Here’s what city residents need to remember when the county asks you to cooperate

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Economic Development

© Gering

A couple of weeks ago, Fulton and Montgomery county economic development groups brought in the founder of J.M. Mullis – a project location specialist company – to tour the counties and give advice.

The press conference, as reported in The Recorder on September 07, 2013 , was a general guilt-tripping of cities and towns to be more “cooperative” in making deals for economic growth. The Recorder also followed up with an editorial that echoed the same sentiment.

Here’s the thing you need to remember – if you take a look at the types of businesses that Mullis is talking about, it’s really only one kind – BIG. He’s talking about businesses that employ 300-500 people, taking up anywhere from 200-300 acres of land, with 60-90 acres being “too small”.

Absent from this conversation are any ideas pertaining to small business development or downtown revitalization. It’s obviously not what this particular guy is into, and that’s fine. But I have yet to hear much of anything else from Montgomery county over the past few years. So for me, it’s just more of the same.

I have mixed feelings about big businesses, and I think that you should too. What big businesses give, they can also take away. Amsterdam’s current state is essentially due to big businesses coming in and building things up, and then big businesses moving away leaving their dilapidated buildings behind..

We all ought to think for a moment – what would be better – one big business moving to the area providing 500 jobs, or 10 medium-sized businesses moving in, each employing 50 people? Which situation would be more stable and sustainable?

If you stop and think about it – if you live in the city of Johnstown, Gloversville or Amsterdam, we already have everything we need to attract small to medium-sized businesses. We have the infrastructure (water, sewer, space) as well as the potential to develop an urban culture to attract young entrepreneurs. The towns have the space for the big businesses, but they lack the water and sewer infrastructure. And that’s why they need the cities to “cooperate” and extend their services.

Personally, I think we can do both. If deals can be worked out between cities and towns to bring in large businesses, then great. But for city residents, it’s important to remember that big businesses aren’t the only option for us, despite what you might hear from “regional” minded officials or experts.

A couple more points to consider…

First, here’s a dramatic illustration in a recent article from Better Cities and Towns which shows how low and medium rise buildings (of which our local cities have plenty of) can potentially generate anywhere from 10 to 100 times more tax yield per acre than your average “big box” development (ie Walmart and such).

Second, many news outlets have been reporting on statistics released by the US Census indicating that for the first time since the 1920’s urban growth has outpaced suburban growth. This is kind of a big deal. You can read analysis at a number of news sites, such as these…

Cities Outpace Suburbs in Growth (Wall Street Journal)
The End of the Suburbs (Time)

And home values seem to following the trend….

Urban Home Values Are Rising Faster Than Suburban Ones (The Atlantic Cities)

I will definitely explore some of the reasons behind these trends down the road, but I’m hoping this at least helps you see that our cities have far more going for them than what many would have us believe. If you’ve made an investment in living in a city, there is hope beyond that offered by big land hungry businesses. We don’t have to listen to a blaming and shaming if we decide that a deal with a neighboring town isn’t in our best interest. We have many more cards in our hands than we think!

  1. Carol Jordan says:

    Small businesses that offer stable employment without picking up and moving away to make more money are the way Amsterdam should go. That way they can get a more family oriented environment that offers those who come, something that was offered and taken away by the rug mills, and others who decided they wanted to make more money elsewhere…..HOPE with a promise of security. Imagine….in a perfect world….jobs for everyone with security and moral attitude. PRICELESS!

  2. […] Tim Becker at ParsNova has an excellent post on the issue of economic development and the positionin…. You should read that. (And, on a separate topic, you should also read his excellent post on AIDA and the Mural). […]

  3. Kim says:

    You have some very good points about big businesses building up and then moving out. We all know small business is the “backbone of America.” The only problem with “mom & pop” stores is, they usually employ family and either way, don’t pay very well and offer no benefits to workers. Its impossible to support a family on income made from a small business. I think we need a balance of both. I look at Saratoga where all the small businesses are still in the downtown area while Wilton was built up with big box stores and Malta has the industry. Saratoga County has a nice balance of everything. Like the old saying goes “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

    • Tim Becker says:

      A balance is exactly what I am advocating Kim, hence the eggs and basket picture 🙂 And I agree Saratoga is a good example of that balance, one which we should aspire to.

      I understand what you mean about “Mom & Pop” businesses, but I think you may be painting with a wide brush. The term “small business” – depending on who you talk to – can mean anything from a sole proprietor to 50 or even 100 employees. If you have a business of any size that is trying to excel and be competitive, they have to offer competitive salaries and benefits.

      And I might add – you can’t support a family on a Walmart salary either 😦

  4. Kim says:

    So true about Walmart and many other big box stores! Funny, I didn’t notice your picture until now, too funny. Your blog is very interesting, I enjoy your writings.

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