Thursday, March 17, 2016

Political Reality

By J. Mac Holladay, Founder and CEO

I have always believed that the work of community and economic development required all of us in the work to be professionally non-partisan. When I served four different Governors from both parties, my job was to make that individual and the state look as good as I could. The professional staff in each state worked together across all lines to accomplish what we could.

It has concerned me that over time many states have chosen to appoint political operatives to key economic development positions. While the individuals may be intelligent, experienced, competent people, they have no experience in the field. This is no time for "on the job training."

The reality of the Great Recession and its aftermath is that the game has changed, and that we must be flexible and creative to move our organizations forward.

The history of state level "public private" partnerships is mostly bleak. While Enterprise Florida, the longest standing organization, still exists, it is a far different organization than years ago. It now resides inside the Governor's office and he/she hires and fires the CEO. That privilege was the Board's and the funding was then 50-50 public and private. That is no longer the case. Most of these efforts have lasted only one or two terms and many have conflicted directly with major metro areas’ private sector funding efforts and activities. The recent drastic changes to the strong North Carolina Department of Commerce is a prime example. Whether that state's new "partnership" can be effective or successful is an open question.

As The Metropolitan Revolution reported, the real creativity and actions are coming from Mayors and local chambers and economic development organizations. The relevance of state level programming and operations has fallen to an all-time low. The drastic budgets cuts in most states combined with the lack of professional leadership and extreme partisan politics have combined to produce this reality.

Frankly, it makes me sad since I believe this team sport of community and economic development needs leadership from the state level combined with consistent local public and private leadership to produce the great results we all want.

I am hopeful that we can return to a time when all that really matters is real progress and that partisan politics again takes a back seat to improving the lives of all our citizens. A competent committed professional staff at the state level is a good place to start.