What Kind of Economic Development Do We Want?

(#341) – The central issue of economic development is whether or not it is sustainable.

To be sustainable, economic development projects must be profitable, have significant net positive impacts for the local population, institutions, government and natural environment over the long run.

With this standard, there is a lot that needs to be done by our economic development agencies, local government and citizens to fill in huge gaps in what is proposed during the next few years as Sullivan County moves into high gear economic and social change.

Despite the many statements that casinos are just one of many aspects of the economic development agenda, casino issues figured very strongly in interviews with IDA new board members, other recent public discussions, and recent new funding appropriations. Why is this the case?

In the 2004 – 2005 public discussion about casinos, the leading public safety officials, prominent health officials and active citizens indicated a variety of reasons why the net impacts of casinos would be negative. In the major study of the County Planning Department, the 20/20 Plan, Sullivan County business owners ranked casinos far below any other form of economic development.

52% of revenue from casino gambling comes from problem or addicted gamblers. In our area, that means 4% of our neighbors which amounts to 1400-1500 of us, are expected to succumb to a life that is personally devastating and will cost millions to our communities. The current $266/capita adult cost will explode in our area.

There is an insoluble conflict of interest between sincere and effective efforts to eradicate problem gambling and the predatory nature of casino operations. Effective gambling addiction prevention programs would deny the essential base for casino operator profitability and local government the revenue it needs to cope with gambling impacts, let alone fund other necessary public programs. Few local businesses will benefit but all of us will pay for the unfunded impacts and loss to personal lives.

There is no extra funding for a program to recruit new farmers to grow the food all of the expected new visitors to our area require. Nor is there extra funding to assist the formation of energy efficiency and renewable energy enterprise. Both are industries consistent with the traditional and the new standards and cultures of economic development in our area. Both contribute substantially to all of the other industries of the local economy and have proven market demand. Both are subject to local ownership at low start-up cost, despite many reports to the contrary. Both are business and job opportunities for local people and possess the incomparable benefit of local economic multiplier at the highest rate. One of these industries is all about improving our health as well as saving and making substantial profits. The other is all about finally making the essential commitment to saving natural resources and providing a future for our children and their children.

So far, there is scant commitment to develop these core industries of a future that works for all or to have a more full accounting of the net impacts of each of the economic project that is currently under consideration in Sullivan County.

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