Economic development starts with ‘people-friendliness’

Economic development efforts by local government entities give us all an opportunity to wonder what it takes to make an economy grow.

At times it can look as though some government leaders believe movement is the same as progress.

One project or another is touted and occasionally funded with money collected by taxes or borrowed by the federal government and doled out to local governments to be spent.

The economic result is not often apparent in the short term, since many projects are done with a desire to lure private investors to an area rather than to respond to proposals from entrepreneurs.

Lacking the ability to predict the future, but wanting to influence the future anyway, government officials make their best guesses about the way forward.

When privately funded projects fail to produce an acceptable return on the investments, the people who suffer for having made a bad guess are usually the ones who made a voluntary choice to invest their own money.

If publicly funded developments don’t produce the anticipated result, the taxpayers suffer the loss even when their only influence on the decisions occurred when electing the officials who chose how to spend the public’s funds.

This involuntary aspect of economic development spending by government officials is perhaps the principal reason many people are less than kind in expressing their skepticism or disappointment.

We don’t have an unlimited amount of money to hand over to government, and there are some things we expect officials to do with our money — things that may not be done when the funds go to fruitless economic development efforts.

Since the available funds are often earmarked for specific purposes or collected by taxes imposed by different government entities that have different responsibilities, the chances are good that funds will be spent on something that doesn’t seem to be a pressing need to everyone.

For example, the county is searching for ways to reduce spending on government services that most of us consider to be worthwhile, yet the Port of Bremerton is seeking ways to spend its revenue to enhance its property.

No matter how much you might wish the funds could go to the greatest need — assuming we could agree on what is the greatest need — the county and the port district are separate entities with different responsibilities.

If the Port of Bremerton has a principal responsibility, it is economic development.

The problem, then, is to find a way to fulfill that responsibility with the port’s available funds.

Unless the port district can make its property in the South Kitsap Industrial Area more attractive to businesses, economic development isn’t likely to occur.

Even though it may seem frivolous to some people, one idea the port district is considering is the construction of an athletic field and jogging trails.

If the area seems more people-friendly, it may catch the eye of some private enterprise seeking a place to build.

And, at least for some people in South Kitsap, these amenities could be enjoyable. It isn’t as though they will be totally occupied by employees of businesses in SKIA anytime soon.

Meanwhile in Port Orchard, revitalizing the old downtown has long been a goal, and now there is an identified objective — a combination library, parking garage and community center.

Economic development may not be the city government’s principal responsibility, but it is surely an important goal.

It may be several years before the library project can be accomplished, and even a new parking garage may not result in a great deal of economic development, but it’s a start.

Both the port district and the city of Port Orchard seem to be pursuing projects with a common theme — making their areas more people-friendly, and thereby making economic development more likely.

We may wonder whether their efforts along these lines will be successful, but at worst our community may be a little more enjoyable while we wait to see how it turns out.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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