Ec. Dev.: Your tax dollars against you - Denny Scott editorial
Economic development can be a very important part of making a community succeed when it comes to attracting and retaining new development, ranging from residential to commercial to industrial projects. Economic development can also hamstring local businesses by trying to replace what they do for free.
Don’t believe me? Look at Huron County’s economic development team and their new “Christmas Wish Book” project that aims to put local products in an online catalogue in an effort to retain local customers.
Does that sound like a great idea? Well it should. The county’s economic development professionals blatantly ripped it off. You’re currently reading The Citizen, either online or in paper format, and that kind of advertising is exactly what newspaper businesses do every year for Christmas: we encourage local businesses to advertise what they’re selling and put it directly in front of local readers through our print and online presences and in front of a wider audience with our website and social media tie-ins.
Economic development professionals have been a burr under my saddle since I started at The Citizen. I showed up on a Wednesday, if memory serves, and, on the Friday, I checked my company-provided e-mail for the first time (which had previously been used by Editor Shawn Loughlin when he was in my place).
One of the first e-mails I saw was sent out by North Huron’s Economic Development Officer. It was, and I’m not exaggerating at all here as I may be prone to do in this space, a tax-funded attempt to rip money away from local newspapers and other media.
The e-mail allowed local businesses and restaurants to advertise specials they had going on over the weekend for free. It was put together by a North Huron staff member, meaning that the tax dollars paid to North Huron were being used to steal business away from some of the very same people paying said tax dollars.
That practice still goes on. Every Friday, because once upon a time I attended an event in Central Huron and made the mistake of putting my e-mail address down, I receive an e-mail called “What’s Happening in Central Huron” where upcoming events are advertised, for free, instead of, you know, supporting local businesses which, in turn, employ local people who then buy locally.
Print media isn’t an easy industry to be in. We’re constantly seeing our hard work co-opted by other forms of media which seem to attract more advertising opportunities. That, however, is a reality of our world. That’s a challenge we can face by producing a better editorial product than the next guy.
Fighting against our own tax dollars though, is a difficult proposition. No matter how hard we fight to attract advertisements, we’ll never be able to have, in the case of Huron County, an entire tax-funded department that can offer free, or next-to-free advertising by subsidizing it with tax dollars.
Good economic development professionals and departments find new and innovative ways to attract people to their communities. Those projects often include local media as a way of telling the story and advertising naturally follows.
Poor economic development professionals and departments take something someone else is doing and find a way to claim it for themselves through government funding, be that grants or literally being employed by a municipality or county. Unfortunately, because everyone seems to want to fall over themselves fawning over these modern day Emperor’s New Clothes-style professionals, those kinds of people can continue to fail upwards.
Heck, we’re even fighting the Huron County Library now which is putting out calendars advertising events that aren’t even hosted by local library branches.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that people don’t need to know what’s going on in their communities. I’m saying that there is already an inexpensive, established way to reach out to your communities. More than that, we offer it alongside a lot of critical local news, important local events and photos of everything from Christmas concerts to parades. It’s the whole package.
That’s what these economic development professionals can’t match, and everyone should remember that if they’re asked to participate in this program. Projects like Huron County’s Christmas Wish Book initiative are doomed to obscurity because you need a reason for people to check it out and sharing it to Facebook and Twitter isn’t going to do that. In a newspaper or on the television or over the airwaves on the radio, the advertisements are part of something bigger that draws people in.
So local advertisers, when it comes time to figure out what you or your local business associations are going to do to advertise Christmas this year, think it through. Would you rather pay your local newspaper, which in turn will tell your tale when you have anniversaries or open new businesses and employ local people to shop at your stores, or would you rather pour funding into an organization you already pay through your taxes? From my seat in the den, it’s not a hard choice to make.