What “quality of place” means for Saratoga County

Marty VanagsThere are many definitions of economic development. This topic may require an entire different blog entry but let me tell you one thing I know it is: economic development is a process and an outcome if done well generates a high “quality of place”. I don’t like using the term “quality of life”, because everyone’s quality of life is what they make it. And a good place, which most of us can agree to creates a high quality of life. A good economic development agency and program generates opportunities. Opportunities to live a comfortable, safe, and happy life, with a good income and opportunities to do whatever it is you like to do. Of course, jobs and capital investment is a part of this equation. How does economic development do that?

You would be surprised to know that the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership (SCPP)  spends a large majority of their budget on local business assistance and retention. We call it Business First Saratoga.  We spend some time on attracting new business to the area, however we feel helping our local business is an important job. If we can achieve great success with a local business assistance program, if we can have a ubiquitous entrepreneurial assistance and support program, if we can help the thousands of “micro-businesses” grow in the community, we will as a result, have a robust attraction program. A local business assistance program is an attraction program. Who wouldn’t want to come here knowing that once here you are taken care of and the community agencies and other businesses care that you chose this place to conduct your business?

More and more I am noticing that programs at economic development conferences are being geared to the idea that we should be helping our local businesses. Sure, they have always had the topic called “Business Retention and Expansion” or BRE, but much of economic development practice over the past several decades have been about attraction. In this day and age, attraction alone is not sustainable. It relies on the backs of the taxpayer to provide subsidies to a business that is moving in from some other community or in some cases expanding. But even with a new expansion, should they not consider the community they are in? More time should be spent in the community on small business development, entrepreneurship, the development of micro-businesses and agencies and programs that can help such as the Small Business Administration.

I believe this is a good thing. Studies have shown that businesses that come to a community attracted by incentives, tax breaks and other types of community generated advantages often leave after a period of time. Take the example of Motorola which located a cellular phone factory in Harvard Illinois in 1995. Many state and local tax dollars were put into play to get them to move to this location. Within five years they were gone. They closed the entire plant, some 3 million square feet of modern industrial manufacturing, all gone. On to greener pastures. Look at your local businesses. How long have they been around? Can economic development programs help them stay around longer, develop new markets, find access to capital, or help them take advantage of programs that are available such as job training?

Economic Development can be a very simple process, and as we look around the region, we will find many companies that are crying out for a little help. We will also find entrepreneurs with that one really great idea that they are willing to spend their entire life savings on to make a go at the big-time. We will find “stay-at-home” moms and dads who can turn one small idea they have into a new industry employing more people.

The quality of place depends on the amenities and shopping opportunities, the education, culture, and neighborhoods in you r community. These great things are achieved through a combination of community initiative and our willingness to pay a little in to achieve something for the greater good (i.e., taxes). It also depends upon the private sector creating new enterprises, jobs, and capital investment. So to grow Saratoga County, support initiatives that help your local businesses grow.

Marty Vanags, President