Guest Editorial: Better City, a question of the economy?

By Jay Sullivan, Ph.D.
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | Half a century ago the straight pipes on the International 4100 drowned any hope of a radio station. The ever-tightening concentric furrows plowed around the fields prepared the soil for next year’s crop. Hawks circled overhead hoping that the plow would turn up a ground squirrel here and there. Rabbits ran for cover as the farm dog trotted ahead of the tractor in the furrow. There is a lot of time to think on the seat of a tractor. Sometimes speculation turns to wonder as you realize that one seed in prepared ground sprouts into a stalk of wheat. At the sunshine end of that straw stalk a head of grain is formed. The average head contained 56 kernels. Plant those 56 kernels and your yield is 3,156 grains. Three thousand one hundred and fifty-six grains planted produce 9,897,216 new kernels. The wonder of this is the realization that this is the creation of new wealth. Year after year nature and the farmer nurture a new crop generating new wealth. Food production is an economic driver.
According to “Strategies and Tactics” there are 10 global economic drivers or spheres of influence that deserve our attention. These are:
1. Food
2. Shelter
3. Clothing
4. Government
5. Transportation
6. Communication
7. Information Processing
8. Energy
9. Industrial Metals
10. Entertainment
“Strategies and Tactics” also notes that commercial banks, mortgage banks, thrifts, insurance companies, pension funds and professional money managers need to be considered as aggregators of financial transactions. They combine and redistribute wealth as a function of their business.
After some time on the seat of the tractor and a few rounds of the field it seems to me that all of the economic drivers are interrelated. Further these drivers support each other. The tractor would not exist without industrial metals. You need communication to sell your product. Energy turns the wheels. Transportation links the supply chain, and so on.
After further consideration, it seems to me that economic drivers are cyclical. They each individually have and all together they have ups and downs. Value of goods and services fluctuate with market conditions. Abundance and scarcity in one area has an impact on the other areas to differing degrees. This means that there must be some mechanism of control to keep this system of economic drivers in balance.
These mechanisms are called general economic systems and are segmented by allocation mechanism. (Harvard Business School) Three are highlighted here. (There are more than a dozen listed in the Wikipedia article on economic systems.)
The basic and general economic systems segmented by allocation are:
Market economy: “hands off” systems, such as laissez-faire.  (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_economy, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laissez-faire) capitalism)
Mixed economy a hybrid that blends some aspects of both market and planned economies. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_economy)
Planned economy: “hands on” systems, such as state socialism, also known as “command economy” when referring to the Soviet model. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_economy)
The capitalistic economy of the United States is the singularly most successful mixed economic model. It is successful because it takes advantage of both the freedom to innovate and the control of a planned economy. INSEAD, The Business School for the World, published “The 4 I’s of Economic Growth.” Notes that, “The U.S. has enjoyed levels of productivity above that of other countries for the last 100 years.”
So now Better City seems poised to focus on the tenth economic driver to improve the economy of Meeker. One of the keys to their proposition is the use of the Government Economic Driver by the establishment of an Urban Renewal Authority to initiate and stimulate the tenth economic driver Entertainment. As Bob Dorsett notes this allows for the use of tax increment financing (TIF). As Dorsett notes funds are collected from special districts such as schools, recreation districts and so on. Whether nor not this is a legitimate use of an Urban Renewal Authority to fund entertainment infrastructure is an open question. But, there is a larger issue.
Seemingly, Tax Increment Financing has the potential in this case to freeze or limit income to schools. But is this is a rob Peter to pay Paul scenario? Sure we want growth, but do we want an expansion of entertainment revenues to limit school funding? We well might if the project were successful. However, consider in the Wikipedia article on TIFS the unintended consequences of a TIF include:
With successful revitalization comes gentrification with higher property values and taxes, and the exodus of lower income earners. [13][14]
“Successful city revitalization can’t be achieved by megaprojects alone — signature buildings, stadiums or other such concentrated development efforts. Instead, “it must be multifaceted and encompass improvements to the cities’ physical environments, their economic bases, and the social and economic conditions of their residents.”
— Mallach and Date 2013
After another round or two on the tractor seat more questions arise. Is the purpose of the TIF to mitigate the risks to the potential wealthy investor at the expense of education? How does the support of a mega project like this one contribute to the overall financial stability and health of the community when not all factors may not be equal and fair? Consider transportation as an economic driver for this project. Meeker suffers from being off the beaten track. In what way does transportation have to improve in order to get the people here who need to be engaged for the concept to be viable?
From the view between the driving wheels of the tractor come an even more disturbing question. Fifty years ago the John Deere Poppin Johnny made the rounds in the fields. Agricultural survival depended on doing more with less. Unfortunately, government regulation required the farmer and rancher in Rio Blanco County to be continuously leaner and meaner. Bigger was better and the little guy went the way of the family farm. Food is a staple. We consume it every day. Yet we did not protect the producer and we lost agriculture as an economic driver. There is no parity in agriculture. Meeker doesn’t have a single implement dealer. We can’t even host a farmer’s market. It is a national disgrace that we did not protect the family farm. We did not protect mining, manufacturing and the service industry. Our systems are compromising education as most of our faith is put in technology as the salvation of future generations. Many sing the song of salvation with the chorus of “Innovation will save us! Innovation!”
It is, I believe, time to ask, “How do we protect the economic drivers as we consider the building of the latest trend?”
So here we are with a wing and a prayer. Are we really trying to plow the fields of economic prosperity with an entertainment option? The hawk is circling overhead while the rabbit runs. Are we planting the right seeds?