What's government role in economic development?
Sunday, April 07, 2013 10:00 PM
What is the opposite of progress?
County Councilmen are thinking creatively about that question. Why? Because we know that property planning and taxpayer-funded economic development are both hot buttons that can light local hair aflame with their mention.
We understand that most are feeling disenfranchised by national political leaders who've abandoned logic, imposed their self-interests and failed horribly to demonstrate any sort of economic discipline. For good reason, many, if not most, now believe that anything (any) government puts its hands on is probably doomed. All of us on the Council get that. I've actually had this black-humored quote by George Will hanging on my office wall for years: "World War II was the last government program that really worked."
I do, however, believe that if risk were completely eliminated so that property planning could, with absolute certainty, be managed with fair play and economic efficiency - opposition would wither. Same with economic development: if we could all be absolutely certain that spending would actually create jobs - few would quibble. But meanwhile, let's be clear. While risk and fear of failure may be at the core of our local cynicism, the world around us understands that managing resources is intelligent business and increasingly some will find advantage in our timidity to embrace that fact.
WWII's economic devastation left America with a competitive edge that found us leading the world in every meaningful measurement of progress for over 40 years. Now, economic theorists say with reasonable certainty that Singapore will be the world's next economic center and it will happen within our children's lives. Do you think Singapore's government isn't playing a huge role in that evolution?
So, how do we compete from our rural vantage in this new world? Local agricultural land is already being squandered to urban creep. That is subtle but devastating erosion which can never be undone. Agriculture is something we do really well here in Montgomery County. As such, it's one of the most critical arrows in our economic quiver. Can we afford to ignore that our fragile wide-open spaces have made local agriculture a target on an increasingly short list of potential opportunity that can't easily defend against urban sprawl, landfill projects, high pollution-risk enterprise and frenetic development that, in truth, nobody else wants?
Our competitors cheat and the USA no longer makes the rules. Sure the risks are daunting, and we on the Council certainly understand what could go wrong challenging the status quo. Increasingly, we're weighing those risks with common sense and opting to speak out. I think this approach is superior to inherent suspicion and political sabre rattling that only promises worst-case disaster. Recently, I've found tremendous optimism in local government's proactive pivot away from the provincial. We're getting smarter and better while at the same time tightening our belt. Progress?
Consider MCED's new staff, reorganized board, and focused action committees who, with city and county leaders, have contributed countless hours to creating an achievable plan for job growth that benefits all of Montgomery County. These volunteers are our very best and together they view our local potential with world-wide economic perspective. They are bold while recognizing risks and understand that successful solutions demand accountability leavened with fair play. Opponents say: economic strategy be damned, government is only capable of squandering resources and pirating constitutional rights.
My conclusion: fear and cynicism are the opposite of progress.