My apologies, dear reader, for this article will have nothing to do with insurance. Please, do not fret — I’ll be back in future months with the insurance-nerd fix you’ve come to rely on. This month, however, I thought I’d embrace the theme of this issue and talk about the significance of economic development.
First of all, the term “economic development” is ubiquitous and frequently contorted. From elected officials to developers to community activists, it has become an amorphous, catch-all phrase to describe and potentially attempt to sell or oppose a variety of initiatives.
For the purpose of this discussion, I want to specifically define economic development as the intentional practice of growing local economic opportunities within the private sector. This definition includes three main components for our region: One, luring existing companies (and jobs) to relocate here; two, fostering an environment in which start-up companies can establish themselves and grow; three, retaining existing businesses and streamlining expansion efforts so that businesses may flourish.
With the term strictly defined, I want to share some reasons why I think economic development should be the top priority of both our community and our various governments.
The Economic Opportunity Factor
It is indisputable that growing the number of both entry-level and higher-paying positions is like a tide that lifts all boats. However, focusing on one but not the other is akin to chasing our tail. Graduates from our high schools as well as Santa Fe College and the University of Florida must be able to find local openings so they can start a career. Similarly, those careers must have a growth path where success at the entry level can lead to greater local opportunities.
So, while attracting technology companies to relocate to Innovation Square by advertising the university’s outstanding computer science program is an admiral venture, we also have to work on retaining existing employers and relocating other companies that may not require a graduate degree for a starting position.
The benefits to a community that focuses on economic development justify the need for such a focus. Economic opportunity within a community improves schools because parents aren’t forced to work multiple jobs or worry about providing the essentials for their children. Local governments are improved as the tax base is broadened, leading to better parks, roads and improved services. Crime is reduced when people are earning a living wage and feel the pride of providing for their families. Our local charities and churches are improved as people have more money to give, helping the underserved populations that have yet to break into the positive side of our growing economy. The calendar of cultural events and local air service options will expand as disposable income increases and people are able to afford going to events and traveling. The bottom line is that the foundation of a healthy community is the citizenry’s ability to find gainful employment.
Begin at Home
Selfishly speaking, I believe the argument for economic development begins at home. I am a father of two amazingly funny, smart and beautiful daughters (they favor their mother completely). Lucy is 8 and Leland just turned 6. I have a personal interest in fostering a healthy and vibrant economic climate in our area because when the day unfortunately comes that they leave the nest, graduate college and look to start their careers, I want them to have a wide variety of viable options close to home. I want the same for my future grandchildren, and I don’t believe that I’m unique in having a desire to see my family grow and prosper in the community in which I’ve been raised.
As a community, we find plenty of subjects in which we disagree politically and arguments that get rehashed again and again. I’m hopeful that, in the spirit of building a better community for our kids, we can unite in agreement that economic development should be our top priority both now and for generations to come. Because if we fail at creating a strong economic foundation for this community, future generations will have to search for success somewhere else.