A conversation about economic growth in Richmond

For more of my commentary on life in Richmond, Indiana check out RichmondMatters.com.
(Please note, because of the time that has passed since I wrote this article, it may no longer reflect my current views or the most accurate and complete information available on this subject.)

IMG_0971.JPGIn April of 2005, I made a personal commitment related to my purchasing decisions here in Richmond. I published the text of my pledge online, and have since found that hundreds of others have come to share that commitment in writing, and many more have communicated their support in other ways, which is very heartening. It was never been my expectation that everyone should share this commitment, or that my point of view is the right one and that another point of view is the wrong one. I was and am and exercising the great civic freedom to choose how and where I spend my money, based on my values about the businesses and organizations that I want to support. And as I recently heard it asked, "what is the point of having values if you don't act on them?"

As a resident of Richmond for eleven years and a business owner here for
nine years, I'm very much invested in the growth of our community. But growth means different things to different people. Shortly after the newspaper coverage of my pledge, I received a message from a prominent Richmond businessperson and political figure indicating his frustration with my actions. I thought the conversation we had that proceeded would be useful to post here, more than a year later. (I've removed any identifying information from the exchange; he can identify himself if he so desires.)

As...a fellow small businessman I was very disappointed in your anti-business position in the newspaper. Evidently you don't understand how our system here in America works or you don't care. Richmond has been, is and I'm afraid always will be anti-growth and anti-opportunity because of citizen attitudes like yours. If we are ever to give our people a chance to live a better life we must become COMPLETELY pro-growth, pro-opportunity and pro-business. When business people attack business people there is no hope for our economic future.

My response:

"If you read the text of the pledge I put forth, I think you'll find that it is in no way anti-business. The Palladium-Item has sort of spun it as a petition to keep businesses out and prevent growth, but that's largely their attempt to sell papers, and I think they ignored the subtleties and spirit of the pledge itself in their reporting and editorial.

Indeed, the position I support is very much pro-business - supporting the health of our local business community (of which I and my own business are a part), making better use of the commercial real estate space we already have, and finding ways to encourage businesses to come here without harming the other resources we have to offer as a community. I think we're more likely to attract businesses and growth to this town when we can show them that we also value the things that make workers and their families happy and make them want to live here. I started a business here for those reasons, my company has created jobs here being filled by people who value those resources, so it's important to me that we not ignore the place they have in our community.

So, I wasn't attacking anyone, and I don't think being pro-growth, pro-opportunity, and pro-business are mutually exclusive with being able to preserve and protect the other aspects of Richmond that make it such a great place to live, and that help to attract businesses here in the first place."

His response came back shortly:

I've lived here [for many decades] and I've heard arguments like yours a million times. Richmond was 38000 people in 1938 and it still is. What you say simply does not work! Real investors don't care about what you say they care about! They only want two things - a high return on their investment and high security for it. Richmond provides neither because of a no-growth attitude. History proves that people with your attitude dominate what happens here - No Growth! No Opportunity! Your attitude has always won and that keeps Richmond just like it is. It really is sad that you can live a lifetime in a community that never even begins to reach its potential because of its attitude!!

My response:

"I respect that perspective, I really do - and I can't even begin to understand how frustrating it must be to see that kind of stagnation over [so many] years. I definitely don't claim to have all the answers or solutions - I certainly don't have all of the context that you do when it comes to how our community operates.

I know you said you've had this discussion a lot, but if you don't mind...I'm genuinely curious to understand your perspective better - what kinds of things do you see needing to happen that aren't?

Can you help me understand how the addition of these new stores puts us closer to where we should be? What does a different kind of pro-growth attitude look like in your mind? How is the attitude you mentioned really manifesting itself in terms of having a bad effect - the actions of city council, zoning commission, Chamber, EDC, state government, individual citizens, etc?

What can we do differently that we're not doing now?"

From there, we decided that we should get together in person to continue the discussion. We haven't been able to do that yet, but I hope to some day.

I'm SO grateful to this man for taking the time to communicate with me directly and openly about his thoughts, as much in conflict as we started out being. So many others have responded by talking about me behind my back, using their (sometimes considerable) influence to harm me or the businesses/organizations which which I'm affiliated, and other nasty things that don't belong in respectful discourse about the issues and choices that matter to us so much.

I'll have more thoughts on this soon. But if you were having it today, where would you like to see the conversation go from here?

One thought on “A conversation about economic growth in Richmond

  1. I believe your petition, although well intentioned, is counter-productive to business growth in Richmond. Frisches, Kohls, Walgreen, Menards and any others who decide to build in Richmond on the ‘Hayes development’ probably would have been just as satisfied to build on another location in that area that could deliver the level of traffic they need to succeed. You surely must understand that the developer was very instrumental in luring those businesses into his development. Should you blame the developer? Those businesses should not be blamed, nor is it right to penalize them for wanting to locate there AFTER the land became available.

    If you want to blame some one or some body, blame the city officers who allowed the area to be re-zoned for the type of business that will be located there. If the city officers claim their hands were tied due to zoning ordinances, ask those same officers why ordinances are not crafted sufficiently to deny zoning that is detrimental to our community.

    This situation again points to the lack of competent leadership in Richmond. I hate to bring up the old saw; ”…you always get the government you deserve…” , but it is appropriate here. We need to steer the debate towards how we can get real leadership into this community. Is our form of government the best for our city? Do we have so many “councils” that the decision makers are insulated from accountability? Can we manage to elect a strong mayor with leadership skills? Where can we find and recruit progressive leaders for the community?

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