"It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see."
-- Sir Winston Churchill
As city mayor, I often find myself in random conversations with those I serve.
These discussions typically focus on the commercial development within our community, including topics of high interest such as the occupancy of vacant buildings, business or restaurant recruitment.
What is frequently questioned is the appropriate role of government in not stepping into the shoes of private real estate professionals but, rather, bolstering and facilitating their efforts.
While government's position should be as a facilitator of the private sector, there are many aggressive actions that municipalities can utilize to support commercial enterprise.
Some of these proactive initiatives include: Direct marketing contact to companies; partnerships and coordination with strategic economic development partners; city membership and activity in key industry trade associations; face-to-face meetings with businesses; and providing quality infrastructure for the municipality's economy.
Recruiting business to a community is a difficult process that involves a significant amount of time, research and negotiations, which results in simple choices for those being recruited.
Every company is also unique in what it is looking for in a business expansion or a relocation effort. The needs of a Fortune 500 company, for instance, are substantially different from a small business.
Generally, companies want to know about the workforce, the real estate that is available, what kind of incentives are being offered (either a direct monetary gift or tax base enticements) and information about local and state regulations.
The economy cannot act for itself when it becomes too dependent on government subsidies. Once municipalities directly subsidize commercial ventures, an expectation arises that subsidies will be required for all future developments in that community. Direct subsidies also create risk. There is never a guarantee that any given business will succeed.
However, there are still many appropriate investments that municipalities can make to support the private sector. A good example of such an outlay is infrastructure. Infrastructure can serve all businesses in an area and is a necessary cost of doing business.
At the forefront of any proactive economic development effort should be the needs of the city and those who reside and do business within its borders. A broad variety and financial diversity should be sought to enhance and even complement what is already there. The sole reason cities exist is to make life better.
In the end, communities are strengthened as private capital is invested. Jobs are created, economies are sustained and a multiplier effect helps other industries.
Steve Curtis has worked as a business consultant and communication specialist. He is currently mayor of Layton. He can be reached at email@example.com.