Riddell: If we are really serious about economic development
March 23, 2016
Political promises and the best intentions of economic developers notwithstanding, the simple fact is that all of these nice sounding programs promoting local economic activity and growth can never live up to the hype and subsequent costs. Having been fortunate enough in a previous position to significantly research the requirements for sustainable economic growth, suffice it to say that two criteria must occur. The first is for sustainability to be seen as a process, not an event. The second is for some type of post high school education to be an active participant in the local economy. While the first requirement is somewhat self-evident, the second is perhaps not. Nonetheless, sustained economic development is founded on starting and growing companies which provide jobs. Every company must start with an idea. People are the only source of ideas. Schools with incoming freshman classes are a renewable source of new people, hence new ideas, hence new companies, hence new jobs.
Long term goals, short term events
If you accept this premise, then local business and taxpayer expectations for economic development assistance should probably focus on some longer term goals, perhaps supplemented by some shorter term events. Consider for a moment that Grand County is largely a service oriented economy. Suppose we had a college extension campus in the county focusing on providing graduates with degrees in hospitality or a service based framework supplemented by a basic business/entrepreneurial academic foundation. Clearly, some of the employment shortfalls everyone complains about would be readily addressed. A steady supply of incoming students would remove a tremendous doubt and investment uncertainty regarding affordable housing and what eighteen-year-old wouldn't love to come to Grand County to get a degree and leave with a job! Better yet, on top of these very real and tangible benefits, we would enjoy an ongoing supply of potential entrepreneurs starting new companies and providing jobs right here in Grand County.
If you accept this premise, then local business and taxpayer expectations for economic development assistance should probably focus on some longer term goals, perhaps supplemented by some shorter term events
Granted that a significant timeline challenge exists for the establishment of the academic suggestion, in the meantime there are some event based activities which could serve as stop gaps for development. The first could be to invest in setting up a series of entrepreneurial recruiting events aimed at physically bringing into Grand County aspiring entrepreneurs. Clearly Devil's Thumb, Granby Ranch, The YMCA of the Rockies, all could be great hosts for such a venue, but the target of the invitation needs to be focused on hospitality and service orientation. Interestingly enough, success in this area will quite favorably promote success in the academic pursuit area as well. In addition, focus and attention has to be given to providing insight and access to the world of start-up capital. Local and state politicians along with local business leaders will need to sit down and put together a real program addressing the very simple question of why should an entrepreneur start his or her company in Grand County. Once you get past some very pragmatic incentive issues, I would suggest that attracting talent, always an entrepreneurial concern, will be an easy sale.
Normally we try in this column to offer pragmatic, perhaps even a bit out of the ordinary, thoughts on how a local business might do just a little bit better. But with the new snow, the thoughts of the upcoming mud season, and the reality of the mud-slinging elections, maybe this is a good time for Grand County to think about how it might do a whole lot better!
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.
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