Friday, December 27, 2013

Growing jobs on the Range?

Some years ago, when I worked for Minneapolis Economic Development, I came across a concept called Economic Gardening. It's an alternative to the "big game hunting" model of economic development. (If any of you remember when Minnesota was "in the hunt" for a Saturn plant, you know what I'm referring to.) At the time, I thought it could be a useful for the city's  economic development efforts, so I made a "pitch" presentation at a staff meeting. To my knowledge, my effort to convince the city to pursue economic gardening strategies failed miserably, with one exception. One of the staff members who heard my pitch subsequently went to work in economic development at Hennepin County. He seems to have convinced Hennepin County that a version of Economic Gardening offers a worthwhile return on investment. A pilot effort with Carver County has now expanded into the Twin Cities Area Economic Gardening Partnership, involving 5 metropolitan area counties.

mountain ash, northern Minnesota
mountain ash, northern Minnesota   © harrington

Why am I telling you all of this? Because it occurred to me while thinking about the NorthMet proposal that the best defense is a good offense. In additional to raising all of the legitimate concerns that exist regarding the proposed Polymet NorthMet mine development, maybe some environmental group (Sierra Club? Others?) might want to go on the offensive and try to work with the local governments on the Iron Range, the IRRRB, and any other potentially responsible party to see if Economic Gardening can help bring more than 360 "high paying" jobs to the Range with considerably less risk to the environment than the NorthMet proposal. In my opinion, one of the significant constraints to Environmental Impact Statements is the way "alternatives to the proposed project" are usually defined. Understandably, project proposers don't want to foot the bill for "speculative options." By the same token, that often means that viable, but longer term prospects that could create comparable benefits with less cost don't always get reviewed in an EIS process. I'm also interested in seeing environmental organizations taking a more active role in promoting and achieving sustainable development instead of leaving themselves wide open to the perception that all they do is oppose everything.

Sawtooth Mountains
Sawtooth Mountains           © harrington

I believe it's going to take all the talent, skill and resources each of us has to adapt to climate change and ameliorate its long term impacts. I don't believe we're going to achieve those goals unless we learn to communicate with each other and work together. The last time I looked, there were no really viable, let alone good, alternatives to continuing to live on our home planet. We need a better approach to development. I think it would be really impressive if Minnesota set a national example on attaining sustainable alternatives to undesirable projects, instead of allowing opponents and proposers to continue a (pardon the expression) "scorched earth" battle about who's right and who's wrong. In my experience, there's usually some of each on both sides of almost any issue. Isn't it time to find a more sustainable approach to economic development in greater Minnesota while we wait for Congress to pass a farm bill providing subsidies to corporate farmers? Otherwise, mightn't we end up living the North Country Blues? [lyrics]

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