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john's column for sunday for web

Economic development in 2002

by John G. Miller

Managing Editor

As the year winds down, there has been much discussion on the economy, both nationally and locally.

We've tried to give readers a broad perspective by publishing stories about how the recession has affected the nation, as well as how it has affected us here.

One of the most noticeable effects is the attention being paid to the importance of sound economic development strategy.

When the national economy was booming, our economy was better. It wasn't as good as the rest of the nation's, but then again our slowdown hasn't been as dramatic, either.

A booming economy has a way of hiding flaws. When things are going well, people are hesitant to change. They are unlikely to try new ideas for fear of "rocking the boat."

Now that the economy is shaky, economic development is in the forefront because it is much more challenging.

You see vacant storefronts stay unfilled longer, or maybe forever.

Companies that initially plan to expand or relocate decide otherwise.

And, unfortunately, more companies go belly-up.

It's safe to say that trying to encourage economic growth in that atmosphere is daunting.

But it isn't impossible. And as several business leaders pointed out in a recent story we did on how to handle the slowdown, this is a good time to re-evaluate your business and implement sound, efficient policies.

It's a good time to evaluate your strengths and your weaknesses; to see what works and what doesn't.

That's also true for economic development strategy. Now is the time to do a real assessment of what the area has to offer. And there are ways to come up with "real" numbers that help to give areas a true rating for prospective businesses, as well as a pattern to follow to improve.

Economic development professionals use set groups of "indicators" to establish these patterns of strengths and weaknesses, and there's no bias -- just cold hard statistics.

Counties and cities need to know exactly what they have to offer -- from an unbiased perspective -- to effectively market themselves to potential business. Then they need to develop strategies that offer businesses the best deal possible to secure more jobs.

As we head into 2002, our leaders need to make sure they've had a fair, unbiased assessment done on the area, and they need to eliminate parochial thinking when it comes to economic development.

With focus, marketing and the right attitudes, the area will develop in a pattern that is economically beneficial to all of us.

But if we continue to use an us-and-them mentality, the recession won't be our worst enemy -- we'll be.

John G. Miller is managing editor of The Exponent Telegram. He can be reached at 626-1473 or by e-mail at jmiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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