Roadblocks To Progress

Posted: May 1, 2010 in Vision

Instead of zeroing in on specific issues, I want to express some of the larger, underlying issues that I believe are keeping us back…

1. Partisanship
This is a big one which is pervasive througout local, state and national politics.  It’s always been with us ever since our country was founded, but it seems in recent decades it’s escalated into near dysfunction.  In Amsterdam, it’s been said that party affiliation doesn’t matter so much. Obviously, the national issues that the two parties are divided over aren’t a factor on a local level. But my observation is that there are always two “teams” at play, the fault lines just run through different issues. 

What we need is for more moderates within each party to stand up for common  principles and work together rather than worrying about which “team” gets credit for making a score.

2. Leaders don’t invest enough time in building consensus
Very few leaders seem to take the time to build widespread grassroots support for their big ideas. It’s usually easier to gamble and play politics to try to push an idea through. The thing is, building consensus is hard and takes time. It takes doing some homework and presenting credible evidence, to constituants and to other leaders, demonstrating how their idea will actually work and benefit everyone. More than that, it takes listening respectfully to critics and trying to win them over by finding common ground, and even possibly – and this is somewhat uheard of  – by actually adjusting their plans or compromising to take into account opposing opinions.

What we need are leaders who take the time to build consensus with their constituents and fellow leaders, so that a good idea has a strong majority behind it when it comes time to implement it.

3. Lack of a clear starting point and direction
Seems like most discussions about how to revitalize Amsterdam end up going around in circles.  When someone has an idea, it usually falls into one of these categories: developing residential areas, improving our schools, attracting new businesses, or creating some sort of tourist attraction.  Usually the person makes a case that starting in their chosen area will eventually encourage improvements in the others. Problem is, no one seems to agree on what area to focus on first.  Every individual has their own area of interest, but there doesn’t seem to be enough time and resources to work on all areas simultaneously.

We need a comprehensive strategy, understood by and supported by a majority of residents, business leaders and elected officials, which outlines a logical sequence as to what areas are worked on and when.

Amsterdam’s Comprehensive Plan, completed in 2003 is our best starting point. I’ll deal with this in a later post.

4. Wishful Thinking
We don’t have a problem coming up with creative ideas in Amsterdam, I’ve heard many. It’s fun sometimes to brainstorm and imagine all sorts of public improvements, businesses, attractions, etc. The problem is, rarely does anyone have the conviction and the understanding to even take a single first step in making any of these dreams a reality. In the end, I’m more depressed than encouraged because it’s obvious that none of the ideas will ever come to fruition.

And we need leaders with creative ideas , the courage and thoughtfulness to take initial steps and the long term steadfastness to see the idea through to it’s completion.

5. Transplanting Ideas
It’s easy to look at a successful idea in another city and think “why can’t we do that in Amsterdam?”  There’s certainly alot of value in studying how other places have acheived success, but it’s also a recipe for failure to simply transplant an idea from one place to another without understanding the unique culture, political system and resources involved.  Many good ideas that I have heard simply don’t seem feasible because they would require people, skills, or a culture that we don’t have.

We need to develop ideas that are based on the resources and strengths that our city currently has.  Ideas used in other cities need to be de-constructed first to see the underlying mechanisms in order to see whether it would work in Amsterdam or not.

  1. LucidDreamer says:

    Tim, congratulations on your new site. Glad you are in the mix now and I wish you luck. Looking foward to un-biased and thoughtful topics with the business community taking priority. Actually, a very good friend of mine needs help with his website and now there is a direction for me to guide him. I agree with you on many issues but usually hesitate to comment to you directly. Perhaps now we can stand on common ground. Once again, good luck! I hope you understand that I can’t use my real name but if you like I can email it to you. My reason is that I must protect my family and this is a small city where everyone is connected in one way or another.l

    • Tim Becker says:

      Hi LucidDreamer, I appreciate the encouraging words. While I do prefer people use their real names, I also understand the desire for privacy. As long as your comments are respectful you are most welcome to post here. Looking forward to dialoguing with you!

  2. LucidDreamer says:

    I’m in agreement with you and flip on one main point and that is downtown shouldn’t be restricted to a 2 block area. It was said to me recently that the concept of having a dedicated area labeled as “downtown” is dead. Maybe our problem of not attracting new businesses is because they would be funneled to a “dead” area. Amsterdam once had a pub, bar or ginmill on every block. These businesses paid taxes and were essentially phased out because of the loss of manufacturing jobs. It’s obvious that these establishments were properly zoned at one point but my question is this; Can we assume that these areas I speak of are still zoned for business in their respective residential areas? If this is the case my thoughts are there should be some sort of incentive to re-establish small business in these areas. I’m not suggesting a PILOT program as it can be a double-edged sword in the long run but more of a percentage of tax relief to be proportinate to the amount of employees said business employs. For example I start a small business and currently employ 3 people whom live locally, instead of paying full assesed taxes with current multiplier applied, lets create a city business multiplier of say 90% of assessed taxes with current multiplier. The more employees the lower the percentage. If your business grows your taxes decrease. I don’t believe in the pilot program as it seems backwards with no real reason for longevity once full rate is applied. Any thoughts?

    • Tim Becker says:

      As far as zoning – I’m not sure. If you check in the comp plan appendices, you can find a zoning map where you can zoom in on any area in question and see what it is zoned. There may be an updated map somplace online, couldn’t find a link though, anyone else?

      Interesting thought on the tax plan. I guess conventional wisdom is that a business needs the tax break when they first start out, less so as they start to expand. Although an incentive to keep companies employing local residents is intriguing. I wonder how the numbers would actually work out?

      • Flippin says:


        I think tax incentives play a part but in my opinion, other factors play a much more dominant role in economic development.

        I think one of the challenges which Tim nicely brings to the fore, is that we talk about small business with a very broad brush. Do we mean small business starts, small business expansion or small business retention? Is a small business a single person consultant or a 20 employee manufacturing company?

        The point is that we need to be very focused on what it takes to market and sell ‘small business’ because what incentivizes a consultant is much different than that of a 20 employee firm. I think this is where I find much to criticize with the focus on approaches that exclusively focus on the tax side. (Not suggesting you are doing so Lucid) Or approaches that do not segment small business relying instead on a very broad definition.

        Also I think it is important to recognize that given our high tax rate, a 10 or 20 or 30% discount still makes us less competitive than surrounding areas. Let’s say I’m a technology consultant, why would I choose Amsterdam over other areas for my business and residence? Will at 10% tax incentive convince me to do so? I don’t believe it will. We need to bring more to the table.

        My other criticism is that businesses get started and succeed because of demand for a service or product. It’s the dreaded M word– markets and marketing. I’m not going to start a business, say a dry cleaner or restaurant, unless I feel pretty sure that there will be customers, aka, demand. That remains a fundamental issue here– how do you drive demand against a tide of ideology that seeks anything but?

        You’re right to point out that on a larger scale PILOT programs do not demonstrate an ability to sustain and drive growth to our city. If that were the case, we would have seen demonstrable growth in the city. I don’t see that.

        I view tax credits as a tool, not a strategy.

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