It’s the Local Economy Stupid!

It’s the Local Economy Stupid!

“The 19th century was a century of empires, the 20th century was a century of nation states. The 21st century will be a century of cities.” – Wellington E. Web, former Denver mayor.

Urbanization, with a measure of devolution by federal government and the increasing global impact of local municipalities, are putting cities in the high position of preserving democracy, holding increasing political power, and for our discussion today, powering the economy.

In the mid-nineties, more than 80% of economic advances were driven by cities and metro economies – including holding more than 80% of employment. It became clear that cities were, after all, going to be the bailiwicks of cash, progress and power for the 21st century.

Even with the Great Recession, growth – where it is happening – is only happening where the policies of cities are daring, sound and backed by inspiring leadership. The leaders of our cities are, quite measurably, on track to leading the world.

There is dissent, to be sure. Debate makes for a solid democracy which also grows the economy. But there’s a lot of petty rivalry and platitude whirling in Cincinnati again.

A spate of recent op-eds, full of attacks and rhetoric, proves this. And the string of authors runs the gamut in party affiliations. We are all guilty.

Our leaders – elected, appointed and de facto – speaking in buzz words like “vision”, “progress”, “more jobs”, “change”,  must start offering solutions in their pieces, energy in their remarks and relationship building in their outreach. The divisiveness creates a stall. Don’t blindly believe me. Measure it. Compare with cities on the move. If you want something new, you have to do something new.

Wailing about poverty, pleading for help with the heroin plague and complaining about housing fails our city. I know. In my work fighting addiction, I realized early on, really, that nobody cares. Until I made it about them. Poverty? Eyes glaze over – unless they are the one in a food line. Calling out the Mayor and other leaders – it can be indulging, and I’ve imbibed, too – but doesn’t it leave us walking away with the ick of dissatisfaction and hopelessness because we haven’t taken any real action? Nothing changed. We only threw an adult, political temper tantrum.

Fine. If we have to kvetch about the Hand Up Initiative, we are also responsible to list real solutions. Seelbach took some action here. We must energize the reader by showing them how poverty and addiction does impact their wallet and quality of life. We must labor for a unity, putting aside how it will affect someone’s upcoming campaign or PR blitz.

Poverty, addiction, housing, disability, the Streetcar, our icons – it is about the economy stupid. The local economy. The budget, ordinances and the Initiative are great. But with Cincinnati ranking high in poverty and the working poor, we need broad, lasting and serious policy changes. That’s me whining. Here are some solutions:

  1. Those in poverty – and the working poor – are not just poor in cash. There is a spirit of hopelessness taking root. “Something’s gotta give. Is it ever gonna get better?” Is the daily refrain among the poor? Leaders must lead. Here, our leaders can be more present and hopeful. They can reach out and a share a real light for the end of the tunnel.
  2. The answer to lack of democracy is always more democracy. Income inequality on the scale that Cincinnati has is just that – a struggle in democracy. The answer is to get those in poverty to be a part of the democratic process. Leaders have to reach out and pull this community in. They are disconnected and dejected. Let the leaders lead people into engagement.
  3. Access to and skills training for jobs is indispensable. But without education on finance, banking and cash management, the poor will remain stuck. I never received any financial training in Cincinnati Public Schools. We need an immediate, mandatory education policy that trains every Cincinnati student on how to manage money, work with banks and understand what credit really is. It needs to be serious and implemented quickly.
  4. Why is the Poverty Task Force under the umbrella of the Human Services Committee? No one wants to admit, but it’s because we look at those in poverty as a liability. Progressive, changing cities look at this segment as an untapped asset. A resource. Wal-Mart did it. They built their entire business model around a low income market. They are the largest retailer on the planet. What would happen if we behaved that way in policy and outreach? Put poverty treatment under the auspices of the Economic Growth committee please. Or at least begin to split it.
  5. Local banks across the country were almost entirely unaffected by the banking crisis. They are stable! Our local government must labor openly with Cincinnati banks. We can work with them to offer financial products – with wisdom – to the poor and working poor that national predatory check cashing and title loan shops offer instead. This further strengthens our hometown banks by growing their market and our city by creating tangible relationships in neighborhoods.

And there is so much more. Yes, bolster the human services. Yes, drug addiction is a large part of homelessness and poverty. So we need a holistic approach.

We need initiatives and leadership that are willing to be bold and work long-term as well as short-term. Policies should still be working hard as a long after this body leaves office.

In a world of increasing distrust of government and scrutiny of non-profits, the emerging global currency is not in the form of paper money at all. It comes based on the foundations laid in cities. And that currency is in authentic relationships and coalition building. As a local leader – in any capacity – you aren’t going to get that accomplished and build wealth in this currency by complaining, attacking and whining.

For the sake of Cincinnati and our metro economy, get out of your own way and offer real solutions… and a hand. Even when it makes you sick.

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