Believe it or not, there is good news in
It is creating a real sense of urgency, and we need to use this as an opportunity to accelerate change. As one politician famously said, "We don't want to let a good crisis go to waste!"
State tax revenue estimates have been reduced each year for the last four years; actual collections have been less than projections. These are direct indicators of our economic health and direction.
More than ever before,
The 1980s and 1990s saw the decline of our historic manufacturing industries in steel, chemicals and glass. There was much discussion of the need for
Today, with the decline of our carbon energy industries and limited prospects for meaningful recovery in coal,
Many of us have engaged in panels or conversations that recognize we need to create jobs and change our economy; however, most of those panels struggle to come up with an action plan of what to do next. We speak in generalities. We wait on that "Big Idea" or our "leaders," whether elected or otherwise, to "show us the way."
Here is the hard truth: No one is going to do this for us. And there is no single action or event that will address all our needs. It must come from the culmination of many individual actions. Sometimes it is, "What we can do?" Sometimes it will be, "What can we stop doing?" Are parts of our regulatory structure too burdensome to make us attractive? What are the tradeoffs to less regulation and the opportunity for economic growth?
But here is the good news: There are many actions we can take today. The more urgency we give this now, the more momentum we will have in the future.
I have a list of changes that could begin immediately if I had a magic wand to compel our leaders to take action:
1.We need a collective and strategic focus. We need to get everyone in government, at all levels, to agree: the most important issue facing
We need every sector of government to develop a plan for what it can do to help facilitate private-sector job creation - all departments, not just the
Need some examples?
* Agriculture can assist with the exploding popularity of farm-to-table products and organic farming.
* Tourism has an incredible opportunity with Corridor H for planned tourism, economic development and a desirable location for second homes and retirement communities.
* Our State Treasurer's Office and Auditor's Office can attract the financial services industry and its back offices. We don't need acres of flat land for these industries.
Obviously this list can go on and on. The key here is strategic focus and collective energy around a common goal. We need to align the focus of state, county and city governments to private-sector job creation. Private-sector jobs are the only way to stop this economic decline, and this is something we can implement today.
2.Our economic crisis and the accompanying strain on tax revenues give us an opportunity to look at our state differently. We have long discussed having too many counties, too many boards of education, too many independent institutions of higher education and too many municipalities and layers of government.
This is the perfect time to look at where we can consolidate and get as good or better services for less cost. If this were your business, this is exactly what you would be doing. We need to be thoughtful about transitions and create safety nets where appropriate. However, without question, if we were creating
This won't happen by itself. Our citizen leadership must press this agenda with the elected leadership. At the same time, elected leaders can create incentives to help make this happen.
This opportunity is best pursued in a time of crisis and change. We don't want to miss this window to design our state for the next century rather than the last.
3. We have a readily available talent pool to help us look at
These students are bright; they have fresh eyes. They know what tomorrow's citizens most value. Education today is about gaining practical work experience while earning a degree.
Most previous strategic planning efforts looked at
The hard dollar cost to engage these students (and faculty) is nominal, and their output can be part of our actions.
4. A fourth action that can and should be pursued near-term includes infrastructure bonds. We are at an unprecedented time in our global economy of record low interest rates. We will unlikely ever be able to issue bonds at a cost less than available today.
We have had more than one study tell us our roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair. The basic needs for any economy to grow are water, sewer and now broadband, too. If we want to attract new industry to
The time is now. This work must be done. We can pay for it now, or we can pay more to have it done later. We know both presidential candidates are likely to increase federal infrastructure spending with matching dollars, and we need to prepare to take maximum advantage of that funding.
Taking on increased debt is strategic and never easy. It also has to have defined revenue streams for repayment. There is no free lunch. But infrastructure spending will not only make us more attractive for economic growth, it also will create good jobs to construct the infrastructure.
A significant bond issue with a proper duration and today's interest rates can be supported with dedicated user fees that remain affordable for our citizenry and keep us competitive with our neighbors. I would suggest no single source of repayment - rather a basket of gas taxes, license fees, water/sewer fees and cellphone usage sales taxes, which would direct the cost to the most direct beneficiaries and keep all these expenses manageable.
5.Finally, we all hear daily about the crippling drug issue in our state. We know we have the problem. Can
Why can't we be home to one of the nation's leading residential centers for drug treatment and rehabilitation? It is a growth industry that has a large, lucrative, private-pay population. It is just a thought, but we have several small, private and public college campuses and rural hospitals that could serve a new purpose.
There is a common expression: The greatest deterrent to a drug culture is a good job. All these action items to enhance private sector job creation can be our best long-term solutions.
There are many ideas and solutions to
The key is to get us all to start working on the solutions. What can we each do differently to enhance our environment for private-sector jobs and make us more attractive to new citizens? Time is of the essence, but our collective strength would unquestionably prevail!