A trucker came into a truck stop cafe and placed his order. He said, “I want three flat tires, a pair of headlights and a pair of running boards.”
The brand new waitress, not wanting to appear stupid, went to the kitchen and said to the cook, “This guy out there just ordered three flat tires, a pair of headlights and a pair of running boards. What does he think this place is, an auto parts store?”
“No,” the cook said. “Three flat tires mean three pancakes, a pair of headlights is two eggs sunny side up, and running boards are 2 slices of crisp bacon.”
“Oh, OK!” said the blonde. She thought about it for a moment and then spooned up a bowl of beans and gave it to the customer.
The trucker asked, “What are the beans for, Blondie?”
She replied, “I thought while you were waiting for the flat tires, headlights and running boards, you might as well gas up!”
Alright Heath, what do silly diner stories have to do with our economy? Nothing, I just liked the joke. On to economic development – I have been hearing people suggesting “Heath we need (fill in the blank) in town or we need (fill in the blank) – why don’t you get on that.”
There is an old adage that says, “A fine appearance is a poor substitute for inward worth”. In terms of economic growth “true” economic growth is not the external things we see on the street (at least not at the start). We must dig to the root of economic growth.
Everyone that looks at our empty buildings downtown quickly reasons: “We need to simply bring in more businesses to fill all the empty buildings”. Full buildings will indeed look great and everyone will feel great, but the bottom line – if we invest in things that only make us feel good but do not solve the true problem, then our fate is bleak.
We need to dig deeper and ask the right question. Why did the businesses shut down in the first place? The economic law of supply and demand tells us that they are closed because of a lack of customers buying the products or services provided.
The answer to solving our declining downtowns is to create JOBS that create PAYCHECKS for the residents of our county. It is the paychecks that will, in turn, enable people to become the all-important customers that will shop at the retail stores we have (and the additional shops that will come).
So how do we create more paychecks? At the most basic level it is done by people stepping out and starting businesses (Iowa Premium Beef) – or growing their existing businesses. They grow that business – and employ people to service the customers – creating paychecks. Paychecks = full buildings downtown.
The bottom line is if we invest our time and effort in the appearance that makes us feel good but doesn’t create commerce, then our fate is hopeless; but if we take the time to grow paychecks Tama County will not only look good but it will actually be a prosperous place to live.