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The Silly Season is Upon Us!

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

I’m not talking about the upcoming inaugural College Football Playoffs, although that is pretty silly right now!  I’m talking about the November elections — US Congress, state legislatures, local offices and of particular interest, some very high profile Gubernatorial elections.

As we enter the final weekend of non-stop political ads, robo-calls, flyers and literature drops, here are some things to consider:

Politics can be the kryptonite of economic development.  Instability, surprise, inconsistency, disingenuousness (I’m not even sure that’s a word!)-these are the antithesis of the stable, consistent, sustainable governmental climate sought by business leaders.

Thanks to the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, I was recently made aware of a survey by the Pew Research Center that found Republicans and Democrats are more divided today than at any point in the past two decades. Moreover, the divisions extend beyond the ballot box.  According to Charles Babington, “Americans have grown more fervently liberal on the left and more ardently conservative on the right.  The most politically engaged people are the ones most likely to oppose compromise, which is essential in a democracy.”  Perhaps of greatest alarm, those possessing a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994, with most of these “intense partisans” believing the opposing parties’ policies are “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”

It’s no wonder that every level of government can at times seem paralyzed.  It also helps explain why the traditional political survival instinct to move to the middle has now been replaced by a hard right or left turn!  Those that do remain in the middle today tend to be “relatively distant and disengaged” leaving policy decisions to the vocal fringes.

What’s a professional developer to do?  First, it is important to resist the temptation to “sit on the sidelines”.  Clearly the easiest course of action is to stay out of the fray and go about your business as if that world never collides with yours.  Unfortunately, that could not be further from reality.  Beyond the fact that many economic development organizations receive significant funds from local and state governments, more than ever before, public policy decisions at all levels of government are directly impacting the ability of communities, regions and states to position themselves for growth.  You are on this playing field whether you want to be or not!

Available sites, buildings, infrastructure, workforce, quality public education, tax reform, etc., etc., etc.,  all of the product issues professional developers address on a daily basis are and will be impacted, for better or worse, by policy decisions.  We have to be in the game!  Coalition building becomes increasingly important as your organization seeks to influence decisions that drive product enhancements.  How does one galvanize volunteer board leaders, enlist other organizations in the dialog, build grass roots collaborative coalitions?  These talents are traditionally not in the domain of professional developers and yet, arguably may be some of the most important to possess in today’s environment.

I am not advocating that EDO’s become political activists — endorsing candidates, raising/contributing money, etc.  I am suggesting that EDO’s need to be active in the public policy debate – monitoring legislation, incumbents and candidates, being collaborative with other like-minded organizations, seeking coalitions that could help advance policies impacting product issues.

Do we want divisiveness or consensus?  Polarization or collaboration? Uncertainty or stability?  A house divided built on shifting sands will fall; but a house constructed on a firm foundation will stand the test of time, tension and acrimony.

The fringes are here to stay.  The advent of social media and it’s never ending current and future iterations guarantees that!  Product challenges are not addressed on the fringes, however.  So we need to decide if we are also abandoning the middle or if we are going to work to maintain that tried and true cornerstone of our Democracy:  negotiation and compromise!  After all, we should not be about building platforms, but rather building communities!

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