Wednesday morning at Klamath Community College a group of about 30 government officials and state-wide bureaucrats gathered to congratulate each other for signing a non-binding agreement to launch the Klamath IDEA project. Klamath IDEA stands for Inspire Development – Energize Acceleration. According the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce’s website, the big idea (pun intended) is to
“...focus local, regional, and statewide resources on the creation of a business incubator and accelerator in Klamath County. The IDEA will promote, support, consult, and provide business and marketing advice to local entrepreneurs in the development of start-up and business expansion opportunities in Klamath County.”
Everyone who is anyone in government was there: City Council members, the City Administrator, State Representative, County Commissioner and Commissioner elect and so on. All pledged their support for the Klamath IDEA in a public and non-binding fashion.
Yes, you read that correct: a non-binding agreement. What does non-binding mean? It means don’t expect very much except the hoopla of being seen by others signing a piece of paper that obligates them to nothing real. In essence this was a PR event — all fluff, no substance. While the local newspaper and TV station covered the gathering, don’t expect jobs to be created and start pouring into our county anytime soon. None of the structural issues that are the fundamental cause our county’s economic woes will be solved with any of this government hands-on, do-gooder approach.
If you still are unclear what Klamath IDEA is about, welcome to the club. It is supposed to support and encourage entrepreneurs. How? That is the unanswered question, but that didn’t stop the smartest people in the country from getting together and raise a toast at their excellent work so far.
Part of the idea of this project is that as a community we need to look forward and not backwards. This means timber and agriculture will continue to decline as we grow other sectors of our local economy. What are those sectors and how will we grow them? Well that’s what the entrepreneurs will do, if we can attract them, if we can encourage them to take risks and if we can get them stay in our county. Again how will that be done? That is unclear — with a lot of “ifs”.
A “Tale of Two Cities” was a clever story that Klamath Community College President Dr. Gutierrez told the group about Detroit and Pittsburgh. In the 1950's and 60's both cities were the paragon of economic prosperity. Detroit with a booming auto industry and Pittsburgh with a thriving steel industry. Both cities provided great paying middle wage jobs. Then came foreign competition in the 70's and 80's. Today Detroit is bankrupt and decrepit. Pittsburgh however is still thriving. Why the difference? Because of the leadership in Pittsburgh and the lack of it in Detroit. Pittsburgh looked forward and diversified as well expanded its steel industry into other metal production. Detroit refused to change and because of that held on to hope that someday the auto industry would get better for American producers. Then Dr. Gutierrez turned to Klamath County. Will Klamath County be like Detroit (looking backwards) or Pittsburgh (and look forwards)? Of course we want to be like Pittsburgh and to do so we need to look forward — whatever that means.
Nice story, sort of. While Pittsburgh and Detroit suffered from foreign competition, Klamath County suffers from government polices that dont’t allow us to use our rich natural resources to create profits. When 60% of county land is off limits, thanks to our benevolent Federal Government, it is no wonder we continue to suffer. To look at timber industry thriving again is not looking backwards. Timber is why people settled here — that and agriculture. To think that Klamath County can outdo Bend in the cool factor or Medford on the economic front is plain silly talk. If you are an entrepreneur why would I stay in Klamath County? If a technology guy, wouldn’t you go six hours south to reside in Silicon Valley. If a manufacturer, what are the advantages of being so far from population centers?
This IDEA is all pie in the sky. There will be plenty of buzzwords used by “important” people, so get out your business bingo cards cause you can win big at something that means nothing. On the other hand, the Klamath IDEA is bankrupt on real real answers on how to solve fundamental economic problems. Certainly, if Klamath can attract new businesses and start new businesses the county’s economy will be better off. That’s great as far as it goes, but no one in the room today would dare leave their cozy government paycheck and do what they hope others will. Yes, these people will stand on the sideline and cheer — and even get in the front of the line to take partial credit if someone else succeeds. But will they risk THEIR own capital in an entrepreneurial venture to help the community they claim they so dearly love. Not a chance.