If we're lucky, we're coming out a deep recession and looking at economic growth that, hopefully, will mean jobs, consumer spending and new business investment nationally. Jackson is poised to take advantage of economic revitalization, but to do it, we'll need to pull together and create opportunities.
And you know what's going to drive that growth? Small business.
I'm a co-owner and manager of a small business--Jackson Free Press, Inc.--and that small business is a for-profit enterprise. We
employ roughly 20 people on a full- or part-time basis and work with about that many freelance writers and photographers. Total government investment? Zero. (Although we have been eyeballing those new-jobs tax credits!)
Compare that to the Toyota plant in North Mississippi, which, thanks to a
$180 million investment, employs roughly 90 people at last count, most of them in security. If the plant never happens, we're told we'll get the money back. Uh-huh.
Government can't solve the jobs problem on its own--regardless of whether the welfare program in question is "liberal" or "conservative." And we can't rely on large corporations, either. Once a company is publicly held, its motives often change--jobs are cut, outsourced and plants shuttered (or never opened) in moves designed to please Wall Street, not to benefit the community or country.
I heard Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann say the other day say we need to rein in the federal deficit because he doesn't want his grandchildren to "work for the Chinese." I would submit that spending more time on small, local businesses that can't be outsourced--and less time on kowtowing to public corporations that have outsourcing mandated by Wall Street--might be one way to avoid such a future.
(The Chinese, by the way, still separate their investment banks and commercial banks. You want financial reform? Undo pretty much everything Phil Gramm did in the 1990s, starting with a re-institution of the Glass-Steagall Act. I'm just saying.)
Individuals have to step up to the table with their ideas and engage others--investors, government, our community--with vision and determination. I propose one vision for Jackson: the idea that a community that is (a) good for its people is (b) good for business.
Aside from the geopolitical, environmental and worldwide financial turmoil that we're wrestling with in the 2000s, we're also looking at another shift--a generational one. Generation X (born roughly 1960-1980) and Millennials (born roughly 1980-2000) are both aging into new roles in the workplace. Generation X adults are taking the reins of upper management, partnership or ownership roles in companies and firms. Millennials are graduating college and entering the work force, often as professionals and creatives. With this generational shift comes new priorities and new ways of doing business.
One important focus (broadly speaking) is on something called authenticity. Younger generations of professionals and business workers tend to want to experience what is unique about a city or region, not what's the same as everywhere else. A recent report entitled "The State of Metro America" by the Brookings Institution bears this out in one striking instance--it found that, nationwide, there's a reverse migration of (in this instance) white professionals from the suburbs to the city. Our cities are tossed salads of cultures and backgrounds, and younger adults in particular seem to relish that fact, looking for it in the places that they live.
And that's the other thing--generally speaking, younger professionals can pick and choose the cities they want to live in. Gone are the days when you had to move to upstate New York to work for IBM or Detroit to work in the auto business. First, those businesses are all over the country (and, of course, the world) at this point. Second, telecommuting becomes more popular with every additional barrel of oil spilled in the Gulf. And third, knowledge-worker skills (tech prowess, research skills, professional expertise) work in many different environs and for many different industries.
And that's the point--in the 21st century a municipality needs to be attractive to workers, not businesses. It used to be the other way around, but it isn't anymore. That's the big new rule of thumb in this progressive era of re-urbanization--make your city more livable.
How? Move from car metrics to people metrics--which means more density, more walkability, more bike paths, more outdoor recreation, more neighborhood districts. Encourage local groceries and green markets, art fairs, small restaurants, local retail. And by "encourage," I means don't spend hundreds of thousands in subsidies on Wal-Mart at the expense of local business; let Wal-Mart take care of itself. If you want to spend money on subsidies, spend it on local businesses.
Promote authenticity. Build neighborhood organizations. Throw parties. Improve education. And, of course, Think Local First. Every opportunity that you have to shop or dine or spend local, please do it. If you're in a chain every so often, that's fine--happens to all of us. But whenever possible, and whenever the local guy is competitive, shop there!
In this issue, you'll see perspectives on Jackson's local business scene, including ways that the City of Jackson is reaching out to local businesses (cover story this week) and even ways that a detente between the city and the 'burbs might benefit us all (see our Dish with Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership President Duane O'Neill.)
And it's these same topics that will inform BOOM Jackson magazine, which begins its life as a quarterly "business + lifestyle" publication on June 1, 2010. Read, think, enjoy ... and start scheming your own Jackson-based venture!
Note: We found out at press time that the JFP is a finalist for four reporting awards in the 60th Green Eyeshade Awards given by the Society for Professional Journalists in 11 southeastern states. Recipients include Ronni Mott for her coverage of domestic violence; Ward Schaefer, Adam Lynch and Donna Ladd for public-service reporting on Two Lakes; team coverage of Melton's final year in office; and Donna for her commentary on Frank Melton in 2009. We'll learn 1st, 2nd and 3rd this summer; congratulations to the Jackson Free Press editorial team! - TS
Great article. As someone who also tries to save and invest for retirement, and who watches markets and listens to financial pundits, it isn't just better for the local economy to invest in local business, it can also be less risky for the investor and better for the world. So much of what is happening now in the markets is money chasing money. It is all about making more money, not about making a better world. But that speculative fever both creates and destroys wealth. Many of the markets are being manipulated by large interests who couldn't care less about the individual investor or local businesses. I think it is best to put your money where your heart is.
Good work. It might help, if we had a Grameen-like microloan fund for micro-entrepreneurs without conventional collateral.
@Clifton: There are tons of ideas out there championed by organizations such as Balle (http://www.livingeconomies.org/) and the American Independent Business Alliance (http://www.amiba.net/) about how to inject both investment and consumer dollars into local economies. (Micro-loans, local currencies, local rewards programs, etc.) The JFP and BOOM would absolutely champion the formation of a local business alliance in Jackson that would stand-up for the little guy and encourage local spending and the redirection of any "corporate welfare" efforts to businesses with local ownership and jobs that cannot be outsourced.
- Todd Stauffer