Labor Day 2011 in Tucson was a blend of old fashioned games and old fashioned politics.
As a volunteer with the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) booth, my job was to work the crowd and attach as many “Healthcare not Warfare” stickers to as many people as possible. This task afforded me the opportunity to engage in multiple conversations about universal healthcare, ending US military adventurism, and other political issues with dozens of people during the course of the day.
Two of the more extended and spirited discussions I had on Labor Day were with Republican City Council candidate Jennifer Rawson and Republican Mayoral candidate Rick Grinnell. (I’m not sure if they were tag-teaming at the Labor Day event, but they passed by the PDA and Connect the Dots booths one right after another. Little did they know what they were stepping into.)
Rawson wandered by first, then Grinnell. They both accepted my “Healthcare not Warfare” stickers, and began to tell me who they were; but, of course, I already knew. I started my conversations with both of them with the same question:
If you are elected as a City Council person [or Mayor], how would you reduce the poverty rate in Tucson?
“Create jobs!” Rawson responded enthusiastically.
“How?” I asked.
At this juncture, Rawson shifted the topic from jobs and poverty to a story about a small business owner who received a bill for $5000 from the city for a light pole erected on her property. Boo hoo for the business owner was Rawson’s message. Of course, she didn’t offer anybackground information on this story– such as whether or not the small business owner has asked the city to erect the light pole on her property. Details, details. Instead she went off on the city and the fees…yada, yada, yada.
“Fix city government. It’s full of corruption. We really need to clean house!” was Grinnel’s answer to the poverty problem. (Well that didn’t answer my question at all. Ironically, when I checked Grinnell’s website today, I realized that he is on the Rio Nuevo Board… hmmm… city corruption… pot calling the kettle black?)
“So, do you want to know my ideas for creating jobs in Pima County?” I asked them both. Not allowing either of them to answer my rhetorical question, I launched into my ideas. I told them both that the Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (better known as TREO) and the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau (MTCVB) were a waste of money because they have been ineffective in their strategies to boost the Tucson economy or create jobs. Here is what I told them…
TREO’s tactic– also employed by economic development groups in dozens of cities– is to chase large corporations and sports teams with tax breaks, free land, and taxpayer-funded facilities (ie, ball parks, industrial parks, convention centers, etc.) This strategy benefits businesses, for sure, but it is was not producing long-term, good jobs in Tucson (remember IBM? remember Wiser Lock? remember spring training?)– or anywhere else– because these companies and sports teams are not loyal to the location. They are just looking for the best deal, and the cities and politicians are so desperate to look successful at job creation that they break the bank with the deals they offer. (I didn’t realize when I was dissing chasing sports teams that Grinnell used to do just that!)
The way to grow jobs– and help small businesses– in Tucson isn’t to give tax breaks to relocating corporations or to excuse fees levied on existing business; it’s to invest in businesses that are “born and raised” in Tucson — like Gadabout, Bohemia, Patio Pools, Technicians for Sustainability, Nimbus Brewery, Thunder Canyon Brewery, eegees, etc. Instead of spending $1 million to bring in another call center or baseball team, why not offer 50 – 100 individual $10-20,000 low-cost loans or grants to different local businesses with innovative ideas or well-crafted business expansion plans? (I’m talking real plans– not just “Hey, if we give you a $5000 tax credit, could you maybe hire someone someday?”)
With a $20,000 investment, would Gadabout start a skin care line? Would Nimbus or Thunder Canyon improve expand distribution to other states or start a spin-off business? Would Technicians for Sustainability start manufacturing their own line of solar shingles? Would Bohemia start marketing local art on the Internet or open another store or reduce their consignment fee (thus helping local artists make more money)? Who knows? At any rate, investment– not giveaways– will grow businesses (and jobs) because it fosters innovation and expansion– not just increased profits for the business owner.
After promoting Local First and trashing TREO’s ineffective strategies, I moved on to MTCVB. Tucson has a vibrant arts and music scene. Our musicians and artists are every bit as talented as Austin’s or New Orleans’. Tucson also has great musical events– the blues festival, the folk festival, Club Crawl, HoCo Fest, just to name a few– and local music in clubs nightly, but you won’t learn about any of these attractions on the MTCVB website. It’s all mariachis, golf, swanky resorts, rodeo, baseball(?), the Gem Show, cacti, and sunsets. On the MTCVB website, the only art represented is David Dominguez Gallery, Tohono Chul Park, the Tucson Museum of Art, and the Open Studio Tour. Huh? No mention of Dinnerware, Raices, the warehouse district galleries, or the Central Tucson Gallery Association. MCTVB is promoting business– not Tucson and Tucson’s cultural, artistic, and musical assets.
TREO and MTCVB should be de-funded, and their missions and tactics re-tooled. Their strategies are not working; it’s time to think forward.
What is our shared vision for Tucson and how do we realize it? Grinnell and Rawson offered me canned Republican answers to my sincere question about jobs and poverty. Is continued Democratic Party rule the answer? I’m not so sure about that; the Democrats have perpetuated the inept policies of TREO/MTCVB. Stay tuned for more…