The Chamber reports on economic numbers without much leadership

The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce’s annual “economic summit” of invited participants has a report for 2012 called “Lowndes County by the Numbers” that compares our local area with fourteen other places. Curiously none of those places is known for Internet access speed or solar energy. I wonder what comparisons with places like Thomasville or LaGrange or Chattanooga or Lafayette or Bowling Green, Kentucky (all of which have fast community-wide Internet access) would have shown?

It looks like the peer communities may have been chosen for proximity to military bases. That’s fair, but what about medical facilities, regional universities, or agriculture?

Establishing a plan for economic success and growth requires an unbiased knowledge of a community’s endowments and economic indicators. While community endowments are the unique characteristics that arise from location and geography and therefore are not likely to change, economic indicators such as demographics and labor market structure can be cultivated and enhanced in ways to improve the economic growth and prosperity of a community. Progress toward achieving these desired outcomes can only be assessed by comparing oneself to peer and aspirant communities. This report identifies the peer and aspirant communities for Lowndes County and compares economic indicators that measure the strengths and opportunities for this community.

Why is economic growth listed before prosperity? Is growth a goal in itself? If so, why? Population growth without more jobs just results in more unemployed and poor people. Economic growth without forethought results in more water use, for example. Not to mention it could result in dirty boondoggles like biomass or a private prison. Fortunately, we’re not going to get either of those, but I see no mention in the Chamber’s report of those two good outcomes, and I don’t remember the Chamber helping to achieve them.

Community endowments certainly can change: local government can decide to be more transparent, local citizens can decide to take a hand in planning, fast community Internet access can change the playing field, Parks and Rec can capitalize on TitleTown (hey, that one is actually happening!), and we can promote local agriculture for local economy and community (come to Downtown Valdosta Farm Days this morning!). Hm, most of those things don’t have much to do with the Chamber….

The Chamber does emphasize “smart jobs”, which appear to be what last year they called “knowledge-based jobs”. Emphasize as in the Chamber takes credit for them. Chamber News wrote 16 April 2012, 2012 Summit reports community’s ups and downs

The Chamber reports more than 4,100 “smart jobs” created in Valdosta-Lowndes County during the five years of IMPACT 2012. Created by the Chamber in 2007, IMPACT 2012 results were part of a report presented at the Chamber’s recent Economic Summit, sponsored by Express Employment Professionals.

Additional data shows that not only have these efforts slowed down the decades long decline of the regional average wage, it has literally turned it around by creating an environment which provides growth in Information, Professional and Technical Services, Management of Companies and Enterprises, and Health Care and Social Assistance sectors in Valdosta-Lowndes County.

Well, those things are good, although read closely: it doesn’t say the regional average wage increased, merely that it didn’t decline as fast. Still, growth in employment in the named sectors sounds good. But really, the Chamber did all that? It had nothing to do with the state of Georgia expanding VSU as an overflow school for Atlanta students or with more people going to Wiregrass Tech because they were unemployed during the recession, for example? Maybe I’m misreading; maybe they only mean to say the Chamber reported on that.

Anyway, it is good the Chamber reported on that. Although the Chamber’s online report is only two pages long, and contains little other than the numbers.

Maybe this year instead of wasting everyone’s time and resources on school system “unification” the Chamber can get around to providing some useful leadership.