Yes, I’m sorry for disagreeing with Nakamura – let’s dump the Economic Development committee altogether

27 Jun

I went to yesterday’s Economic Development meeting yesterday with concern over a suggestion to cut the meeting schedule down from monthly to quarterly meetings. I thought it was another attempt to shut the public out – and that well may be. But, I after yesterday’s meeting I might be ready to admit we don’t need an Economic Development Committee, or the $88,000/year staffer who facilitates it. 

One surprising fact I learned was that these meetings are NOT recorded.  As of the department reorganization, Nancy Kelly is no longer there to take notes or make the reports that we have been able to access on the city website. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t remember seeing Tillman or anybody else taking any kind of notes yesterday, so I’m guessing, there will no longer be any record of the discussions or the comments or questions made by the public at these meetings. 

Tillman is there to give reports. That’s so funny to me. They’ve had Nancy Kelly in there, playing kind of a secretary to Tillman and the three-councilor committee, sending out the agendas to the send list, taking notes and posting minutes/reports on the website, making contacts, etc – $72,000 in pay last year. AND, Shawn Tillman – at $88,000/year,  just to give high school style reports on his activities of the last month.  Yes, that’s outrageous – that’s the kind of stupid duplicity that led us right here today. But, when the time comes to belt tighten, they “re-purpose” the woman who served the public, and keep the lump of lard that serves himself.  Tillman mentioned that Kelly will be staying with the city of Chico, at least for now, but she’s been moved to another job, I’m assuming at a lesser salary. And, again – the meetings will no longer be recorded.

And then there were Tillman’s reports. Tillman works with a group of local “economic development experts” in a venture called “Team Chico”. This group consists of representatives from Chico Chamber, Butte College, SCORE, Innovate North State, Butte County, CSU Chico, DCBA, and the Alliance for Workforce Development. These are agencies who provide “business outreach.” They provide everything from advice to “seed money” and even bigger financing. What “Team Chico” was set up for was to network these agencies with the city to inform Chico businesses of “services they didn’t even know existed.”    Meaning, their services.

I’m trying not to make this sound evil. Yes, these people provide services that some businesses might want and profit from. And those businesses should pay a fair fee for these services. How does the city fit into this picture? The city, through Team Chico, provides the hub of this network. And, the city provides money  based on the premise that these businesses provide a service from which the whole town benefits – ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT!

Unfortunately, I’ve been sitting in on these meetings since they started this committee, and I have yet to see anything come out of the city’s part of it.  There are less  jobs in Chico than there were when my kids were tots – whole companies have left, big employers like Caribou and Fleetwood. Public entities, like the city, the county, the hospital and the school district, are our main employers.  Our local planners keep holding onto this pipe dream of  “tech jobs” – what “tech jobs” are hiring in massive numbers? You  can operate a 3D printer on a high school education with a good streak of work ethic. 

Work ethic isn’t something that runs in streaks in this town.

Tillman reports the city has facilitated recruiting campaigns for Dick’s Sporting Goods, as well as a phone bank insurance company. I have to say it – I’m sorry, a retail job won’t pay the mortgage, and those call center jobs have a turnover resembling a hot air popcorn machine. Those aren’t the kind of jobs we want for our kids, and they aren’t the kind of jobs that are going to save our local bacon. 

The experts are saying one of our main problems across the US is CRAPPY LOW PAYING JOBS. People are under-employed, they’re working 29 hours a week so their employer doesn’t have to pay benefits, and their barely able to pay the rent. These are the jobs Tillman is toot-tooting about bringing to Chico. Ann Schwab has also toot-tooted. She needs to sit on that horn, those jobs are just wrecking our local economy.

And housing just keeps getting more unattainable to the working class person. You need an income of at least $80,000 in this town to even consider buying a house, and most of the private sector is living well below $40,000. Working people can’t afford to live in Chico anymore – like many of the employees at Wizard Manufacturing, they come in from towns like Oroville and Paradise, and that’s where they do their shopping.  Without decent priced housing to keep them in town, these employees only detract from our economy. 

But the conversation didn’t even go there. Team Chico is about helping the businesses hand picked by Tillman and Team Chico. Tillman said they have meetings at which they decide which business neighborhoods they will walk out into, going door to door, telling these chosen businesses about the services offered by these consultants.  Tillman describes this as “improvement in businesses’ perception of the City’s business climate…” Well, isn’t that the Chamber and the DCBA’s job? Why are we paying Tillman $88,000/year just to tag along with these consultants, drumming up business for them? 

Tillman also gave what I’d call a “non-report” on this business survey the city and Tri Counties Bank and some other “shareholders” have been running. You may have participated in the online survey about your shopping habits and wants. There were also some workshops with business owners and community members, not sure when. He is not divulging the results of the survey, just wanted to say, IT’S COMING!

I don’t know what the city kicked in on this study, but it’s a repeat of a similar study done a couple of years ago that didn’t go anywhere. Tillman remains hopeful, telling us yesterday that we will soon know everything we need to know to revitalize Chico’s economy through selling stuff. Retail will save our day, yadda fucking yadda.

I’m sorry, retail is not an anchor of your economy. That’s like whip cream and fruit with no waffle. You need manufacturing, period. You need to PRODUCE something that people want outside your community, to bring money into your community from the outside. Here, we have money suckers coming in from the outside, in the form of public workers, who surf from town to town, taking a little more salary here, a better severance package there, wreaking havoc with the locals, and then, they walk on down the hall! to their next job. And eventually they take a pension in the form of 70  percent of their highest year’s pay.  In the old days, they carried little suitcases made of soft fabric stretched over a metal frame – carpet bags. 

So, hey, I’m all for dumping the Economic Development Committee altogether. The Finance Committee can have a rapport with these groups, and ask them in for presentations – they do that at least once or twice a year when these same folks come in to apply for community grant funding. If they do actually perform a service that benefits our community as a whole and is therefore worthy of a hand-out of tax dollars, then they can make that case at a public meeting before the Finance Committee and then again the full council, like they always have. We don’t need Tillman playing along, pretending to do something to earn that 88 grand. 

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