In a Drought, Open the Floodgates
For a moment, I thought I might have my first strong agreement with Anthony DiBella:
It’s nice that EDC can spend some time attracting new or fashionable companies and industries, but it behooves our economic planners to be cognizant of our competencies and competitive advantages. Courting high-tech firms to come to Rhode Island may feel glamorous, but it makes little sense to compete for companies whose requirements are far better met elsewhere. Rhode Island has nothing comparable to an MIT or CalTech so competing for jobs in the computer industry (hardware or soft) is energy better spent elsewhere. …
The approach is related to that which I decried this morning in school committees: beginning with what one wants to do, in the public sphere, and then trying to make reality conform with the desire. But then DiBella proceeds to slip into the same waters:
… Our jobs-growth strategy should be based on the premise that it’s far easier to expand or grow an existing business than it is to import one.
Of course that begs the question: does Rhode Island have any intrinsic advantages due to its size, location or history? If we consider domains in which Rhode Island has done well historically, that list would include defense, graphic and fine arts (including jewelry), marine trades, medical, textiles, and tourism. Economic planners and forecasters must consider the trajectory of societal trends and where they will intersect with our state’s relative advantages. As Joe Biden stated during his debate with Sarah Palin: “Past is prologue.”
We spend too much time, in this state, imagining the economy that we’d like to have. That’s a luxury for thriving regions that want to solidify their positions or change their directioins. In our predicament, we ought to be making the state universally attractive and then allowing private industry to decide what our natural advantages are, for them.
That doesn’t mean that officials shouldn’t do promotional tours, but it does mean that we’re not in a position to target policies. As a state, we haven’t proven effective enough to presume to do that.