Convenience Wins Every Time

editorial-logo3I intentionally waited a week to get my thoughts together following the public meeting on economic development that took place recently. It has been reported, and it is true, that the meeting did not have a very large turnout even among elected and appointed officials. Six County Commissioners and four members of the Industrial Development Board were present, as well as representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Alliance and a handful of members of the public. Was it really surprising that so few members of the County Commission attended? Not really. Many seemed to feel that the meeting was more walking the dog than a forum for idea exchange. And, to some extent, they were right. Nothing new came out of a meeting that lasted more than two and a half hours.

The real, hard truth is that the answer to the big questions has been there all along. Like it or not, agree with it or not, the majority of the people in Jefferson County are ambivalent at best about widespread industrial growth. Those that are on board with bringing in a large economic investment like the mega site proposal are mostly those that would personally benefit in some way from the project, and those that are the most vocal in opposition to a large scale project are generally the ones with something on the line, such as their personal property. The rest, those in the middle, seem to be resting on the premise that the fors and againsts will cancel each other out and leave things largely as they are now. And why not? Because if you look at the situation from the perspective of the average citizen, Jefferson County looks to be sitting pretty well. For the past couple of years, both the Department of Education and the county have rolled large amounts of money back into fund balance. Debt is more than manageable, and there has been not even one cent of property tax increase in the past few years. We are renovating schools and county buildings and paying cash for the projects. We have a hospital reserve fund that has several million dollars as a slush fund, and our per household income has risen enough that our government aid dollars were recently cut in education because we are no longer the poorest of the poor. All-in-all, things look pretty good in Jefferson County. Oh, did I mention that our unemployment rate is below 4%?

The fact is that life in Jefferson County is good and that is why we are now a bedroom community of Knoxville. What our residents want, and this is what they say over and over again, is more livability. Another choice for a grocery store, more retail and restaurants, perhaps a few more medical services. These are the things that are consistently on the want list. If you live in Jefferson County and you want a job, there is a vast array of employment opportunities within easy drive. Answer the livability question and you automatically bring jobs, anyway. I simply don’t buy the party line that it will take large industry to bring in retail. If we are recruiting industry to bring jobs to Jefferson County residents, then how does that help us on the retail front? That is, unless we are really going to fill those jobs with people from other places, and then we find ourselves in the position of overcrowding our schools and infrastructure and possibly decreasing the value of our way of life.

We need more small and medium businesses, and our IDB needs to find attractive ways to make that happen, with or without the help of the Chamber of Commerce or the EDA. Do you want to know what the people think? Then listen. They have been expressing themselves for years. Maybe it is time to think outside the box to give the people what they want. There will likely be more meetings, and they will likely be much the same as the last one. It would do us well to remember that the loudest voices are not always the most representative, and that sometimes you have to step back to see the big picture. Ask the average citizen if they would rather see big industry or an infusion of retail and convenience businesses and I think few would be surprised to find that convenience wins every time.

Source: K. Depew, News Director

Jefferson Farmers Co-op 08112014