Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Grasping the Big Opportunity

I try to keep up with towns that I’ve toured through Google Alerts and recently Aberdeen, SD (population 24,658) has been generating a lot of news because of a proposed beef packing plant. I was in Aberdeen last September and was very impressed with what was going on in the town.

I decided to weigh in on this project and proposed TIF with a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. My letter was rejected for being too wordy for their 250 word limit (not the first time I’ve been accused of being wordy—nor probably the last!) and their op-ed section was already spoken for. The newspaper did, however, interview me for one of the many stories they are doing on the issue.

Voters will decide the issue next Tuesday, April 24th. I hope that they make a wise decision. Here is the letter I wrote.

Dear Editor:

I have spent the last 20 years of my life trying to recruit manufacturing
businesses into towns like Aberdeen all over the USA. In that job I’ve seen towns that have excelled and others that have floundered, which led me to research and write the book BoomtownUSA: The 7 ½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns. I researched 15,800 towns, identifying 397 special places in 45 states that I felt had outstanding potential. Aberdeen was one of those 397.

In the past three years since publishing my book, I’ve visited and toured over 250 towns in 42 states. One of those trips was to Aberdeen last September. My research findings about Aberdeen were reinforced when I visited and met many passionate people interested in the economic well being for their town and creating opportunities for their children and grandchildren. More than one expressed concern about developing the types of opportunities and jobs that would entice their children and grandchildren back home to Aberdeen.

I have found that communities have perhaps six to ten really big opportunities over the seventy or eighty year life of a normal citizen. Some communities take advantage of those opportunities and others let the opportunity slip through their fingers.

I feel that Aberdeen is facing such an opportunity today. I have followed the debate from afar over the internet and although I don’t have a “dog in this fight” and am a completely independent outside observer, decided to weigh in because of the very unique and momentous chance that I feel you have to create not only new jobs but also new satellite businesses around the proposed new beef packing plant.

The American Farmland Trust has done detailed studies on over 100 rural communities scattered all over the country. What they found is that for every $1.00 paid in property taxes, industries like Northern Beef Packers only get back $0.27 in the way of services from the community. Residents, on the other hand, get back $1.17 for every dollar that they pay in property taxes. That is why towns are so anxious to bring in companies like Northern Beef Packers.

If Aberdeen votes against the proposed new TIF district for this plant, my guess is that Northern Beef Packers will move onto another town and Aberdeen will lose a very unique opportunity to capture additional tax revenue and grow its economy. But more importantly many good paying jobs will move onto that other community. If the new TIF is passed, a portion of the property taxes from the new plant will be invested into the community in the form of infrastructure, a win-win for both Aberdeen and Northern Beef Packers.

Aberdeen is at a crossroads in its history, one of those very unique opportunities that few towns have. Will you as a community vote for growth and progress or will you turn your back on your kids and grandchildren?

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