Monday, November 19, 2007

What Is "Economic Development" Anyway?

Just what is "economic development," anyway? Bill Ramsey says its not the $113,000 in public funds wasted on the light bulb festival, and he doubts that the Chamber of Cowbirds will pony up and pay for the spectacle they've been claiming for years. He said he has never seen any economic impact study, so there is no way of knowing how much revenue is generated for private businesses in town. The public has been told for years that the light bulb spectacle was good for business, but finally someone admitted that was BS without any evidence of income for anyone except the light bulb sellers.

There are probably more important priorities given the state of the Fayetteville economy. "Economic development and working with Steve Rust [Fayetteville Economic Development Council] will always be our number one priority,” Ramsey said. “It had better be our number one priority.” So we have the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, the Chamber of Cowbirds, and city employee Ray Boudreaux (half time jet set valet and half time meeting attender) all working on something important called "economic development."

What is economic development and who benefits? I had always thought it was about good jobs for people who live and work in a community, but I must be wrong. The Chamber and the FEDC advocated raising your property taxes to build a new high school out in Wheeler. They were against road impact fees on developers who create demands on the infrastructure, wanting to shift those costs to you. They also want residents paying higher water and sewer rates to subsidize corporate welfare in lower rates for industrial corporations. They want to abolish the sign ordinance. They fight against increeases in the minimum wage and even tried to lower the minimum wage for wait staff. You get the picture. It's about growth at any cost and higher profits for big business and developers.

What else have they produced for all their efforts and expense in the last year? How many new jobs have been created in Fayetteville? How many of those new jobs pay a living wage? Figures released last May from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that job creation in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers-Bentonville Metropolitan Statistical Area, had fallen below projected statistical trends for the first four months of 2007. According to the latest Skyline Report just issued this month from the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, job growth in our area is down by about 16% below its five-year average, which translates into about 90 fewer new jobs per month.

So, what is economic development again?

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