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Fletcher: Jobs will bring back people

June 19, 2012
Stephen Fletcher , The Alpena News

When we go shopping for almost anything, the number one factor determining where it is that we go is the depth and breadth of the selections. It really doesn't matter what the product is, we want to see all of the available selections. The decision to purchase depends on both selection and pricing.

If the price is wrong, then we won't purchase. However, if the selection isn't available when we want to buy, then the price is irrelevant. No sale can be made if product isn't available. We go shop elsewhere because someone else may have the exact goods or services we require.

Consumers, whether individuals or large corporations, shop much the same way. They know what they want, and they want it now. This convergence of product and supply was named by Adam Smith "the invisible hand." In a capitalistic economy somehow this "invisible hand" pushes products to consumers.

As consumers we know what we want and when we want it, but it's up to someone else to determine how they can make a buck supplying us the goods. Old peddlers used to come to towns with heaps of goods because they knew from experience that "you can't sell from an empty wagon."

Continuing then with this logic, if a company wished to come in and buy a piece of heavy industrial land here in order to create as many jobs as Besser Co. or ATI, there isn't a large enough piece of real estate zoned heavy industrial in Alpena Township to accommodate such a venture.

I say "Alpena Township" and not the City of Alpena only because the tax rates are sufficiently different enough that the township is a much cheaper place to locate. Since an industrial buyer can obtain the same sewer, water, paved roads, gas, and electric service in the township as they could in the city, it's my contention they would pick the less expensive venue. When there is no differentiation in the product, we pick the cheaper product and so would an industrial prospect.

I keep harping on this subject because our community has lost about 2,000 industrial jobs over the last four or five decades. Jobs lost include approximately 1,200 cement, 230 paper, 200 automotive, 150 hydraulics, 200 foundry, and a spinoff of about 250 teaching positions.

To grow we need family sustaining jobs. Manufacturing jobs, rather than tourism, generally offer higher wages. It also is fact that business owners are impatient. When they go shopping for a new industrial site, being told to "think outside the box" means they will go to a different locale rather than to wait for zoning changes, property searches, and other hoops community leaders must jump through. Remember, every other community in Michigan is in competition with us.

If we are to recover 2,000 jobs in 10 years, then we need to gain 200 jobs each year. This is a hard enough goal by itself without having to creatively create a few hundred acres of heavy industrially zoned land in the township.

Everyone is for more jobs, so let's get moving zoning updates. Target Alpena can't sell from an empty wagon. To me, it sounds like a great campaign issue.

Stephen Fletcher was graduated decades ago from Cornell University with an A.B. in Economics and from Michigan State University with an M.B.A. He has lived and worked in the decades from graduation until now in the Alpena area. He thinks economics is fun and interesting.



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