Maybe if I were using Dutch Math

I didn’t know that Rick Estenson was such a big fan of FDR; he quotes our longest-serving president twice in the fourth of a series of pro-business park guest columns. Next time I see Rick, I’ll have to ask him for a recommendation on a biography.

In the next installment in the guest column series, Rick argues that our current recession has sapped the confidence of Northfielders. He seems to suggest that we no longer believe that we can work through our problems.

Apparently, Rick thinks the people of Holland, Michigan have the confidence to work through their problems. Holland, located jut up the river from Lake Michigan, has a population of 34,000, the surrounding suburbs bring the total to 95,394, and the Metropolitan Statistical Area has an estimated population of 260,364. It’s not exactly Northfield.

Rick notes that Holland had a more developed industrial base than Northfield. In fact, he says that those industrial businesses and their employees provided economic benefits to Holland’s downtown. At the same time, I would suggest, the existing restaurant, retail and service businesses supported Holland’s business parks.

Finally, Rick argues that only by creating this new business park will we solve the City’s budget problems through growing the tax base. Frankly, with a $29.4 million investment, it will take many millions of dollars in taxes and many years of payments before the business park might actually produce a positive financial impact for the citizens of Northfield.

In my mind, it has nothing to do with the optimism or pessimism or confidence or doubt of the people of Northfield. It’s all about simple arithmetic.

A handful of our leaders have been pushing the business park in the Northwest Territory for three years. I asked for a cost estimate of the infrastructure in the very beginning, offering my own which ranged from $15 to $40 million depending on the amount of development. Now, finally, we hear it will be $29.4 million. Northfield taxpayers are facing a $2 million annual municipal budget deficit, are being asked to pay $15 million for two new safety centers (oops, $11 million for a new safety center), $8 million for a library expansion, who knows how many millions for our deteriorating streets and sewer and water systems, and how much of our pension liability is funded. However, this handful of our leaders are telling us that the $29.4 million will be a winning investment.

The series of guest columns supporting the business park have presented many arguments. The business park will save our families, the business park will save our environment, the business park will attract manufacturing, and the business park will be a financial boon.

The bottom line for me is clear. It just doesn’t add up…not even close.

If we can truly attract new businesses with high-paying jobs by developing new spaces for them, let’s do it in a place where the costs are more in line with the benefits. If we are going to bring new businesses to town, let’s support them with our existing businesses, not use their tax payments to create new competitors. If we’re going to put some many of our economic development apples into a business park basket, let’s quit spending money on spinning rhetoric in the newspaper. Let’s just see if it really adds up.

One Comment

  1. john george said:

    Ross- One of the industries in Zeeland, MI, a suburb of Holland, MI, is the Howard Miller clock company. With a company like that in town, I’m sure they can make time for any new industry that might be interested in the area.

    January 1, 2011

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