disproportionate time and money spent on incentivizing the city's industrial parks, given the ongoing absence of an economic development plan downtown.

Duggins insisted there is an economic development plan downtown, although the only tangible plank he could identify on short notice was the declining Urban Enterprise Association's zone programs, and he defended disproportionate industrial park efforts with this statement (paraphrased but accurate):

"But the industrial park is about job creation."

I had no idea that the 20+ guys and gals now working at Bank Street Brewhouse, which was an empty building prior to our investing close to $1 million in it, apparently exist somewhere off an "official" job creation grid. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear the crash, is there a sound? If a tree falls downtown and there is no economic development appointee there to hear it ...

Duggins's logic mirrors that of One Southern Indiana, to which we, as a city, outsourced numerous economic development tasks long ago, primarily so that 1Si can add another layer of coddling to the traditional model of incentivizing the larger corporate entities -- like Amazon and others at the River Ridge industrial park, itself a large measure of pretext for the Ohio River Bridges Project, which stands to actively harm local independent businesses in Southern Indiana, presumably owing to what we're now told is our inability to create jobs, or at least the right type of jobs.

And yet, with almost no outside assistance, local independent business owners have invested millions in downtown New Albany and ... that's right: Created jobs.

We've also spent quite some time making a very public case that for us, as indies driving revitalization with our time and checkbooks, a rational street grid (two-way streets, traffic calming, complete streets and walkability) is tantamount to economic development. It is a program that can only be facilitated by the city, but has the virtue of being something the city can do to help everyone, not just one or two businesses in piecemeal fashion.

The reply?

Nary a city official chose to read Jeff Speck's book until it was known that he'd be speaking here last week, and by his own admission, David Duggins still has not (although the mayor did). Also, Duggins recently hired a helper, Tonya Fischer, whose job it will be to coordinate business development in New Albany. Previously she worked as 1Si's appointee to the Bridges Coalition; presumably, now she'll assist us in making sense of the carnage inflicted by the bridges project. It may even make sense.

My point in all this is simple.

Until there is something, we must assume there is nothing.

"We're not against it" is not the same as "we're for it."

Until you do something, you have done nothing.


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