Saturday, October 23, 2010

Editorial: Insight Needed into Economic Efforts

Messenger-Inquirer Editorial, October 23, 2010:

The economic downturn has turned up the rhetoric this campaign season about job creation through economic development -- even more so than during a typical year. Owensboro and Daviess County have fared better than many similar communities during this recession, though has still suffered from job loss and the sagging economy.

Economic development is a broad term that encompasses everything from direct incentives to bring companies to an area to more indirect methods that encourage the development or retention of businesses. Elected officials and candidates routinely state that economic development is a priority, but often that assertion is accompanied by few specifics.

Though generally agreed upon as the top goal for any community, many in the public know little about what generally and specifically economic development entails, or how to go about spurring on the economy, encouraging job growth and actively recruiting business.

That makes a new citizens academy established by the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. an asset for this community and its understanding of how to approach economic development. EDC officials announced this week they will mirror citizens academy programs at the city and the Owensboro Police Department, with sessions beginning in January.

Because economic development is a diverse and broad field, any effort that better explains the processes this community uses to help propel the economy and encourage job creation is a benefit. Hopefully the sessions will offer more in-depth explanations of programs and processes like the ones used to help bring a new U.S. Bank Home Mortgage facility to Owensboro and with it up to 500 jobs. The public would do well to understand the variety of factors that go into promoting job creation and the attraction of new companies, like those factors at work in the downtown master plan and the "place-making" initiative.

Many of the deals worked out between the EDC and private businesses take place away from the public eye, often for good reason. Economic development officials frequently hold back details as deals are in the works -- perhaps unnecessarily sometimes -- and there is frequently little public understanding of how these deals are crafted.

But these deals routinely involve the use of the public's tax dollars, and this academy can bring a greater understanding to the public of why such incentives are needed, how the public investment is determined, and what the long-term payoff might be. At the very least, the opportunity for the public to learn more about economic development is likely to generate more interest in these activities in the future.

Economic development has changed in the past several decades, with a shift in focus away from attracting large-scale industrial companies as the economy itself has changed.

"Economic development" will continue to be a popular catch phrase, particularly for those running for office. A program like this can help ensure voters can better challenge candidates on what they mean by economic development, and how to bring it about.

This new citizens academy program should allow the public to better understand how this community can adapt to a changing economy, and can encourage residents to be more involved in the broader economic goals of where they live.

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