Saturday, March 29, 2008

Framework Bifurcation

Tucson, Arizona. As I've posted, TREO is having a shin dig on Thursday to take credit for all economic development progress the community has made since "its inception." Jobs created and capital investment figures will be presented. They will skip the layoffs and closures. The University of Arizona, arguably the brightest light in the entire city, recently obtained a significant and substantial Bio 5 Grant. An anonymous commenter assures us TREO will take credit for this achievement.

In conversations regarding economic development, I have encountered two what appear to be completely opposite perspectives.

In one corner we have Economic Development Guy, a confident and knowledgeable professional in town who espouses the view that our lack of genuine progress in economic development (i.e. results that are not already going to happen anyway by virtue of being where we are) is intentional and designed with intent to serve those in influential positions. His perspective is that all is fine if you are in the right circles. The system works and produces the desired results for those who operate the controls. The Larrys and Jims and Dons and the rest enjoying the top of the mountain adeptly manage the affairs of the community for their own interests. I refer to this perspective as the Competent Controllers.

In the other corner, Cigar Man asserts the opposite view. From his perspective, our economic development efforts are run by inept morons. Progress proceeds in spite of, not because of, idiots incapable of producing any measurable results. The incompetent and arrogant buffoons bungle around and talk nonsense to each other as screw up after screw up occurs ad nauseam. I refer to his view as the Cloth Fest.

At some point we must shift from discussing the problem to considering solutions. Until then, who is right?

Competent Controllers:
1. The persistence of the clowns getting away with their antics
2. The lack of any press coverage of the antics and board incest
3. Swine stuffing at the trough with no accountability for results
4. Closure of the only source of subsidized customized training for employers
5. An economic development guru promoting the creative class visits Tucson
6. Economic Development individuals awarded credit for results they did not produce
7. Tucson employers continue to enjoy a cheap labor pool

Cloth Fest:
1. Losing the baseball teams.
2. The downtown building fiasco mentioned by commenter Travis
3. The atrophy of BusinessLINC
4. Closure of the only source of subsidized customized training for employers
5. Flying a con artist to Tucson to promote gay bohemians
6. The clowns brazenly claim credit for results they did not produce
7. Tucson employees continue to suffer in low paying jobs


Blogger Sirocco said...

I don't see the two frameworks as being mutually exclusive.

3/29/2008 10:33 AM  
Blogger Robish said...

I don't either (see the frameworks as mutually exclusive or incomatible).

What works for the elite, cementheads, self-described regional civic leaders, etc. is to keep things stable enough for them to work behind the scenes grabbing power, influence, control, market share, seats on important boards, awards from the Chamber of Commerce, and cashola.

If the regional economic development structure is inept, then it probably serves the elite's interest well because it doesn't create dynamic change in which entrepreneurs, newcomers, outsiders, out-of-towners, outside-the-clubbers, non-SALC members, etc. can succeed and thrive. The misnomer in TREO's name is "opportunities". The opportunities are there for the entrenched interests to grab, not for anyone else with energy, drive, determination, brains and skill.

The two perspectives complement one another well. Econ Guy didn't say the system worked great for the entire local community, only that it served those in control of it.

The fact that they cut out Goodwill, SAIAT, BusinessLinc, and don't do much of anything valuable hurts the average citizen whose taxes have to pay for it, not the Jims, Dons and Larrys. It hurts us all in jobs not recruited, jobs not retained, wages not raised, start-ups not started up, entrepreneurs not assisted, creative economies not created, spring training teams lost, urban renaissances not realized, etc.

3/29/2008 11:11 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Obviously Sirocco and Robish are spot on. Frameworks are not exclusive.

Jet Blue is pulling out of Tucson. TUSD is laying off teachers.

The second fastest growing state in the nation, and we are laying off teachers.

3/29/2008 12:01 PM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

I would bet x4mr knows a great deal about frameworks given his material on context in Something Else (Chapter 8, I believe).

Since he is working on a dissertation, I imagine the expression "theoretical framework" sends him quite "into a tizzy."

My view of local politics is very cynical. Do any of them have a brain? X4mr has spoken highly of Ray Carroll, and I trust x4mr's judgment. Perhaps with that exception, they all seem like idiots.

I think the administrators (especially Huckelberry) are totally corrupt, but that is an opinion. X4mr noted that at some point we need to consider what might be constructive. I can't even begin, but I do propose we continue to clarify and increase awareness.

Remember in Network, "First you've got to get mad. Go to the window, stick your head out, and yell I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!!"

3/29/2008 2:35 PM  
Blogger Robish said...

Ditto to navigator.

We need to grow this thing. Tell your friends and colleagues to check this site out. Some of them will be intrigued and become regular readers. Some of those will post and share their knowledge.

The self-appointed leaders who are at least monitoring this blog will come to realize that many eyes are watching. Smart people are comparing notes, connecting the dots. There will be no place to hide.

3/29/2008 2:48 PM  
Blogger Cigar Man said...

I would not take the position that Econ Development Guy is wrong except in the respect that he implies competence or a level of conscious design that I reject.

I don't believe a highly organized conspiracy exists. It is sloppier than that. Of course Diamond gets SWEET deals and inside scoop that allows him to profit handsomely. Of course there is rampant corruption.

I think the image of buffoons more or less manipulated is more accurate than well running machines like back east.

Econ is totally wrong if he thinks the city council destroyed SAIAT. It did not. Snell gets full bragging rights for that one. He had help butchering Augie.

A different cast of characters slew Herb, as Robish noted. As far as I know, TREO had no involvement with saddling the theater with crushing debt. How the Fox saga proceeds will prove interesting.

In terms of constructive dialog, good luck. Eliminating corruption and starting to address ethics would be a good first step. Snell stole $162,500 from other agencies, destroying one of them, just to put the money in his own account, and no one cares. His annual report brags about the theft as "improved financial performance." TREO pocketed cash by only spending 82% of its budget. How? Screwing other agencies out of money the budget called for them to get.

Everyone knows what he did, and no one says a thing except this blog.

What does that say about our system?

3/30/2008 11:30 AM  
Blogger Robish said...

Cigar Man is right. We have a chaotic form of corruption here, nothing organized enough to constitute a conspiracy. Incompetence in public administration favors those already entrenched with influence and resources. If government was competent in facilitating the allocation of resources and applying policy fairly, then entrepreneurs would stand a chance, thus threatening the Club. Entrepreneurs are turned off, go elsewhere, but the Diamonds and others who are expert at manipulating the system, linger, and clean up.

Jim Nintzel in the Weekly mentioned Herb's situation in his The Skinny column, and closed it by saying that it was his guess that Rich Singer would take over management of the theater.

What he did not mention was that Singer is a member of the Fox's board, and in all likelihood was behind the firing. Just a little conflict of interest there.

At least one of the daily newspapers pointed out that Singer's on the foundation board, but then let him skate on his plan to take over, by quoting him as saying he doesn't discuss personnel matters. The Tucson Weekly speculates as to what is really happening but then fails to make the conflict of interest connection.

We need to have the media put all the pieces together and tell the full story. Over and over again. Just once in a while would be helpful.

3/30/2008 2:36 PM  
Blogger Travis said...

What bugs me… especially when we’re talking in x4mr’s latest posted about the dumbing down of America… is how we collectively tolerate the bad leadership happening around us at the local level.

I don’t perceive that there’s any sort of conspiracy within the “ranks that be” (referring to Tucson leadership, including politicians, appointed jobs, the economic development crew, and even those referred to as “power players”). Also, we have to note that the “ranks that be” is fairly fluid. Some players are more powerful in some areas and not others. The cast of characters changes with elections, job changes, and other horizons. And, though they are influential, they are by no means a single force or all on the same songsheet.

From having followed the blog for a while, I’m able to see that many of x4mr’s readers are quite intelligent… and at least two I’ve been able to identify are actually part of or connected directly to the “ranks that be”.

The truth is, anyone here could go be a part of the “ranks that be”. It takes a bit to make all the connections… but anyone here could go down and offer to help as a volunteer w/ TREO or any number of projects connected with the city or county… First they ask you to be part of a committee… you work your way up to committee chair. Play your cards right and you can eventually get asked to serve on a board. Might be with the symphony or the zoological society or a downtown development group (does Rio Nuevo exist anymore?). Money certainly lubricates (though proverbially silver-spooned, Glassman still had to build friends/fans/supporters), but, by nature, it’s political. You make your connections, do your favors, build a circle of friends/fans/supporters, you show effectiveness, and you get there.

But, truth other truth is, anyone here could have a “bowflex body”, too. You eat right, exercise (it’s not 20 minutes, but an hour a day), and it just happens. But we get lazy and distracted and it doesn’t happen. It’s not our focus. Easier in theory and actual practice… because we’re human and don’t have the motivation to achieve it. Life gets in the way.

Let’s look at someone who always gets made the pariah… like a Don Diamond or a Don Bourn or (to a lesser extent) Don Pitt. The Dons. They’re able to work the system NOT because of a conspiracy… but because they’ve had lots of practice and have a body of experience in how to do so. It’s to their advantage. It’s smart business. And they dedicate an army of consultants, lobbyists, attorneys, PR flacks, etc. to get this done. And even THEY get screwed in the process sometimes. But, because they’ve figured out how to make it work, it looks like there’s a conspiracy from the outside. This is especially true when we blanked label a group like this… instead of parsing down to what’s really going on. We give up the ability to make a difference… or work the system to our own advantage… in favor of a label and the ability to not have to think beyond that.

This is part of what makes x4mr’s blog interesting… he’s digging down. Economic development is a mess in Tucson for a number of reasons… and a group like TREO really has little effect on those reasons except to talk about them a lot. What do you need to be effective in this arena?

First, you need sharp, tough, and motivated entrepreneurs (who are also lucky). TREO can’t do anything about that. They are patently NOT entrepreneurs. They’re politicians. Entrepreneurs are weird birds… tend to be antisocial (they’re inventing stuff the rest of the world generally thinks is stupid until they suddenly make a pile of money… then it’s genius). In fact, I would hazard that TREO would pretty much drive off a real entrepreneur. Someone like Bob Breault was an entrepreneur… but he’s on the other side of the success curve where you become a dignitary. TREO has lots of those. Many of them also think that because they made one business go, they're genius about all of them.

Bob also knows how to work the system to his advantage (make no mistake, I admire this and Bob works very hard on Tucson’s behalf). Like many involved with economic development, all the trips he goes on market Tucson AND himself. Smart. Click, Finley, the Dons… they also gain business advantage by working participating in these arenas. This doesn’t at all dismiss what they do for Tucson. I mention these folks in particular because they do a phenomenal amount for our city. But that participation is ALSO why they do so well at business.

Lots of educators participate in this blog… did you know Finley was a teacher and school principal before she took over her husband’s distribution business upon his death? She’s an incredible supporter of anything education. (She was also a huge influence on one of x4mr’s favorite congresswomen deciding to run for that office…)

Click puts a tremendous amount of money and resources into all kinds of causes, especially helping train the disabled for jobs (and employing them). (Though I don’t know for sure whether he puts money into the Goodwill effort x4mr mentioned… he basically created his own foundation to do similar work.)

I’ve already mentioned that some of the Dons are putting money-where-mouth-is in helping get downtown to take off. That’s not just ‘cause they could make some money at it. That money might actually do better somewhere else… but they actually cared about seeing downtown take off. Once cheered, now they’re used as convenient political skeet.

(As a note, I don’t have anything to do with commercial real estate in Tucson. In fact, I’m pretty unpopular with at least one of the Dons. Something to do with his wife.)

Second, to attract business, you need a favorable combination of tax advantages and available workforce. This is where Tucson struggles… and, though the TREO staff, board, and advocates would tell you all about this, they’ve been really ineffective at doing anything about it. I think that has a lot to do with the frustration with the situation. It’s all so mired in politics, bad decisions, and churn that it does nothing… which results in “cloth talk” and glossiness… but not much changes. Look at the TREO board… virtually the same crowd for 20 years (GTEC being TREO’s predecessor). You know the adage about insanity being doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results…

Talk to anyone who develops or brokers commercial property in Tucson… they’re the first line in bringing a company in. (Buildings being are first thing they need.) Some of them sit on TREO’s and other related boards… which is supposed to help them see what might be coming. But nine times out of ten, as a regular part of their business, they see it before TREO does. They bust their asses to gather data and tour properties for the scouts for these businesses. And they hear back all the time… we found a better tax situation elsewhere… and you just don’t have the workforce we need.

BTW, these folks will also be the first to groan and roll their eyes at TREO’s taking credit where they really did nothing. Did you know that TREO has kept the terrorists away since 9/11?

Also BTW, Tucson’s transportation issues are another factor named by company scouts on a regular basis. This includes a dearth of direct flights to major markets… and the Tucson Airport Authority really can’t do all that much about it. It’s chicken-egg. Airlines can’t afford to put flights in until there’s enough traffic to support it (and we have a top-10 airport just 90 minutes up the road). You can’t get the traffic until you have the flights…

As for workforce, another chicken-egg. Look at where graduates go for jobs after finishing at the UofA… undergrads and higher. To one stay in Tucson as other than a restaurant manager is surprising. Some try and tire of the crap that’s expected of them for half the pay of a larger market (where there also happens to be more of a social life, another major factor in their decision). There’s just not that much here for them. (And I’ll counter on the call-center thing… a lot of the reason call centers were based in Tucson was that the area is geologically and weather intert… no earthquakes or hurricanes to knock out your customer service line.) To have a qualified workforce you have to have a qualified company to keep them around. How do we jettison the fops and actually do something here?

So, my question is… how do we develop better leadership in Tucson that can take these issues on with some effectiveness? (And how do we do this without driving out the real leaders we DO have… unfortunately, leaders and fops don’t separate quite as easily as oil and water. The fops attach with leech-like jaws.) And that’s the hard part… some of this change takes a lot of time and sacrifice. A lot of the talk masks this. A lot of the talk is excused because it feels like we’re doing something when progress is glacial.

There’s some smart discussion happening on this blog. There are a number of individuals among those ranks (the good leaders) who will read this post and go, “Yeah, tell me about it… !” Who can we identify and encourage as good leaders? (That’s harder than complaining about things.) A lot of real leadership gets drowned out in the bullshit and drama of politics. A lot of real leaders (The Fox’s Herbie being an example) get tired of public positions. They get torn down, burned out at having to battle so hard to really lead. They can make a lot more money applying the same talents private position… and still have time for life.

Who can we pinpoint as a real leader? Who can we pinpoint as a fop… and run out of town (or at least push out to a job where they’re not in our way)? And an even bigger challenge, who from this discussion is willing to step forward to take action and be counted among those leaders? Who’s already doing that?

3/31/2008 12:44 PM  

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