The Christmas list of economic development organizations

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January 8, 2009 Editorial update - President-elect Obama today promised that the stimulus package won't involve a "slew" of new federal spending programs, and insisted that it would be free of earmarks for dubious pork projects, with a new focus on transparency and monitoring of the actual economic impact in terms of job creation and other policy objectives. We'll see.

Meanwhile, the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) sent out a broadcast urging all members to support their lobbying efforts by faxing a suggested form letter to all members of Congress about the importance of their own favored initiatives, such as ideas expressed in "The Power of Place" presentation last October about creating "American Innovation Zones". This is just the tip of the iceberg as every special interest group in Washington updates their lobbying pitch to show how essential it is to stimulate their favored programs.

We don't dispute that research parks are useful, as are many other types of local development initiatives.

Given unlimited resources, there are lots of good ideas which might seem to be worthy of funding, tax breaks, and governmental intervention in other ways, but resources are limited and good intentions are not sufficient to achieve cost-effective results.

December 20, 2008 - Is there a Santa Claus? In economic development, there seems to be a growing belief that the Obama transition team is the next best thing. Those who will shape a new "stimulus" plan are already being lobbied urgently for a long wish list of goodies, including many old ideas which have relatively little to do with early recovery from this latest recession.

Many are programs which have unsuccessfully sought more funding for years. This is a windfall opportunity to repackage them politically as a solution for the recession or at least as a higher priority for government funding. There isn't very clear evidence of their economic impact, track record of success, or good metrics and accountability for achieving the desired results. It is largely a matter of faith that these are all good ideas which are worthy of more federal funding. Some ideas are clearly intended to go on forever at higher funding levels - not just temporarily.

Even a very spoiled child would probably hesitate to send such an ambitious wish list to Santa.

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This announcement was received from IEDC, along with an exhortation for all members to lobby their elected officials and contacts in support of such recommendations:

"On December 16, 2008 IEDC and a team of economic development leaders from across the country were invited to meet with President-elect Barack Obama's Treasury Transition Team in Washington, D.C. to provide recommendations for the new Administration's economic stimulus package. Participating organizations included: the Association of Defense Communities (ADC), the California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED), the Council on Competitiveness, the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA), the International Downtown Association (IDA), the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO), and the National Association of Development Companies (NADCO). The recommendations they provided are essential to shaping a viable economic stimulus package to lift the nation out of the economic crisis and meet long-term needs for sustainable development. These documents include summaries of the recommendations as well as the full papers of each organization. "

The full list of stimulus requests from the economic development organizations is available at

Without being too cynical about it, the recommendations of the various organizations can largely be summarized as seeking more stimulus for their own programs and favored initiatives. This is the nature of bureaucratic organizations and lobbying groups, so most of it is very predictable.
Another unsurprising aspect of the recommendations is that they don't anticipate the elimination or reduction of any ineffective programs. It is assumed that everything should continue, despite the economic situation, and that the solution is to have more stimulus spending and even larger programs on an ongoing basis, including permanent changes rather than just temporary ones.
Of course, businesses are expected to urgently make whatever cuts are necessary to survive a recession. Tough choices have to be made about priorities, and what simply cannot be afforded at this time even though it may have seemed to be a good idea previously. It is simply assumed, however, that all governmental and social programs are untouchable and essential.

There will certainly be dire budget cuts in many economic development organizations, as is typical of recessions, but there is no talk of that in the lobbying effort. Like the automotive CEOs who flew into Washington with their hands out, there is no clear and cohesive, viable plan.

The focus is just on getting as much federal money and influence as possible out of the current economic crisis, as though the stimulus plans were a windfall opportunity to grow their access to federal government revenues as if there were no economic or social cost to doing so. As state and local resources shrink, the federal government becomes the honey pot of endless money.

This is how the Great Depression was prolonged, and greatly expanded the scale and powers of the federal government bureaucracy through control over state and local initiatives which could be rationalized at the time by people with good intentions. Be careful what you wish for.

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