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BBA Economic Digest

In Praise of Older Pros

It bothers me to see talented economic developers, especially older professionals who have proved themselves with a track record of success, to be out of work.

An ED organization in Alabama where I've done some consulting work recently contacted me to say that they are in need of a new executive director. I passed along three names of topnotch candidates, all currently unemployed, who I'm confident could do the job.

I would much rather see the job go to an experienced, out-of-work professional, because I know the feeling. Being unemployed can become a very trying, lonely time.

What makes matters worse is that some employers will discriminate against an out-of-work (and older) job candidate on the belief that this person is somehow damaged goods or not up to the job.

In a profession where politics can play a big part in job tenure, especially for those at the top, the boards at ED organizations should resist that line of thinking.

Making Good Things Happen

Will Rogers said that he never met a man that he didn't like. I try to apply that same mindset when looking at a community.

I go into a place having a pre-conceived notion that there are good people there who want good things to happen for the overall benefit and future of their community.

For me to believe in what I do -- economic development consulting -- I have to believe that there are attributes, assets, resources that can, if leveraged, keep a place relevant and even grow. That's the goal.

That doesn't mean there aren't some ugly babies out there. But the good news is that intervention, action, leadership can change the face of a community over time. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be doing this.

It starts with a SWOT analysis. That is the basis for all economic development. If you don't do that, you're spitting in the wind. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your community gives you the ways and means for continuous improvement.

Our BBA Community Review/Asset Mapping fills the bill for many communities.

What Not to Do

Community familiarization "fam" tours. Economic developers ask me about them -- should we or shouldn't we? How long should one be? What should we show or talk about? What say you, oh wise one from the mount?

Ah, Grasshoppa, 'tis better to show what reveals most.

I don't go on many fam tours, but when I do (I'm sounding like a Dos Equis commercial), I want to experience the essence of a place if that is possible. I want to come away thinking, "Hmm, now that was interesting. Never knew that."

Things not to to do -- put me on a 1970s vintage Russian helicopter, which really happened. I don't like new helicopters much less a remnant from the old Soviet Union.

Also, it's probably not a good idea to take consultants to multiple wineries, breweries and a distillery in one day, which also happened. (I think I had fun, but I can't remember.)

There are two purposes of a fam tour -- relationship building between economic developers and consultants, and showing community assets that one cannot fully grasp from reading about it on a website.

Again, I don't do many fam tours, simply because they take me away from my work. Time really is money for me. Still, if I come away being educated about a place and made new relationships or rekindled old ones, that is a good thing.

Good Things Come in Threes

It was one memorable week for San Antonio -- three sizable corporate project announcements that together will amount to at least 1,500 jobs and more than $1 billion in capital investment.

First came the announcement on Tuesday that Toyota would spend $391 million on technological upgrades to its assembly plant, which turns out Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks.

At the same news conference, it was also announced that Aisin, a Toyota supplier, would build a $400 million plant in nearby Cibolo that will employ 900.

Then, two days later, the commercial truck maker Navistar announced that it will build a new $250 million manufacturing facility in San Antonio, creating 600 new jobs.

Being a Texan, Gov. Abbott couldn't help but boast. He said Texas' Gross Domestic Product exceeds $1.8 trillion a year, making it the 10th largest economy in the world if Texas was an independent nation. (It once was from 1836 to 1846, something not lost to many Texans.)

Abbott noted that the Texas' economy is larger than that of Canada, Australia and Russia. "That makes me more powerful than Putin," he quipped.

Only last month, H-E-B, a supermarket chain, said it would build a new tech center in downtown San Antonio that would create 500 new jobs.

Creating Prestige

Trump adviser and Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman proposes making "teachers the only tax-exempt occupation in the United States," reports Recode.

Schwarzman said many Americans are ill-prepared as the world transitions to a knowledge economy.

“Most people don’t know that two-thirds of the workforce in the United States has a high school education or less,” Schwarzman said on the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher. “Those people are not prepared for the modern world ... it’s not the business community that created that. There’s a political problem.”

As a tax-exempt profession, he argues, teaching would attract "very high-quality people" and "they would be marked apart as a prestige institution."

You know, this might actually be a very good idea. Teachers are woefully underpaid.

Call Me Yogi

It gratifies me to learn that a university professor who teaches economic development uses my BBA Economic Digest as a classroom tool.

"I encourage my Master of Science of Economic Development students to subscribe. We often discuss your pieces in class," he wrote to me earlier this week.

Now, isn't that something? Here's yours truly, with a lowly bachelor's degree in journalism, with minors in business and Leinenkugels, being held up as some guru of sorts.

The truth is that I'm really not. My strength as a consultant is not so much what I know, but the fact that I ask a lot of questions. Plus the fact that I have some mileage on the odometer.

New Mexico Ups the Ante

As of 2018, 17 states had programs promising free college to at least some students, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of those programs cover tuition only at two-year institutions.

But New Mexico is upping the ante -- promising four years of tuition even to all students, even to those whose families can afford to pay the sticker price.

The plan would provide free undergraduate tuition at New Mexico colleges for in-state residents and aims to cover nearly 55,000 students a year. It would cover tuition and fees for recent high school graduates at four-year public colleges as well as recent high school graduates and returning adult learners at two-year community colleges.

The premise for doing this is one that I would subscribe to -- that a more educated workforce means a more desirable place for business. I'm hoping this will jump start economic development in a state that has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States.

New Mexico also one of the lowest rates of college participation among low-income students. A January study found that the college participation rate for students from low-income families is only 22 percent in New Mexico; the national average is 34 percent.

What We're Reading

How to Build a Latrine The New York Times Magazine

A Few Principles for Thinking Clearly The Polymath Project

Dogs, Drugs, and the Race to Save the Human Brain


The Rise of the Zombie Mall Smithsonian Magazine

Meet the New Wave of Female Builders Washington Post Magazine

What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max? New York Times Magazine

Parting Thoughts

Cokie Roberts, the daughter of politicians and a pioneering journalist who chronicled Washington from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump for NPR and ABC News, died this past week of complications from breast cancer. She was 75.

Roberts devoted most of her attention to covering Congress, where her father Hale Boggs was a House majority leader who died in 1972 when his plane went missing over Alaska. Her mother, Lindy Boggs, took over his Louisiana congressional seat and served until 1990, later becoming ambassador to the Vatican.

In an interview with The Washington Post earlier this year, Roberts spoke about moving from reporter and news analyst to that of a commentator.

" ... I’m not a big one for giving my opinions. When I had done, like, the 20th budget resolution, it was enough. I moved from doing the daily stuff. Of course, particularly in radio, there really is a marriage of reporting and analysis. But it did evolve to my doing much more of the analysis. The word “commentator” is something that makes everybody feel more comfortable. Because, you know, if an opinion slips in, you’re a commentator, right?

"And it’s good to be in a position where you can call people out if it’s something that’s really blatantly racist or whatever. But I’m not all that comfortable just sort of saying, “Here’s what I think.” I’m more comfortable saying, “Here’s what the facts are, and here’s why.”