The conversation was with a senior executive. Her topic was obstacles to hiring. Her summary was compact and incisive: "Housing, childcare, and air travel, those are the reasons I lose people."
Here at the Corridor, we hear about these issues regularly, but this was the first time someone had tumbled them into a single sentence for me and stated so emphatically their importance. It was jarring, and it made clear the challenge. No, not to provide housing, childcare, and air travel, but to shift attention and efforts from jobs, jobs, jobs to continuous community improvement.
New technologies and a connected global economy mean jobs can go anywhere
. Add in four decades of tax cuts and liberalized labor laws have leveled the cost of business from state to state (a few self-aggrandizing coastal cities excepting) and the old industrial park/tax breaks/cheap labor model of economic development is sliding toward irrelevance.
Our region is notable for thinking more broadly; the dual emphasis in our four counties on entrepreneurship and business retention signals that leaders here were never going to rely on outsiders to keep the economy growing. Yet today we are in a competition for the all-important business asset - people. Where the people go, the jobs will follow.
Thus it is exciting to see community-based coalitions springing up across the region to address a host of needs, from the aforementioned housing, childcare, and air travel to retail development, trails and parks, and beautification. The Corridor is occasionally a convener but more often simply a willing participant in these groups. Other organizations are specialized, we are generalists skilled most at building teams, setting visions and celebrating progress.
If someone were to ask me whether securing daily commercial flights out of Spencer, building a fitness and recreational facility in Storm Lake, or improving the aesthetics of the Arnolds Park-to-Okoboji bridge are economic development, I would tell them that they are community development.
And in this era when the only measurement that matters is people, community development is economic development.