Jayco is expanding its operations in Twin Falls. Great news even with our low unemployment rate. The more skilled jobs will be filled by people who have been under employed, and those jobs taken by people who want more hours or pay. All of this is a good thing for our community.
County Commissioner Don Hall was quoted as saying, “I’ve had this theory that a community is either growing or dying. You can’t stay static in this environment.” I agree with him; however, I want to emphasize the last sentence. In fact, I will add that growth is not as important as dynamism.
There are probably as many problems with growth as there are with decline in a community. Growth does have the advantage of positive feeling, which most people would rather deal with. Unfortunately, the positive feelings can somehow overcome caution and looking further into the other consequences of that growth.
The advantage a community or a business gains from growth should always be economic resilience. Both businesses and communities need to be able to survive when economic conditions threaten survival. Having diverse money-generating entities is a main part of resilience. Businesses who gain their profits from diverse sections of the economy, and employ and develop workers with diverse skills, can prevent tough times from overtaking an entire community. Having more than one “anchor” business as well as a fair number of mid-size employers not dependent entirely on any one of them is also a way to have a resilient business climate.
I caution, however, that resilience is harmed by resource mismanagement, and that is a problem only government can deal with. Increased urbanization anywhere usually means taking agricultural land out of production. It can also alter complex ecosystems. The loss of agriculture is a loss of economic potential. Ecosystems include not only threatened biodiversity; poor management can damage watersheds and air quality, which make further economic expansion difficult.
The infrastructure needed to support increased population: schools, housing, health care, roads, utilities, and quality-of-life enhancement are all a part of the resources needed for growth. These resources create positive economic activity. However, for the parts financed through a governmental entity, revenue must equal expense or the infrastructure will hinder economic resiliency.
Two government tools handle some of the problem of resource mismanagement: zoning and urban renewal. I suggest that both the city and the county coordinate on these two activities. So far, the county has not followed the example of Twin Falls and created an up-to-date master plan. Land is a valuable resource, and when not managed well, economic opportunity as well as quality of life can be irrevocably damaged. Private property must be respected, but good policy solves problems in advance of crisis and anger.
The other area where we can consider land stewardship is urban renewal. This is a state as well as a city and county issue. Property that is allowed to molder is not only an eyesore. It is a drain on economic resilience. It has been developed from bare land but allowed to decrease in value to the community. It contaminates the value of surrounding properties, it produces less tax revenue while still consuming fire protection, public safety and transportation infrastructure. This is an area where tax incentives to improve, sell or vacate property actually produce economic resiliency as well as public revenue.
Economic growth is produced by bringing outside investment into a community, but it also is produced by existing investment producing more local investment. In other words, moving money through the local economy productively. There have been some exciting efforts made in local investment in Twin Falls, but I would like to see more collaboration by the smaller cities and Twin Falls county in encouraging local efforts to grow our area. There are talented people here in southern Idaho, and there is no reason why we can’t create an even wider area of economic resiliency here.