By shutting down its Economic Development Council, Collier County has recently closed a chapter of its history of public policies for economic development; a chapter that ironically concurred with a Financial/Real Estate boom propitious to the making of quick and easy fortunes for some, and their destruction for many others; a period plenty of lessons to teach, providing there is somebody out there willing to learn.
A quick assessment of such chapter in Collier County shows how a laudable idea: a public-private partnership between the Board of County Commissioners and the private sector, through the EDC, undeniably failed after years of highly publicized, albeit mostly erratic efforts to diversify Collier's economy.
Quietly, the EDC vanished; no responsibilities were taken, “scape goats” or blaming games were carefully dodged and, most importantly, no sensible evaluation of the experience, in terms of county’s public policy, has been or will ever be undertaken. Years of such unsuccessful economic development policy, namely “The Public-Private Partnership”, caused no political costs to any elected official, whereas the dollar cost for taxpayers, most likely high, remains undisclosed.
In the meantime, discussion has abounded on the economic development issue. There seems to be a general opinion that something needs to be done. Some argue that the problem is one of names, thus if we re-baptize it, things will be better. Some contend that the difficult is lack of regional perspective, which is certainly obvious; and others believe the solution lies in pursuing a clustered-oriented economy which Collier County already is, at certain degree, in sectors such as Health care, Tourism, Financial and Residential Services.
As the conversation goes on, a new stage on public policy for economic development is beginning in the County, in part thanks to the newly formed: “Partnership for Collier’s Future Economy”, an initiative of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, and also in sight of the proposed “Office of Business and Economic Development” as part of Collier’s Government.
There is little to be said about policies and institutions for economic development in the County before the “public-private partnership” was formed around the EDC; as a Collier’s citizen and a professional on economic development, I witnessed its controversial performance, and now I do have great expectations regarding what is might come.
Economic Development is essentially wealth creation; and wealth is made by those who own the production factors needed to create it: whether the traditional factors such as workforce, capital and land; the newer ones such as information, technology and knowledge, or that timeless element: political power. Certain mixtures of those factors create the foundation for economic competitiveness beyond mere natural advantages such as whether or geographic location, which highlights the role of sectoral diversification as a key element of a sustainable growing economic.
In other words wealth creation and diversification thereof -entrepreneurship aside-, depend of those who already own the key production and competitiveness factors; that is inherent to capitalism. They are the essential stakeholders, the ones who actually decide where new investment, new ventures or new companies will be placed.
So far, evidently, there is one thing in common between the former “Public-Private Partnership”, aka, the EDC, and the new aforementioned “Partnership for Collier Economy’s Future”; essentially they are the same actors, the same well intentioned people, and the same institutions, then and now; which inevitably brings to mind a quote: “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”, as A. Einstein said.
If, as stated, wealth creation depends of existing interests, any economic development public policy in Collier County -everywhere for that matter- must be driven by those who own those interests, first and foremost; just as demonstrated by the creation of the town of Ave Maria, or recent expansions of Arthrex, or as shown by famous economic clusters such as Silicon Valley or The Research Triangle.
Regardless of the laudable work of institutions such as the Chamber, or the achievements that the Board of County Commissioners might claim on economic development, one needs compelled to wonder whether top local key wealth-holders are, in fact, “the missing link” on any forthcoming public policy for economic development in Collier County.