Even in bad times, opportunity knocks

The surprising thing about a market-based economy is the extent to which new enterprises spring up even while the news is filled with stories of declining employment and government revenue.

A drop in government revenue gets a lot of attention, since we’ve become so accustomed to depending on government action in areas that long ago were left to citizens to work out for themselves.

Growing population and greater specialization in the jobs people do naturally led to more dependence on government rather than voluntary efforts and associations.

It’s not that dependence on government services and regulation is a bad thing, but it’s a mistake to look on it as the principal driver of economic activity.

Out beyond the realm of government activities, private enterprise goes in so many different directions that it’s a wonder government can manage to get out of the way at all.

Recent stories in the news about South Kitsap illustrate how life goes on, even when doom and gloom have been dominating the news.

Some things are seemingly small, like the reports of a couple of new stores in the Bay Street area of Port Orchard’s old downtown.

They may not survive, and the entrepreneurs taking the risk know it.

It’s an unavoidable aspect of starting a new business — if they all did well, everybody would be doing it.

Bay Street isn’t a place for a “big box” store or anything resembling it, so people with ideas that might fit the area really do have to “think outside the (big) box.”

At some point, the old downtown area may again be full of offices and stores, but in the meantime it takes a special kind of person to take a chance.

In another area with room for bigger buildings and parking lots, there has been a gradual increase in the number of medical service providers — the latest being Harrison Medical Center’s expansion to include primary care alongside the existing urgent care facility.

If you take a look around that part of South Kitsap, it seems obvious now that a cluster of medical care facilities has developed — making it far more convenient for residents to seek medical care without going out of the area in many cases.

This clustering effect often happens in private enterprise, almost as though a central authority planned it that way and made it happen.

A new addition to the cluster, like Harrison’s recent expansion, can seem odd when one’s attention is focused on the last two years of troubles in the economy.

But it’s not odd. That’s how a market-based economy functions — some things are being created as others are going under.

The time needed for each business in the cluster to get from the initial go-ahead decision to the project’s completion is sometimes longer than the economic cycle of growth and recession and back to growth.

It all depends on many different assessments by individuals of the future demand for the goods or services that an enterprise seeks to offer.

Government has a supporting role, but the stars in this production are the individuals that make their best estimate of the likelihood of success and then take the chance.

When government decides what land uses to allow in an area, it can play a supporting role by permitting individuals and corporations to develop the land in ways they believe will be successful.

When government goes beyond land-use regulation and tries to force development, we taxpayers depend on government officials to estimate the chance of success — and pay if their estimate turns out to be wrong.

Since people in business are usually better at making decisions about their businesses than any government planning agency, government officials should resist the temptation to go beyond their appropriate role.

Government’s supporting role is enough to keep officials busy weighing the interests of people already in place and comfortable against the community’s need for areas designated for economic development.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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