We should be at the Defcon 1 level of concern after hearing Brett Doney’s comments about our local economy. His analysis in this instance is very disturbing but not surprising.
Not surprising to me because I’ve been watching what I call the ‘Glass Half Empty/Half Full Switcheroo” for a long time in this town. Here’s how it works:
Politicians and the heads of taxpayer funded non-profits and government agencies all understand that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. The various organizational and political poobahs have become adept at massaging statistics to meet their situational needs. When it’s election time or time for the public and/or higher-ups to be convinced how great you or your organization are, out come the ‘facts’ and figures showing how rosy and wonderful everything is. But if you’re not an incumbent or your organization needs more funding, you trot out the dim and dire numbers to convince everyone how essential you or your organization is to the survival of common interests.
Doney’s statements are disturbing for obvious reasons. A net loss of 707 jobs in our already stagnant, low-wage economy is potentially devastating. To hear such alarming stats and assessments coming from the leader of our local economic development agency makes me wonder when the usual suspects who comprise the good ol’ boys and girls network here are going to start calling for his head for such negative blasphemy.
“We’ve lost the equivalent in the last couple of years in the City more than the nation lost in the Great Recession.”
“And frankly, these numbers scare the hell out of me.”
Good heavens! If I were to make a public statement coming anywhere even close to these made by Doney, the City Commission and the downtown elite would have my head on a spike in front of the Civic Center with a placard reading, “Such will be the fate of all nay-saying nabobs of negativity who dare to question.”
The fact is that Doney’s pitch for CDBG grant funds here actually contains the brutal and inconvenient truth: things are not all sunny and rosy right here in River City. I’m afraid that because most of the power players with money and influence who are currently calling the shots in Great Falls are doing well, they assume that everybody else must be too.
Unfortunately, it appears to me that the little bubble of old Great Falls money, non-profit organizations and government entities is blissfully unaware of the struggle going on here. Doney touched on it by pointing out that there are too many citizens working two or three low wage service sector jobs to make ends meet. And this lack of higher wages combined with a stagnant population “…puts tremendous pressure on the City, on the County, on healthcare, and all of the social agencies in town.”
Great Falls has a thriving poverty industry – non-profits and government agencies that do pretty well for themselves under the mandate to help the less fortunate. It’s a good mission but the goal should be less poverty and dependence and fewer non-profit/government jobs, not more. And certainly not a local economy based on poverty which benefits the few. We are also seeing a growing child abuse, substance abuse, gambling and crime problem here, which are all exacerbated by low wages and a stagnant and limited tax base.
We need a growing population and an expanding economy with more primary, private sector employers paying higher wages. Unfortunately, Doney’s assessment makes it clear that we are moving in the opposite direction.
My personal opinion is that we’ve been doing the same thing and getting the same results for a long, long time in Great Falls. We should try something new, encourage new and different solutions from outside the box. We should invite new and different voices and try some bold action. We have a whole lot of potential in Great Falls but we need more hard and honest evaluation, and most of all we need a common vision and agreed upon goals.