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May 26, 2017

A View on Economic Development

When I ran for the City Council one of the main questions that was asked at the candidate’s forum was, “What specifically will you do to promote economic development.”  I have to admit that I was not as prepared for the question as I could have been.  It was fortunate that Councilman Krebs bailed me out, pointing out efforts that I was part of as a planning commissioner in streamlining our zoning regulations to make it easier to understand what you can or can’t do with property in town.  I think the answer went over well in the room and is a good example of what cities can do to help foster economic development.

Another question during that campaign came from a business owner who asked if I supported the creation of a city program to loan money to store owners to improve the look of their stores.  He wanted to see the city help make downtown look attractive and help businesses be successful.  I told him that was not the role of the city - we had our hands full with public safety like the police and fire department.  I don’t think he liked my answer.

In hindsight, the questions illustrate what the real issue of the role of cities in economic development--what should the city do to help increase the economic vitality of a community and what it should not do.  This is one of the biggest lessons that I was taught during my tenure on the city council, one that helped nudge me out of the city political scene.  What should the city be doing to help the economy?  

The City should only look to help in economic development in generalities, not specifics.  For example, helping create a sewer plan that gives developers their costs before they build and their bill after they sell is a good use of city resources in encouraging development.  Changing zoning or building restrictions to encourage a developer to build a particular enterprise is wrong minded.  There should always be the question, does this help in the general sense or is it to benefit a specific entity.

There has been an effort to build a city website to promote tourism, while this would be a good idea for private interests, it does not make sense as a city pursuit.  City entities are subject to public reporting and use of funds restrictions that could hamper the ability of the city to run this kind of endeavor.  This would be better if it were a private effort and the City could allocate funds through the lodging tax with the support of the motels in town (support that it has not had).  The interests that are pursuing this are narrow, not the community as a whole.

The City should be looking to do things that help economic development through planning that would benefit the entire community.  For example, seeking development of the downtown area through the use of public space and looking at the feasibility of what development could be successful would be a good thing.  This is something that individuals wouldn’t do nor should do - the public spaces are owned by the whole community.  The current downtown feasibility study would do just that.

The City has leaders that have been be working with County and State governments to help with infrastructure and transportation needs.  The building of the walking trail and securing a bridge for the Foothills Trail between Enumclaw and Buckley is the kind of project that builds economic opportunities.  Helping alleviate traffic headaches and facilitate movement helps with economic development.  Both are examples of things we can’t do alone and working with other levels of governments benefits our community and our economics.

The most important economic development tool for a city is in its vitality and security.  Having clean streets, good parks, a top notch police department and a capable fire and medical services create a strong economy.  This is the economic development responsibility of the City, to create a vibrant community where businesses can be successful, not creating policies and providing resources to help specific businesses be successful.

Fri, May 26, 2017 | link          Comments

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