Mayoral Candidates and Economic Development
The Southern Illinoisan has an article on the five mayoral candidates ideas for economic development. Goldman and Maroney seem pretty close on economic development, with both citing the airport as a development opportunity and both suggesting that unnecessary regulations have driven business to Williamson County.
I generally agree that Carbondale is over-regulated. Check out the city code (navigation on the left). My favorite silly regulation, which I’ve cited before, is in Title 5, Chapter 8. This regulation fixes the hours of pushcart operators. Did you know a pushcart operator can’t open until 1:00 PM on a Sunday? I’m sure the sky would fall if someone got a Winston Bagel at noon on a Sunday.
I’m not so sure about the airport as an economic development opportunity. The airport isn’t adjacent to an interstate or even a state highway; it’s located on a back road. It doesn’t carry commercial flights. True, SIUC is building a transportation education center at the airport (assuming the Illinois Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the law appropriating the funds), but I don’t see how that would lead to much economic development.
Goldman and Ritzel both cite entrepreneurship as a route to development. That’s a worthy goal, but entrepreneurship is a private sector activity and I’m not sure how much the mayor can do to increase entrepreneurship. Revising and eliminating unnecessary regulations would be one good step, as Goldman mentions.
Fritzler and Haynes both defended the city’s economic development efforts, citing T.J. Maxx and Chili’s as evidence. I found this quote from the article particularly amazing:
“I think, compared to other communities, we have been pretty active,” Fritzler said. “Look at the businesses that have been opening. I think we’re on the positive end of that.”
I’m really not sure what he’s talking about. What other communities? Marion? How many new businesses opened in Marion in 2010, and how many opened in Carbondale? Like it or not, Marion is our competition for outside investment. A new chain store or chain restaurant interested in opening in southern Illinois will either open here or in Marion. Can anyone seriously argue that we’re winning that competition?
And what about the businesses that aren’t here? The former Office Max and Rex electronics buildings have stood empty for years, aside from seasonal use as Halloween stores. Ditto for the old K’s Merchandise space at the mall. Two Doves Photography and Mr. Tuxedo recently moved to a field in Crainville.
Chili’s and T.J. Maxx are nice developments if sales tax collection is the only standard of evaluation. Aside from a few managers, chain stores don’t really provide good incomes. I’d rather have them here than in Marion, but I don’t think we can consider chain stores a substitute for economic development.
The most unusual – and most interesting – idea came from Steven Haynes. From the Southern Illinoisan article:
…Haynes said by offering tax incentives, the city could have a downtown area that combines business and residential buildings, creating a neighborhood that would encourage local shopping.
“They’d walk, they would go to other businesses downtown,” Haynes said. “They would be there during the daytime, the afternoon and the evenings, and you would have a focus on walking traffic and individuals that would promote that particular area.”
If it were well designed, a revitalized downtown with unique local businesses mixed with residences would be a great addition to Carbondale. To actually accomplish this goal we’d have to make a clean break with the past. So far, Carbondale has not been willing to tolerate the density, mixed uses, and publicly subsidized parking that would be necessary to build the downtown Haynes describes.
The developments in the downtown TIF district (First Southern Bank, Advance Auto Parts, Sav-A-Lot, and Stadium Grill) are all auto-oriented, single story, single use buildings. We would have to completely change our development policies – and our zoning – if we wanted the walkable, mixed use downtown Haynes describes. I’d love to see it happen, but I’m not holding my breath.
Comments are welcome.