The world has been dramatically changed by the economic challenges of the past two years. Guest columnist Cary Bozeman argues that the best thing to do to improve the economy and restore voter trust is to make job creation the No. 1 priority.
THE new economic normal has arrived and will be with us for a while, but many of the leaders in our communities either deny it or believe that someday soon things will magically return to the great days of yesteryear.
Sorry folks, won’t happen, get used to it, because without real institutional change in our world of economic and job-development practices, this recession will continue, services will continue to be cut beyond what they are today and our quality of life, once envied by people all over the world, will no longer exist for future generations in our state and in our country.
So what happened? In my mind, three things have changed the economic world we live in:
• First, grossly overvalued real estate, which fueled our economy for the past 30 years, is now a thing of the past. Refinancing real estate, which became the people’s ATM, is no longer available to the average homeowner who used the money to buy things, take vacations and fuel the economy.
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That’s all gone, and in many ways this is a good thing. People must now learn to live within their means and create savings rather than debt, as well as live in homes they can afford. Not everyone needs a walk-in closet, a three-car garage or five credit cards.
• Second, government’s ability to tax people for money needed to repair and build social and capital infrastructure has been taken away by the initiative process and people’s loss of trust in government.
The people’s loss of trust in their government has put severe limits on government’s ability to tax people for even critical services such as health care, education and even public safety. I don’t see this situation changing in the near future as movements such as the tea party gain political clout. Only with courageous public leadership will the people someday gain back confidence in government.
• Third, the economic-development systems that historically have had the mission to attract and grow jobs, for the most part, no longer work.
I am not sure they ever worked very well. In our own region the economy has been fueled by Boeing, Microsoft and a first-class education system. There are many organizations that purport to grow the economy and attract jobs that were created in the ’70s for a regional and national economy. Today they are, for the most part, mired in systems from the past, and are not at all comfortable with the idea that real change such as collaboration and even in some cases consolidation will be required of these institutions and organizations.
These economic organizations both private and public, for the most part, are no longer competitive in a global marketplace. They have neither the knowledge, the information, nor the resources to compete for business or jobs with other states or other countries.
So what is the answer?
In 1950, we as a country decided to cure polio. Now the economy is the national epidemic and must be cured. It must be our No. 1 priority. Nothing is more important than a job — it is what sustains a capitalist society. So let’s apply the resources and the intellect required to cure this ill and let’s do it now.
Who will step forward to lead this effort to restore our own state economy? In the 1970s, Jim Ellis lead the effort to clean up Lake Washington and created the King County Metro System; Bill Gates created Microsoft and changed the world; and Jeff Bezos decided that books could be purchased over the Internet.
The talent is available to lead this effort, but only when we as a state commit to job creation as our No. 1 priority and back that commitment up with a willingness to change our strategy and commit the resources needed to create and attract good paying jobs.
Cary Bozeman is the CEO of the Port of Bremerton and the former mayor of Bremerton and Bellevue.