as posted in the Appleton Post Crescent on March 27, 2011

There has been much discussion recently about the drivers for economic development in our region and where funding should be allocated to maximize the chances for economic growth.

One position advocates for economic incentives to attract out-of-state businesses to relocate in our region with the hope of generating new jobs. Another position calls for the provision of sufficient financial support to foster a climate conducive to attracting and maintaining a viable workforce in our region. Advocates of this strategy call for strong educational systems, good wages and benefits and other factors contributing to a high quality of life.

The decision of how to allocate scarce funds most effectively to apparently conflicting uses is not an easy one, and its impact becomes more significant in a difficult economic climate. It requires thoughtful analysis and projections of each proposal’s effects over both the short- and long-term.

It ultimately becomes a balancing act, not unlike the one performed by a tightrope walker wary of tipping her balance pole too far in one direction. The lack of balance could lead to disaster.

If allocations are balanced and we regionally avoid the temptation to favor one strategy at the expense of the other, there is tremendous opportunity for both long-term economic success through greater business development, and a satisfied and productive workforce. An out-of-balance approach to these funding decisions may, in my opinion, lead to less than optimal results – outcomes that are opposite from what was initially intended. Northeastern Wisconsin will not benefit from a one-or-the-other tactic.

Too much emphasis on providing economic incentives with little or no support for providing a favorable workforce climate, both financially and educationally, will lead to the exodus of our best and brightest to other regions that are willing to provide an infrastructure to meet their needs. Also, without strong educational systems and other life quality factors, there will be few business organizations willing to locate their headquarters and managerial staffs in the region, resulting in lower-paying and less-skilled jobs, producing what could be called a “banana republic effect.” In this scenario, the region supplies the worker bees for organizations that maintain their wealth in other states.

The opposite is also true. Not enough emphasis on attracting business organizations through financial and other incentives could lead to the departure of our best workers to other regions to find appropriate employment. The long term impact of this approach, economic demise, is obvious.

I believe the long-term success of our region requires us to avoid the either-or approach to economic development. Thoughtful analysis, compromise and a strategy that considers all possible outcomes has to prevail over rhetoric.

We must make sure that the balance pole does not tip too far in either direction so we can navigate our tightrope successfully.