Economy of words: Stuart Orzach
March 6, 2011
I commend Scott Ford for steering the economic development discussion in a good direction by calling for a definition of terms (What will the economy look like in 10 years? March 2 Steamboat Today).
It appears that all those hours I spent with Scott over the past 10 years in the library's coffee shop or in front of the dairy case at City Market discussing community and economy were not entirely in vain. If there is one point I have made more than any other, it is that the people who live here, and care about the place they call home, spend countless hours, sometimes over the course of several decades, discussing concepts for which there is no commonly understood definition and no valid criteria for measuring success.
Economic development is just the latest in that long list. The City Council is actively pursuing any and every wild idea in hopes of achieving economic development. No doubt they are being encouraged by well-intentioned people and people with vested interests. They are justifying unrelated acts, in the name of economic development, based on fuzzy logic.
Scott succeeds in distinguishing between economic development and mere economic impact or activity. However, he falls short of defining economic development. Instead, he gives us a metric for gauging success that doesn't make sense.
I do not agree that keeping the top three industry sectors' share of local jobs and income under 45 percent while raising per capita income in the county above the rate of inflation constitutes economic development. I also disagree with Scott when he states, "In Routt County, we have done the hard work to determine what economic diversification means locally." It is my clear impression, based on our discussions, that this measure of diversity is crude, but it's all we have, and that it is being used as an indicator of economic development because the people who participated in the Vision 2030 process called for greater economic diversity.
By this measure, we are doing a fantastic job. But we accomplished it through gentrification and by replacing full-time local workers with temporary guest workers whose income conveniently does not get figured into the calculation of local per capita income.
I would like to see the public more engaged in the discussion of economic development. It is not an arcane science best left to experts. I encourage the newspaper to participate by publishing letters on the subject from citizens.
Economist Robert Reich was talking about the recent uptick in Americans' savings rate when he stated on NPR that what's good for people is not necessarily good for the economy. He could just as easily have been talking about what takes place here in Routt County in the name of economic development.
When did people and the economy divorce? I would like to see the Economic Development Council try to reconcile the two.
Before council spends more of our money on economic development, let's make sure that taxpayers understand it, approve of it and benefit from it.