Guest Column: Creating jobs

By John Gile

Author, Editor, Journalist, Publisher

Editor’s note: The daily has noted that the Winnebago County Board is being bowled over by union pressure to pass the proposed wind ordinance this week. Mr. Gile’s column is very timely since we will lose the value of our rural agriculture if wind turbines blanket the landscape. So why not move the farms into the city and create long-lasting jobs, instead of just the temporary ones provided by wind farm construction?

Sometimes sincere and well-intentioned people look for the right thing in the wrong place because they fail to ask the right questions. Our collective hand-wringing over job creation may be a prime example.

Illinois Works for the Future, the Rockford Jobs Council, the Rockford Area Economic Development Corp, the Workforce Investment Board, and leaders at all levels of government will be strengthened in their economic development efforts if they honor two basic entrepreneurial maxims:

1. “The key to success is to find a need and fill it.”

2. “Intelligent persons know when the wrong answer has been given to a question. Creative persons know when the wrong question is being asked.”

Because jobs flow from serving human needs, reason suggests that our efforts will be most fruitful if we expand our questioning beyond, “How can we create jobs?”—as though jobs are created by magic—and center our questions on determining what needs there are and what we can do to meet those needs. Immediately, the most obvious and most pressing human need—providing food and water for parched and starving children and adults—becomes apparent.

Based on the most modest statistics from world health monitoring agencies, about 16,000 children alone die of hunger and related suffering each day. A little creative thinking can make both the crisis we face and its inherent economic ramifications more lucid.

Imagine placing the emaciated bodies of each child in a normal hearse. Each day we would create a new bumper-to-bumper funeral procession extending from Rockford to Elgin. By Thanksgiving, the bumper-to-bumper funeral procession we created would extend all the way from New York to San Francisco.

That gruesome picture doesn’t include adult victims and doesn’t portray the misery of those living with the consequences of malnutrition—lost human potential, including mental retardation and other maldevelopment—all of which we have the power to end if we so choose, with concomitant world-wide economic benefits.

Technology available to us today in multistory crop production and other developments can provide food and drinking water far in excess of conventional production methods without pesticide and chemical pollution, without crop failure from drought and other weather problems, and without burning fossil fuels that create devastating climate changes around the world. Nothing new is needed except the vision and resolve.

Elements for creating multistory crop production farms taking up a city block and capable of feeding and providing water for at least 50,000 people already exist. Greenhouses are not new. Hydroponic farming is not new. Irrigation systems are not new. Solar energy is not new. Controlled lighting, temperature, and humidity are not new. Recycling and purifying water are not new. Indoor planting beds and fields are not new. Multistory buildings are not new. What is new is simply the combination of those elements, even in urban settings where 80 percent of the world’s population is projected to live by 2050.

Cost estimates for construction of a multistory crop production farm range from $85 million to $200 million, depending on size and scope. Beyond that, billions of dollars, private and public, are projected to be invested in multistory crop production farm technology and development as the need intensifies. Investment interest in multistory crop production farm technology and development is driven by studies showing that the world’s population growth during the next four decades will require almost 60 percent more food production at a time when tillable land availability is shrinking.

Thinking in terms of human needs sometimes seems alien to leaders in rust belt cities like Rockford. If that is the case here, it may be helpful to consider the manufacturing aspects of multistory farm construction. The farm developments will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in manufacturing and construction here and abroad for workers who will create and assemble millions of valves, light panels, microswitches, computer control systems and panels, solar energy panels, desalinization and recycling systems, hundreds of thousands of tons of steel and reinforced concrete, millions of miles of electrical cable, hundreds of thousands of miles of pipe, hundreds of thousands of panes of glass, millions of fasteners, and thousands of planting and harvesting devices and maintenance machines for the farms.

Multistory farm developments also create thousands of computer programming and technological research jobs, hundreds of thousands of jobs in transportation of supplies and materials, and, of course, thousands of jobs processing crops and maintaining the farms themselves. If providing water and food for parched and starving children and adults is not sufficient motivation for focusing on meeting this most basic of human needs, perhaps the employment benefits inherent in the vision will provide the necessary impetus.

Current expenditures in other areas suggest multistory crop production farms are as economically viable as they are desirable. Even at the $200 million figure, the cost of a multistory crop production farm is less than we have been spending on the Iraq war every week. Our expenditures alone for war, for foreign oil, and for global entertainment and media over five years would build enough multistory crop production farms to feed more than half the population of the entire world.

Our national leaders might want to consider what happened to our nation when JFK committed us to landing a man on the moon within a decade. With his articulation of that vision, our languishing economy came alive with a sense of purpose. Jobs were created. Educational excellence blossomed. And enduring life enhancements for all humanity flowed from it. Too often today, we hear talk of creating jobs, but without vision, without any sense of purpose. Jobs doing what? Building unnecessary gadgets or, worse, instruments of death while others starve and the crisis comes closer and closer to home?

Imagine what might happen if our president said, “I am today committing the full resources of the United States of America to eliminating hunger from the face of the earth within the next decade by harnessing modern technology and helping all humankind realize the full promise of safe and environmentally-sound multistory farming.” Just imagine.

Resourcefulness directed toward worthy endeavors that feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and educate every man, woman, and child to live healthier, happier, and more fully human lives is the essence of strong economic development that endures. Let us begin.

From the October 21-27, 2009 issue

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