County needs to competitively grow economy
Sunday, May 04, 2014 10:00 PM
People frequently ask me, "What's the biggest challenge facing Montgomery County?" My answer is consistent and irrefutable. Unless Montgomery County competitively grows its economy in the coming years, we will inevitably devolve into a rural backwater of poverty, declining schools, growing crime, deteriorating infrastructure, and eroding quality of life. No Pollyanna there.
Tom Utley is a Montgomery County Councilman. His column appears this week in The Paper's Monday space allocated for public officials.
My day job is turning around failing businesses. I've been doing it for over 20 years using a combination of formal education and tactics learned as a soldier, banker, and successful entrepreneur. My core skill is as a financial analyst. Analysis lends an edge to diagnosing a troubled business by mapping its financial relationships.
The local economy responds to that same kind of triage. If you think of our "local economy" as the proverbial pie, prosperity never includes cutting the pie into smaller and smaller slices. Think about adding more local gas stations, restaurants or banks to those that already exist. Sure, jobs would be involved but what really happens is that net "new" jobs wouldn't actually be created. Instead, jobs would simply shift from one employer to another without any pronounced gain to the community. To create a bigger economic churn supporting worthwhile growth means bringing additional, or fresh money into the community that then creates more and better jobs. So, the real challenge becomes: how do we build a BIGGER economic pie?
Building a bigger pie happens in only 3 ways. First is by importing existing enterprise from elsewhere whose market resides anywhere outside our community. Second is by encouraging existing businesses that already produce income for our community--to expand. Finally there's the entrepreneur, who creates a successful local business that doesn't survive by eating the existing pie.
Challenges to building the big pie are daunting. Globalization means anything you can build here can probably (not always) be built cheaper elsewhere. Capital remains very scarce in rural Indiana. The old saying "it takes money to make money" is still a valid concept. And, we must always be able to provide a skilled workforce, infrastructure, tax incentives and quality of life benefits that trump our extremely motivated competition.
And, competition means government. Without exception, every global nation is already busy hawking their resources for any commercial advantage they can find. They want exactly the same prosperity that we want and often are willing to game the system for an unfair advantage. At home, every Hoosier County also wants to eat our lunch and Indiana's surrounding states certainly don't care about our regional challenges and, more likely, are glad we have them.
Our primary tool for responding to this competitive juggernaut is Montgomery County Economic Development (MCED). Acknowledging just how tough job creation has become, MCED recently cleaned house. Its organizational structure and staffing are completely new. There's now a revisable plan that everyone can access and critique. MCED is now a lean, tax-subsidized, non-profit corporation that focuses exclusively on those 3 pie-growing tactics. For fiscal efficiency, it uses volunteers drawn from our community's best-and-brightest business leaders to find unique advantages within our marketplace.
MCED's sole mission is to make Montgomery County competitive on that job-creation battleground. Together, County and City government have coordinated their economic development investment and thinking. Now, MCED's house is in order. And, with the community"s cooperation, the combined momentum will improve the odds for everyone's prosperity.