Economic Development Report of 20 Years Ago Was Largely Ignored by Leaders
Saginaw Valley Economy of Today Could Have Been Different
EDITOR'S NOTE: Nearly 20 years ago, in November, 1983, Public Sector Consultants, Lansing, issued a report entitled: "THE SAGINAW VALLEY: Postscript to the Past and Prelude to the Future." The report cost Saginaw about $20,000. It was commissioned to give advice on how to shape public policy for growth. The report was never released to the public, apparently because it was considered too controversial. Now it may be useful to consider the changes in our economic and social life over the past two decades and whether local leaders should have heeded the advice of the consultants.
What did the Public Sector Consultants report suggest that made it so controversial that it couldn't be released?
First, consolidation of governments. Here's what the report said: "SIMPLIFY THE GOVERNMENTAL SYSTEM. An attempt should be made to simplify the governmental system, to reduce the intra-Valley competition, and to develop sensible and reasonable land-use policies. If the leadership is sufficiently daring, it might consider the merger of core cities with surrounding townships -- and if possible, the establishment of county governments as the primary delivery unit for governmental and educational services.
Comment: That recommendation alone no doubt was enough to induce local officials to suppress the report. Consolidate governments, no way, they probably said.
Secondly, the report suggested: "DEVELOP VENTURE CAPITAL CORPORATION. The financial community, including the foundations, should cooperate in the development of a venture capital corporation to channel funds to new and expanding businesses and industries that have the potential for generating additional investments in the community.
Comment: No serious attempt was ever made, or probably even considered. Banks generally are in the business of competition, not cooperation, although some are very generous with community projects. Foundations have their own agendas which mainly do not focus on business development. Midland'sTed Doan and a few others have venture capital interests which have spawned local firms but many investments are made elsewhere. There is no coordinated business development effort funded by venture capital here. Saginaw Future's business development activities come the closest, but involve mainly government grants.
Thirdly, the report recommended: "INITIATE AN INCUBATION CENTER FOR NEW BUSINESSES. The formation of new businesses should be encouraged through the development of an incubation center which would provide low-cost rental footage and core services for newly established businesses for a period not to exceed one year. Legislation is not under consideration in Lansing to facilitate the establishment of 10 incubation centers in the state.The Saginaw Valley should strive to become a site for one of these centers."Comment: Didn't happen, either locally or statewide. A Saginaw group attempted to operate an industrial incubator for a while, but the effort fizzled for lack of support. It appears that few people locally even understand what an incubator can do to boost the economy.
"COORDINATE FOUNDATIONS. The foundations should be requested to develop a local association and permit it to channel foundation funds as 'seed' money to projects that can generate economic investments in the community.A united effort by the foundations could serve as a catalyst in the economic revitalization of the Saginaw Valley."
Comment: Still a good idea, and not to late to get going on it.
"DEVELOP ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS. They should be given the community support necessary to fulfill the challenge. The tools for the technologically sophisticated society should be learned without exception by the students in the elementaryand secondary schools."
Comment: Check test scores, dropout and graduation rates on the Standard and Poors website to form your own opinion about the quality of the schools.
"IMPROVE COOPERATION BETWEEN BUSINESS COMMUNITY AND PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION."
Comment: This goal probably has been achieved to a greater degree than any of the others.
The report concludes: "Clearly, the economic vitality of the Saginaw Valley lies with the people of the Valley. They can chart their future or they can allow it to overwhelm them. It is their choice."
Final comment: It seems as though the leadership made the decision 20 years ago to depend on the status quo. Our economy still is far too dependent on the large auto and chemical industries and the vagaries of the national economy. But it's still not too late for the people to join together and prepare for the next 20 years.
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at email@example.com)
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