Local officials must convince
public of Germany trip’s value
It’s 4,300 miles from Anderson to Hannover, Germany. That’s nine hours by jet, not including layovers.
It’s a long way to go for Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith, Anderson Economic Development Director Greg Winkler and Madison County Corporation for Economic Development Director Rob Sparks.
Smith estimates that this week’s trip to Hannover will cost $14,000, which will be drawn from local food-and-beverage tax funds.
That’s not a lot of money, relative to other government spending. But taxpayers guard their contributions jealously in these days of economic hardship. And, besides, it’s a big investment of time on the part of three local officials who have important jobs to do here at home.
The Anderson contingent is attending the Hannover Messe, billed as the world’s largest industrial trades show. More importantly, the local team is there, according to Smith, to further discussions with seven international companies that might be interested in doing business with Anderson and Madison County. Winkler says the companies represent high-value manufacturing operations.
The idea, of course, is to land more investment and jobs for the city and the county. Such development should be the No. 1 goal of local officials. More than anything else, the Madison County area needs more good jobs.
But it’s easy to understand public cynicism regarding such trips by local officials. There have been too many stories circulate in markets across the country of taxpayer money blown on junkets for government officials.
Smith, Sparks and Winkler assure their constituents that this is no vacation. It’s a working trip, and the work is important, they say. The best way they can convince the community is to, as they say, bring home the bacon. Short of that, it’s up to the local contingent to communicate, with as much detail as possible, what they accomplished during the trip.
Now, it’s true that in most cases, economic development officials can’t divulge the details of their discussions and can’t name the companies without jeopardizing the trust that is so essential to closing a deal. But officials often use this reality as an excuse not to share any information at all. And that only fosters public cynicism.
The old axiom that you have to spend money to make money certainly applies to economic development. Officials must cast their nets wide in order to increase the chances of hauling in investment. In such an environment, an 8,600-mile trip can be anything ranging from a total waste of time to a decisive step toward bringing home jobs.
It’s up to local officials to convince the public that it is closer to the latter than the former.
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