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Meet John Doe: The effect of voter apathy on business

May 8, 2013

By Paul Gorski

Why should a business owner create a new business or expand an existing business in Rockford or the larger Winnebago County region?

That’s the question local leaders need to ask and be ready to answer. But it is tough to sell those answers if business developers review recent election turnout numbers. Local residents simply don’t show up in big numbers for local elections, and if local residents don’t vote for local officials managing local affairs, why should a business invest locally? If the community isn’t involved, why should an outsider get involved?

Your vote indicates an interest in the community, an investment in the community. Your vote also helps keep politicians on their toes, makes them listen. Your vote does make a difference, if only serving as an indication to the level of involvement by local residents.

I realize some of the “candidate speak” that you hear during elections doesn’t make much sense or ring true. During the recent Rockford mayoral race, we heard the equivalent of “we’re slowly getting better,” “we’re spending money on the wrong projects” and “let the free market take over.” I’m not quite sure how much “better” we are, and some of the spending is being done wisely, and no, I don’t think businesses will relocate here unless we market the region and make some infrastructure improvements. That doesn’t mean give up.

Make your local politicians explain their positions in simple terms. Not only request that they explain their positions, but ask them to explain their positions in relation to how their ideas fit with a larger, coordinated plan to solve the region’s problems. Don’t rely on local media outlets to keep them honest, do it yourself.

The current election cycle is over. While eagerly awaiting the next election, I encourage you to call and write your elected officials on any local topic that comes to mind, if only as a reminder to these officials that you are getting involved. Go to a city council, county board, school board or other public meeting, again, if only to demonstrate that you are paying attention.

Forcing your local leaders to pay attention to you will require them to develop consistent, coordinated messages, not only for residents, but for potential business investors, too.

Paul Gorski (http://www.paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.

From the May 8-14, 2013, issue

2 Comments

  1. Jim Phelps

    May 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    “Why should a business owner create a new business or expand an existing business in Rockford or the larger Winnebago County region?”
    Simple: Because they can expect little in the way of competition from local businesses and individuals that are unlikely to get off their corn-fed buttocks and make it difficult. Those businesses can count on the locals and local businesses on being lazy. They can count on whole generations of local individuals to wait for a job to be created for “opportunity” of applying for it. Those businesses can count on a blue collar mentality that “I can always find a job” as opposed to those same individuals deciding to take a chance and create a company. Simply put, the area’s inhabitants are largely risk adverse and are not likely to take the necessary steps to gain business or specialty acumen to be able to create the next big thing on their own. They are “comfortable” to receive a paycheck and a turkey at the end of the year, assuming they keep their nose clean and their heads down; they are reasonably assured that the following January 2nd, they will be called back to work making widgets. This is what generations here have learned to do, and for many years it was what worked all across the Rust Belt.
    “Local residents simply don’t show up in big numbers for local elections, and if local residents don’t vote for local officials managing local affairs, why should a business invest locally? If the community isn’t involved, why should an outsider get involved?
    Why should those businesses care? In some cases, a disinterested polity only works to their advantage. Industrialists care more about making widgets and needing widget makers. They can convince government to make infrastructure happen. And if they can’t get local widget maker talent, they import it much like the way Ingersoll recruited me and many others to the region. In the case of many new retailing and service opportunities, Winnebago County and Rockford are a gold mine waiting to be exploited. Where there should be 10 of a type of business, there is generally only one. And that one is so riddled with arteriosclerosis due to lack of competition that it is relatively easy for a national chain or an “on the ball” entrepreneur to come in and clobber the local or regional heavy. Take for example the impact of Menards on local lumber companies. Those local lumber yards are almost all gone and that was the case before the Great Recession. Menards doesn’t care if the fork lifts driver votes or is involved in local community building. They only care that the fork lift driver comes to work on time and makes them a lot of money.

  2. Jim Phelps

    May 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Here is the problem: No business comes to a town because people vote or don’t vote. Your premise is so far off base to be laughable. Businesses don’t care because it is not material enough to their operations to matter. All they care about is what incentives they can get from government to make their operations more profitable. Talent can be found regardless and it may have to be imported. And local talent may NOT be up to the standard necessary to make any difference in their decision. What Ingersoll did to get talent in 1891 (which by the way was right around when local Industrialists decided we didn’t need to offer an extra $10,000 to attract NIU just to be competitive with DeKalb’s offer. Now NIU sports a Manufacturing Engineering Program) goes to show you that a plant driven by wheel drive systems moving belts for power transmission (Ingersoll in 1891) to make widgets isn’t in line with the factories today who need workers in 2013 with AAS’s, BBA’s, ME’s, EE’s and so on. Look to the growth of the Rochelle Rail Hub to see where talented and educated folks are regionally migrating for work.

    What is killing Rockford & Winnebago besides the crippling lack of educated folks with a real High School graduation rate of 90% and a real 29% 4-year degree holder rate (like my home town of Eau Claire, WI, a former blue collar rust belt city with a nationally recognized 2 year Tech School and a Regional Top 10 State University) is the slow progress on the quality of life front to be equal to other Midwest Rust Belt cities that are in most cases 25 to 40 years ahead of re-engineering their cities to make them more livable. I like to think of our trajectory as rather flat. Until we can “product manage” in parallel a local university and tech school on par Eau Claire, we will continue to lag behind by generations.

    My home town has 10 “quality of life” projects in progress, not including Banbury Place (think renovating Barber Colman with 130 live businesses, extended stay hotel and luxury lofts and restaurants) now almost 20 years “finished.” The newest big project is an 88 Million Dollar downtown development called “the Confluence Center” which is going to happen with 2/3rd’s private money. PRIVATE MONEY. Not state funded bridge upstream to nowhere. The only question those locals ask is why can’t we have it faster? The difference between Eau Claire and Rockford is the people. People in Eau Claire actually have a Community. Communities vote. That is Rockford’s bigger issue. None of the Industrialists of the past cared. The pitted Swedes against Italians and so on. Industrialists made things happen through the proxies on the City Council and County Board. Those are the only “votes” around here that mattered in the past and still matter today.

    Come on: Can’t you see the brilliance of a system that doesn’t care if individuals vote? The local industrialists of two generations past, and to some small degree, the developers and industrials of today still work the local population the same way. Why should they alter a good thing that seems to have worked only to maintain their power on local governing units?? And they have it really good because the Fourth Estate around here has become the Fourth Branch of Government in on the deal, it seems. Naw, voting doesn’t matter. Voting is an “inconvenience” to the Oligarchy. Just ask Stalin what he thought of voting. They want folks dumber than bricks and unable to read, think critically or make logical choices. So do some of the media outlets, too, it seems.

    http://www.eauclairearts.com/confluence/

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