ECONOMIC ‘DEVELOPMENT’ or ECONOMIC ‘FRAUD’? Pt. 1 OF A 3-PT. SERIES, but first, VALENTI TO KROL: ‘What a SNOW JOB’ … & VALENTI CHALLENGES TIM FARKAS TO DEBATE
NOTE — Today begins the first of a three-part series on economic development that intends to (a) expose the false premises upon which the city of Pittsfield has built its arguments about the future growth of the area, (b) show how economic development is not dependent upon a region’s size but its smarts, and (c) share how other communities get it done when Pittsfield doesn’t. Our intention is instructive. This is the kind of discussion that Pittsfield is either not smart enough to entertain or is afraid to have because the sainted few might find the gravy train pulling out of town.
Before we get to that, we present this aftermath to the Blizzard of the Milennia and the shock it caused many that it, uh, occasionally, you know, snows in late December in the Northeast.
What follows is an e-mail exchange between The Planet and Ward 6 city councilor John Krol, who thought it necessary to add to the bulletins and emergency warnings put out by the city by posting the city’s warning on his Facebook page. We made jocular reference to this, and Krol took exception. Here is the unedited exchange. It begins with Krol getting back to The Planet:
KROL TO VALENTI:
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT or INDIGESTION: PART ONE IN A THREE-PART SERIES
BY DAN VALENTI AND FRANCOIS ARNEAU
How many times have you heard the term “economic development” thrown around by every elected official in the country. Pittsfield is no exception. Each election, the electorate gets subjected to the Manchurian Candidates talking about “economic development” and “jobs.” We have come to disbelieve every word they say, because, since GE pulled up the ghost, we’ve seen nothing but seeds and stems.
The favored method of Pittsfield is to use large chunks of the GE Economic Development Fund entrusted to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority for essentially unregulated, unaccounted, and unaccountable giveaways to an assortment of fly-by-nighters, con artists, fast talkers, and midnight walkers.
Each time we get involved with a Workshop Live, a Spice, an EV Worldwide, a Patriots Resorts, and the like, a tiny handful of people get rich, elected officials get fat, and taxpayers get shafted. These types of projects create no growth, and yet they are always billed as “economic engines.”
The Colonial Theatre was sold, $25 million worth, as an economic engine. It’s hemorrhaging money (The Planet trusts that Kate Maguire of the estimable Berkshire Theatre Festival will address that situation and not care about the minefield of politics involved in doing so)
The term “economic development” is so misunderstood that it has become meaningless or worse. In Pittsfield, the phrase (one adjective, one noun) is associated with schemes, scams and even white collar criminal activity.
In the City of Pittsfield, untold dollars and human resources get spent on “economic development” with no real measure of the success of those expenditures. Is this done on purpose to deliberately muddy the waters and tout one’s own administration and its accomplishments? Or mask the lack thereof?
Granted, measuring the effects of any economic development is difficult at best. However, the majority of redevelopment experts agree that no number of
“feel good” stories published
in any newspaper, magazine, or website can overcome the perception or the “buzz” of the local residents.
Perhaps the most reliable common measure, then, of economic development can be found in the “buzz” an area generates. The “buzz” is the sum total of a mysterious mingling of ambience, perception, zeitgeist, and “feel.” Is the area alive or dead? Manhattan, NYC, has the “It” factor. Stockbridge, Mass., has “It.” Love Canal, N.Y. doesn’t have “It.”
Pittsfield is no different than any other municipality in that respect. Ask yourself, honestly: Does Pittsfield have “It.” The answer is “no.”
The Planet, which takes a back seat to no one in our love for our little town, chooses not to lament the screwing public officials have givenThe Little Guy. The Planet believes Pittsfield can find its way out of an economic, political, and cultural morass that is now a generation old. The Planet is the Optimist here.
The so-called “rah-rah cheerleaders” for the city are the jaded negativists. We want positive change. They want to keep the people stupid, barefoot, and ripe for the picking. In short, we want to lead this city to the future. They want to keep the city dead in its tracks. The Planet is part of the media. We take our role as the 4th Estate seriously. We will fight, in the great tradition of newspaper muckracking, for the oppressed. We will sting the oppressors. What has the Berkshire Eagle done?
We mention the Eagle because it is still, sadly, the dominant media player in the area (a situation, by the way, The Planet aims to rectify in the days, months, and years ahead). The Berkshire Eagle, by virtue of having sold its soul to its corporate masters in Denver and its corrupt masters among the Pittsfield 100, wants death. The Eagle is afraid, sacred to death, of upsetting the sacred cows. The Planet wants life. The Planet is afraid only of not having done enough for the citizens of the good city.
THE PLANET, therefore, issues this public challenge to Tim Farkas, executive editor of the Eagle. We challenge Farkas to a public debate. At issue: What is the role and what are the responsibilities of the 4th Estate to a community? We contend that the Eagle has neglected those responsibilities and, by acquiescence, enabled criminality and helped condemn a once-great city to a life of haves and have nots. We give Tim Farkas one week from today to accept this challenge or be branded cowardly. We will debate at the Colonial Theater. No notes. Just wits. Farkas, The Planet is your humble servant in awaiting your reply. My dear readers, help pressure Farkas into accepting. his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
———————————————- WILL FARKAS AGREE TO DEBATE VALENTI? ——————————————————-
Lots of Agencies, No Results
We have PEDA, PERC, BEDC, MASSECON, Downtown Inc., the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, and others all receiving taxpayer dollars to promote economic development, be it targeted (downtown) or regional. The above list doesn’t take into account elected officials, Commonwealth organizations, and Federal agencies (OCD, anyone, led by First Assistant Mayor Deanna Ruffer). All of them expend both capital and human resources on “economic development.”
Does it work? In a year, what is the sum total of all the expenditures and what are the results? If the results are in the range of “good to great,” then do we stay the course? If they’re not as good as expected, do we reevaluate? Is “economic development” working the way it’s practiced in Pittsfield?
One look around Pittsfield gives you the answer. Where is the growth? Where is the vibrancy? Where are the respectable, ordinary people who frequent downtown on a routine basis? Where are the new businesses that are expanding the tax base? Not there.
Can we afford to blame the economy? Or do we gear up for the end of the recession? Many companies have expanded, but Pittsfield hasn’t attracted them. Why?
For almost a decade, Pittsfield officials have equated “downtown redevelopment” with “economic development.” This, we have isolated as THE fatal flaw.
They are not the same. In fact, they differ diametrically. Communities such as Pittsfield that confuse the two terms are losing the battle for both new businesses to the area and downtown redevelopment.
Let’s look at the example of a region that has its terminology clear and its goals well articulated. Recently, in the last three years, the western North Carolina region has had astonishing success at “economic development,” luring four high-tech firms to expand there. We include the links so you can check it out for yourself:
- In early 2007 Google announced plans to build a $600 million data center in Lenoir, a town of 17,000 residents in Caldwell County.
- In 2009 Apple chose the small town of Maiden (population 3,300) in Catawba County for a $1 billion data center campus.
- On Nov. 11, Facebook unveiled plans to invest $450 million in a new data center facility in Forest City (pop. 7,500) in Rutherford County.
- On Monday, Wipro Infocrossing confirmed plans to build a $75 million data center in Kings Mountain in Cleveland County, which has about 10,000 residents.
And another company that you might have heard of is building in Boydton, Virginia, population 500.
- Microsoft Picks Virginia for Major Data Center
With all the economic development agencies listed above, did the City of Pittsfield or any other agency representing Pittsfield or —better put — slurping taxpayer dollars put together a proposal to any of the companies? If not why not? If so, did we follow up to see why the companies decided to go elsewhere?
Why would these companies locate in rural western NC? Are they not aware of the Colonial Theatre? The Beacon Cinema? Jays Spice? All the redevelopment on North Street? The renaissance currently under way? You mean to say that none of these attractions were enough to lure Apple or Microsoft? Or — or — are those very things being confused with “economic development”?
“Downtown redevelopment” in Pittsfield has been used as a club against perspective new business deals. This practice harms economic development. Pittsfield is notorious for placing conditions on new businesses, forcing them to favor certain suppliers or grease certain connceted businesses. Apple, Facebook, etc. won’t take those terms.
Apple, Google, Facebook, and Wipro located the new facilities in NC because of tax incentives and cheap electricity. The state of NC has worked hard along with Duke Energy to keep electricity affordable to everyone business and homeowners alike in efforts to attract new business.
How hard did the “economic development” experts of Pittsfield work, you know, the ones that are being paid with taxpayers’ money?
Many experts point out that in the NC area, the towns are small enough that downtown redevelopment will be accomplished by the spending of the new employees. The new employees who move in will vote with their dollars for what type of restaurants, coffee shops and other amenities the downtown will have.
Another pitfall of downtown redevelopment, Pittsfield style, is that local governments have a vested interest in the filling of the vacant shops. Thus, they either steer or outright demand new companies to support the Local Cause du jour, be it a theater or a restored building, whether it reflects that companies goals or not.
Executives of companies such as Apple and Google won’t deal with communities like this. Of course, if you don’t put your line in the water, you won’t catch any fish. That’s a given. There’s no guarantee that if you do cast with bait, you land a beauty, but not casting guarantees that your basket stays empty.
Question: Was Pittsfield aware of these expansion plans by Google, Apple, etc. If not, why not? If so, did it attempt to make a presentation? Did it at least try? No? Then why bloody heck not? Where were our “experts”?
We have a lot of Alphabet Agencies in Pittsfield pretending to be “economic development” concerns. They are little more than frauds. The taxpayers deserve better. We deserve Apple, building a $1 billion data center on Dan Fox Drive. That was once targeted as Pittsfield’s “128 beltway” or “Silicon Valley.” Today, it’s the home of a giant haunted house, Patriot Place, that ate up public money and ran.
PART TWO OF THIS SERIES ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT WILL BE PUBLISHED DEC. 31.
WE INVITE YOUR COMMENTS.