Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What Manatee County Needs To Do If It Wants Economic Growth

Manatee County Public Beach
(Bradenton Herald photo) 
Tropicana's HQ and the boat manufacturers left Manatee County because of circumstances beyond local government control. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you economic pixie dust, possibly under the Job Creators(tm) name.

And when it comes to replacing what we have lost with new businesses, the reality is that innovative technology businesses look at this sleepy little place, with its prejudices (our school district's pro-religious bigotry stance and legal battles against religious freedom have not helped) and lack of willingness to create the kind of environment in which creative people -- and the businesses they create -- can thrive, is stifling real growth here. 

And yes, bamboozlers and developers, if we build and attract new businesses, we will need more housing. With no new jobs, if you build houses they will like as not stay vacant, and we have enough vacant houses already. 

Now, "jobs" can mean one thing to one person and another thing to another person. To Gov. Scott, "jobs" apparently means minimum wage, no-benefits, hourly positions. To a mortgage lender (or to me and most other non-rich Americans), a decent job is $50,000/year or more with good benefits. There are "get by" jobs and "real jobs." You can't build a healthy local economy (or state economy) on "get by" jobs. 

Sun and nice beaches brought me and my wife here, and they've brought many others. But before you locate a business somewhere, you need to look at the *business* climate and local politics. 

If you were a gay software developer currently living in Silicon Valley and tired of the high cost of living there, would you move here? What if you were a straight, married, Jewish IBM system engineer who worked remotely? Would you move here? Or would you move to the more culturally interesting Coconut Grove, as friend of mine from New Jersey just did? 

Another techie friend from the NYC area just moved to Melbourne. And so on. Heck, Wikipedia started in St. Pete and *moved away* because the founder wanted to hire more creative people than this area had. He's in San Francisco, the highest cost of living place in the U.S., and says the high cost is WORTH IT to most tech businesses.  

Bottom line: If this county is going to have any serious growth in an era where just about all the growth is in high-tech businesses, its leaders are going to have to stop trying to cut everything that makes this a decent place to live, and work to make it a nurturing place for people -- some of who may have green hair and  piercings -- who drive America's creative industries.  We have Ringling and New College, but most of their grads sensibly move away. We need to ask them, "Why do you leave?" and think about how to rectify the problems THEY see with this area.

Or maybe -- and this may be a majority view -- this should stay a sleepy retirement area with a strong cut flower and tomato-growing industry and nice beaches. Nothing wrong with that, and it's easier and more in line with the current local teapartarian "cut to the bone, then cut the bone" governing style. 

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