In 1993, there were about 194 million Americans in the civilian, noninstitutional population. By 2001, that number had grown to 215 million — a 21-million-person increase. By the end of the Bush administration, there were 234 million Americans working or wanting to work. Yes, that’s another 19 million people in eight short years.
During that same time span, America didn’t create 20 million jobs, though. In fact, it only created 2 million. To keep up, America must create 2 million jobs per year, not 2 million jobs in eight years.
In Flagler County, it’s even easier to calculate. From 2005 to 2010, we’ve grown in population by about 10% and we have a net loss of jobs of about 10%. In response to this landslide of job loss, local politicians have created plans. So has the state of Florida. So has the federal government. Plan upon plan — all based on a harmful and wasteful economic development model.
Throughout America (including right here in Flagler), we use taxpayer dollars to lure jobs from one American city to another. We use tax incentives, cash giveaways and tax credits to help existing companies expand, relocate or stay put. The list of companies that took incentives only to layoff, relocate or walk away with taxpayer dollars in hand is long and distinguished.
Simply put, if you want to use taxpayer dollars to help existing businesses, then create smart and doable regulatory standards. That’s all any successful business needs: a level playing field with consistently applied rules.
However, Flagler has the opportunity to turn away from a broken economic development model entirely. We are perfectly suited to create and foster sole proprietorships, startups and home-based businesses. Building a reputation as an entrepreneurially savvy community is vital to our long-term health because the only way to create new jobs is through entrepreneurship. In fact, Carl Schramm, of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, wrote, “According to the Census Bureau, nearly all net job creation in the U.S. since 1980 occurred in firms less than five years old.”
Entrepreneurs and their extended families are much less likely to live in poverty. They are rooted in their community. The silver lining to this economic cesspool, according to Rick Newman, of CNN Money: “A weak economy tends to spur entrepreneurship, as people who can't find corporate jobs strike out on their own. That appears to have happened in 2009, when the rate of new-business startups hit the highest level in 14 years.”
Entrepreneurs need fast and friendly startup processes. They need locally owned, buy-American and veteran preferences to be honored in government purchasing. They need help getting off the ground through access to capital and mentoring. They need local governments who are ahead of the curve on infrastructure like redundant power and connectivity. Finally, as they move from sole proprietor to small business, they need employees who are willing to go the extra mile to learn what they need to know to get the job done.
In Flagler, we have most of what we need. We have the Palm Coast Business Assistance Center and Entrepreneur Night. We have a thriving school district and a college campus. We even have entrepreneurs at the helm of several of our elected bodies, including Andy Dance, Nate McLaughlin and Barbara Revels.
Talented people have organically created their own thing, just so they can live here. People like Camicia Bennett, founder of The Well Written Woman, with tens of thousands of readers nationwide. We have Lisa Ekinci, a highly sought-after producer who commutes to New York to work. We have Dr. Pat Williams, founder of the Global Village and author. We have authors, speakers, social entrepreneurs and technology experts, many of whom have to leave the place they call home during the week so they can work.
So, with so much at our disposal, why are we still investing in a failed economic development methodology that looks outward instead of investing in the people who are already rooted in our community?
Heather Beaven is a social entrepreneur living in Flagler Beach.