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  • Last modified 16 days ago (Nov. 29, 2018)

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Bidding farewell to a turkey of an idea

Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. We’d just as soon forget these made-up names for assaults on charge cards’ credit limits and concentrate instead on a post-Thanksgiving day for which we all can be truly thankful: End of Leftovers Day.

As wonderful as last Thursday’s feast was, even turkey and all the trimmings eventually wear out their welcome. Warmed-over leftovers followed by cold turkey sandwiches followed by turkey tetrazzini followed by turkey soup brings new appreciation for the lowly hamburger and bratwurst. At least we didn’t extend all the way to turkey sausage in my household.

We do, however, seem to be getting dangerously near that point with a more serious and important effort. Much as we appreciate the originally tireless work by dozens of once-eager volunteers who wanted to help Marion County develop economically, it’s time to thank them for their efforts and empty the area’s Tupperware of the last vestiges of Marion County Community Economic Development Corporation.

Now is not the time to come to the aid of this particular party. Now is the time to come up with new ideas for development that aren’t nearly as hard to swallow as the leftovers from our initial attempts have proved to be.

Whatever government money hasn’t already been fricasseed away in rent, fees, and secretarial salaries needs to be returned, and a new menu of options created lest the leftovers of past government contributions end up paying for some anonymous future appointee’s camper trailer.

This time we need to start with a plan more thoughtful than luring the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson to a fictional ball field carved out of an Iowa cornfield. If you hire someone to ask, businesses won’t necessarily come. There’s a lot more to it than that.

Economic development is a long game, the true results of which we might not see for decades or generations. Yet it permeates virtually everything we do.

It includes education to create a skilled work force, transportation to ease the way for people and goods to make their journey to and from here, and cultural awareness that focuses on such things as demolishing meth houses-in-waiting, replacing trees on residential rights of way, and preserving historic buildings rather than abandoning them in favor of modern sheds.

It means making Marion County a place where people who don’t already live here will want to live and work — and maybe, just maybe, move their businesses here.

Our fatally flawed development corporation gave short shrift to tourism, choosing instead to emphasize organizational charts and contradictory promises to divided governmental groups.

But tourism is vital, and it means much more than just encouraging people to come to various events and weekend opportunities. It means making sure there’s plenty to do on a continuing basis whenever people visit. That means more unique shops and more unique restaurants that can serve more than just fast food and blue-plate-specials — and that are open when people want them, not at obscure times that are hard to predict.

We need regular events, not just once-a-year mega-festivals — the types of events that used to be scheduled by local chambers of commerce before Marion’s folded for reasons that still aren’t clear to many of the businesses that belonged.

We at the paper try to do our part. During the holiday season, we now organize contests and publicize events, doing what the local chamber used to do.

Despite numerous opportunities to do otherwise, we never go outside the county to solicit ads from competitors to local businesses. We’ve existed for 150 years as a newspaper devoted to this county — not for 20 years as a newspaper that attempts to make this county a target for businesses based in nearby larger counties, which it appears to care more about.

Yet some in our community would rather contribute columns to and buy ads from our competitor because we also have the audacity to report the news, even when powers-that-be would prefer to cover things up. But that’s another story for another time.

The first item on any menu to replace the failed economic development corporation must be something other than yet more governmental intrigue — a grassroots effort to create a countywide association of businesses and institutions that supports development and tourism, broadly defined.

Perhaps it will be a larger group, to which members of organizations like Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce automatically would belong. Perhaps it will be something else. Perhaps there will be no consensus at all, in which case one bold project undertaken by the county might accomplish more than another round of bickering and resignations.

If we’re looking for a bold project to jumpstart the economy — something akin to the nation’s 1960s landing on the moon — how about using government borrowing to construct a showcase restaurant, lodging, and entertainment complex along the southeast shore of the county lake, then renting it out to various long-term operators?

Or perhaps you have a better idea than our equivalent of the moon shot. We’ll happily turn over a portion of this page to guest columns offering positive ideas for how to improve Marion County’s economic future.

That puts the ball squarely in your court, dear reader. Serve up your best ideas. We’ll publicize them.

But if it turns out that we, as a community, don’t have any ideas, perhaps it’s time to save all the money and angst devoted to development and just be satisfied with gradually fading away into the orbit of those other communities we avoid taking ads from.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Nov. 29, 2018

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