Economic Development is a pretty common phrase these days. Hard to imagine a political campaign where it wasn’t being tossed about as casually as promises to lower taxes, fix education, and end corruption. Everyone is for it, everyone supports it, but when it comes down to some specifics like exactly how does one promote economic development, the topic is often deflected to other, more easily addressed topics.
Interestingly enough, economic development is a fairly new term having morphed out of Industrial Development which was the name of the game a couple of decades ago. Industrial development was all about trying to lure some high rolling industry into locating a manufacturing plant in your town. Industrial development was basically smokestack chasing under a different cover. Didn’t matter how you got them here, wine and dine them, by hook or crook, as long as they located their plant in your town. Jobs were created, the tax base would grow and sunsets would be golden forever. And that was great, unless that plant closed, and a lot of that has been happening lately.
The present concept of economic development represents an awareness that our communities are all connected to an ever-changing global economy. It recognizes that the strength of any economy is based more on its diversity and flexibility than on any particular industry. It assumes a more holistic approach as to what comprises the health and value of a local economy, from basic infrastructure to quality of life issues.
Wikipedia defines economic development as: “...the development of economic wealth of countries or regions for the well-being of their inhabitants...economic development can be defined as efforts that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community by creating and/or retaining jobs and supporting or growing incomes and the tax base.”
Which pretty much sums it up. The means for accomplishing that is where the real issue lies. Generally, there needs to be an active planning process in place, often a comprehensive economic development strategy of some sort, not a plan collecting dust on a shelf, but a continual process that constantly evaluates and adjusts to the local economy and, most importantly, reflects the community’s vision. It could still be recruiting some particular business or industry, it could be extending basic infrastructure so that a local business can expand, or it could be maintaining the unique character of a community through smart growth. Whatever form it takes, it must reflect the consensus of the community.
So how does that apply to us folks here in Blanco County? Well, for starters, we have to recognize that economic growth is going to happen here whether we want it to or not. To the east and south are two booming growth centers that are heading our way. It is not a matter of if economic growth is coming here, it’s more of how to manage that stampede before it overwhelms us. Economic growth is also economic opportunity, and that is a good thing. It just needs to be guided into a corral of our choosing.
The current economic downturn is a gift of sorts. It provides a great opportunity to take stock of where we are and where we want to be in the future. When the national economy begins to perk back up, life here is going to pick up too. There are a lot of regions in the country that will likely never completely recover from the transition the national economy is going through. We won’t have that problem here. Central Texas is projected to experience accelerated economic growth for the next two decades and beyond. Businesses are locating to this part of the world for many of the same reasons that a lot of us already live here. It is absolutely vital that Blanco keeps the initiative on determining how the region will develop, or we run the risk of losing what we truly value to the interests of well-financed outsiders.